Sometimes we feel like we are going around in circles, but that's not always a bad thing. In fact, Peggy DesJardins of Covington has become an expert in putting together labyrinths, a designated footpath that winds around itself in a circular pattern towards a central point. It has something to do with deep thinking and contemplation.
Peggy has been active in the arts community in St. Tammany for many years, including 20 years experience as a talented art teacher in the St. Tammany Parish Public School System. For 30 years she volunteered at the St. Tammany Art Association, mostly working with exhibitions.In her studio on Columbia Street in Covington, she taught art classes for both children and adults. After she retired from teaching she worked at the Art Association for three years running its art education programming.
Some of her time now is being spent helping friends build their own labyrinths - on beaches, on grass, and anywhere people gather to chill out, walk silently and think about things.
Bogue Falaya Park
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Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years, and DesJardins enjoys helping design and build new ones, usually temporary in nature, in a variety of settings.
Peggy says a labyrinth is what is called a "unicursal pathway to a center" where you can't get lost and make a wrong turn. "It is different than a maze," she said, "Because a maze has dead ends and false turns."
The first time she walked a labyrinth was some 25 years ago in St. Georges Episcopal Church on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans during a workshop with Episcopal Priest the Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress.
Peggy became fascinated with the topic, and she ordered materials explaining how to build one. She then went to Europe to view (and walk) firsthand the famous labyrinths there. The labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral near Paris was of particular interest, since it was constructed on the floor of the cathedral using different colors of tiles. It was unavailable for walking at that time, however.
When she returned home, she found herself in demand as a guide for building labyrinths, and she has done a few for friends and community groups and even one in Bogue Falaya Park in Covington.
She and her friends went to Bogue Falaya Park recently to build a temporary one, laying concentric circles of pine needles to define the pathway. The "Community Labyrinth Project" offers visitors a reflective way of entering the new year. "It's very basic geometry and not hard to do one at all," she said. "It's fun, and it builds community when a group comes together." Here are some photos of the beginning of the labyrinth in Bogue Falaya Park.
The Modern Labyrinth Movement was founded at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and it has since spread worldwide.
Over the years, labyrinths have been adopted by various groups and religions, but it's basically a very individualistic experience. Becoming "present in the moment" is one goal of the meditative walk, since it offers a calming of the mind, and a way to avoid being highjacked by distracting thoughts. But it's subject to private interpretation as well, as some people like to playfully dance through the labyrinth and children often like to run through it.
"There's no right or wrong way in walking a labyrinth," DesJardins said.
She plans to soon attend a labyrinth facilitator training seminar at Chartres Cathedral in France with Lauren Artress, the founder of Veriditas, a group promoting and assisting the building of labyrinths around the world. She is hoping to walk the Chartres labyrinth since she has been unable to do so the previous two times she visited the area.
The church at Chartres had over the years discouraged the walking of its famous labyrinth, much to the disappointment of visitors, but around 20 years ago, the church director was convinced to welcome visitors three or four days a month and let them experience the world's best known and loved labyrinth.
In March of last year Peggy was involved in the construction of a temporary labyrinth for the residents of Christwood retirement community. Several volunteers joined in to help build it, including residents of Christwood. It was greatly appreciated by all who traced its path. In four weeks, nature had erased all traces of it. She feels her group will be asked to come back this year to do another temporary one for Lent.
The beach labyrinths are built, walked and washed away within hours as the tide comes in, but they have become extremely popular with visitors, especially in Oregon. Google "Circles in the Sand" for more information.
While the "temporary" ones are her all-time favorite labyrinths to build, Peggy and several other local people are working towards building a permanent one in Covington. There are companies that provide the materials and templates for the work, and even help build it if needed. For do-it-yourselfers, the company also provides labyrinth "kits" to folks who want to try building one of their own. She and her group are in discussions with local officials on where one could be located.
Her sister is also a labyrinth facilitator. There are nearly 300 such facilitators worldwide at this time.
Peggy has been involved in many community projects over the years and was a member of the 35 people St. Tammany Leadership Class in 2018.
She is now part of a group called the "Community Labyrinth Project," with a team made up of Jan Robert, Darnell Shuart and herself. They are sharing the story of the positive benefits of both temporary and permanent labyrinths, both the benefits of people working together to build one and the benefits of individuals walking them in isolation.
Peggy was born in New Orleans, grew up in Lafayette, and always showed an interest in art and drawing. "You know that kid who the teacher always gets to help her put together the bulletin board? I was that kid," she laughed.
When she first majored in art in college she started out in print making, but her main art interest quickly turned to creating in clay. "Sometimes I do mixed media," she added. Her experience in teaching art in schools was a great outlet for her skills, and she loved teaching art history as well.
Designing and building labyrinths has become an art form all its own, and unique versions of the various patterns can be found all around the world and all around St. Tammany Parish as well. They are in public spaces as brick patterns on terraces, they are painted on the floors of various camp gathering halls and retreat centers, and they can be found in the landscapes of estate gardens.
Walking labyrinths is a soothing experience, and once someone experiences their own personal reaction, they often want to find other labyrinths to walk, and maybe even get involved in building one with a group. That's what happened to Peggy and almost everyone she's shared the experience with over the years.
For more information:
A link to an aerial drone video
(Photos by Peggy DesJardins and friends)
Meanwhile, over at the Ochsner Parking Lot...