EDMOND — When she talks about walking the long, meandering path through the labyrinth, Kelly Davis begins to flush and tears start to well up in her eyes.
The feelings that bubble to the surface now are the same ones Davis, 21, felt after her leadership class at the University of Central Oklahoma walked the path printed on canvas last spring.
“I was in tears by the time I was done,” she said.
The labyrinth Davis' class walked was a portable canvas model, designed to be folded up and stored in a closet when it isn't being used. But a new, permanent labyrinth on the UCO campus gives anyone on campus the chance to have the same experience anytime.
The labyrinth is an intricate circular design — a winding path leading to a rosette in the center. Although they're traditionally used for walking meditation, labyrinth designs have also appeared in artwork from the Roman Empire, medieval Europe and the pre-Columbian Americas.
Located just west of the Y Chapel, UCO's labyrinth is a replica of a 13th century installation at Chartres Cathedral in France. It's open to UCO's faculty, staff and students, as well as members of the community.
The labyrinth is the first of its kind at a public university in Oklahoma. But several others can be found at sites around the Oklahoma City area, including at St. Gregory's University in Shawnee, Quail Springs United Methodist Church and Reaves Park in Norman.
Although some labyrinths are used for religious purposes, Diane Rudebock, the university's labyrinth facilitator, said the campus labyrinth is intended to give students a place for reflection and introspection. Businesses sometimes use them as team-building exercises, she said. They often appear in hospices and hospitals to give patients and families a way to deal with stress and anxiety.
“We live in a hectic world, and we don't often stop,” she said.
Rudebock, a professor in UCO's kinesiology and health studies department, has taken her students to walk both the canvas and the new stone labyrinths. When students walk the path, she tells them to focus on something they value or reflect on what's going on in their lives.
Davis, who used the canvas labyrinth as a part of Rudebock's class, said she initially felt self-conscious about walking the path while her classmates were watching. But as she got further into the labyrinth, she began to focus inward, and she barely noticed the other people around her.
“I focused on me and how I felt,” she said.
James Butler, another student from Rudebock's class, said the labyrinth offers a new way to relieve stress. That's important for college students, who can get so bogged down in assignments, campus life and work that they don't take time to recharge, he said.
Before the class walked the path, Rudebock told them to take their time and do whatever was comfortable, Butler said. They could go at whatever pace they chose and focus on one idea if they wanted, or simply think about whatever came naturally.
While she was walking the path, Davis focused on her breathing and the steps she was taking. Gradually, she began to feel closed off from the rest of the world around her, she said. By the time she reached the center, she understood what the labyrinth was for, she said.
“It's very relaxing,” she said. “I just felt like a big weight was off my shoulders when I was done.”
UCO officials will hold a public dedication and opening ceremony for the labyrinth at 2 p.m. Sept. 6.