What the Labyrinth Taught Me: Meditation is Possible, Even If You Hate It

(Photo Courtesy Jack Dorsey)

When I first learned that prayer and meditation were paramount to getting sober (via a traditional 12-step program), I knew I was doomed. That alone was enough to make me flee from AA meetings eight years ago. (Though I’ve since returned, it took a while.)

I grew up in New York City. I’ve always felt comfortable in chaos. Silence scares me (or it used to, at least), so I was none too eager to sit in that silence, for who knows how long, in an effort to find my “inner peace.” Honestly, I was afraid I’d find out what I was pretty much already certain of — that it didn’t exist.

As a kid, religion was not a part of my life. Neither of my parents practiced or taught me any particular beliefs. Though I’ve always felt that there is something bigger than us making the world go round, I didn’t think there was any need for me to tap into whatever that something was. Quite frankly, I believed it was none of my business. The sun came up, we did our thing, we had good days, shitty days, injustices occurred, miracles occasionally happened, the sun went back down, and we did it all again the next morning. Apathy was my jam, I suppose.

And when that hamster wheel started to feel too restrictive, boring, or depressing (really, you can insert any adjective into that sentence), I drank.

But when I entered my first rehab in 2005, which I went to by choice after one too many hangovers and an uneasy feeling in my gut, I quickly learned that meditation was high up on the activities menu.

When my counselor told me about the sacred “Labyrinth” that the facility had on the grounds, I immediately pictured an exotic place where David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly would tell me those sober secrets I was expecting to hear, and then I’d be well on my way to a better life.

It went against everything I had become so accustomed to. I drank to escapemy mind, to relieve my near constant anxiety, to mellow the thoughts in my head that always made me feel so lonely, sad and scared. Being sober, still and aware of those “voices” was not something I was keen to do.

But I had signed up for this of my own accord, so I felt that I had to give everything they suggested a try. I was 30 years old at this point, and I was depending on this place to teach me some magical method and then — poof! — I’d be sober. Or at least I’d be able to drink safely.

That’s how I thought it worked. Man, was I misinformed about that one.

I made it clear to my counselor that prayer would be almost impossible for me. I didn’t know the first thing about any religion, so how could I? She suggested that I just say thank you, every morning and every night, to whatever that “something” was that I believed kept humanity ticking. That seemed fair and easy enough. Done.

As for meditation, before I could even express my concerns, she told me about the sacred “Labyrinth” that the facility had on the grounds that helped people with this process. I immediately pictured an exotic place where David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly would tell me those sober secrets I was expecting to hear, and then I’d be well on my way to a better life. I got excited.

But that’s not at all what it was (‘natch). A labyrinth, in this context, is a single, circular path, one that you walk in an attempt to quiet your mind and ease spiritual discomfort. To meditate and contemplate. They’re usually make with sand, soil, stones and/or grass, and when I first saw the one I was to travel, I laughed – it was teeny tiny! I was picturing a (non-haunted) version of the leafy green maze from The Shining.

But I walked it, as instructed, and while I won’t go into the details of my travel (simply because it would probably make little sense to anyone but me), I will say this — something special did happen to me in there. It was the first time I ever felt truly connected to something outside of myself. My toes were just barely touching the waters of recovery at this point, and I had many relapses and lessons to learn ahead of me, but that experience was crucial to where I am now.

Because I realized that I could tap into this thing that’s making the world go round. In fact, maybe I should. Maybe that might be a part of what’s missing in my life, and maybe it might help make me happier and get the hell outside of my head.

Hope swelled up inside me during that walk. I felt peaceful and calm, without any substances running through my body. My sad, lonely feelings seemingly disappeared. The woman who would not, could not ever meditate, meditated.

I smiled and felt relieved — there was an inner peace inside me after all. And if I could reach it once, however briefly, I felt encouraged that I would be able to reach it again.

To be clear, there are all different types of meditation, many of which don’t involve that cosmic bliss that’s most often associated with the practice. Mindfulness meditation is a good example, as is Transcendental, Qigong,Heart Rhythmand Movement meditation.

What I experienced was something in between all those practices — I really don’t know what to call it, since it was new and surprising and a little scary, to be honest. All I know is that I felt spiritually alive for the first time ever. Even more significant, I realized that there was a possibility that I could choose meditating over self-medicating and that maybe — just maybe — I’d be okay.


Anyone can do a Labyrinth walk. Find a meditation center near you that might have one, read about the practice or learn how to create your own.

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What do you think?

2 Responses

  1. Sharon

    Susan, THANK YOU for this! Neil gave me a labyrinth (well, a mock-up of one) for my 50th b-day. We are making it in the Spring. I love them too (and love your article above!) Thanks for the resource on making one, we needed that. When you are up in the NW corner visiting your sis, you will have to come over and walk it!

    • Susan Linney
      Susan Linney

      I’d love to! I haven’t walked one since this time 8 years ago, so that would be amazing. How cool to have one right in your own backyard!

      Thanks, as always, for the comment! You’re the best.



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