A walk to unwind your ways

A favorite place for family walks is Poland Forest, and has been since our first days in the Valley.

Our boys were grade-schoolers then, and we found a tiny nook of beachy creek shoreline buried a bit by nature. They ran wild with ideas of what they could make of this spot that nobody knew about. As their imaginations ran, I would kick away the footprints of others who’d been in this secret spot.

The forest is a place that strikes all the senses. It’s a place to imagine, to engage, to escape.

I was introduced to another such place, albeit in contrast to the forest.

A music recital a year ago took me to the Ursuline Center in Canfield. On the corner of its grounds is a labyrinth — a local version of a creation that dates back to ancient Greeks and Romans and populations before them.

A crimped, crumbly note tucked on my desk since the recital served as a reminder that someday I wanted to get back to Ursuline’s place. It’s been a bustling couple of months around the office and house, and I headed back to that escape last week.

My note highlighted that guided walks are available, and that connected me with Eileen Novotny. She’s officially the center’s director of program development. But she’s also the guru of the labyrinth.

“While this is a place for prayer, we invite folks here for whatever reason. People from all sorts of faiths come here,” said Novotny.

Opened in 2010, it was the donation of Jack and Janey Donadee. His construction company led the building and design.

It was the idea of Sister Theresa Ann Rich, and after 20 years of hearing the idea, Donadee announced one day that he was just going to do it.

That was 2010, and it’s been host to great events since.

We’ve done a few Vindy stories on the place that I would encourage folks to read in Vindy.com archives.

Next Sunday, Oct. 21, is the final guided walk of the season honoring The Feast of St. Ursula. The guided walks will be from 2 to 3 p.m.

My first encounter was by happenstance, so I was glad to have an official tutoring by Eileen.

I’ll confess to not being the most active Catholic. But I’m a moveable soul — triumphs, tragedies, turbulence and good Oprah Winfrey stories.

When I bumped into the labyrinth last year, the boys frolicked as my wife and I just walked ... and walked ... and walked.

The labyrinth is a half-mile-long winding, narrow sidewalk tightly woven into an area smaller than half a basketball court.

But if you’re open, you can get it. Or rather, the path can get you.

That’s what we found.

Eileen said the inward journey on the labyrinth is the releasing — the “letting go” of things. She walks it in silence — arms extended from her sides about belt high, with palms facing down.

A small courtyard in the center serves as a gathering point for the soul before the journey back out along the same path.

The outward walk is the integrating journey — a grounding of our issues and integrating them with our insight. Eileen points her palms up.

It looks like a garden maze, but Eileen is quick to distinguish: Mazes trick the mind; labyrinths guide the mind.

Over the years, Novotny has seen the place enjoyed by all types of folks: YSU students, elderly, groups, handicapped people and others.

“One person was here for an hour, just yelling so loud. They were getting something out of their system,” she said.

She likes watching younger people there. College students like the labyrinth for its rules-free, suit-yourself style. Younger kids will sprint through the labyrinth at first, then get pulled into the winding, hypnotic paths.

And that was me.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him at @toddfranko.

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