Sunnylands Labyrinth

A guest blog
by Teri Petrzalek

Background Information:  Sunnylands is the 200-acre estate outside Palm Springs of Walter and Lenore Annenberg. In 2001 they created a trust fund to “address serious issues facing the nation and the world community.”  A 25,000 square foot, Mid-Century marvel, this peaceful oasis is set in the center of a 9-hole golf course. The property is now used for retreats as well as high-level summits.

A visitor center was constructed at the entry and with it several breath-taking garden vignettes. As we toured the gardens, the tree-lined path around the great lawn opened to a clearing which contained a labyrinth. The 7-circuit path was wide and separated by low plantings.

I told my friends to continue on the main trail without me and I would catch up. I paused at the start to set my intention. “Release Worry.”

The wide paved path seemed to convey an ease, a peacefulness in an otherwise crowded place. The turns seemed more pronounced because of the plantings and the beauty of the spot was undeniable.

I walked more quickly than I usually do, hoping to reach the center before anyone else appeared. The labyrinth reminded me of the estate, grand but made of simple pieces. The structures had little ornamentation. That was provided by the plantings. At the center of the labyrinth I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I could smell the faint aroma of something thyme-like.

PalmSprings_CAThat made me smile. Thyme. Time. Wasn’t that what I’d been worrying about? Time.

I tried to follow my breath on the way out. In – relax, out – release as I returned to the entry. It was early enough in the morning that there were still shadows on one side. So, I kept moving – in and out of the darkness. Truly an oasis in the desert.

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Walking the Sacred Path Daily

Welcome rock

View of labyrinth in snow

What does walking the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth daily do?  For one, it gets me outside. Rain, snow, or shine. Chill, frigid, or warm. Windy, breezy, or calm. Noisy with traffic or quiet. Postholing through deep snow, skittering along the ice-covered path, treading on rain-soaked soil or pounding on pavement like rain-starved ground.  Winter’s pre-dawn dark or spring’s bright sun. The lingering aroma of Virginia Mountain Mint crushed between fingers and still pungent in January or the fresh scent of tenderly brushed, newly emerged leaves of May. The taste of chives popped up through the mulch. So,

reawakening the senses is part of the experience.

Too, is the opportunity to observe thoughts.  What am I busy thinking about? Am I calm? Worried? Angry? Playful? And, how do I wish to be with these thoughts?  So, the discipline of pausing at the entry and choosing to come from a place of gratitude has become key. Above all, a place of Gratitude helps change the focus and my demeanor for the day. Or at least part of it.

Lichen on a rock

A lichen labyrinth, Sedona, AZ

When I away, I also walk a labyrinth.  Either a physical one or a small cloth one created by Deb M. or by simply tracing the three-circuit pattern on my hands. Both hands. Good discipline and hand-eye coordination.




Statue in snow

Snow got deep this winter.

I started this daily walk in late December 2017 when Rich and I were experiencing extended family situations.  I continued through the weeks he was East with his family. Each pre-dawn, I’d pull on wind pants, extra socks, heavy coat, my “Fudd” hat, mittens and pack boots and schlepp to the road for the newspaper, return to the entry to the labyrinth and walk. Then, I’d open up the chicken coop where the hens still roosted cozily under the heat lamp. At that hour they were rarely enticed to fly down and peck at the corn I tossed out. All through the winter and into the early, cold spring I walked.

bur oak

Checking out the bur oak in the center.

Now in my second third of the year, I am taking in the growth and fullness as warmth returns – except for this year’s Three Cold King days. Wow! I wondered, “Where are my long socks, wool hat, and extra flannel?”

I regard where I need to dig up and move plants, note where the path will get too narrow and will need cutting back as grasses and forbs grow, and delight in, “Oh!  I forgot about that sweet plant!  How nice to see you again.” May through mid-August sees a riot of color, textures, plant heights and prairie smells. The walk will be different in the sunlight and fullness of the season.

We shall see what this time of walking brings. Where I will find other labyrinths to walk. And, come fall, ….it will come on its own accord.

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Blizzard in the Labyrinth

Snow pellets stung like needles as the wind hurled the early spring blizzard at us.  Thirty-five mile an hour winds and temperatures hovering in the low 30s – not cold yet dangerous because of the ice it forms on roads, trees, buildings, and ground. Hard to tell how deep the snow was because it was heavy and compacted by the winds.


After the storm.

So, I stood a bit, tightened my collar, and decided to plunge ahead and was surprised as I “postholed” over the berm and into the Harmony Phoenix Labyrinth. Snow cascaded into my pack boots. Hmmm. Not so much harmony today. Yet, maybe so. It will depend on how I look at it. This is what I teach at Kirkwood with adults re-imaging their lives. Life is 10% experience and 90% reaction or response.

The labyrinth is familiar, after all, friends and I created it a year ago and I’ve walked it regularly and daily since mid-December 2017. In the pre-dawn light shadows were muted and forms erased and so I decided to walk differently.

Snow on Ground

Turn at the lizard.

Some landmarks poked through the snow, and the stalks of burned off prairie forbs stood in contrast to the snow.  Looking at the overall shape, I began, pacing the steps, and noting the nose of the colorfully painted lizard from Texas that indicates the first turn. Then, I followed the easy, gentle sweep of the right-hand half of the Harmony Labyrinth to the far side. The limestone blocks humped with snow formed a natural barrier and I knew when to turn, following the unbroken carpet of snow again in an easy gentle sweep back toward the beginning. Now around by the birdbath heaped with mounds of packed snow.

Statue of Tapia

Metal statue covered with snow.

Past the NW rock – buried but had to be there – and by Tapia.  Tapia is a metal statue a welder friend made and brought one day when our son, Dan, was little.  So, we named the statue in our friend’s honor and Tapia has lived at two homes now for 38 years.

Sparkly Rock, Wisconsin Rock and turn left. Those were easy because, in spite of the snow depth, they stand out.

The inner circles were more challenging and I had to just trust the easy, gentle sweep of the arc. Noting the sundial covered with snow I knew I was close.

Child Statue

Pointing the way.

Then, I found myself greeting the little child statue that points to our Bur Oak and is the greeter to the entrance.  So, I walked around the tree twice making a nice circle then, stepped left out of the center and around the easy, gentle sweep of the other half of the Harmony Labyrinth.  Up by Second Bench I paused and crushed some Virginia Mountain Mint seeds in my bare fingers taking in the wonderful aroma of mint.  Amazing!  The seed heads and stalks maintain their distinctive smell all winter until the new leaves and shoots break ground.

Second bench. What a funny thing.  People would wonder. There is only one bench so….The story is simply that I had two benches when the Labyrinth was a seven circuit and an ancient, magnificent Magnolia tree graced the center. First Bench went in first.  Second Bench second. The re-design took out First Bench.  And, I simply kept the name.

Even without snow I sometimes get off the path as I move from the outer circuit to the next in. I am never sure why this confuses me sometimes. But, I knew I was on the right circuit when I stumbled in the dip created by the heavy truck that removed the Magnolia tree and then I found myself back and on the other side of the limestone barrier.

Then, the turn to “home.” Past the compass that points to the North Star, down the dual entry to the bell.

A pause. A nod to the day. A ringing of the bell. Then, inside for hot chocolate.

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Lake Labyrinth Metaphor

Flooded Labyrinth

Circuits covered with water on ice.

Winter 2017-2018 has been strange and stressful.  Extended elder family matters, aggression in politics, yet again a mass murder and the predictable outrage, blame and just plain horror have been among the stressors.

A constant grounding has been walking the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth in the front yard every day since late December. Many mornings I have walked pre-dawn after tending the chickens, fetching the newspaper and before changing to head off to teach.

A certain quality surrounds the early morning hours.  The quiet before the stirrings, brilliant stars, the darkness wrapping around me protectively.  Some mornings the only sound was the creaking of a tree in a light winter breeze. Walking was grounding.

Even by full daylight, the walks were centering. Noticing the rocks and artifacts as snow smothered them and then retreated under warming skies. How pleasant to take in the winter textures, colors, and aromas of the plants. The Virginia Mountain Mint that holds its fragrance all year is especially refreshing.

On bare, frozen ground. Bracing -20 degrees. Through accumulating snows. Under waxing, full and waning moons. In fog. In thaws. In rain and over the squishy ground. Sunlight and dark of night I walked.

Then, more rains pelted down, melting the snow but not penetrating the frozen ground. Suddenly, the labyrinth was under water!  So, I studied the labyrinth daily and carefully plotted a route only to find each day fewer options and more hazards.  Walking through water on ice isn’t the best idea, nor is stepping carefully on ice with a trekking pole.  So, I adapted.

One side of the Harmony Labyrinth is slightly higher than the other and until recently had been above standing water. I decided to be content walking that side to the center, pausing and re-tracing my steps.  On this day, the rain became a deluge for hours.  The water rose, threatening to overtop the drive, seeped over all the right side of the labyrinth and spilled into the center.

Bravely I ventured forth only to be foiled within a few feet. Back to the entrance for another go in another direction with the center as my goal. Hmmmm. No luck. I tiptoed on tuffs of grasses and forbs and slid across shallow spots of water supported by my trek pole to a dead end. Back to the entry. Maybe a direct path will work…or not.

Finally, I bit the bullet and plunged through water planting the trekking pole firmly before advancing and found myself in the center. Rather surprised, I paused, looked back, studied the bur oak we planted in the center so full of youthfulness and hope for the spring season, and cut back to the bench to sit.  Then, I stepped out of the labyrinth entirely, circled and came back to the entry.

Another day, I made my way carefully to the limestone blocks that mark the halves and tiptoed along them to the center and back out.

It’s all a game now and it doesn’t really matter whether I go to Center or not…and yet, it does matter. Inside. After all, I’ve walked the labyrinth every day for over two months.

I know that the ice will melt in the next thaw. The ground will soften and the water will percolate in. The surface will harden as it dries and soon, plants will begin to poke through the wintered soil. The impasses of snow, mud, water, and ice will be resolved.

Perhaps that is life, too.  We meet resistance.  Systems are difficult to navigate. After mighty efforts, we end up where we began with no noticeable progress. So, we adapt. Plot a different route. Try something new. Sometimes, we decide to be satisfied with the result as “imperfect” as we may consider it. The impasses and “impossibles” will be resolved.

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2017 Labyrinth Walks

2017 found us in many places across the country.  We started the year with an inaugural walk, “Light One Candle” to dispel the darkness that is part of winter in the northern hemisphere and that seemed to permeate our country. Lent found us programming with St. Stephens Church, leading canvas walks, and tracing faint patterns on a neglected labyrinth by an Austin, MN, church. Our wonderful, but ailing, Magnolia Tree bloomed one last time and then came down, replaced with a dual entry Harmony Labyrinth we dubbed The Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.  Friends helped measure out, draw lines, insert rocks, and Rich planted a wonderful bur oak in the middle.

All summer groups walked under sun, moon, in the rain and bitter cold.

From Duluth, MN, to Spokane, WA, to Phoenix, AZ area, I found and walked labyrinths.  Some, like a local one, were poorly done and in sad repair. We need to honor what labyrinths are and how to create and maintain them with love and expertise.

An unexpected “labyrinth” presented itself when I paused in Sedona, AZ, along a quiet path.  The lichen labyrinth was such a calming force.

Every day since late 2017 I have walked the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.  A lovely experience.

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New Year’s Eve 2017



Solvitur Ambulando

We have a lot on our minds as 2017 fades and we look into 2018 with trepidation and hope and realism.  Today’s service at Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist was inspiring, meaningful and funny.   Kathleen Mavity and Jude Johnson guided an interactive service and sermon of what we were grateful for in 2017 and what we look forward to in 2018.  Interestingly, fewer people responded to the latter.  The readings were particularly powerful: Peace (#589 Grey Hymnal) adapted from the Pupils of the Lincoln School reminds us that Peace is attainable through effort and respect by the many of the few, by the strong of the weak, by the great of the small.  It is love and friendship for us to cultivate. We quietly sang “Shalom Havayreem” (Peace, Friends until we meet again.) And then, the reading “If There is to be Peace” by Lao-Tse, reminds us that it all begins with each of us.

Each day this past week I have walked the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth sometimes from the window upstairs and mostly by donning on a coat, wind pants, heavy boots, hat and mittens and just walking.  The calm that settled in was reassuring.  The pre-dawn 31st walk with Jupiter and Mars in Libra was astonishing!  Hushed all around. Squeaky snow and swishing wind pants. A stillness and excitement all bundled together in the morning darkness with stars overhead. Later another walk into the brisk wind with chickadees calling, woodpeckers drumming and the sweet aroma of woodsmoke wafting down.

Move into peacefulness through walking which is what Rich is doing right now – a hard, pushing walk to release energy and frustration and to calm the mind.  It is solved by walking.

Paraphrasing Kathleen, as 2017 wraps up, we can think about creating the kind of 2018 that will be a gift to ourselves and others. What do we want 2018 to look like? What will we do individually to manifest our intentions? And, finally, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” Hmmm. Think about that.

“Deep peace of the running wave to you.
“Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
“Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
“Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
“Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.” (adapted from a Gaelic Blessing)


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Centering in Transitions

Last month I helped a sister sort and pack household and personal items for a move from Phoenix area back to New Hampshire. S


She had been wanting to return to our ancestral state for a few years. November is a Susan_11-2017pleasant time to be in Arizona and this was the only opportunity to visit and help.

Overall we did well. And, she rightly observed that having a visitor is stressful and I observed that being the visitor can be stressful.  It’s simply a difference in routine for each party.  Add expectations and old relations from the past into the mix.

But, we both came to a relative place of settledness as we teamed to sort, discard, allow to pass items on to others and pack the remaining. While I might have chosen to do things differently – less is always more for me – I worked to honor her needs.  She, too, worked to honor the fact that I took time from teaching, paid the flights and did the bulk of heavy lifting to help her with her desired move.  She helped direct and at times just allowed me to move along with the project.

We did hash matters out, laugh at times and take breaks. I had the honor of meeting many of her friends in Arizona who expressed concern and appreciation for her.

At first, I was uncomfortable in the senior home watching frail folks maneuver the halls, pick up mail, sit in the lobby and gather for meals.  Then, as I grounded and settled in, I came to admire the tenacity and love of life these folks have.  Their humor in spite of the grimness of some of their lives.  Their levity and sharing of memories. How they help each other through their transitions in life.

Much of this ability came from walking labyrinths early in the visit when we both needed space.  Phoenix area has many lovely labyrinths and two are fairly close to the residence.

CircleofPeaceLabyrinthCircle of Peace labyrinth in Peoria, AZ, sits just to the left of the church in a large open space.  Rock lined with a gravel path, this fifty-foot wide seven-circuit labyrinth is anchored in the center with a large cross. Although cars speed past on the main road, the labyrinth feels peaceful enough.  And, a good posture that I took was to remind myself that in life distractions are all around.  We can focus on those or be present and stay centered.  Quail and doves picked at grit on the far side and flew off only when I rounded a corner and approached them.

UnityLabyrinthUnity Spiritual Center in Sun City, AZ, was what I needed. A lovely entrance soothed my spirit. The surrounding flowers and shrubs added softness to the brilliant autumn sun. A bunny sat and watched as I paused, felt cares flow away and began to walk. Here is where I was able to come to centeredness and the place of remembering that I was in Arizona to help my sister open to possibilities, and more important to meet her needs as much as possible.

Time did not allow other visits to nearby labyrinths so that means a return visit to the area!

LichenLabyrinthWe day-tripped to Sedona, meeting friends who live there and searching out the “Snoopy” and “Lucy” rock figures and were successful in both ventures. Along the way, we took in Montezuma’s Castle where migratory birds flocked and flute music wafted through the valley. In Sedona, I took a short walk along a path and came across another labyrinth of sorts – a lichen pattern on a rock that resembled a labyrinth.  Quite charming. And, the stillness. Ah, the stillness. We need more of that in our lives.

Perhaps these centerings led to a significant exchange one evening when at a low point my sister agreed to receive healing energy. What an honor. I opened to Divine Spirit asking to simply be a conduit for healing energy. The peacefulness that gently touched us was the balm needed in this time of decisions, changes and letting go.

Guided by Divine Love.



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