Suzette Martinez Standring: A mother walks the labyrinth

Suzette Martinez Standring

My Mother’s Day gift to myself was to walk a labyrinth on one of spring’s first days. This year World Labyrinth Day (May 7) and Mother’s Day (May 8) occur on the same weekend. Walking the spiral path of twists and turns is an ancient spiritual exercise.

Often the words labyrinth and maze are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. A maze is a network of paths and dead-ends, and one has to puzzle her way out. In contrast, a labyrinth has only one way in and only one way out. The walker simply follows the path.

Twenty years ago in San Francisco at Grace Cathedral, I walked a labyrinth on its marble floor, a replica of the famous design found at Chartres Cathedral in France. It was an exercise that gave me profound calm and unexpected answers, all from just putting one foot in front of the other.

I discovered there is a scientific reason for why this happens. The left side of the brain, which governs rational, logical and linear actions, is often overworked. Walking a labyrinth allows that side to rest, while the right side of the brain, which is associated with non-verbal, non-rational and the intuitive, is exercised, according to “The Healing Labyrinth,” an article in Barron’s by Helen Rafael Sands in 2001. After walking a labyrinth, the two hemispheres of the brain become balanced.

In places as disparate as Scandinavia and the Hopi Desert, labyrinths exist and some sites date back 3,000 years. Judy Swaim is a volunteer guide for the outdoor labyrinth located at the First Universalist Society in Franklin, Mass.

“Walking the labyrinth is a symbolic journey of going to a holy place. It’s whatever you want it to be. For some it’s a prayer or a walking meditation. For others it’s a very pleasant half-hour spent in reflection, either indoors or outdoors,” said Swaim, a retired librarian.

At The Center at Westwoods, Mass., the grassy furrows of another outdoor labyrinth form a spiral meditation walk. The landscape is rich with spiritual intent. For example, there are prayer wheels mounted on stonewalls that flank the labyrinth. Say a prayer or make a wish, and turn the wheels in passing to release intentions into the universe.      

Later, as I walked the labyrinth, my stroll mimicked life. There are twists and turns. The footpath appears headed toward the center, but suddenly, the direction changes and it seems like I am covering old ground again.

And just like in life, I began questioning, “How long is this going to take? Am I anywhere close to finishing?” My mind started to race toward tasks still to be done. But then another thought bubbled up, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Note to self: Ditch the to-do list.

Somewhere a bell rang out sweetly – ding! The note was carried on the breezes along with peeps, caws and birdsong. The spring warmth on my skin calmed me. I spotted a Stonehenge sculpture on the grounds. It looked like an eternal gateway that we all inevitably pass through, generation after generation.

At last I reached the center of the labyrinth, where a large quartz crystal was mounted atop an obelisk. I rested my spine against the stone column. I imagined myself a lightning rod, drawing in every blue-sky, wind-chiming, bird-twittering, sun-warming moment of spring, right here, right now.

Then it was time to head back. Twenty minutes later I reached the end. Suddenly I inhaled a rich, powerful fragrance in the air. It was the aroma of grass, vivid and green. Why hadn’t I noticed that earlier? Oh, because now I was breathing more deeply.  And like a divine wink, a bell in the distance sounded – ding, ding, ding.

Email Suzette Standring at or visit

She presents writing workshops nationally and is the award-winning author of “The Art of Column Writing.”