Some people unwind with a glass of wine, others with a good book. Kathy Mansfield unwinds by literally unwinding – and she’s not alone.
Like many in recent years, Mansfield, 57, who lives in Quail Hollow, has discovered the serenity behind labyrinths: walking paths of swirling circuits that funnel into their centers before unraveling back out.
In greater Charlotte more than a dozen labyrinths are open to the public – at churches, a local college and several health care settings.
“I’m a really active, busy kind-of-person, and I could never be still and meditate,” said Mansfield, explaining her attraction to labyrinths. “The inward path allows me to release all that chatter, so by the time I get to the center I could be still and quiet and listen.”
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There are only four steps to walking a labyrinth: Before entering, take a deep breath and exhale; on the walk toward the center, try to quiet your mind by releasing what’s bothering you; the center is for prayer or meditation – stay as long as you like; the path back out of the labyrinth is for reflection on what you learned while in the center.
“Labyrinths date back to ancient Greece and Rome, and they have long been used in Christian contexts and in traditions from South America, Australia, India and Nepal,” said Marcy Braverman Goldstein, Ph.D., a professor of religious studies at UNC Charlotte. “There seems to be a modern resurgence of interest in labyrinths.”
Mansfield thinks their return is a natural response from people searching for respite from the chaos of the modern world.
“We have such a crazy society that people are just seeking ways to just slow down,” she said. “I think there’s a need for solitude and quiet and meditation.”
Researchers at Harvard Medical School’s Mind/Body Medical Institute report that meditative walks are successful at reducing anxiety and provide other benefits, from decreasing insomnia to lowering blood pressure, even increasing fertility.
Many health care facilities have begun to integrate labyrinths onto their campuses.
At CMC-NorthEast in Concord, a labyrinth of brick was constructed near the Levine Cancer Institute in 2008. A plaque explaining how to use it rests at its entrance.
Beth Jackson-Jordan, director of the spiritual care and education at CMC-NorthEast, has watched people filter in during the years. Some are patients and family, others are doctors.
She once saw a chaplain walk an anxious and upset pediatric cancer patient through – easing her stress before a procedure.
Jackson-Jordan said she’s noticed an increase in meditation spaces, like gardens and labyrinths, on CMC’s campuses in recent years.
“There’s been an intentional effort to create spiritual and healing places that allow anyone, from any spiritual tradition to use it and not feel that it’s just for one group,” she said.
One final bit of advice from Mansfield: Have no expectations the first time you step in one.
“Some people have ‘aha’ moments. Some just come out more relaxed and less angry,” she said. “There’s something about the twists and turns that helps unwind that.”
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
Find a labyrinth to walk at www.charlottelabyrinthgroup.com/labyrinths-in-charlotte.