Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Backyard Labyrinth

My husband Bill often calls our home Beryl's Monastery and in many ways it is. I am often here alone as Bill's work as a consultant takes him away from home for much of every week. I am blessed that my husband shares my desire to live spiritually. When he is home, we recite Lauds and Vespers together (sometimes the other liturgical hours) and we meditate together.

Bill is also responsible for the meditative paths we have around our house. One of these paths
features several meditation benches overlooking Lake Superior and circles the knoll where we buried my daughter Francesca's ashes. But by far the most amazing meditative path is the labyrinth he built for us (and for whoever else wants to use it).

A labyrinth is not to be confused with a maze. A labyrinth is path designed to lead purposefully, in tight concentric circles or spirals, toward a center space. The walker then retraces his/her steps from that center back to the beginning.

I think of the labyrinth as a physical metaphor for our life’s journey and the meditative walk one takes through a labyrinth as a mini-pilgrimage. Walking the labyrinth slowly calms and opens heart and mind. Used meditatively, the labyrinth is a vehicle for inner healing and transformation.

Ours is not a traditional labyrinth, one that follows a pattern such as those found in ancient cathedrals or monasteries. Our labyrinth conforms to the topography of our land. It is defined by the shape, the ruts and ridges, of the wildflower field in front of our home.

It looks quite pretty tucked among the grasses and wildflowers, its meandering spirals bordered with split logs and filled with wood chips with Lake Superior providing a gorgeous blue backdrop. Bill and I have been walking it since he first laid it out two years ago.

My favorite time to walk the labyrinth is after supper as the sun begins to set. In winter the labyrinth disappears under the snow, but in spring, summer, and fall, it provides a wonderful place to remember that life is a journey and to walk it attentively.

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2008

See Road Writer for my travel blog.

Monday, August 4, 2008

10 days of silence

When I left for my first Vipasana retreat (insight meditation) last July with Resources for Ecumenical Spirituality -- an experience that combines Christian with Buddhist meditation practices -- I'd pictured a cozy silence where I didn't have to talk and could just moon around being thoughtful. I was sadly but wondrously mistaken. This retreat was not mystic rapture. This retreat was Dark Night of the Soul.

In July of this year I went back, this time with my husband Bill. Rigorous days. Rigorous nights. For 10 days we sat in meditation, walked in meditation and when we weren't sitting, walking or listening, we were moving purposefully -- reaching for doorknobs, putting on one's sandals, eating one's meal -- everything done as consciously and purposefully as possible. We did not read books. We did not write in journals. We kept total silence save during the lectures (1 lecture, 1 practice instruction daily) when we were encouraged to ask questions, or when we were chanting.

I must confess that this year, with my hubby there, I was not as focused as I’d hoped. Instead I worried about my type-A personality husband. Would he survive the first few days? Two other attendees had bolted early on and I learned later that two days into the retreat Bill was ready to high-tail it out of there as well. But he didn’t. He stayed and entered that intense silence with me. He's glad he went but he's not sure he wants to do it again.

There was one other married couple there. They sat together during their silent meals. Bill and I did not sit together. The other retreatants were not even aware that we were married – that’s how hard we tried to walk the Vipasana experience. I’ll write more about our retreat in my next post.

This retreat was offered by Resources for Ecumenical Spirituality -- an organization founded by 2 Carmelite priests and Mary Jo Meadows, an author, clinical psychologist, former professor of religious studies at Mankato State University and a practitioner of meditation for more than 30 years in the Christian, ashtanga yogic, and Theravada Buddhist traditions. For more information on their retreats and workshops, contact them at

About Me

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Beryl is the author of The Scent of God: A Memoir published by Counterpoint NY in 2006 and A View of the Lake published by Lake Superior Port Cities Inc. in 2001. She’s been living on Lake Superior for seventeen wonderful years, and spent 10 years writing two popular columns for the Cook County News Herald: Newcomer Notes and Putting Down Roots. Beryl is past president of the Schroeder Area Historical Society and a long-time chair of its Oral History and Marketing committees. She is a past board member of the Violence Prevention Center in Grand Marais and committee member for the Grand Marais Art Colony’s first ever annual North Shore Reader and Writers Festival. She’s been published in the Sun Magazine, Minnesota Monthly, Lake Superior Magazine, and The Trenton Times and in the anthologies, Surviving Ophelia published by Perseus Publications in 2001 and The New Writer's Handbook, Vol. 2, published by Scarletta Press in 2008 and was named Best of Minnesota Writers by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She is currently working on her third memoir: the sequel to The Scent of God.