I’m on my way to do sound at a PAT in Victoria, Canada, after doing sound for 2 family Retreats and Pat I, II & III at Lake Arrowhead.
On my way up to Victoria, I land in Vancouver, British Columbia. In the airport I see a sign that says, “You’re only a 2 hour drive from Whistler.” Heard a lot about it–a spectacular drive sort of like Highway 1 on the California coast, mountains coming down into the sea. I’m going. Into a rental car.
I arrive in Victoria 7/30, 10:30 at night. Beautiful seaside town on Vancouver Island accessible only by ferry. Picked up by Paul Smola in “La Bamba”, a ’66 Plymouth Fury convertible that he and his son “PJ,” nephew Connell, and friend Ryan drove from Denver to Victoria in two days. (“These things that I do, you too shall do and even greater.”) 13-year-old PJ and Connell sit on La Bamba’s trunk trying out 13-year-old pick-up lines on any and all females in the central hub of Victoria (the intersection in front of the Empress Hotel, a gargantuan gingerbread Victorian landmark, complete with hordes of tourists, street performers, and other forms of quaint, unthreatening Northern Canadian street life). I hop in and LaBamba roars off, out of town and into the coastal pine forest.
Paul is a personable, cherub-faced veteran of last year’s Victoria PAT III who during the training spontaneously started fixing things around the property, a peaceful seaside Catholic retreat center run by the Sisters of St. Anne. And this year he decided to come out a week before the PAT III and really work on the place. He sent an email to former Victoria PAT participants to round up some more help, and that’s why I’m here. Top of the list: building a labyrinth on the retreat grounds.(A labyrinth is a maze-like structure that is used in a type of walking meditation to open
up to spiritual guidance. You walk through it from the periphery to the center to experience an inner centering that mirrors your outer movement. It has been used in the Doctor of Spiritual Science class and although it is centuries-old, it has become quite popular in the last few years both in traditional religious settings and in newer spiritual movements.)
Workers include Paul, his son, nephew, friend Ryan, local MSIA-ers Corrinne Kidd and Kevin McGinn, and yours truly. More are expected later. We’re off to an impressive start, laying out bricks to form the concentric circles of the labyrinth. Each brick has to be placed carefully so that we create a flat surface on ground that is actually slightly sloped. So we’re piling up sand to compensate for the lay of the land, tapping in each brick like medieval stonemasons (supervised by Paul, whose business is construction and who claims to know what he’s doing) plus any kibitzer who happens to pass by.
We stay in the simple but comfortable rooms of the retreat center, our medieval stonemason lifestyle balanced by the teens’ excursions into downtown Victoria in LaBamba. The nuns are sweet, loving, and attentive, and take good care of us. A bald eagle flew by my window this morning. It’s August 1st, 5 days until the PAT starts, and photos follow of the ages of progress so far.
Everything is progressing quite well. The labyrinth is starting to look like a Labyrinth. (We dumped a lot of sand today and the levelling process is close to done so that the bricklaying can get going in earnest.) Kevin McGinn is doing an unbelievable job clearing trails. The 13-year-olds have found girlfriends in town and are busy moussing their hair as we workers go catatonic after a hard day. (They tried to convince Dad to drive La Bamba into town so they could sit on the back of it in front of the Empress Hotel and preen, but Dad, too tired, told them to take a bus.)
The nuns ply us with strawberry-rhubarb pie & homemade wines. There is a lot of calculating and tape-measuring and re-measuring going on with the labyrinth, as the facility’s groundkeeper corrects and refines Paul’s interpretation of his design, and bricks and sand are moved a few inches back, no, a quarter inch down, no, a bit to the left to line up with the other side, no, now it’s not flush with the other line….I tell them I’m here to take orders and enjoy the scenery. Reinforcements come tomorrow, we hope.
A very satisfying day. We’re getting to be much more adept bricklayers. At least 60% done. Tapping in those bricks, putting down layers of sand, then topsoil, and sod will come at the end. The teens devloped a new way to pack down the dirt: boards taped to shoes. Much of the heavy work is over, and work is getting much more refined: the art of getting lines of bricks perfectly even & level. Reinforcements arrived: Faith Murphy, Laila Virding; more tomorrow, as the PAT approaches. A 10-point buck visited us twice today.
Done! (Well, almost). Laid in the final bricks today, so the structure is complete and all we have to do is put down sod tomorrow and we’re done. A full day sitting in the dirt laying brick. The Sisters will do a blessing on it tomorrow. We’ve got quite a crew now –at least 10, as more people arrive for PAT III — and many spent the day refinishing the Chapel’s pews.
It’s done. The last day was one of the toughest: Covering the whole thing with sod, laying it out like carpet & cutting around the brick. Clothes, skin & faces black with dirt. The sisters scheduled a blessing for the labyrinth for 5:00 pm, and we were done at about 3:30 pm, just enough time to get a few layers of grime off and get ready for the blessing. The timing, the people who showed up to work, the pace, the arrival of supplies –all were perfect in a way that only Spirit could arrange it. (Example: we were told on the next to last day that the sod was unavailable anywhere locally until the afteroon of the last day –too late to have it done in time for the blessing. We finally found someone way out of town who told us we could have all we wanted if we cut it ourselves. We sent out a truck and in a few hours, just as we finished the brickwork, the sod arrived.)
At 5:00: A beautiful ecumenical (and surprisingly new age) ceremony that included the Sisters, us, and local churchgoers standing in a circle on the periphery of the labyrinth, listening to a short blessing; individuals spontaneously talking about their experiences in labyrinths (if you listened and didn’t know where you were, you might think you were listening to sharings at an MSIA seminar); and dancing around the labyrinth, hands outstretched toward the center in blessing; and then circling the labyrinth, looking into each other’s eyes and offering our blessings to one another.
A barbecue followed, all forms of thank you’s from the Sisters to us and back again. Gratitude and familial feeling in the air. Work on the trails and the church pews was as intense and amazing as the work on the labyrinth. It was a fun drama, and a rewarding role to play: being part of a team that descended on this place from out of nowhere, transformed it without any explanation and without having anything to gain by it, and took off to do our spiritual training, with the nuns looking at us like, “Who are these people?” There’s something very satisfying about being part of a group that transforms whatever it touches, wherever it goes, and I’ve started to have visions of MSIA having this sort of reputation everywhere, wherever we do a training or workshop.
All of this was inspired and kindled by one man: Paul Smola. He convinced us all to come, charmed the Sisters, kept everyone’s enthusiasm going, planned, measured, calculated, and held the energy for the whole team in a masterful performance of leadership, all while keeping two teenagers entertained and running his Colorado real estate business by cell phone. The real miracle here wasn’t the moving of dirt but the moving of energy.
And now your humble correspondent, a bit tired and sore, is ready for a few days of doing what his body is really designed for: white collar work. La Bamba is headed for Banff and Jasper Naional Parks with Paul and the teens. PAT III starts today, sound is set up and ready to go, and, as I always say to myself when the first gong goes off at a PAT training: “Let the games begin.”