Monthly Archives: October 2013

Respite in Walking the Labyrinth

So much of modern life is exciting and stimulating. Part of the time that suits most of us. We are motivated to keep up with the demands of knowing as much as we can, performing at our best and staying on top. If we’re smart about it and we get the right amount of sleep, make the best nutritional choices and put some time into exercise we are golden.

There is something lacking in this pretty picture. Don’t read on unless you dare to consider there is probably very little respite in your routine and you need some. Respite is an important pause, a rest, time away to breathe and think and feel something besides the rush of living.

Living well requires that we sort through our daily choices. Like accomplishing our spiritual goals, such as making time for prayer, we have to arrange and plan for respite. It can’t just happen and you know yourself it usually doesn’t in the day to day hubbub. Our lives are spent in the blare and glare of the technology age. We are distracted by the sounds and lights urging us to keep going rather than looking forward to our health and happiness.

Walking the labyrinth is a practice, really a tool that helps us dial back and shut out the blare and glare. In place of the demands and the distractions the labyrinth focuses our attention on our inner lives. We come to experience our private thoughts and feelings. We exalt in our personal worth, detached for fifteen or twenty minutes or an hour, from the external conditions of worth. Dare I suggest we find ourselves?

And the most interesting aspect of walking the labyrinth is that we can do it together, if we wish. Community doesn’t invade our respite at all.

Margaret Rappaport

Winnie Space

Along with her parents, my granddaughter Winnie has been staying with us for a few weeks while my daughter’s wrist heals, and her presence has taken over every minute, every day, every night, every room. There is no space into which she has not made her presence known. But this weekend she returned home with her parents for a brief homecoming visit, and our house is empty.

Once again I am struck by the impact the past three weeks of living with Winnie, and the past three months of knowing Winnie, have made on my life. She has made my busy life busier in a way I had forgotten about; every moment is about the present. There is no time to reflect, which my students will tell you is one of my favorite tasks, unless I am writing, because there are so many ways to interact with this captivating baby.

Until a month ago, I often sat back with a cup of coffee in the late afternoon, and thought about life and death and staying and moving and doctors and technology and my aging wardrobe and chocolate and the need to stare at the ocean.

Now, as I hold Winnie in the late afternoon, I think about her lips forming words, her eyes taking in the room and her ears the sounds, her hands grabbing for what’s just out of reach, the way her sudden smile becomes the best part of my day, and how much I don’t care when she spits up on any of my aging wardrobe. I remind myself to master the technology that allows me to visit with her when she returns home.

Staring at the ocean will always inspire me but right now I’d rather stare at Winnie. She, too, holds the peace and the wonder and the eternity that the ocean allows me to feel.

I can’t wait til she returns. I think I’ll have a piece of chocolate while I wait.


Hello again.  If you have a retirement plan of any type, odds are its tied in some way, shape or form to the performance of our U.S. equity or bond markets.  The good news, is that since the recession of 2008-2009 began, those asset classes have staged a steady, if not impressive comeback. Your “pile” has probably grown, net of any needed withdrawals. The not so good news, is that stock and bond markets don’t always go up, and eventually, some sort of correction is bound to occur.

According to an analysis of the latest census data, the typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35. We have more investments to protect. But we are living longer as well, so striking the right balance between investing and security has never been harder to achieve. I remember years ago, when as new broker at Morgan Stanley, they encouraged us to employ a “clients age in bonds” strategy. In other words, if you were 69, 69% of your portfolio would be invested in bonds, 31% in stocks… If you were 50, it would be more of an even split between stocks and bonds. This thinking doesn’t work in our current world.

Interest rates from bank CD’s and Money Markets, which used to help pay utility bills or at least a nice dinner out, are so paltry, they don’t cover the cost of inflation. Unless you go into speculative bonds, the yields aren’t much better. If you are counting on your retirement dollars to get you thru, those investments need better returns, and by definition, somewhat more risk.

Dividend paying stocks have become one clear answer. Solid companies which pay quarterly or monthly dividends can give an investor a way to achieve a reasonable rate of return, say 3% – 8%. At the same time, the value of the stocks owned  can increase with a rising stock market. This may be out of some Sixes and Sevens comfort zone, but the new normal requires us to be at least more aware of this low interest rate environment which has been with us for several years now, and will most likely be with us for several years to come.

Remember, the stock market is at all-time highs, and someday there will be a correction. But that day hasn’t come yet. I heard plenty of smart people on Wall Street claim the markets would crumble in 2013, and they were not even close to getting it right.

Labyrinths Large and Small

With some confidence we can say the labyrinth symbol is more than 4,000 years old. Jeff Saward wrote a thorough history of small labyrinths from many cultures in the ancient world. They were drawn on rock faces and pottery and notably coins. His work is well worth reading, not because what is known is conclusive, but because what is known about the labyrinth over time is important for understanding its meaning and use.

Over two thousand years hence, as the appearance of the labyrinth became more prevalent, its popularity continued to grow. Our certainty also increased about its importance in people’s experience. For example, when Christianity pervaded the territories of the Roman Empire following the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in 325CE, the labyrinth symbol was absorbed into Christian philosophy, architecture and domestic life. European labyrinths abounded during and after this period.

Today there is another astounding resurgence of interest in labyrinths, large and small. There are organizations, libraries, schools and health centers focused on the labyrinth as a source of spiritual development, as well as health and wellness. A good resource for information on the current world wide popularity of the labyrinth is

Many recently built labyrinths are large enough for individuals or groups of people to walk. They are made like gardens and often are associated with towns and neighborhoods and other civic institutions. They are indoors and outdoors. Workshops and facilitated walks are offered to guide people to the potential power of walking the labyrinth design.

Simultaneously, there is a brisk market in table labyrinths, finger labyrinths and small labyrinths to look at and ponder. What do we do with the labyrinth when it is too small to walk? As the ancients did, we take contemplative exercise. We gaze at the design and we think, feel and imagine just as we do when we walk. The longer and more concentrated the looking, the greater the spiritual impact and the better our physical and mental health.

Margaret Rappaport

Watching the Words

Locking eyes with her father or mother, Winnie stares open-mouthed as they repeat a sound or word. Soon she purses her lips and, when she’s ready, imitates the sound. I am enthralled.

Both my daughters acquired language successfully, and named names and sang songs and even made up their own words while playing with syllables. But I don’t remember taking the time to watch and appreciate the process. They learned to speak while I cooked, cleaned, did laundries, and chatted with friends on the phone. We sang together during bath time, but I was too busy soaping and rinsing to observe lips pursing and words forming.

But the world stands still for a little while when Winnie’s language tutorials take place. Winnie  enjoys the gift of her parents’ complete attention. Their smiles and coos and kisses encourage her. In their laps, she is safe, fed, and ready to learn. Her parents’ delight washes over her. She speaks through smiles.

I know this because I am a grandparent, and the privilege of observation is mine. I have the time. I make the time.

Walking the Labyrinth as a Metaphor of Life’s Journey

Standing at the entrance to the labyrinth, one thing is certain. Beginning the walk calls for a self-expressive response of one kind or another. Some people approach this moment with resolve, even eagerness. Others hesitate and look around for cues. This describes those people who show up for a walk. Some never expect to walk and withdraw from trying because of misgivings. Walking the labyrinth prompts asking questions of oneself. Walking the labyrinth opens a space within that requires a response to those questions.

Response is a very interesting word. The Latin verb “respondere”, to engage oneself or to promise shows us the meaning of “responding to our own questions.” Walking the labyrinth is the epitome of promise and engagement for everyone who is earnest about their experience.

As we walk the labyrinth we make a requisite act of trust. We breathe deeply and mark a new point in the intimacy with ourselves. We ready ourselves for ideas and insights about living, here now, in the past or in the future. We take on the walk as a metaphor of our life’s journey. We release the limits of description and explanation and embrace the events and mysteries that move us. We seek the heart of ourselves. We recognize that the response we make is spontaneous. The response is freely mine and it is mine alone. We respond to ourselves because “we feel like it.”

Some of us think this is a wonderful way to live our lives. Our responses in the labyrinth are really quite simple. To be ourselves uncluttered, without calculating all the “ifs”, “ands”, “buts”, “however” and “maybes” that punctuate our lives. No need for qualifiers and clarifiers. Our value and worth is determined by our inner honesty. Our spirits are uplifted and we know ourselves better.

Margaret Rappaport

Financial Markets

Financial markets have now become a function of how investors are guessing the drama in Washington, DC will play out. Stock prices on Wall Street are moving up or down based on the latest debating points emanating from Republicans, Democrats and the President.  On the world stage, we are not looking very grown up as the world’s greatest democracy. There will be a resolution, of course. A compromise will be hammered out eventually to preserve the full faith and credit of the United States. But the public relations cost has been an expensive one.

When it is clear that our country has not fallen off a cliff economically, our will focus will turn back to our own financial situation. In our first update, I spoke of the great concentration of wealth 60 and 70 year olds possess. Many of us have worked hard and achieved much. There is, of course, a flip side to this coin.

According to a recent New York Times report, more Americans 65 and older are descending into poverty at a faster rate than ever before. 3.1% of women are now classified as extremely poor, and 2.3% of men. This is not good. The Census Bureau considers someone with a yearly income of $11,011 or less, living alone as extremely poor.  The increase in poverty requires our attention. For the most part, Social Security has protected older Americans from later-life destitution. But some older Americans are among the long-term unemployed, whose jobless benefits have been cut or run out. Or, they could be having trouble qualifying for benefits from the government in the face of administrative cutbacks at the state and federal levels.

My grandfather told me back when he was in college around the start of the first World War,  “we all learned to paddle our own canoe”.  In other words, he and his classmates were expected to take personal responsibility for their situation. Some 100 years later, it’s never been for difficult for less fortunate Americans to keep their heads above water, let alone keep the oars moving.  And the trend is still edging lower.





Mindfulness in the Labyrinth

When we are mindful, we feel rested and content, although we remain awake and alert. The sensations and perceptions we usually experience as a result of internal and external stimulation are slowed down. They are still bombarding us but we are less attentive to them. Their urgency is diminished. We take our time, all the time we need, to accommodate them.

Being mindful is a more serene encounter with ourselves and the world around us. We have permission to drift a bit as we think and feel and act. This deliberate or mindful meditation isn’t evasive. It is a choice we make to change channels. Instead of being pressed into motion, we ask ourselves to be quiet.

When we walk the labyrinth we enter this special space of quiet. The walk quiets are steps. We slow our pace. The walk suggests that we hear only the whispers of our hearts because we don’t speak unless it’s time for communal prayer or conversation. We observe unique and polite manners in order to leave quiet space for others. We actively breathe correctly in order to nourish our bodies and spirits.

Walking the labyrinth, alone or with others, awakens us into a state of mind that is much harder to experience (unless we practice, practice) in everyday living. It’s a special time and place because we suspend the usual and dare to suspect there is so much more to our experience. We allow for being our best selves. We strip away the worries, the demands, the motivations, and all the trappings of our lives in order to be mindful of what really is and might be. We quietly search while we walk, aware that there are answers of all sorts, all around. Perhaps inkling will brush by; maybe an insight will shine forth. Looking forward, we are mindful.

Grander Still

I knew I was a Mother when I realized, with a fierce passion, that my baby’s well-being came before mine. As a grandmother, I realized again that my granddaughter’s well-being was once again more fiercely important to me than my own. I carry a huge basket of good wishes for my daughter and granddaughter and the pleasure of carrying that basket is all mine.

What was hard but heart-warming was watching my daughter put her daughter’s well-being first as she struggled with a fractured wrist and a determination to keep Winnie’s days wonderful and healthy. As she rallies her support troops and gives clear instructions to guarantee Winnie’s needs are met, she coos through the pain and makes Winnie giggle. She juggles endless lists in her mind and makes the best of a difficult month for her and a loving month for Winnie.

It might seem that the Grand Life is a little less grand right now, but, in fact, it’s grander. I have the privilege of watching my daughter be the mother her daughter needs no matter what, and I am comforted by it all, as the meaning of “grand” expands again.

Silent Reflection in the Labyrinth

“Breathing is the first act of life, and the last”, remarked Joseph Pilates describing the foundational principle of his fitness method. “Therefore, above all, learn how to breathe correctly.”

Walking the labyrinth is the perfect place to learn and practice breathing. Stop at a place of your choice on your walk. Place your feet flat about a hip width apart on the pathway or in the center or along the boundary. Put one hand on each side of your lower rib cage with your fingertips touching. This gives you a tactile point of reference so your breathing is regular and rhythmical. Slowly breathe in through your nose. Visualize the movement of your diaphragm and feel your ribs move laterally into your waiting hands. Your fingertips will separate to accommodate your breath expanded diaphragm. Don’t lift your shoulders; let your mind and core muscles do the work.

Then reflect on exhaling. Your body’s core is like a cylinder from the pelvic floor to the diaphragm. Breath fills the cylinder when you inhale and leaves the cylinder when you exhale. Again rest your hands lightly on your rib cage. Exhale through pursed lips until your fingertips meet. Exhale as fully as you can.

Inhaling and exhaling in this way is called cleansing breath. It is a ritual which improves with practice and customization. It brings refreshment, calmness and deep inner satisfaction. Outwardly, you sense a keenness of perception and a quickening of energy.

Breathing in silent concentration and reflection during your walk in the labyrinth lets you experience the path to a healthy center. With time you may find cleansing breath to be your habit in and out of the labyrinth.

Margaret Rappaport