Walk, breathe, clear the mind

September 20, 2018

LAUGHLIN ― Tucked just off Thomas Edison Drive is a geometrical walking meditation constructed to help one walk wholly into an inner journey.

Nine labyrinths total, created by Laughlin resident Wes Dufek, welcome visitors to the desert, where they can find calm, synergy and release as they meander toward the center.

Dufek didn’t have a history of labyrinths before he began building the first seven years ago but Dufek’s passion is clear to anyone who spends a moment talking with him.

Universities, hospitals, prisons and public parks are using labyrinths because of the physiological and psychological effects on people, Dufek explained.

“A lot of people think they are mazes,” said Dufek who has lived in the Southwest for 19 years. “No. A maze is meant to confuse you, make you think, these don’t.”

Labyrinths are unicursal, he said, meaning they have one entrance and one exit. The walker follows the path to the center and walks back out again without any additional options in terms of directions, he explained.

The goal of a labyrinth, versus a maze, is to help clear one’s mind, Dufek said.

“Things change when you’re inside of one,” he said. “So the point is to listen to your own voice.”

While labyrinths can be used for spiritual and mental clarity, he said he doesn’t have any expectations of how visitors use them.

Without prior experience with labyrinths, Dufek was moved to begin the project during a walk in the hills.

“I had just moved here. I was walking my dog and came up the wash, see a big flat area and I hear a voice in my head ― ‘this is a good place to build a labyrinth,’” Dufek said. “I’d never built one before. I went home and Googled how to build a labyrinth.”

Labyrinths date back more than 4,000 years and are found in African, Celtic and Greek cultures, according to the Labyrinth Society.

Dufek took his initial inspiration from the traditional geometric shapes found in history, but his largest piece to date is a four chambered heart, he said.

The heart labyrinth is much more complicated then the others, Dufek said.

Like all labyrinths it has one path way, or circuit, but the single path goes to the center, then does a reverse pattern to come back out before taking the walker back in through another chamber of the heart, he said. It works that way for all four chambers.

One labyrinth, 50 feet in diameter, is a classic circle pattern, Dufek said. It is unique in that walkers experience reverb in the center. The “acoustical anomaly,” as Dufek calls it, allows visitors to hear an echo when they speak from the center of the labyrinth and it is the only piece that features the phenomenon.

“My biggest critic was my younger brother,” Dufek said. “He doesn’t believe anything. But then he was in the (circle) labyrinth and was amazed.”

One labyrinths is the same pattern as a a piece in Greece called Cretan, shaped like a human brain, he said.

The land the first three pieces were built on is owned by Big Bend Water District, a fact Dufek said he learned after the fact.

Dufek didn’t consider the red tape of permits and approval because he was not disturbing the landscape, simply moving local rocks into shapes, he said.

The land for the newer labyrinths is county owned but Dufek said he’s not worried about the labyrinths being deconstructed because they have become too popular and well known.

It took about three months to construct each labyrinth, working as time and energy allowed for roughly two years, with the heart shaped taking the longest at three and a half months, Dufek said.

Construction includes gathering the rock, putting it in piles, and gathering more rock until there is enough for the current design. Then Dufek will take string and a tape measure, a bunch of 10-inch nails and draw his design in the dirt. Using a small hand pick, he will then trench out the dirt so the rocks will stand up. Finally, Dufek places the rocks.

Dufek’s 80-year-old neighbor Jan Simpson, a winter visitor, helped him with the construction of the heart shaped trail. He laughed at the memory, and said he’d give anything to have video of him pulling a child’s wagon with a plastic bin on top filled with rocks while Simpson was pushing from behind.

The Eugene, Oregon native is considering constructing another labyrinth in the shape of Nevada since it has been about 4 years since he’s added a new piece to the collection.

“Have you ever had an idea that just pops in your head and pushes you,” Dufek asked.

The Nevada-shaped labyrinth idea kept coming up time and again, either inside his own mind or from others looking to see a new labyrinth constructed.

Nevada’s walking meditation would be a seven circuit labyrinth measuring 50 feet by 30 feet.

It’s not clear how many people have come to visit Dufek’s pieces in the desert but Trip Advisor gets a lot of hits and has drawn many visitors, he said.

“If you come up here, respect it,” Dufek said. “Don’t leave trash, don’t move the rocks, don’t make your own patterns.”

Dufek maintains the labyrinths, picking up trash and replacing rocks kicked over after people have walked through the labyrinths, which are free to the public.

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