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. Keith

    Why are ignorant people attracted to comment on an article just to trash it and it's author? Nothing damning about this article... actually quite enlightening considering most of the news across the globe today. I guess it's asking too much for a train of thought that resembles an educated contributor. Or maybe some are just threatened by the lives of others.
    Freedom of expression is fine but not showing respect is like that fundamentalist preacher and his pals who show up to funerals of military personnel damning them to hell in front of the bereaved family.
    Have a fabulous weekend everyone.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  2. CJEH

    I'm amused at the people who are equating use a labyrinth with 'go to church and be follow a religion'. There is nothing religious about walking a labyrinth, no creed, no doctrine, no articles of faith. The people who walk labyrinths come from every walk of life, and every belief system, or not- I know several atheists who find labyrinth walks very relaxing (and who will happily tell you the science behind why.) Labyrinths have been installed everywhere- cancer centers, hospitals, public parks, schools- with No Deity Required. So go ahead, quit freaking out about an issue that doesn't exist, find a public labyrinth near you, and go for a walk or two. Worst that can happen is you get some fresh air.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Thanks for a genuinely enlightened take on the issues at hand!

      October 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Exactly, CJEH. The bawling on here about Quinn's opinion is unbelievable.

      People like kathy whining about what she considers the waste of money and time are the ultimate hypocrites–if they were using their time to do what they castigate others for neglecting, they wouldn't have time to criticize those with whom they disagree.

      If you're yapping and braying about how Quinn spends her money and her time, why aren't you setting an example and doing what you say she should be?


      October 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Keith

      I count myself among the enlightened. Thanks for your insightful reply.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  3. CaptNemo

    I can't believe Sally Quinn has a son named Quinn. That would make him Quinn Quinn. Is that the kind of insight you get walking a labyrinth.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • sleepytime


      October 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • phoodphite

      omg too funny

      October 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • phoodphite

      Wow, and she says her son is already married. I wonder if he has a son name Quinn. If he does, and wants to be a rapper, he could easily be "Triple Q".

      October 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Keith

      If you actually opened the link to her son's website – you would see his last name is Bradlee. If you need help figuring out how a mother and a son might have a different last name in the 2st C – you should move away from your computer and get out for a walk in the forest.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Apparently, Nemo and JJ never went to a town with buildings of more than three stories.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  4. JJ Jones

    The author's name is Sally Quinn. In the article, she refers to her son, whom she calls "Quinn." So, does that mean her son is named Quinn Quinn? That just seems odd.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Google is your friend.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • JJ Jones

      LOL yeah, didn't think to google "Sally Quinn's son's last name" before I posted. Thanks for putting me right in my place, Tom Tom. You're a real hero here on this comment feature. Think I'll nominate you for one of those CNN Hero awards.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You're welcome. It's always a pleasure to point out the obvious to the oblivious.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • CaptNemo

      Thom, Thom a hero. For insulting others? Sounds like a bully to me.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What insult? It would only be an insult if either of you actually possessed any common sense.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  5. Rick

    Yeah, and Theseus said his life was changed by walking the labyrinth too... but he had thread and a sword, and was not about to stop and do yoga poses.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  6. samsword

    Tolerance. Patience. Love. Communication. I thought these were common values people shared. Clearly I was wrong.... =(

    October 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Peter Picklepopper

      Were you really so childish and sheltered as to believe that? Or is it just a cute way to feel smug and superior as you berate others for berating others?

      October 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • samsword

      Just expressing my disappointment in the hurtful comments being posted. That's all. Sorry if it offended you.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Peter Picklepopper

      I'm not offended. I'm just pointing oout the obvious hypocrisy. I think it's pretty funny, actually.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • paradox

      @picklepopper berating others for berating others for berating others...truly a paradox! my favorite 🙂 but cant we do better?

      October 9, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • samsword

      @paradox Yes we can. Me too! I will try to be better in the future.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  7. CHRIS

    I get the same effect (mostly) by going out for my morning run...but opening ceremony complete with torches and drums? Um.....

    October 9, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I've always felt that when I go for a walk, I should be greeted by throngs of people waving palm fronds.

      It's never happened. Even once/

      Oh well ....

      October 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      John ,try going for a drive,make a simple mistake, you'll be greeted by lots of people waving fingers.Hope this helps.God bless

      October 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  8. Drewskitime

    Its obvious to me that people who lack culture try to seek other practices to fill their own cultural void. Sign of immaturity. Like kids in high school who try to be something they're not.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • samsword

      Wait, I thought "seeking other practices," or rather opening your mind to other experiences WAS becoming "cultured"....

      October 9, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Keith

      You sound ignorant and uncultured.
      Go back to your culture which probably is not more than a crackberry.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Drewskitime

      And Keith. Im middle eastern so who is ignorant now.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Amicus

      People with no culture seek out other cultures, and that's bad. So what is the alternative? Simply live with no culture? "Be happy with who you are?" You imply that culture is better than no culture, and yet decry people who want to obtain it. Help me out here.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Drewskitime

      Everyone has a particular culture, unless you live secluded under a rock. Some just don't realize it and others are just dissatisfied with it.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • samsword

      I don't know what you mean. There is no such thing as "no culture" Do you like music or certain movies? Why do you like certain things over others? THAT's culture.... If you are theist or atheist, that's a culture. Culture is a set of practices, likes, beliefs, or values.

      To "be cultured" generally means that you're well-rounded and knowledgable in different areas. Art, music, film, religions, philosophy, science, popular intrests. Being "cultured" is a good thing.... I'm not sure what you're saying.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  9. Lynn

    Lighten up people- maybe you need to meditate! Sharing a positive spiritual story- how can that be bad.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • samsword


      October 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • sleepytime

      Laughing at ridiculous "spiritual" crap is fun. Sounds like maybe you're the one who needs to lighten up.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • samsword

      ...and yet... if people try to "poke fun" at Atheists, and point out all the fallacies of their views... They get quite defensive. In my experience at least. No one likes to be the object of ridicule, even though everyone probably "deserves it." Whatever that means....

      October 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • splishkid

      Sleepy: It is only fun for ingnorant people

      October 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  10. AA experienced

    This is not what AA means when it talks about meditation. This lady probably is addicted to opium LOL j/k but really she seems kinda dopey.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Get over yourself

      Another AA puritan who mistakes Bill Wilson for God. Classic "she must be on drugs" judgementalism from an addict. AA's ridiculous pseodotheology is as idiotic as the labyrinth.

      Do born-again drunks realize how obnoxiously holier-than-thou they are?

      October 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  11. SCAtheist

    CNN when are you taking this con job off your home page?

    October 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  12. Sue

    This same labyrinth has been constructed in New Harmony, IN with the center a bit smaller. I have walked it several times and I too find it calming. Wish I lived nearer and could walk it more often. Thank you for an interesting and uplifting article.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  13. Eric Roberts

    The labyrinth is only a tool. Once you get proficient at attaining that focus and centering, you will be able to do this anywhere.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Guy Kelley

      Sufism, Mysticism, Hinduism, Taoism or what ever other crutch you believe in ? I noticed that the author of this article has her bully pulpit to be able to offer her lecture from her perch on high ! Load of hog wash ! She reminds me of the other meg a church preachers ! Send in your money and you will be SAVED !

      Simple Truth, Pray and you shall be heard. Because God even knows the secret of the heart ! Quietly !

      October 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • SCAtheist

      What's sis up to today?

      October 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • samsword

      @Guy If the Christian God loves everyone so much, why didn't he send His son to other nations? They just aren't cool enough? So the millions of people who have lived and died without "knowing" or "believing" in Christ are damned?

      Did you ever stop to consider that God may HAVE sent his word to other nations? And that their respective religions are the cultural interpretation of that Word? Peter, Paul, James and John were just humans, why is their interpretation of Christ's words superior to Valmiki's experience with God? Or Lao Tzu's? Or Buddha's? Does not the scripture say "seek and ye shall find?" These men certainly "sought," who are we to say they didn't "find" as well?

      October 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • sleepytime

      Heh. Sally Quinn is certainly a tool, I'll give you that.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  14. Patricia

    Why is it that so many people are absolutely hostile toward introspection and meditation as a source of spiritual growth and wisdom, yet go running to other mere human beings to get "answers"? Why do people think it is preferable to go listen to some member of the "clergy", all of whom are simply other humans, babble on for hours about THEIR theories? I bet that, if Ms. Quinn had written an article describing something a "pastor", "priest", "rabbi", "imam", or "monk" told her and how it influenced her thoughts about her son, these spiteful comments would not have appeared.There is no reason for anyone to disparage her spiritual practice just because she didn't go running to some outside "specialist" and parrot what he said. There is nothing wrong with keeping control over one's own spiritual life rather than handing it over to another person.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • AA experienced

      The picture of her on the front page of CNN makes her look like a nerd. The article just adds to that image. That's why people are against it. Go to church, don't be a nerd.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • samsword

      We SHOULD be more tolerant and accepting, no doubt about that.

      But I think you'd be surprised. If it were something about a pastor, or teacher there would be equally as many "nay-sayers." It's not WHAT someone believes. For some reason it's simply the fact that they believe differently, and for some reason that's offensive. Be it Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Spiritualist, Atheist, whatever..... (I guess for some reason, if someone believes differently, people think it somehow it detracts from what they believe. So they seek to attack and diminish it, proving they are "bigger and better.") Typical bully syndrome.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • ThinkAgain

      AA experienced: The 12 Steps refer to "God as we understood Him" and that 12 Step programs do not promote any particular religion, just an emphasis on developing a personal relationship with your Higher Power and You should know that a person's Higher Power is personal.

      And don't forget Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

      Finally, going to a church no more makes you a Christian than sleeping in a garage makes you a car.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein


      There is a place, where you can indeed find God himself, according to His promise: The Christian Church. God has promised to dwell in the Church through the divine person of the Holy Spirit.

      Our current problem is that the Holy Spirit has forsaken many Churches, because they have accepted heresies like papacy, ordination of gays, re-baptism, cheap grace, etc.. Thus, strictly speaking, many Churches have become cults, where you cannot find the Holy Spirit, but merely demons.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Well, Actually . . .

      We are not disparaging it because she did not run to a human for spiritual advice; we are disparaging it because it is an incredibly insipid New Age wank-fest of a non-idea.

      Watch the film: she deserves to be laughed at.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Double Cramp

      If you read more about what Bill meant, this is exactly what he did NOT mean. Meditation means praying "ONLY FOR" and LISTENING. AA has nothing to do with this New Age sitting down with your fingers pointed together or walking around a maze. Bill wanted it simple. This lady has waaaaaaaay too much time on her hands. Lucky.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • samsword

      And the bullying continues...

      PEOPLE! If you want someone to take your point of view seriously, stop deriding them and calling their ideas stupid.... It's not a good way to influence people.

      (Although, I can't help but feel that many of these comments are just Trolls trying to give Christians and other beliefs a bad name...)

      October 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • John Richardson

      It's always so special to read these articles on non-Christian and non-atheist beliefs and practices and then sit back and watch to see who will emerge as the bigger pack of arrogantly ignorant dorks, the atheist extremists or the Christian extremists.

      I'm no fan of Sally Quinn, but she's both achieved a lot and been sorely tested in this life. Her spectacular and very public failure as one of the early female network news anchors would have crushed the spirits of a lot of people. But she has soldiered on. I wasn't aware of the trials she and her son have been through together. How many would have handled it all as well as they have? This may not be the weightiest piece on life struggles and spiritual growth and Sally Quinn is not the weightiest of authors on these or any topics. But I found what she had to say here worth reading.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Excellent comment, John.

      Those screaming the loudest are the fundies who can't tolerate the fact that others find enlightenment, peace, understanding, and enjoyment without belief in the narrow fundamentalist Christian "god".

      They can't stand it.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  15. Rainer Braendlein

    According to the Book of Revelation of the Holy Bible, supersti-tion causes God's punishment. Haven't we yet get punished by the Islamic warriors and the heresies of the pope?

    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 11:54 am |
    • ThinkAgain

      There are many roads up the mountain. Ms. Quinn used prayer and mediation, facilitated by the labyrinth to connect with a power greater than herself. It brought her clarity and compassion and a better understanding of her child, which has enriched and improved both their lives in tangible, lasting ways.

      I believe she is in touch with "the Christ" in herself and which resides in all of us. Just because someone doesn't use your words or methods to get in touch with the Christ doesn't mean she is any less in touch with God, who is much, much bigger than one cultural interpretation.

      A rose by any other name would smell as sweet ...

      October 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • samsword

      @ThinkAgain I love your insights. They resonate with everything I've been thinking!

      October 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein


      According to God's promise, there is only one place on earth, where He is present for sure, and where you can meet Him: His Holy Temple, which is the Christian Church.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  16. CCC

    Kathy you are so stuck on negative. Who knows what she has done with her money and it is hers. You sound angry. I have a special needs child and have been rich and poor and you know what unless they some greedy person i try not to judge as bad as you have. wow you condemn but what do you do for the good of human kind besides sit and judge.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  17. Colin

    I wonder if we will ever achieve the intelligence as a species where an article suggesting that magic powers of chrystals, gods, ghosts or labyrinths helped a sick kid will be rejected by editors as childish nonsense, not fit for credible publications.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Tom J

      Colin, this isn't the science blog, this is the belief blog. Go ruin someone else's day.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • ThinkAgain

      Read the article again. The labyrinth was used as a tool for meditation, that helped Ms. Quinn better understand her child and therefore made her better able to help him, which enriched both of their lives. He was not "cured;" Quinn says so explicitly. The article, if anything, promotes the need for meditation and reflection, to slow down and open yourself up to answers to questions you may have to better develop strategies for your life. There's no "magic" here; just the new practice of the age-old method of meditation and prayer.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Now Now

      Colin is just sharing his beliefs. He believes that religion, including this goofy labyrinth version, is idiotic gibberish that we should evolve beyond.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • ramadev

      @Colin – You come to CNN for credibility?

      In any case, it seems to me that one can read a bunch of stuff into this article, but I didn't 'read' that. To each her own.

      I hope that we all get to be ourselves and not conform to what we think, feel, desire others want us to be.

      Perhaps we can learn to be Self-righteous, instead of self-righteous.

      Om Namah Shivaya!

      October 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  18. Puckles

    I sure wish I had HOURS to walk around in circles. This lady has waaaaaay to much time on her hands!

    October 9, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Double Cramp

      If she isn't embarassed by the video of herself, she needs a lot more help.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • ThinkAgain

      She works for a living and is free to use her money and free time anyway she wants. Would you rather she sit in front of a TV for these hours?

      October 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • AA experienced

      @ ThinkAgain. Yes, I'd rather have her be in front of a TV instead of in front of a camera. Maybe it's her clothes but she's just too creepy to be a major CNN headline.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  19. Puckles


    October 9, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  20. MCR

    Watch out for minotaurs

    October 9, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Puckles


      October 9, 2011 at 11:47 am |
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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.