by Margaret Lospinuso
Modern medical practitioners are increasingly aware that prolonged stress plays an inordinately large part in undermining physical health. There is also growing consensus that conscious mindfulness (focusing on the present moment and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and sensations) is a potent technique for decreasing the destructive effects of sustained stress. Stressful events that are beyond personal control happen to most of us; with conscious mindfulness we can help reduce the impact of stress.
Stress-reducing mindfulness can take many different forms, such as walking meditation, sitting meditation, and yoga, among others. Different approaches bring different relief to different individuals; the choice of techniques is personal. It is in that spirit that the Labyrinth Group at Carolina Meadows designed and created the Meditation Labyrinth and Sculpture Garden as a place for meditation with uninterrupted focus on mindfulness while walking, while seated, or while simply enjoying sculptures and nature. The site was opened to residents and staff in November 2020.
The development of the labyrinth started in the fall of 2019 as a resident-led initiative. Residents came together to develop a plan and worked with Carolina Meadows management to refine the concepts. There were a number of aspects that had to be considered, and several possible sites that didn’t work out. In the end, however, the group found a site on campus that had the right potential and got the go-ahead to proceed with plans. The site was at that time a poison ivy wilderness with glutinous mud at the entrance.
Initial discussions had focused on classical circular labyrinth designs with stone paving, but that plan had to be walked back when the group was advised that Chatham County regulations would not permit any additional impervious surfaces to be installed on campus. This barrier turned out to be an excellent opportunity. Looking at the site with new eyes allowed the natural setting to suggest a design that arose from nature. It would work with the mature oaks, American Elms, and hickory trees on the site, and it would meet county requirements. It also met additional requirements, to be close to parking, close to a restroom, and shaded enough to be walkable even in the heat of summer. With residents providing funding, Carolina Meadows Plant Operations took the lead on clearing the undergrowth in September 2020. Residents then laid out the paths and seating areas with colored tape and landscape marking paint.
The design of the Meditation Labyrinth combines a meandering walking path interspersed with landscaped areas designed as display venues for sculptures and for resting areas. The paths are built from Chapel Hill gravel, a quarried decomposed granite native to the Chapel Hill area, notable for holding its shape while remaining permeable.
All elements combine to enhance the contemplative nature of the setting. Two paths open like welcoming arms at the broad entrance/exit, ushering one into a place of peace. The path loops around the old trees in a smooth wave-like motion, now gently uphill bringing the horizon in closer, now gently downhill giving a sense of release, all in support of increasing a sense of serenity in the moment. There are five seating areas in different parts of the Labyrinth so that a place to sit down and rest is never far away. Plantings at the entrance provide blossoms all year long, camellias in the winter and spring, and fragrant gardenias at the height of summer.
The Carolina Meadows Wellness program has sponsored several events at the Labyrinth, including a Winter Solstice celebration with luminaria, and a Spring Solstice celebration with spring flowers as meditation objects to enjoy while walking the path. The Labyrinth Group continues to receive donations to develop the Labyrinth, with plans to add signs to identify the trees, and improve the boundary plantings. This place has become a deeply appreciated resource on campus. It is the result of the kind of resident/staff cooperative initiative that is characteristic of Carolina Meadows. All are invited to walk and find peace in quiet thought.