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You Never Get Lost In This Ancient Exercise

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06.12.2019

It’s a sunny November day and I have found my meditative spot in the Iowa countryside—a labyrinth tucked into a grove of conifers at the Brenton Arboretum in Dallas Center, a short drive from the capital of Des Moines. I walk contemplatively, purposefully going back and forth, back and forth, until I reach the center. I am wearing my Fitbit, and the short 900-step walk takes me ten minutes.

I am in no hurry—that’s the point of a labyrinth. It’s a blessed change from everyday life when I feel the need to rush from one thing to another. In fact, in an ironic twist, I got a speeding ticket driving to the arboretum. Maybe I’ll be able to slow down when I go back.

The labyrinth is on a hillside, but I’m protected from the wind by a barrier of Eastern White Pines. I’m almost in the middle of the 148-acre arboretum and the silence is comforting. A tractor whirrs in the distance; I focus on that soft, faraway noise, then tune it out and listen only to my breathing, my eyes downward, watching the grass path as it increasingly turns inward.

Most labyrinths consist of a winding path looped symmetrically within a large circle, with an open center. If you look at the diagram of a labyrinth, you essentially see a metaphor for meditation: focus on the path, stay the course, be in the moment. Your reward: finding your center. Some early labyrinths were handheld or painted on walls, intended to be touched rather than walked. Today, the internet brims with “finger” labyrinths in wood, pewter, ceramic, even plastic. They work like non-sectarian prayer beads or a rosary—your finger slowly traces the path so you can take a meditation break just about anywhere. You can even download your own from Contemplative Mind.

But walking a labyrinth in nature boosts your rewards exponentially, adding the soothing benefits of being around greenery: an overall improvement in mental well-being through reduction in depression, stress, and mental fatigue. Time in green spaces can........

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