Gideon Brower explores some of the labyrinths of Los Angeles.
If you know where to look, L.A. is full of labyrinths, says Gideon Brower, guest producer for DnA.
The intricate, symmetrical walking paths can be found all over the city. Some are laid out in stone, brick, tile or concrete. Others are painted on canvas and rolled out for special occasions. You’ll find them at churches, schools, hospitals, libraries, parks and cemeteries. There’s even one at a fancy rehab center.
Labyrinths differ from mazes in that they’re designed to be as simple as possible: one continuous path takes you into the center, and then leads you out again. Although they date back to ancient times, their purpose and meaning is surprisingly murky. Even the relatively recent ones in Gothic cathedrals aren’t well understood, though they may have symbolized a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or served some part in an obscure Easter ritual. Today’s labyrinths are popular mostly as a kind of walking meditation, a way to quiet the mind.
One of the ritziest of L.A.’s labyrinths is at Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens in the West Adams neighborhood. This walking path is about 40 feet across and made from Carrara marble, says PAL&G’s Kevin McMillan. It’s modeled after a medieval design in Chartres Cathedral in France, and is just one part of a meditation garden that’s open to the public most afternoons.
Tena Yatroussis is one L.A. labyrinth-walker who doesn’t have to worry about visiting hours. She and her husband Michael installed a small version of a medieval labyrinth behind their home in Palms, following a visit to the large Gothic-style one at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco more than ten years ago. She says she appreciates the relative informality of her home version, which she can mosey out and walk any time she feels like it. “There’s no pressure to be like, ‘spiritual,’ or to have some great epiphany,” says Yatroussis. “It’s like, I think I’ll go walk it. I think I’ll go walk the labyrinth.”
Many of L.A.’s labyrinths are listed on the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator, a searchable online registry. That’s where I found what could be the smallest local labyrinth, and certainly the most portable. It’s in the form of a tattoo on the left foot of Pasadena resident Sarah Emery Bunn, and it’s open to the public, by appointment. Bunn says her own go-to labyrinth is the spiral one in Arlington Garden, near her home. When she travels, she uses the web to find other walking paths around the country.
“They’re especially useful when there’s something on my mind, or some little problem I’m struggling with,” says Bunn. “And if I get that in mind before I start walking, some answer comes. Some little hint or clue comes to help me out with whatever issue I’m struggling with.”