College imports labyrinths for finals

by Kevin Garland | 11/23/04 6:00am

Finals are here, and upperclass dean Lisa Thum is bringing out the big guns -- labyrinths -- to combat finals stress.

These labyrinths, large mats that will appear in Collis Common Ground, will be available for students to use at the end of November. Thum may not be able to get to the root of students' anxiety and rushed lifestyles, but she hopes this "spiritual, meditative, reflective tool" will encourage individual change during what tends to be a busy and stressful examination period.

Labyrinths are not to be confused with mazes, according to Thum, as they have no vertical structure, such as hedges, to define the path and no dead ends or wrong turns. Instead, the labyrinth is a floor structure with a path that "winds back and forth and becomes a metaphor for our lives," she said.

Students will be encouraged to walk along the path as a type of study break, Thum said.

Labyrinths have a past rooted in a plethora of religions, from Buddhism to Christianity to Judaism, Thum noted.

"The labyrinth has some academic underpinnings, there's a whole thing on the sacred geometry of the labyrinth -- it's very mathematical," Thum said.

A National Association of Student Personnel Administrators conference last spring inspired Thum to bring labyrinths to Dartmouth. She said many of the ideas at the conference had too much religious context to bring back to the College, but that the contemporary usage of labyrinths made it an appropriate stress reliever and meditative tool for college students.

Thum ordered the labyrinths from The Labyrinth Company for use from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3. David Tolzmann '76, a self-titled Chief Geometer and Labyrinth Builder, owns the company.

"After the conference I came back here and ... got on a couple of different websites and I found this one that was really wonderful," Thum said about the alumnus-owned company.

Two labyrinths will be available to students, one named "Chartres Replica" will be 30 feet in diameter, while "Vision Quest" is 24 feet."Research has found focused walking meditations are highly efficient at reducing anxiety and eliciting what Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School's Mind/Body Medical Institute calls the 'relaxation response,'" according to The Labyrinth Company promotional material.

Thum cited other uses for the labyrinths. A local one at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is utilized by terminally ill patients.

Noting Dartmouth's hectic schedule for professors and administrators alike, Thum said she thinks the labyrinth can be useful to others in the Dartmouth community as well.

Thum hopes students take advantage of this opportunity, even contacting professors who are teaching classes with possible interest in labyrinths.

"I'm hoping professors might bring over classes," Thum said.