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. Bo

    Perhaps it is that I had such a good positive day yesterday that my 'eyes' have been opened to the negitiveity of atheists. It could just be this article, but the overwhelming comments made by atheists on this board are so negitive. I now understand why they don't believe in God. It takes positive faith and thinking to believe. That really explains why atheists are so defensive. Actually they think they are agressive when in reallity they are being defensive.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • kimsland

      Religious ridiculous
      Poof, have you gone away?

      Then why do you believe in such fairytale, it is a sign of weakness on your behalf.
      Actually if you could just open your mind up a little, I think you would be nice person; and not one that is full of hate all the time.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  2. marina

    her labyrinth is bigger than my backyard...but i don't envy her, i can meditate anywhere,
    especially in the bathroom if nobody comes knocking.
    The way she puts it is bound to attract jokes, but let us not be so nasty, rich people are seldom
    fit to face problems; being spoiled is never good, and sooner or later in life one pays for it.
    She has realized that the bigger obstacle to her son being ok, was that she could not love
    somebody who was not WASP-perfect. Maybe she just want to send a message to parents
    like her, who turned a special child into a child unfit for this world. She made it on time to reverse
    his son's fate, and she probably just wants to warn other parents (probably as wealthy as her family)
    that THEY are the cause of their children deficit.
    i am happy, i have problems, but at least not those wealth-related.
    Peace and love to everybody

    October 9, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  3. IxNay

    I enjoyed reading the article. I was not expecting any 'news' and what I got was a heartwarming human interest story about a mother learning to appreciate her son. Somehow, on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekending, this seemed especially pertinent. Others need to lighten up a little. Not everything has to be Relevant with a capital R. Then again, I am not sure that this article isn't.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • kimsland

      I think you missed the point, there's no learning in religion.
      And although it was a funny topic that made me laugh, be careful because I think this person believes in this rubbish.
      Watch out I think she may be a witch. HA HA hahahaha

      October 9, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • IxNay

      What an odd and completely unnecessary response to my comment ...

      October 9, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • kimsland

      That's odd, I thought you were being serious?

      Yes this topic is a JOKE, we all had a good laugh.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  4. ironage

    Isn't it amazing how modern journalists want to make THEMSELVES the story...lol? I think people THESE days go into journalism to become celebrities.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  5. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Funny how all the Jeebus freaks are the most incensed by this article. They find it difficult to imagine how one might find spiritual peace by walking a maze and meditating, yet they have no problem suspending their disbelief when it comes to virgin birth, the triune god, talking snakes and burning bushes. And they're mad as hell when anyone dares question their beliefs.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      What is funny is how they turn everything in to a fairy tale and if it doesn't fit with their fairy tale, they condemn us all to he.ll.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  6. twiddly

    Hey, let's all build our personal labyrinths in the countryside!
    Oh wait, you have to super-rich and privileged for that.
    Oh well... no peace of mind of for the masses. Typical.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  7. Palustris


    October 9, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  8. kimsland

    Oh how I laughed at this article.
    Very amusing, and you say religious people agree with it?
    Ha, Ha Ha Ha H ah HA
    This is some messed up B!tch, imagine if she approached you on the street, I'd say move aside lady and stay away from children or I'll call the police (or your psychiatric doctor)

    I am willing to point and laugh at you too, I think you may be a mistake. Lol
    Ha Ha Ha ha

    October 9, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  9. Chucko

    Every morning little brown warriors navigate their way out of my inner labyrinth. That's all the meditation I need. Also, no mention of David Bowie, what the heck!!!!???!!!

    October 9, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • mdmooser

      yeah Bowie mentioned couple pages back.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Chucko

      Yeah I'm not going to read every page of comments to find that – glad you did though! Now find me a Hoggle reference!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  10. Chris

    It's a shame that so many commenting on CNN's stories (this post is a great example) use this space as a platform to dump rude and negative reflections of their ego. Sally, thank you for sharing your story re: Quinn

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

      Its a shame that CNN post this ridiculous stories.
      I have asked them to submit something intelligent, but yet to see it.
      Oh and Chris, you fall into the foolish area too.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  11. reallynow

    The labyrinth is an amazing spiritual experience. It brings awareness and peace. I love the labyrinth.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • kimsland

      Um, its just a game, don't get too excited.
      Did you die in it? I'm thinking part of you did (your brain)

      October 9, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  12. goofystuff

    This and other items on Belief Blog are for flaccid minds only.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • ToadInAustin

      And look at you with that big, strong mind of yours. You're SO impressive.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • kimsland

      True, religious people are pathetically weak minded

      October 9, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Chucko

      You nailed it. Seriously, if you need some little program to pull your crap together then you're just pathetic. Grow up, be an adult, and handle your business. Life isn't that hard, people.

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


      Religion, "spiritual" path, whatever, is most alluring to those who have never or can't grasp on their own how all the crap in their lives matters not so they acquire a "crutch" and get led off by self-help gurus, televangelists and Oprah.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  13. Absurd

    How does this article (which I did not read) rate TOP BILLING ON CNN's HOME PAGE????? What happened to NEWS, REAL NEWS, BREAKING NEWS, NATIONAL AND WORLD NEWS ON WARS, REGIONAL DISASTERS, CRISES??? Puhhhhhhhhlease, CNN, put this kind of stuff on the backpage! Thank you.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • goofystuff

      Simple. Populus is dumbing down.

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

      this is "skywizard" week, so at least the topic is relevant.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Beth

      You want a different level of new articles? Read a different news source. CNN is very dumbed-down.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Miss Quote

      CNN always posts a Belief article on their homepage on Sunday. Love it or leave it!

      October 9, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Atheist

      You sound like you're losing faith in The Most Trusted Name in News.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  14. Mike, Northampton, Ma

    The 10 minutes I spent on this article I can never get back....thanks CNN

    October 9, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Atheist

      You'll get your time back with interest next week when James Ray describes his sweat lodge.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  15. AngryVet2

    The mind empowers itself to seek whatever it is you are seeking, enlightenment, God, Allah, whatever you call it. What is inside is transformed outside upon your world. This sounds like other religions that have meditative structures. The same can be said of a quiet walk along a path by a quiet brook. If you like to meditate so be it. But realize it is not the path, it is the stillness in you that you seek. Try to do the same thing in your mind when it is raining outside.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Atheist

      I don't think you've tried fire walking yet. In this case, it's definitely the path.

      October 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  16. Dana

    Sally Quinn goes waaaaaaaaay back to her famous failure becoming a t.v. news anchor in the 1970's - anyone over age 55 will remember that fiasco. The woman had some money and social placement that apparently had people assuming she had something interesting to say. Since the 70's I have always found her just dull. Her topic here is interesting but someone else should have written about it. And for those who don't like the topic itself, zillions of things have been written about mainstream Christianity and Judaism on CNN - cope with the fact that there will be an occasional piece written about another faith style.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  17. Cassandra Chu

    i like it. nice to see CNN supporting a non-Jewish quasi-religious activity.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • dennis

      I so wonder why we search for answers in all the wrong places. It will always be Jesus. I have such sympothy for so many lost and ignorant sheep. haJd, pdh

      October 9, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • sybaris

      So Dennis, you worship a god that used dirt to create humans, then used another mans wife to recreate itself, disappeared for 30 some years then showed up to sacrifice itself to itself for creating faulty humans.

      Your call

      October 9, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • heresy

      @ Dennis- your opinion. there are religions far older than christianity. so just belive what you want and leave the rest of us be. christians, etc need to quit trying to convert the non believers

      October 9, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      I so wonder why we search for answers in all the wrong places. It will always be Jesus. I have such sympothy for so many lost and ignorant sheep. haJd, pdh"

      Kind of like the pot calling the kettle black, don't you think? We're not lost and ignorant sheep...only sheep need a shepherd and we're not the ones citing 'the lord is our shepherd'.

      Sympothy correctly spelled would be SYMPATHY.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  18. Rose

    Seriously? A wealthy woman finds a way to promote her sons book by writing about her day of finding peace at the spa? I find peace at the spa too sometimes, its quiet and no one is asking me to find crayons. People the world over find pace just like that, but the source of the peace is God who put the trees there, not the tree themselves....idiot. As all of us give thanks to GOD for all he has given them – like their life, their health, their sufferings, their children even those trees – they too are overcome by the peace only HE can give.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • thetruth

      Really? Prove god exists. Otherwise, your rant is as crazy as the psychobabble coming from quinn...

      October 9, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • thetruth

      you can't. your credibility has just been shot to hell.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • thetruth


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

      @Rose: time to grow up...fairy tales are for children and the fairy tales you hold so close to your heart are 2000 years old...they have no pertinence in society and until you provide evidence that your god exists, you sound like a child who still believes in Santa. Get a grip on reality before they lock you up in the asylum for your delusions.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  19. Tangoden

    Walking the labyrinth is an ancient Christian meditation tool. It transcends religiosity in that anyone can walk it meditatively and benefit from the experience. You do have to be spiritual minded to understand the process. If you dismiss it as silly, then it clearly isn't for you.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • thetruth

      meditationi is not silly. beliving in a sky wizard is.
      meditate to mother earth. we clearly are part of everything she provides.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Wow!

      She mentions nothing of Christianity in the article, other than the labirynth was in some old Cathedrals. She doesn't mention God is helping her at all. She says it's the maze and meditation. Meditation (the clearing of ones mind) isn't a Christian thing. Not sure what this is?

      October 9, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Wow!

      Oh yeah, Christians are to take every thought captive. This negates meditation, unless you call prayer, meditation. But prayer isn't clearing out ones mind.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      I agree with 'thetruth'...meditating is great, although she didn't need a man-made tool to do it and she certainly doesn't need divine intervention to find inner-peace.

      "The practice of meditation began in ancient times before man even had the ability to write.

      Meditation is an altered state of consciousness which removes distraction and allows a person clarity and awareness. Beginning with ancient man, the practice of meditation spread throughout the world and evolved into many different forms.

      The first known use of meditation took place 15,000 years ago with hunter-gatherers. Cave paintings have been found showing people lying on the ground in a meditative state. These people are believed to be shamans who most likely were in trance to ask the spirits for help when they hunted animals for food.

      The earliest recorded writings about meditation occurred in India about 5,000 years ago. They appear in the Vedas, (Books of Knowledge,) which are sacred Indian scriptures. The Vedric priests would chant and perform many rituals. In time, they moved away from the rituals to concentrate on a more spiritual connection."
      (source: http://janis-masyk-jackson.suite101.com/the-origins-of-meditation-a124588)

      Nowhere in this does it even state anything about christianity. Considering this clearly states 15000 years which is about 13000 years before christianity was made popular. This also blows the christian buybull to sh!t.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  20. TG

    In ancient Egypt was a mighty Labyrinth, built near Lake Qarun, 50 miles south of Cairo, and was used for religious functions. It was constructed early in Egypt's history, perhaps even before the Hebrews resided in Egypt around 1700 B.C.E.(Gen 46:1-27) It was said to have had 3,000 rooms equally divided between two stories, with one story being below ground. It covered a total area of some 800,000 square feet.

    The Labyrinth was a temple complex where sacrifices were made to all the gods of Egypt. No visitors were permitted to see the lower rooms of the Labyrinth, which contained tombs both for kings and and sacred crocodiles.

    The mythical significance of it is best understood in connection with the religious rituals that surrounded the Egyptian god Osiris (who was also part of a trinity of gods, for there was Osiris, Isis, and Horus), who the Egyptians believed was at one time king of Egypt. Osiris was the god of the dead, or the god of the underworld.

    The book The Labyrinth, edited by Professor S. H. Hooke, observed: “In Egypt the early myth of Osiris suggests the existence of forces which menaced the life of the king-god, both on earth and in the after-world.” The Labyrinth, with its bewildering system of passages, was thus believed to provide protection for the god-king from his enemies in this life and the next—even from death itself.

    In time, the belief in human immortality became firmly established in ancient Egypt and throughout the ancient world. Indeed, the teaching of the immortality of the human soul that developed over the ensuing centuries was soon embraced not just by kings but by the whole of mankind. Hence, the ancient Labyrinth of Egypt is tied in directly with false religion, and of which true Christians are told to "get out of ".(Rev 18:4)

    October 9, 2011 at 9:17 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.