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Walking around in circles

There is more than one way to give thanks and for the American holiday of Thanksgiving, the High School humanities department came up with a recordbreaking plan

Not many people know what a labyrinth is, what it signifies, or what it can be used for. But the HKIS High School humanities department is always exploring different ways to help students develop character and their own spiritual identity. But just how did something that could help with development come to be one of the most talked about Community Gatherings HKIS has ever seen? And grow into a possible placing in the record books? Some of the best ideas grow organically, taking on a development of their own, and that’s exactly how the plan to have a ‘giant labyrinth’ on the Tai Tam sports field came about.

A teacher of 20 years at HKIS, Marty Schmidt initially invited Hong Kong based HKIS alum Martha Collard ’76 to speak at his Service, Society and the Sacred (SSS) back in September. “The class is elective – the students don’t have to take it – but they do and they are here to explore and enjoy what it on offer. The idea of using a labyrinth in the classroom is just another way of pushing the boundaries and look at what we can do to benefit students” Marty told us back in September.

Martha Collard is the only qualified labyrinth builder in Asia and brought a ‘classroom-sized’ labyrinth to HKIS for the SSS group – a massive canvas sheet with a red labyrinth painted on it (see photos above). She presented the ideas and philosophy  behind labyrinth walking and the students set to it.

Soon after, High School humanities teacher Bill Leese got together with Marty to brainstorm how they could incorporate a ‘walk’ into the spiritual life of the school, but rather than limit it to a class, take it as wide as possible, to a labyrinth for all High School students and faculty. The idea took shape and as soon as they discovered that Martha was available for on November 23, the date selected itself – a unique school-wide Community Gathering close to American Thankgsgiving was born. Bill was under no illusions it was a “...rather unusual plan”. He was right.


Martha Collard '76

Bills ‘World Religion’ class got to work on logistics and brought it to life with a video shown to all High School homerooms. Classroomsized trials took place and the before they knew it, November 22 had arrived. A very different team took to the field that evening.

The labyrinth was 50 meters in diameter, marked out with surveyors tape with around 800 fist-sized bags of sand attached every couple of feet. It took 25 people four hours to fill the plastic bags (using sand from the long jump pit) and then lay out the plan. Martha modified the labyrinth slightly so it had four entrances to allow more people in quicker and keep them moving. The HKIS sports field had become home to the world’s largest temporary labyrinth. Tomorrow, they hoped to get as many people in and through it as possible.

Marty Schmidt takes up the story, “With melodic wind chimes enchantingly playing in the background, students and teachers took a 45-minute break from the intensity of school life above to contemplate anew the many good things found within our community. Following an introduction on the significance and usage of the labyrinth as a tool for mindful introspection by alumnus Martha Collard, the entire community entered through one of four passageways onto this metaphorical model of the journey of life.” Some walk fast, some slow. And it can appear that you are walking further away from the ‘goal’ in the centre when you are taking so many left and right turns – just when you think you’re close, another turn guides you away. 

After the event, Marty noted in his blog, “A labyrinth walk symbolizes a message of underlying unity amongst diversity and complexity. Members are at different stages in the journey; some move quickly, while others find a slower pace. But there are no dead-ends, no tricks, no attempts to derail. This is not a race or a competition to sift out the ‘most fit’ to survive at highly soughtafter universities. To the contrary, one common path leads all walkers in a meandering trail towards home, a place of security, satisfaction, and gratitude.”

So, didn’t we mention something about a World Record? Martha is the perfect person to ask – as the only qualified labyrinth builder in Asia she reached out to her colleagues in her community to find out. Nothing this size had been attempted with so many people at once. Photos taken from the eighth floor were examined and about 650 heads counted on the labyrinth at once. Lawyers were at the walk to verify the event and the information sent to Guinness World Records – now we must wait. The results won’t be known until Chinese New Year. Bill Leese, “…the record is more of a novelty. The purpose was to experience a tranquil moment of reflection express gratitude for the blessings in our lives. Students and faculty walked carrying a paper leaf on which they wrote those things for which they were thankful. It appeared that the vast majority were taking the experience quite earnestly.” 

However, does it really give time to de-stress and reflect? One response to the Marty’s blog by ‘Christopher Huie’ suggests so, “The labyrinth walk is a powerful tool for relaxation and meditation. When done correctly, it can help students forget about the various stresses in their day. It’s a quasi-transformative process that almost forces individuals to listen to their thoughts, think about what’s important to them and, consequently, reflect on their lives.  Each time I did the labyrinth, I was extremely stressed-out beforehand. For example, on November 23 I was bombarded with various quizzes, tests, and projects, but the short yet relaxing walk through the labyrinth acted as a fleeting escape away from reality. It let me brush aside all of these worries and focus on the sounds around me and the sounds of my own thoughts. It was near Thanksgiving and the serene time I had in the labyrinth gave me the opportunity to think about what I was thankful for – an opportunity I rarely get. I believe that by further immersing myself into activities such as these, I can achieve a clearer, more controlled state of mind.”

Martha summed up the ‘walk’ when responding to students questions and comments, “Remember that there are no hard fast rules for walking the labyrinth. Some people burst into song, others tears, some become somber, some laugh or dance. To each their own. Embrace the diversity and the fact that for a few minutes on a sunny November day, the entire senior school student body was a united community walking together on their journey celebrating thanks.”

Speaking with people at the event and noting these posts on Marty’s blog, it was obvious the unique Community Gathering was a hit – record or not. Some found it difficult to ‘tune in’ and some thought it was a ‘good bit of fun’, but overall there was an underlying theme – it was time to reflect, time out of the classroom, time to walk and time to give thanks. There isn’t enough time and space to do that in Hong Kong these days – walking around in circles seems like the way forward.

Count for yourself… Want to check the numbers and see this amazing event for yourself? Take a look at the video on YouTube by logging on to the HKIS YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/HKISlive

Source:  DragonTales Winter 2010/2011