Sometimes you sit in a coffee shop and, even though you don’t really mean to, you overhear the conversation going on at the next table. That happened to me last week. And I truly believe that I was in the right place at the right time.
The group at the next table were engaged in conversation and all of a sudden my ears perked up when I heard the name “Sylvia Senensky”. I turned to the woman and interrupted. “Did I hear you say the name Sylvia Senensky, the Jungian analyst? “
Back in the mid 1990’s the idea of the labyrinth had come into my consciousness. A friend showed me a copy of a newsletter of the Jungian Society in Canada which had an article about labyrinths. It was written by Sylvia. She and I were both native Winnipeggers. And that connection and my newly sparked interest in labyrinths possessed me to contact her, hoping that she would let me read her Jungian Doctoral thesis on Labyrinth as Tenemos. After some initial questions, (she wanted to know who I was and why I was so interested), she mailed me a copy.
Sylvia had a profound influence on my journey. Through her I discovered the Divine Feminine, the hidden feminine face of God which I had never experienced. I found it in the centre of the labyrinth.
She opened a new way for me to engage in my theology and spirituality.
“In our lifetimes, we undergo multiple journeys in and out of the center… A journey into the dark can entail facing our own destructive capabilities as well as acknowledging and dealing with others’ conscious or unconscious destructive feelings and acts toward us. Equally important, it can connect us with repressed talents, with our latent creativity, and the open, loving hearts that are our birthright. The more we work with our inner demons, the more we open ourselves to the larger story of who we really are and what we can become.”
I attended workshops which she held in Toronto, early offerings which she was developing in her Jungian practise. She was committed to sharing the power of the labyrinth as a tool for personal and community transformation.
She spearheaded one of the earliest public labyrinths in Toronto in High Park in 2001.
In 2003 when she published her book, Healing and Empowering the Feminine: A Labyrinth Journey, I drove to Toronto for the launch.
In the book she “probes the inner depths of the labyrinth as a source of archetypal feminine energy—the womb, the cave, the domain of the Goddess, the core of the earth, the encounter with planned chaos and the consequences of the ignored shadow. Senensky draws on powerful personal experiences, the stories of women she has worked with as clients and workshop participants, and a rich literature of myth and fairy tale that includes Theseus and the Minotaur, Demeter and Persephone, Inanna, and Vassilissa the Beautiful.”
“The Feminine is about process and relationship. It is about playing, experimenting, doing several things at once. It is not goal-oriented, although there may be a goal towards which we are heading. It is the process of getting to the goal that is all important. The twists and turns, the forward and backward movement of the labyrinth, the dancing between the quadrants, the act of allowing the unexpected to affect your journey, the still point at the center – that is static and containing while honouring the rhythms and movement of life and death – all form an exquisite portrayal of how Feminine energy manifests itself.”
I lost contact with Sylvia and many years later tried to find her on the internet. Her website was not to be found. She seemed to have disappeared.
That day in the coffee shop I found out why.
The lady had been a childhood friend of Sylvia’s. She told me that Sylvia had moved from Toronto to BC, had fallen in love but then tragically developed dementia. She is now in a personal care home.
Sylvia’s eyes were very unique and I often wondered why she always looked so sad. The woman in the coffee shop unlocked this mystery. Sylvia was born without eyelids, a genetic trait for which she had had many surgeries. It was because of this that she chose not to have any children.
I felt glad for the update about my mentor and thanked the woman very much. I told her of Sylvia’s profound effect on my life. It seemed to make the news of her mental demise a little easier.
Thank you Sylvia for your wisdom and insight. You held the thread for me as I traversed the labyrinth of my own personal healing. You had the courage to share your discoveries with the world in person and in print. I’m grateful that I have a signed copy of your book to study and which to refer.
I am also grateful for your deep personal journey and how I walked with you for a few brief steps of it.
“…We have lost touch with what it means to live in the mystery of existence. Most of us get caught up in the ebb and flow of daily life, following paths laid out for us by social structures we have come to accept as the norm. We forget that life is not lived in a straight line. We forget that death is always sitting on our left shoulder.”
Sylvia has a bachelors degree in Occupational Therapy and Masters degree in Adult Education and Applied Psychology. She is a Zurich- trained Jungian Analyst and a graduate of Jean Houston’s training program in the Cultivation of Human Capacities. She spent the first part of her career working with physically handicapped and emotionally disturbed children, followed by many years teaching at community colleges in the Toronto area. She has lectured internationally on Jung and the labyrinth and its connection to the Feminine as well as being an experienced workshop leader.
Update: Sylvia died Dec 15, 2020 https://www.haywardsfuneral.ca/obituary/sylvia-senensky/?print=obituary
We are all silently called to place in time for a reason…..you found yours that day. NOT a coincidence my dear friend. I hope you are well.
Such a loving, giving woman, Sylvia, and that she still is. Her mind may be clouded but her heart shines brightly. Heather (an old friend)
I love labyrinths and always seek them out. I especially love to come upon one as I did in London last spring – it was done in chalk on a pedestrian walkway. Thank you for this beautiful article.