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. Robert Brzezinski

    If you are interested in reading more about labyrinths check out this post...http://spiritevolving.com/spiritualitytoday/walk-time-2/

    October 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  2. Paxalot

    Another rich flake. Note the large private grounds.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  3. SCAtheist

    She's all about the dough – this is nonsense.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  4. Bo

    So many insecure, negitive atheists, feeding their insecurity with their brand of humor, which really isn't funny at all.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • SCAtheist

      Yeah anybody who doesn't agree with believing in anything and everthing is negative and insecure. It takes being more secure to have the courage to not believe.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The most negative posts here are from the fundies who find Quinn's use of a labyrinth threatening to their narrow view.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Edwin

      Why do you think it is the atheists who are the most negative? Bitter people from all faiths (and lack of faiths) are posting here.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  5. realist

    Other alternatives to "paving paradise": Plant a natural prairie with all of the native species, plant a bamboo forest with a path going through it, plant a forest with all of the plants indigenous to that part of the country, grow blueberries, blackberries graphs, raspberries, chives, oregano, sage and other perennials that are tasty and useful, create lots of multilevel decking and invite friends, neighbors and family over for lots of gatherings, etc. I just think pouring cement to cover perfectly good earth is an evil "permanent solution".

    October 9, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      May we assume you live in a mud hut and drive a team of horses along dirt roads?

      October 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  6. marge

    Whatever works for you. Who am I to say?

    October 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  7. tallulah13

    I can't help but find this a bit self-indulgent, but it's her choice and her time.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • phoodphite

      tallulah13 wrote: [..] but it's her choice and her time."

      and time it now and it's right for her, it's right for her, and the time is now...

      October 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • No One Is Safe

      @phoodphite – thanks for the Yes reference!

      October 18, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  8. Wow

    At least this form of spirituality doesn't appear to be preaching the hate and intorerance and foolishness that you get from religion.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  9. Chad

    The pattern on the floor is an inanimate object, it doesnt have any consciousness, it cant take any unilateral action.

    So, you must think that this pattern helps you meditate, and that meditation/concentration produced the result?

    I would recommend looking outside yourself for answers. Jesus Christ will help you if you ask for it.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Maximum Bob

      "...And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

      Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you..."

      Luke 17:20, 21

      October 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  10. Nigol

    She should CLEARLY donate the labyrinth to our Congressional Leadership 🙂

    October 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Edwin

      ...but they wouldn't be able to find their way out....

      October 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Erika

      Posted on You'll find srluey a great deal of facts like this to consider. That is the excellent examine mention. My partner and i provide thoughts previously mentioned because basic inspiration nevertheless clearly you can find questions like the a single you mention in which the most important point will likely be in honest great belief. My partner and i put on?t understand in the event that guidelines possess come about all-around things like which, nevertheless I am certain that your career is actually clearly defined as a good sport. Equally children have the influence associated with just a moment’s enjoyment, through-out their own existence.

      March 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  11. sdchick

    Very believable. For those who can not achieve pinnacle of meditation on their own, can use Labyrinth as tool to achieve. It materially represents the mental journey of meditation from body to mind to soul.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Magic

      There is nothing magical about a Labyrinth. One can get the same experience walking in circles around your kitchen... or lying on the living room floor staring at a ceiling tile. It is a state of mind.

      I have nothing against it... but just don't try to supernaturalize it.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Edwin

      Magic: meditation IS a form of magic. Its effects are greater than a simple analysis suggests they should be. Someday biological science will surely explain the benefits in a biological way, but for now it is akin to magic.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  12. Dana Bate

    A beautiful experience. Thank you Sally.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  13. Armando

    Sally Quinn is a hot beauty master piece ..... I like her, she relax me every-time that I think of her

    October 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  14. Margo

    The limousine liberals and their mumbo-jumbo. These people are living in their own fantasy world losing touch with the real world.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Edwin

      Are you suggesting the "real world" does not contain moments of joy and clarity? If so, I worry about you. Perhaps you need meditation, or a labyrinth, more than the author does.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What really gripes Margo's azz is the fact that Quinn has more money than she does.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  15. Mindy

    I take this woman very seriously. I've walked several labyrinths and understand their calming, tranquil effect. Although I don't have a labyrinth of my own, I've visited several. I also find that very slow meditative walking helps as well.

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

      Not everyone is fortunate enough to live near mazes.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  16. sag coopersmith

    Good Lord, you people are negative! This is a good article and the video was interesting! I'll bet very few of you actually clicked the link to the author's son's website, a lovely and positive contribution to our world. What are you bunch doing to help anyone? As for how much her labyrinth costs..uh......so what? It probably was no more than a tennis court and it is her money! Many of you just want to tear down. It's sad! I'm glad the author shared this story!

    October 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • marge

      I wouldn't say negative. I'd say hateful. I've been using my daily run for 40 years now as my form of meditation. It sure beats drugs.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  17. yesiamajerk

    If that labyrinth ever gets torn out for a parking lot she will probably commit suicide. It's not the fact that she does this. That part is ok if that is what she needs. The bad part is taking up space on CNN to let everyone know about it!

    October 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Spiny Norman

      That's her back yard. She is part of the Washington elite who has cashed in on us while they tell us what to do and what to think.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How do you know it's "her back yard"?

      October 9, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Spiny Norman

      Google is your friend.


      She refers to it as hers in the video.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Ahh, so she built a labyrinth and you're ticked off because she did it with money she made as a writer?

      Poor baby. Do you get riled up when Uncle Cletus buys himself a new pickup truck, too?

      October 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  18. Jill

    Ummm, no. Having difficulties does not make you more beautiful than other kids...Doesn't make a lick of sense.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  19. CaptNemo

    Does anyone take this woman seriously: http://gawker.com/5553533/sally-quinn-is-a-creep

    October 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The real question is does anyone take you seriously, Nemo, given that you couldn't manage to figure out who Quinn was until someone filled you in on the big secret of her son's last name.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • CaptNemo

      Tom Tom the Piper's Son: You sound one of those self-appointed pundits of the commento-sphere. (Read "bully.") I've noticed how high-brow your posts are–consisting mainly of ridicule and put downs. Typical bully behavior. How's that working for you with women, work, kids and dogs?

      October 9, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  20. phoodphite

    I don't have anything against anyone trying whatever they want to achieve, as one poster described, a "transforming moment of pure clarity" (as long as they don't harm the environment or any animals or make noise or steal any of my time doing so). For me, I can quickly get to that moment of pure clarity with about four shots of espresso and a single sudafed.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • mo' comment

      Works for me.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • marge

      Speaking of noise. Those church bells get on my nerves.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:04 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.