The path to enlightenment
In times when she missed her daughter, Ock Hee Hale's grandmother would walk among the long fields of corn near her home in South Korea. The endless rows of stalks swaying gently in the wind calmed her, and cleared her mind.
When Ock Hee left her family and moved to the United States, her mother missed her, too. They lived in a high-rise, with no fields around. She dimmed the lights and sat in the dark, crying and calling Ock Hee's name. Finally, through her sadness, she relived her memories --going for tea or laughing during talks -- and her contemplation gave way to something positive.
To that end, in honor of them, Hale always wanted to build a labyrinth --a compact, symmetrical, circular walking path that has been revered as a way to enlightenment since prehistoric times. Hale's grandmother's walks, and her mother's solitude, worked very much like a labyrinth. Walkers escape the outside world, and step inside their minds.
"It just has that magical feeling," says Hale. The basic philosophy is this, she says: "People come here with life sorrows and wishes and while you are walking, you talk about it with nature, use it as a healing tool." If it doesn't heal you, she laughs, "at least walking is good for your health."
Labyrinths have helped Hale in times of sorrow, fear or questioning as well.
"Always, without fail, it makes me feel better," she says of the practice. "Sometimes I get the answer. But always, my attitude gets changed."
Saturday, June 9, marks Hale's grand opening of her labyrinth, a seven-circuit pathway made of 1,300 granite blocks, each pounded into the earth with a mallet. It's on the grounds of her landscape design, store and art gallery, Ock Hee's Bloomfield Gardens and Fine Arts Gallery, in Honeoye Falls. It's a gift to herself, her family matriarchs, and the community.
She welcomes everyone who is curious or is in search of their own answers to walk and ponder, for free, during store hours.
The oldest labyrinth that has been found was on Crete, in the Mediterranean, and was 3,500 years old. Uses and lore are varied. In Greek mythology, a minotaur was trapped inside a labyrinth, and in the Chartres Cathedral in France, worshipers used one laid out in the chapel floor as a personal pilgrimage, according to the book "The Healing Labyrinth." Labyrinths are commonly constructed with stones, blocks or shrubbery. They look similar to mazes, with a big difference.
"The labyrinth leads you," says Hale. "You don't get lost."
Hale's grand opening will have music and fanfare and a fundraiser. Representatives from various churches will give blessings. A bagpipe player, who is also a renown artist who has exhibited at Hale's gallery, will lead the first walk.
Donations will also be accepted to support the Lost Boys of Sudan who live in the Greater Rochester area. They were orphaned or displaced from their families during the civil war in the Sudan and walked with thousands of other boys, as young as toddlers and as old as teens, from Sudan to Ethiopia and then to Kenya, to a refugee camp. About 40 immigrated to the Rochester region. A Mendon couple, Jerry and Ann Marie DeLuccio, and Cheryl Erickson of Victor co-founded the Hope of Sudan Inc., a nonprofit organization that raises money for educational expenses of the men. Erickson said the group raised $20,000 in 2006. In January 2007, 14 young men received a total of $7,000 in scholarships, according to Erickson.
Hale says she's inspired by the Lost Boys she knows. Despite their loss and struggle, they are hopeful and determined. Hale also believes in education Ñ for everyone. It was extremely important to her mother, who was denied schooling herself. Hale says her mother grew up in South Korea in an era when girls didn't attend school. In fact, Hale's grandmother forbade it.
"It had such a bitter sorrow. (My mother) never went to school. When my mom married, she was so adamant about education ... How appropriate that one led to the other," Hale said of the Hope of Sudan fundraiser.
Her parents sent their nine kids to school, for as long as they wanted. Hale's parents even paid for other families' kids to go to school.
Visitors will find Hale's labyrinth beside her store and gallery on Lehigh Street, which is a renovated former train station. She used the traditional Cretan, seven-circuit pattern, and customized it. Wheelchairs can easily fit, and the entrance faces east. In Asian feng shui, East receives the energy of creation, says Hale. Chest-high lanterns made of heavy stone greet walkers at the entrance, and in the center.
"In Asian Buddhist practice, the lantern is the symbol of the light of eternity. The light welcomes everyone and wishes everyone good journey through the labyrinth. At the center, the lantern wishes a safe
journey out," says Hale, who studied art history and Asian art.
It's all symmetrical, all paths are the same width, and it's all on the same radius. Hard math went into its planning. Completed, the labyrinth is deceivingly simple.
"It took us five hours to lay out," says Hale, and four and a half days to build.
After the grand opening, Hale hopes people come for quiet moments, to think, to pray, to wonder, or to relax. One person will be there, she is sure, looking over it all as unveils her vision.
"I'm quite certain my mother's spirit will be with us opening day."
Kris Dreessen is the outdoors editor for Messenger Post Newspapers. She can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 253, or at email@example.com