Circle of Healing

The labyrinth at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center offers a path for quiet contemplation.

Published in Dome - July/August 2015

On a cool day, a woman with short, cropped white hair walks slowly, follow­ing the lines of a large concentric circle. Behind her looms Johns Hopkins Bayview Medi­cal Center. Although cars speed by just yards away, a shoulder-high hedge blocks any noise, preserving a sense of tranquility.

The circular path is one that thousands have trod over the past 15 years. Since the labyrinth opened on June 7, 2000, it has served as a haven for those who have come—in sun and in drizzle, on warm summer days and frigid winter evenings— to seek a spot for quiet contemplation.

Some look for inspiration, like the surgeon who routinely walks the circular path before a complex operation. Oth­ers seek comfort, like the grief-stricken nurse who must care for others while she mourns the loss of her own child. The concentric stone path has also seen its share of happy moments: local moms pushing strollers, neighborhood teens—even a summer wedding.

“The idea is to walk in with whatever burden is on your heart, and then to walk around the labyrinth really being ‘present,’” says Hopkins Bayview chap­lain Marian Boyer. “Once you get to the center, you can release the concern and, ideally, walk out of the labyrinth having achieved some sense of clarity about it.”

Some visitors, like the white-haired woman, conclude their walk by sitting quietly for a time on one of several benches that line the circle’s periphery. Others share their musings in a journal that’s kept in a protective cover beneath one of the benches:

I have found that the path to my destination is not always straight. If I am feeling lost, well, I might still be headed in the right direction …

I come to walk for my mom who could not, and she always wanted to walk this circle. She was a patient here. She is gone to be with the Lord. I walk and talk and think of my mother. I found a sense of mindlessness, but a good kind. Not like when you get lost in TV or electronics or books, but in yourself. I would like to say: Don’t give up. No matter what. Never give up …

An Artful Vision

Anita Langford, formerly vice president for care management services at Hopkins Bayview, has been involved with the laby­rinth since its inception. She was brought onto the project after learning that local modern dancer Nancy Romita wanted to establish a labyrinth in Baltimore as a way to promote healing through movement arts. Romita partnered with Hopkins Bayview to secure funding, which came in large part from the TKF Foundation of Annapolis. Then, she and Langford collaborated to find a suitable location—between the John R. Burton Pavilion and the Francis Scott Key Pavilion buildings.

Dave Tolzmann was the project’s de­signer. “It became clear to me that de­signing a labyrinth was moving people through space—that I was designing choreography,” he told The Baltimore Sun soon after the labyrinth’s opening.

The circular space he created, con­structed of cobble pavers in gray and salmon, is 60 feet in diameter, with paths wide enough for wheelchairs. The center is always visible and accessible. There are no false turns.

“We thought it would be a great healing place, a peaceful spot for patients and fam­ilies to come, as well as for employees and community neighbors,” recalls Langford.

Paula Teague, senior director of spiritual care and chaplaincy at Hopkins Bayview, often walks the labyrinth when she has a particularly thorny issue to puzzle through.

“There’s something about being able to get outside—to clear the cobwebs and get out of your normal space,” she says.

The Ideal Venue

Hopkins Bayview’s Nicole Utech has been a regular visitor for years, often tak­ing a lunch hour break from her work as a financial manager. “I like the idea that if you’re following these lines, you get to lose yourself,” she says, “no matter what’s distracting you. Just focus on the pattern.”

When it came time for her wedding, Utech and her fiance, Michael, lit upon the labyrinth as the ideal location. “For the past 10 years, I’ve been practicing more of a Buddhist lifestyle,” she says. “I wanted our wedding space to reflect that mindset—peaceful and meditative.”

On July 26, 2014, a light rain threat­ened to put a damper on things. But as the bride stepped out of the limousine, “the sun came out—it was gorgeous.” She walked through an archway into the space and down “the aisle,” with guests standing gathered on either side in two half-circles. Nicole and Michael said their vows in front of the labyrinth’s small gur­gling water feature.

“For months afterward, I would walk by the labyrinth on my way into work—it just made me smile every time,” Utech says. This month marks a year since her wedding. These days, when she walks the circle, her thoughts are focused on the next big milestone in her life: the couple’s baby, due to arrive in August.