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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. Richard Sprunk

    I like trutles

    October 9, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  2. popseal

    Since 33 AD, pop culture, religious hucksterism, and ignorance have distracted Christians from the Life given through trusting the Risen Christ. Today it might be Deepak Chopra or Benny Hinn/Joel Osteen, but the result is the same. Christians and searching souls that are deceived by such hustlers are diminished to the degree that they tune in those nefarious 'spoksmen'. The short of it is, if your religion comes from the noise around you, you're getting screwed.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • John Richardson

      And Jesus wasn't a huckster? For 2000 years, people have been buying into a promised second coming that is always imminent but never actually here.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  3. Fred Goepfert

    Dear Sally,
    I am happy that you find peace in your labyrinth. It appears that you are a humanist. But you need to realize, Sally, that there is a Spirit, of peace, healing and love that is entering your being. It is The Spirit of the Counselor, Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit of God. That Spirit exists all around us, and it can exist within us. You can feel it even if you do not believe it. Peace, healing and love becomes even stronger if you believe it.
    Blessings,
    Fred Goepfert
    West Springs, SC

    October 9, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • John Richardson

      I don't think Sally will be getting back to you, Fred.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:38 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Yes John, isn't is just wonderful how some people think they are going to get a response from the person the story is about? It goes right along with their talking snakes.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Up until I read "truths" post I would have thought all creatures have the capacity to communicate.Reading "truth" I note there is at least one of Gods creatures that does not have the ability or common sense to communicate.That unfortunate goes by the weird handle"truth"prevails.God bless

      October 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  4. Printlight

    I am touched. I wonder if I can come down and we could walk together. I was thinking of building one myself but I could not decided whether to choose the one in Chartres or the mandala of the Tibetan monks. I flew the Tibetan monks in for advice and they told me that I would eventually have to destroy the path. I did not like that. I had a problem with Chartres because of the Catholic thing, you know. Too much negative psychic energy there. Being a secularist does not help. You obviously have the solution. Maybe it is the pose. Maybe we can discuss it at the Wall Street Rally which CNN is too scared to cover. Shame on you CNN for not covering the Wall Street protests. You are covering this non-story. Shame! You are no longer a news organization.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  5. chetthejet

    whatever floats your boat. I prefer the traditional way, but who knows?

    October 9, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Kace

      What is the traditional way?

      October 9, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  6. Eric

    "I walked in a man-made construct and saw stuff! Wicked!"

    Either pass the bowl or shut up. Nobody cares about your existential experience. Eff off, yeah? It's called reality; no magic man in the sky, No noodly appendage, nothing. This isn't Kindergarten.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  7. Tom

    To each their own, but I can't see why this is even a story on CNN, let alone a headline story.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  8. Trish

    Wow, so many bitter people reading CNN. Labyrinths are meditative tools and meditation has been proven, time and again, to improve our health and mental state – why not try meditating for a couple of minutes instead of writing negative posts about something you've never even tried.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • Tia

      Not all of us can afford to jet off to exclusive spas or build our own "labyrinth" to walk in circles and stare at the sky.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Atheist

      Trish, please post your evidence that meditation improves your health.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • dg

      Tia, your arrogance betrays you shallowness and your apparent problem with projection. Trish laid out clearly that which the author did not and it went right over your head. Meditation has been scientifically studied and prven to have a positive effect on the mind and body. Also, you can meditate for free, there is plenty of information onvarious techniques available easily and free on the net. Hilarious when people like you provide evidence of how much of a mor.on they are.

      Atheist, quit being such a lazy as*. Look it up on google... "scientific meditation studies" will get you started.I suggest starting off with the wiki entry first as the actual studies may be too deep for you considering you are so close minded and uninformed to begin with.

      October 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  9. AtheistSteve

    This nothing more than more New Age Woo type garbage. People have felt the same feelings or insights using pyramids or crystals or whatever. Meditation is the real key here, not all this extraneous junk. Calming the mind or "going Zen" is a thousands of years old practice. Without any of these superfluous trappings I've been able to view something with a new perspective or clarity simply by laying in bed before falling asleep. This is very old mundane stuff Sally...nothing new here.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • John Richardson

      Labyrinths and the other things are simply tools, and fairly effective ones. Why belittle that?

      October 9, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • Kace

      @ John Richardson: why belittle that? Because someone is making big bucks off vulnerable people who could obtain the same results by taking a walk in the woods.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  10. Moby49

    As always, ridicule what you can't or won't understand. Been the same since the beginning of man.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • CT

      What is there to understand? She had more money than she could spend, she couldn't deal with having a kid who wasn't "perfect" so she ran off to a spa where they had a labyrinth to show her how to walk in a circle and realize that her kid was not only different but better than the other kids just because he was hers.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • *frank*

      Good synopsis. I've a slight suspicion the author employs the "chaturanga, or corpse pose" as her primary love-making technique.

      October 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  11. HollyAnnG

    If this place helped her to meditate, so be it. However, this IS NOT SPIRITUAL: "He was different from all the other trees but he was more beautiful than they were." What bad values. Love your kid because he is worth loving and because we all have value, but don't make him out to be better or more beautiful than other people.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  12. Susan

    CNN, you should be ashamed of yourself for giving time to this non-story. I tried to like Quinn's story or find some nugget of inspiration . . . . I really did try. CNN, please fill up your homepage with actual news or something that actually is insightful.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • Tia

      CNN puts a "faith" story from their Belief Blog on the front page every Sunday. While I agree that it isn't news you could always...oh, maybe...not click on Belief Blog stories? Then you won't have to waste your precious time reading "non news".

      October 9, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  13. Karloff

    A most common learning disability: the magical thinking of religious/spiritual belief. It's so sad many people still suffer from this malady.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:12 am |
    • Kathy

      Sometimes we need a little magic in our lives. It helps us to understand reality. Everyone needs a little quiet time to think things through.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  14. incredulous

    If I could afford to jet off to exclusive spas, and build 50 foot labyrinths in the park of my huge Georgetown estate, I think I might also start to see the light.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:07 am |
    • Tia

      I thought the same thing. Only someone who can afford to throw away money would need to build a circle to walk around so she can face her problems.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:22 am |
  15. Enoch

    There are all sorts of crazy in this world. If you need to walk through a labyrinth to accept your son, well, sometimes crazy helps people get to what others knew all along.

    October 9, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • texasgoat

      i get the same results as Sally just using a foil cap and sitting in my bath tub.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  16. gager

    Let's all abandon reason and logic and see where that takes us.

    October 9, 2011 at 6:47 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Why would you want to abandon God given gifts?God bless

      October 9, 2011 at 6:53 am |
    • Peter

      It can work, that is how we move forward, maybe you should try it!

      October 9, 2011 at 7:10 am |
    • herbert juarez

      peter, you suggest stupid as a lifestyle?bon chance with that.God bless

      October 9, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      ah, Herbie-The-Hate-Bug: you know you can't use 'god' to try to convince the rational mind...no matter how often you spew your hatred and delusions, you are never going to convince anyone of us who have opened our minds. We see the logic and reason behind our planet without the need for a supernatural force.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Might you be the same logical "truth"prevails that insisted there were no nations mentioned in Revelation then posted 20 or so Biblical translations and paraphrases of two nations in Revelation to support your reason and intellect?If so, I believe I'll stick with My God given abilities.God bless

      October 9, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • Colin

      TruthPrevails – don't worry about Herbert. he is a well known loony on this site. He makes stupid posts then calls everybody who disagrees with him a "liar". To give you an idea of just how deluded the poor fool is, here is a post he made about why god sent Noah's flood – Herbert still believes in Noah's flood, along with a lot of other supernatural hocus pocus.

      "Angels ,the sons of God looked on the daughters of men and cohabited with them creating a race of mutants or giants that would have destroyed the human race as we know it.These creatures were evil incarnate, and left to continue, none of us would exist."

      Yep, that pretty much sums up Herbert! Just ignore him, the rest of us do.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Herbie-The-Hate-Bug:: Might you just be a little behind the times on the story line? Then again that would be expected of you...you're a little behind on reality.

      @Colin: I know that Herbie-The-Hate-Bug is a fool. It just baffles me that he still thinks he can convince the rational minded with his delusions. I don't think he is capable of reading through any post that is contradicting his fairy tale life, once he starts he sticks his fingers in his ears and starts screaming 'la-la-la-I can't hear you'...after all, only children believe in fairy tales! I fear people like him being in existence, they only pollute our world and make for good humor.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • ...

      report all herbert juarez posts as abuse. This is a public service announcement.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • herbert juarez

      truth prevails got caught in a fools argument and proved himself a liar and poor old colin got his butt kicked on bible knowledge.Now all the two can do is whimper,toss stones and kiss each others butts.Kind of sad actually,losers in this life and losers for all eternity,unless they repent.God bless

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

      A look at herbert juarez's posts quickly reveals that with his style of scrunching the words together with no spaces for punctuation he is quite anal retentive. His sphincter is nearly closed. His delusional excrement is let loose through his fingertips on the keyboard.

      October 9, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      @anal y sis
      In the game of life it is always good to have someone way out in left field.Analysis, you just stand out there, like you are already doing and if a ball comes your way ,toss it back to the real players o.k?God bless

      October 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • No One Is Safe

      i'm quite sure that "herbie" is just yet another of adelina's multi-tude of names. schizoid is as schizoid does....

      October 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  17. Rich

    The obvious solution to this problem is massive tax cuts for the super rich.

    October 9, 2011 at 6:47 am |
  18. Bitneek

    It is completely ridiculous that this is the headline story on CNN at the moment. I just can't understand how this inane dribble is actually considered to be important enough to be featured as a front page article.

    October 9, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  19. PD

    You need to put your faith in Jesus Christ if you're going to go to heaven.

    October 9, 2011 at 6:36 am |
    • Peter

      There is no heaven and there is no hell! No one has EVER come back to prove that they might even exist! Keep wasting your life believing in something that will never happen.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:12 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Get out of the boat peter.People have come back ,Most notably the Lord Jesus Christ,who left through His followers an amazing record.Today with the God given advances and knowledge of science and medicine many have come back to tell of the wonders they experienced,others have realized the error of their ways.God bless

      October 9, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Herbie-The-Hate-Bug: those who claim to have left and returned, never really left.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Medical science confirms the loss of life and return of many cases, some for quite lengthy periods of time.These cases are available to anyone with a real desire to know the Truth.God bless

      October 9, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • Atheist

      For Gods sake, Herbert, stop this "God bless"!

      October 9, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Herbie-The-Hate-Bug: There is no proof of anyone ever being brought back from the dead. I'm not certain you understand the true meaning of being dead...the following should give you a better understanding:

      Clinical death

      When the pulse stops, this is referred to as "clinical death". It is important to note that while clinical death often leads to death, it is not the same thing. Stories of people "coming back from the dead" or "being dead for three minutes" are the result of people being cla.ssed as clinically dead but who haven't suffered irreversible brain failure. Tales of near-death experiences (NDEs) are always good for a book deal, or a stint on Coast to Coast AM, but the universality of the experiences across cultures suggests a biological explanation, perhaps the reaction of any human brain to mortal trauma.

      Cellular death

      The whole idea of defining "death" becomes slightly more complicated by the idea of cellular death. Even if someone's heart stops, and their brain ceases to function, the chemical and biological processes inside each cell will continue. They will continue respiring, producing proteins and replicating until they run out of energy in the form of food and oxygen. Cells are not intelligent or aware (even if the organism that they form is) so they don't know that they're part of someone who has died.

      It is claimed that you could clone a pig from sausages if they're fresh enough, because many of the cells inside them are still alive (think about that next time you buy a fresh string from the butchers). So as cells live on, could a person be cla.ssed as still alive? Not necessarily, as a "person" or "being" (or whatever you prefer to say) is an emergent enti.ty composed of these cells when they function together correctly. The death of the person is when these cells cease to function together to produce the emergent phenomena. This leads to a slight issue with people who claim that life begins at a cellular stage as an argument against ab.ortion or birth control; as logically they should also conclude that if life begins at this cellular stage, it would also end at the cellular stage. As far as most people are aware, no one says that "death" happens at cellular death.

      Chemical

      Although not a "death" in any way by most definitions, it is best to cover the very final step. This is because the form of a body will still exist after death and often beyond even cellular death (although it may not look too good at this point). At a chemical level, the previously living body stops resisting entropy and comes to equilibrium with the environment. Usually this is through being consumed by a variety of other (still-living) orga.nisms in a process termed decomposition. Even the greatest hair-splitters in the world wouldn't want to push back the "point" of death further than this.

      Unless there is some active intervention by medical technology, the entire process described above is an inevitable consequence of clinical death. In other words, if your heart stops, then you will turn to mush.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • ...

      plz hit report abuse for all herbert juarez garbage posts. Keep America beautiful.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • herbert juarez

      "truth" you got caught with your foot in your mouth again all the way to the knee, admit your short comings and move on, posting paragraphs of bs can't change or obscure who you really are, to anyone but an idiot like colin or his kind and they were already kissing your butt.God bless

      October 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Atheist

      I'm not going, PD. (Don't be sad.)

      October 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  20. coyote123

    Whoa, dude, I saw a double rainbow once. OMG, a double rainbow! I mean duuude...it was sooo, oh man, double rainbow...

    October 9, 2011 at 6:24 am |
    • Peter

      Skittles?

      October 9, 2011 at 7:12 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.