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October 8th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

My Faith: How walking the labyrinth changed my life

Editor’s note: Sally Quinn is a columnist for The Washington Post and is Editor in Chief of On Faith, an online conversation on religion.

By Sally Quinn, Special to CNN

When I tell people I have a labyrinth and that I walk it regularly, most have no idea what I’m talking about.

They think a labyrinth is a maze, a place you walk into and then have trouble finding your way out.

In fact it is just the opposite. A labyrinth is a place you go to get found.

For many, walking the labyrinth is a religious experience. There are many famous labyrinths in churches, the most famous being the one on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France, which dates to the 13th century.

Others see it as more spiritual. Some find it a meditation tool or walk it simply for the peace and serenity that come from being alone and contemplating a problem or issue.

For me it is all of those things. It is a sacred space.

I first encountered a labyrinth at a California spa about 15 years ago. I’d never heard of a labyrinth before and, though some at the spa said it had changed people’s lives, I was skeptical.

But I agreed to give it a try. There was a ceremony in the evening, with torches and drums, and about 30 of us there to do the walk.

I loved the ritual but didn’t really get much out of it. Too many people.

Still, there was something that appealed to me. So the next day, I went up to the grove of live oaks on the hill where the labyrinth was situated. There was nobody there.

I paused at the entrance and took in the surroundings. There was a slight breeze whispering though the leaves and the late afternoon sun had warmed the circle.

I began concentrating on my son Quinn, who had severe learning disabilities at the time and was in a special school. What would become of him? We had had a particularly difficult year and I was in despair.

I entered the labyrinth and began to make my way slowly toward the center. Once I got there I sat down and looked straight ahead. My eyes fell on a huge pine tree in front of me that I hadn’t noticed before.

It had beautiful spreading boughs, as though it was embracing the circle of the labyrinth. It was one of the prettiest trees I had ever seen and it was the only pine amid the live oaks.

I suddenly experienced a shocking stroke of clarity. That tree was Quinn.

He was different from all the other trees but he was more beautiful than they were. I began to cry. How could I not have realized this all along?

That moment transformed my whole view of my son and of me, along with my attitude toward his problems. Not only was he beautiful but he could use his differences to his advantage, helping others at the same time.

The following year I had a reservation to go back to the same spa. Quinn was scheduled to have cognitive testing the week before I left. At the last minute, they had to change the date for when I was to be away.

My husband convinced me to go anyway.

The hour of his testing I went up to the labyrinth, found my way to the circle and concentrated on Quinn for the whole time I knew he would be doing tests.

Later, when we went back to the hospital for the results, we were not optimistic. Quinn had performed poorly on most of the earlier tests. But the doctors said he had the highest score of anyone they had ever seen on one of the tests.

“What was that?” I asked. “The maze,” said the doctor.

Since then, Quinn has written a book, “A Different Life,” about growing up with learning disabilities (we now refer to them as learning differences) and has launched a website called friendsofquinn.com for young adults with learning differences and their friends and families.

He is happily married and has a full and successful life.

I’m not sure I can totally attest to the fact that this is because of walking the labyrinth that first day. But I can say this: Because I told him about my experience with the pine and the oaks, he decided to make a life using his problems to help others.

He has completely accepted who he is and his limitations and has a sense of humor about himself and his issues. His motto for the site is “own it.” And he has.

Does all this add up to a religious experience? Call it what you will. All I know is that my life has become much richer by walking the labyrinth.

Mine is modeled after the one at Chartres Cathedral. It is a 50-foot concrete circle on a slope overlooking a river in the country southern Maryland, surrounded by woods.

It has a path carved into it leading to the center, which is where I meditate.

I always begin my labyrinth walk by concentrating on something I need to find an answer to. I walk slowly at first, really trying to lose myself in my thoughts. The slowness is important because it gives me time to focus on whatever the issue is.

Once I get to the center of the circle, I start meditating. Sometimes I just stand and look out at the river. I might stay there for 10 or 15 minutes.

Other times I sit cross-legged for an hour or so. There are times, too, where I lie down in a spread eagle position or in a corpse pose, or chaturanga, and close my eyes.

I’ve stayed in those positions for hours at a time, completely losing myself to the experience

For me, achieving clarity is the most important benefit of walking the labyrinth. It has happened so many times that I now expect it.

I can walk in the woods or on the beach for hours, thinking about a problem and not be able to come up with a solution. Yet I can spend 15 or 20 minutes on the labyrinth and solve everything.

Supposedly the folded path pattern on the labyrinth mimics the pattern of our brains. Whatever it is, it works for me.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sally Quinn.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Spirituality

soundoff (977 Responses)
  1. CCC

    I just began to write an article about parents sometimes unable to accept a special need child. Despite years of special ed. therapy and the like, some hold in anger at the child or the school or someone and waste time not accepting and loving that child as god gave them to them. This was my inspiration to finished the last paragraphs. God is telling me today i am on the right writing path. The labyrinths go way back in history and if took this to get her to be a more accepting mom of her child, so be it. what ever it takes as long as it is not abusive or illegal.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  2. SS

    Labyrinths can be beautiful, calm spaces. It does not have anything to do with religion. A calm, meditative walk can be helpful for silencing the mind and bringing peace. Sometimes a person just needs a focal point to help them concentrate. The labyrinth offers a guided walk. Many people also find this peace through yoga or praying in church. It's just another means to the same end, finding peace, so does it really matter how a person finds that?

    I personally was skeptical about labyrinths, I figured it was the same as walking around my neighborhood. But we have one near my home, so I decided to walk it one day. It took about forty minutes to walk and it was such a nice way to unplug and unwind and really get into my thoughts. I encourage people to try it before passing judgment.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @SS

      Could you please explain me, how some tons of dead concrete, embedded in the ground, can give peace?

      October 9, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • SS

      It's not about the structure, it's about the experience. Some people find taking a walk through the forest or by the ocean is beautiful and moving. It is the same with walking this path, it is just more deliberate. It has nothing to do with the "concrete." You're being too literal if you are worried about the concrete. In fact, the one by my house it just a pathway of stones. Besides, plenty of people find happiness in churches and temples–big piles of stone and concrete, if I'm not mistaken.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • flooridian

      Well. True to it. I have had some really fun time playing in labyrinths – I remember when I was a kid my mother would take me and my brother to this park with a huge labyrinth. Lots of fun and great memories. I do wish there was once around here. Well during Halloween there will be the Corn Maze Labyrinth that will be lots of fun and offer some great time to unwind. Again nothing religious here some some great family time away from the TV.:)

      October 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  3. Rainer Braendlein

    I guess, it had been better, Mrs. Quinn had donated the money, which she used to fund her labyrinth, for building a school for the poor in Africa.

    We selfish Westerners must learn again to do good. That would be a kind of conversion to Christ for many of us (of course, salvation is for free, but according to Dr. Bonhoeffer, faith goes along with obedience. Believe in Christ's atonement and get the divine power to do good!). As soon as we have become real Christians, God will care for us (by His Church) and we need no more costly labyrinths. Surely, the Ruler of the universe is mightier than a sad labyrinth of some dead concrete.

    The gospel of Jesus Christ: Jesus has borne our sins on the cross. Believe it and get baptized (if you have yet received infant baptism, don't get baptized again, but refer to your infant baptism, which is fully valid). By faith and baptism the releasing power of Jesus' death and resurrection is dedicated to you. Your old man of sin dies together with Jesus and you resurrect together with Jesus (these are spiritual realities; just experience your personal Easter). God gives you righteousness for free. He gives you a righteous life for free. God enables you to love Him and your neighbours (even Muslims and Mormons). Details of the Christian life you can find in the Sermon on the Mount (Gospel of Matthew 5-7).

    Read the book "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an introduction to the essentials of Christianity.

    Don't get born again, but born by Water and Spirit. Get born from above. Find the Holy Heavenly Fountain.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Rainer, why don't you use some of your income to get an education and learn how to write. You're embarrassing.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  4. flooridian

    Are we for real? wHY IS THIS a RELIGIOUS ARTICLE? – We are a bunch of Atheist that dont believe in anything – And I am suppose to believe in Some LABYRINTH –

    Should I also believe in Pyramids – The buddha but let's get God of of this. I also believe in Vampires and Witches and Gouls!!

    October 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Keith

      And pray tell what is an acceptable religion for the good ole' USA that can be discussed in a public forum? I can imagine what the comments on here would be if it were a Muslim woman sharing her experience in light of her faith.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  5. kimwal

    To each his own. Lost people find many answers; the troubled mind is a magic place for replacing God.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • SCAtheist

      Yeah sure, live and let live. Just point out con jobs when you spot one.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • SS

      The labyrinth doesn't replace God at all. In fact, it is a great place for communicating with Him.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  6. SCAtheist

    Say NO to the latest religious con job.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • David

      say No to religion

      October 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • SCAtheist

      You have my full support.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  7. mycroft

    Why do you do this stuff CNN?! Do you not realize how childish it makes you look to put crap like this on your front page? Seriously??!?! Walking the labyrinth with a chick meditating. Nice. Welcome to the world of Time and Newsweek. They always throw jesus on the cover whenever they can find some ridiculous angle to include religion.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  8. David

    "I can walk in the woods or on the beach for hours, thinking about a problem and not be able to come up with a solution. Yet I can spend 15 or 20 minutes on the labyrinth and solve everything." cancer?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • mycroft

      How to sell more books?

      October 9, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Mike

      Me thinks she takes her Rittalin when she hits the Labyrinth, that or just straight Meth. One of the two is causing this delusion.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  9. SCAtheist

    Her concern is getting richer off of book sales. That's all.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Mike

      Agreed. Nuff said.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  10. Reality

    SQ appears to be offering herself up to the sun god. Any Aztec priests nearby?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  11. kathy

    Don't you love people with money? Nothing is ever enough for them. God gave us so many places on this planet to walk and so much beauty around us to help with reflecting on one"s daily journey, and yet here is this woman who is obviously wealthy enough to have alllll this concrete laid out in a design in her yard so she can call it her labyrnith. Most ridiculous waste of money. Life is too short for people like her. And yes, children are starving while she's walking her labyrnith but her well being is her concern. Lordy, what are we coming to, we human beings with so much intellect that we squander it on a concrete slab.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Keith

      I think you need to find a labyrinth Kathy. I am not affiliated with any main stream or new age religion. The author's words resonate with me and I live on disability – far from a wealthy person. Yes – nature is full of spaces. This woman decided to dedicate a space – not purchase one or make one – one that already exists in a place in the countryside in Maryland.
      Kathy – you sound bitter and disappointed with your own life. Go for a walk and be with yourself.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Nena

      What's important to remember is that we are all on a journey and that we will all find our time and space in our own way. She has been kind enough to share hers. Each journey may be unique even if the final destination may be the same. That is what life is all about.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Kathy, what someone else finds helpful and spends money to get is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Butt out. Get a life.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, Hypocrite, Hypocrite

      After hundreds of posts bashing what someone else does or believes, she now tells us that "what someone else finds helpful and spends money to get is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Butt out."

      Take your own advice and butt out, butthead.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Aww, whatsamatter? Did I hurt your widdle feeeewings? Poor baby. Must have left a mark.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      By the way, honey, when have I ever posted anything to the contrary? Go ahead and cite it.

      My objection is to those who think they have some right to force others to believe what they do and who spend all their time telling those who don't that they're going to burn.

      Get it, now? Mind your own business and stop pretending you know the truth about anything. You don't. You have an opinion-and that's all you have.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, Fop, Fop

      You crack me up! You are really wonderful! You tell Rainer to "use some of your income to get an education," then go for the most childish grade school immaturities like "Did I hurt your widdle feeeewings." Your hypocrisy is utterly hilarioous!

      Keep it up; you are wonderfully comical. I really enjoy it.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It really cracks me up that kathy speaks of having "so much intellect" when she is obviously under the impression that Quinn invented labyrinths and is the first person to use one.

      Moron.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, don't fret. I intend to continue to ridicule the dumbazzes on here.

      If you're entertained, great. If not, boo hoo, don't read my posts.

      Get a clue, kathy. You're completely unable to comprehend the point of a post and then you're incensed when someone else laughs at your stupidity.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  12. paradox

    Anger...anger, anger....is a self incinerating state of mind...and as we burn, we often try to embrace anyone within grasp....It blurs our vision so that we only see our own flames.... Perhaps she wishes to sell a book, perhaps she is a mystic, perhaps she is just a writer getting paid for her blog, perhaps she wishes to help people in her own way....It is the commentary that tells the story, not the labrynth.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  13. peick

    Once upon a time, a long long time ago, people went to church to hear about God, his word, and his power. And they prayed to God for help in their lives. Now we go to church to have feel-good experiences with no need for God. I guess we worship ourselves now. The only problem is, are we worth worshiping? We who sleep around, kill each other in wars, steal, cheat, lie, destroy? But I guess as long as it makes you feel good, worship whatever you want.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Tom

      Rash generalizations get you nowhere and make no point.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  14. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    What's really telling about these comments is how much ignorance they reveal. It's pretty clear most of you dolts have never even heard of walking a labyrinth or have a clue what one is.

    I suspect most of you dimbulbs are glued to a computer screen, cell phone, or TV 24/7 and your level of education is commensurate with your sources of entertainment.

    You ridicule Quinn for her use of a labyrinth to clear her mind when you have none to clear or sit drooling away, mesmerized by your own idiotic comments.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • kathy

      Tommy, u r sooo wrong. she obviously has money and the well to do are always coming up with something to feel their need for peace within themselves. maybe a little less cosmetic surgery (face has obviously been worked on) and more real inner concern with her issues would be much more beneficial than walking her labyrnith.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How would YOU know what is best for her, you moron? You are so clueless you think a labyrinth is something "new". Maybe you should spend your dough buying books and a brain so you can educate yourself.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Peace2All

      @kathy

      Just a thought... Did you stop to think that maybe her(author's) way of achieving some "inner clarity" or "inner peace" 'is' by going through this meditative process...?

      Everyone is different... and... 'your' way may be different from mine, and everyone else.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      October 9, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Squiggy Tanaka

      Google Sally Quinn and you will find that she is a real piece of work. She was hired to the Washington Post as a writer by her future husband after a report on a pajama party, despite never having written anything. She has the record for shortest career as a national news anchor (though she had never reported news ever), noted for making inappropriate comments.

      She is a member of the Washington political elite who got many posh jobs without even the slightest experience, and who has used her position as a journalist to further personal feuds, having her column in the Post terminated last year for doing just that. She reputedly broke up Ben Bradlee's previous marriage so that she could have him.

      Sally Quinn is the kind of liberal that makes liberals cringe,a spoiled insider with dingbat theories, judgemental despite her own dubious behavior.

      She's not what you think, Tom

      October 9, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How in this world would you have any clue what I "think" about Quinn, you idjit? The fact is that I have no great regard for her as a writer or much else. You and Kathy are so dim you completely miss the point. Big shocker.

      What I object to is the obvious stupidity and ignorance of people just like you two, who are on here broadcasting your opinion about something that's been around for eons and yet somehow has escaped your notice until someone with more money than you have decided to write about it.

      If you two aren't married, you should exchange phone numbers, nimrod.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, Dumb, Dumb

      I see TommyGirl's Tourette's is acting up again. She loves to hate, she loves to be gratuitously abusive. I guess it passes for a hobby.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oooh, guess I hit a nerve when I busted your ballzz.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  15. Hypatia

    How to walk a labyrinth? Same way you walk to the john: one foot after another.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • kathy

      thank you.`

      October 9, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  16. Sparky

    In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth (Greek λαβύρινθος labyrinthos, place of the double-axe, i.e. the building complex at Knossos) was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur, a mythical creature that was half man and half bull and was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus. Daedalus had made the Labyrinth so cunningly that he himself could barely escape it after he built it.[1] Theseus was aided by Ariadne, who provided him with a skein of thread, literally the "clew", or "clue", so he could find his way out again.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Tom

      OH WOW. Someone finally pointed out that Labyrinths are older than Jesus AKA Precious J-Bones.
      Thankyou.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You wouldn't know it from reading most of the posts here. Most of the dopes seem to think Quinn came up with this idea on her own.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  17. Susan Nunn

    The ugliness of these comments amazes me, although it shouldn't I guess. This was the best piece yet. I guess it is the idea of something different that puts the fear of God or something into these people. What a novel idea, finding the peace within oneself instead of looking elsewhere for those to blame for what is happening in one's life. The people who responded so negatively have a long way to go on this path. Actually, they appear to be of the same makeup as the Republican Party does now. I wonder...

    October 9, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Hypatia

      Get over it! Not everyone in this country has partaken of your communal koolaid.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Rob

      It may come as a bit of a shock to you, but I think comments like yours are the most negative of all....

      October 9, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • jbr

      I couldn't agree more Susan. The mean spiritedness we see in every post from politics, to religion, to sports . . . No matter what topic, there seems to be some who cannot find the joy in it – only the vitriol. If you are not open to such things, why did you read it and then to take time to post something that would be hurtful to someone who shared a beautiful story of hope and achievement. I will never understand it and wonder what makes these people tick. There has to be some deep seeded issue that is beyond me to grasp.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • vs101

      The T party followers are quite familiar with the partaking of Koolaid. The koolaid of bigotry, hatred and ignorance, is injected like a permanent drip into their minds. These minds were poisoned by these 3 pillars of conservative ideology for generations, it is only with the advent of public figures like W, Chaney, Limbaugh, et al, that this barely suppressed rage has been able to be openly and blatantly displayed.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  18. hippypoet

    too bad there wasn't a minatour to eat you once you reached the center of it!!

    October 9, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  19. jeff

    I practice Falun Gong, which is a free cultivation practice of the heart and mind with over a hundred million of adherents worldwide. Its main tenet is truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. Thank you.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  20. ac

    Silly Sally. A Labyrinth in a church or a park is and always be a playground (for kids mainly).
    Religion has got people so darned screwed in the head.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What "religion" is required for walking a labyrinth?

      October 9, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.