Labyrinth Maker Explores New Paths on Campus

Camila Chaudron '08

February 12, 2014

As the fourteenth speaker in Punahou's annual Spirit and Service series, Lars Howlett was challenged to inspire action within the School. Previous speakers have included entrepreneurs, authors, counselors and comedians, who brought their individual expertise to deepen the community's understanding of how to integrate faith and service into daily life. Howlett, a professional photographer and former teacher, is a master labyrinth-maker based in San Francisco.


From Jan. 13 – 23, 2014, Howlett shared his journey with Punahou students and faculty through lectures, class workshops and by creating labyrinths around campus. As Spirit and Service speaker, he spoke at the Chapel ceremonies for all students K – 12; every Chapel was slightly different, personalized to meet the demands of each grade level.

For the Grade 2 and 3 Chapel, he asked teachers to take a different route to morning Chapel and suggested that students observe and collect items found along their path. The children entered Chapel carrying flowers and leaves, describing how their new journeys spurred them to look at their surroundings with a fresh perspective. Howlett encouraged students and teachers to rediscover their surroundings by taking time to walk mindfully amidst the hala trees and songbirds of Punahou's campus.

During the Grade 9 Chapel, Howlett was more candid: after displaying a video of himself wandering through a labyrinth, he walked the students through his personal journey to labyrinths. Howlett spoke of the pain of loss, the professional frustrations and opportunities that led him to a life of mindfulness. Students learned the ancient history of labyrinths, which date back to prehistoric times. Unlike mazes, which are meant to confuse, labyrinths are unicursal, meaning they have only one entrance and exit.

"Labyrinths provide an opportunity for others to have their own experiences. They create a defined space for reflection and personal healing," explains Howlett. His knowledge comes with a sense of kuleana: "I have a public responsibility to facilitate labyrinths now."

Over the course of his weeklong visit to Punahou, Howlett created eight "pop-up" labyrinths around campus, using chalk, colorful string and even books. Howlett also oversaw the creation of a 29-foot portable canvas labyrinth, made by student leaders from Luke Center for Public Service on the Martin Luther King, Jr. day of service.

Howlett also wove his knowledge of labyrinths into the Academy curriculum: he met with photography classes to discuss his photography methods, math students to discuss geometric patterns and sacred geometry, and art students to explore real-life applications for drawing and design.

Response to the labyrinths has been overwhelmingly positive, especially among the Junior School. Students could often be seen walking the labyrinth on Rice Field between classes, and before and after school. Faculty have also responded enthusiastically, creating new projects based on Howlett's example: Kris Schwengel's Grade 4 class created 3D labyrinths using iPads and a 3D printer and Cheryl Durso's Grade 5 class designed labyrinths using the popular computer game, Minecraft. Younger students even spontaneously built their own labyrinth out of pebbles in the Omidyar K – 1 neighborhood.

Howlett explains that the labyrinth experience can be broken down into three parts: releasing, receiving and returning. The hope of a labyrinth facilitator is that people will release negative energy upon entering, receive wisdom or prayer upon reaching the inner circle and return to the outside world with insight. "Our society doesn't need more mazes, we have enough chaos and troubles," he says, "we need more labyrinths!"

The Spirit and Service series is hosted by the Punahou Chapel, in partnership with Luke Center for Public Service, and supported by the generosity of the Class of '41 and Chaplain Kenneth Rewick Fund for Community Service.


  • 2/28/2014 11:02:49 PM

    I learned so much building and walking labyrinths with the students of Punahou: Thank you for all your support and enthusiasm! The school also created this website for more information on labyrinths, curriculum ideas, and photos of all the installations on campus: Mahalo, Lars Howlett


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