Your thoughts are clouds not rocks

rock pile (a cairn)
rock pile (a cairn)

I was listening to a new podcast called Invisibilia and the hosts were discussing the topic of unwanted thoughts. (“The Secret History of Thoughts” is the episode title)

Any thoughts from the emotionally self-injuring ones, to violent ones, to obsessive thoughts and worries. Everyone has them and some people develop dysfunctions that make life difficult or unbearable. Anxiety has a lot to do with it too.

What thoughts really are and how meaningful they are has been up for debate by professionals over the last 100 years.

Here are the top 3.

• Theory 1: Thoughts are very meaningful and are red flags of something deeper and sometimes something more sinister. (Freud and his ilk)

• Theory 2: Thoughts are not as meaningful as we thought and the key is to compensate or overcome them with opposite (reforming) thinking over a period of time (Cognitive Behavior Therapy).

• Theory 3: Of the three top theories, a third one in particular is getting momentum right now. To me, it seems to have an “ancient/new” quality to it…

The advice goes something like this.

“Keep the good thoughts and let the others float away.”

Does that sound flaky?

Think of it as laid back. Chill.

• The idea flies in the face of modern psychology that has us dig around a lot and examine every negative thought. Analyze it, get to what you think is the root, dig some more, and pick it all apart. See if has something to do with a repressed issue, a dark secret, the bad parents we probably had, or primal urges to kill and hump, and whatnot.

• The third theory also is a very different tact than what happens with theory #2.

Maybe thoughts are like clouds.

Your thoughts are nothing to worry about. Probably.

So the new tactic for dealing with unwanted thoughts is about training our focus and being gracious with ourselves. Sounds like a spiritual discipline to me!

It’s a recollection of the ancient idea that what you feed, grows and dominates.

Some proverb like…

“There are two wolves fighting inside each of us. One is good and one is bad–and each one wants to rule the other. Which one will win? …The one you feed.”


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

Some times I assume my passing or repeating unwanted thoughts have larger meaning and import, but maybe they just move in and around like the weather. I make them weighty like rocks. Maybe that’s not helpful. We take these rocks and place them in a pile, sometimes, don’t we?

We worry about our worries. We worry about what is wrong with us. We make a big, sad pile to stand for something, like a reminder…or…

we make a cairn. But, the wrong kind. A cairn should be a trail marker or situate like standing stones marking the best of ourselves or our dreams. A cairn is about hope.

Your repetitive thoughts aren’t stones, they are clouds.

The good thoughts can get a upgrade to something more substantial…let the others drift away.

Creative commons photo by Samuel Betenholz.

Friendship: Unnecessary for Survival?

Prompted by a C.S. Lewis quote posted by fellow-writer Mark Zellner, hug


C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.

New to my life is this:

I’m a manager on Saturdays at Spring Gate Vineyard in the tasting room.

It’s a place where friends meet. It’s a great place to get to know people, and also to study people as they socialize (observe and people-watch).

People could meet there for business, and some do. But these sorts of gatherings are few by comparison to all the others.

There’s something about friendship that gets enhanced through the communing with food and drink in a bucolic setting. People linger and relax. They smile more. 

I’ve never seen someone pre-occupied on there smartphone, unless they were checking on their friend’s arrival. Most everyone is fully there enjoying the company, the setting, and of course the wine (and the food from the caterers we partner with).

Alcohol? Is that part of the equation?

Not in the way you would think.

This is no place of obliteration with alcohol (the odd exception being the occasional limo parties who make us one stop of many). It’s a moderate environment in every way.


Friendships that can help moderate the cruelties of life are a treasure.

The complexities of flavors…in the wine, the food, and the company are savored where I work. And that is the sweetness of life.

I do pity those without friendship. I pity those who do not make friends by being a friend. My mother told me this is how it works. I agree with her, but that’s how you get one started.

They need nourishment, cultivation, compassion, and sometimes weeding or pruning–the hard work of digging in and getting dirty when things are not perfect.

And I do pity those who dare not trust and risk to forge close friendships, because the rewards of deep friendship are lavish.

(This is not to say that pain will be absent from friendship. Any friendship without some pain is a swallow one. Sadly, though, the threat of this (typical sort of) pain keeps too many watching at a distance.)

Perceived betrayals and miscommunication are the tannin.

And like tannins make wine better as it ages, the bumpy patches can (potentially, and with God’s help) work positively make our friendships get better with age.)


I’ll add to Lewis’ thought,

“Cooperation-not friendship-is necessary for human survival…but friendship elevates survival and gives it the balance, lovely complexity, and long, sweet finish.” -LD

So there is, like many things in this world, a “wastefulness” about friendship. Like beauty and ingenious design, of say a fly’s wing or a plant, friendship has something that points off the map to a greater reality. A greater Truth.

Friendship may be the most necessary thing after all to feel fully alive. It taps deeply into our wiring, into our human need for connection and meaning. It may look a bit different for each of us, of course.

Without it we may have a disease of mind, or of society at large. Without it we can tap into the hopelessness that strikes when we feel we are forgotten or alone. Disconnection is hell after all.

Funny Friday: Most Worthless Cat Study EVER

So, did a taxpayer-funded grant go to this silly and super-obvious study on feline psychology?

Did you know this already?

I LOVE the cat profile pictures, too!

Cold as ice.
(Except the dark one on the right who looks to be planning something.)

(click for photo source)
(click for photo source)

Hope you have a fun Friday filled with good humor and a lovely weekend, too.

If you are American, Happy Independence Day!

On concepts of communal Redemption


First, let’s start with the word deem.

The word deem has to do with regarding and considering.

Also, we often connote this word with giving something worth. It’s a verb after all.

The monarch deemed the knight fit for duty.

That’s the power of redeeming too.

Redeeming something puts the worth back in.

There is hardly anything that won’t improve with some redemption.

How does it happen? It’s not magic at all.

It pivots on the one offering redemption. That can be anyone, king or not.
Individually or communally.

Redemption reaches out. The reinstitution of worth happens after the deficit is noticed, and after the choice to correct it  has been made. I should rather say put it right, but more on that in a minute.

In redeeming merit is given, or rather given again. This would presuppose that everything has inherent worth at the onset, no matter what. That’s a salient point.

Sometimes redeeming happens without the prerequisite merit–and that is grace. Redemption and grace make a lovely pair.

You may have noticed that we go around deeming things all the time.

You will deem this short article helpful or a waste before you even get to the end of it, for instance.

The real genius of the concept comes when we realize that deeming and redeeming is always available. Offering it and attaining or receiving it. It more commonly found than you think, but you have to be ready to act. You have to be more than ready, but willing too.

So, one more big point:

There is a mutuality in redeeming. And that first smacks as counter-intuitive.

Redemption benefits both parties involved. It’s a communal because of the fact that is it a restorative act. And because it is restorative, it is just.

Want to start spreading redemption? You can help by sharing this on Facebook and letting it loose in your own life in little ways.

(Don’t forget to sign up for the next post-in the sidebar.)

Something about a Labyrinth and Surprises


This time the weather was the coldest I’ve ever experienced in Wernersville. Until now, my times of retreat at the Spiritual Retreat Center were during Spring or Summer.

Stripped of leaves, color, and warm weather, the place seems monochromatic outdoors, but is still restful and precious to me. There are many prayer room options, a beautiful chapel, plus rooms for things like creating art, music, reading, or for meeting with others. Each place seems to wait for your arrival. Anyone can go there for the day without notice. I love that about it. That’s true hospitality. You are always received and welcome. You don’t need to be Catholic either. God is there in a special way and it’s a sacred place created solely for the purpose of divine communion and renewal. To me, that sounds just like Heaven.

Unless you get run over by a jet-powered lawn mower, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The Center has recently added a prayer labyrinth (shown above). Many people aren’t familiar with labyrinths–their purpose or their gifts. They create the opportunity for reflection and spiritual awareness. Some (Evangelical) Christians bristle at the copious statues, candles, prayer mazes, and other unfamiliarities about a Catholic environment. I suppose I’m post-Evangelical: the richness of the Christian history and the solidifying sense of the sacred draws me toward the transcendent in a place like this. Every time in an unexpected way.

That’s what happens when you go there. You find God. You find God at the center. The center of you…in your core where he’s always been, because he’s everywhere-present and boundless in love. He’s been whispering things of love to you and smiling but you thought it was just bad pizza leftovers or something you made up to make yourself feel better.

Life is like a puzzle. A labyrinth is a puzzle. It’s a tool too. You can study a labyrinth before you walk the path through it, but while you are walking through studying it can make it far more confusing. Usually, you stop being stupid and cease trying to decipher the pattern precisely and just follow it like a child might do. This way, a labyrinth can be a lovely stilling and spiritual experience, not because of its own woo woo mystical powers (it doesn’t have that), but because it invites a traveller to concentrate and focus–to place her steps carefully. Most importantly, it forces one to slow down.

We don’t realize how fast our thoughts buzz until we get these sorts of opportunities to be careful. If you walk a labyrinth things mentally wind down and simplify to, “Stay on the path. Follow this narrow way. Pay attention.” Some enjoy walking very slowly and praying as their heart grows hushed.

Searching for the puzzle
I saw a photo of this newly constructed prayer walk inside the Center and I started to search for it outside. It was actually in plain sight but I hadn’t been looking for it, so I didn’t see it. (In case you haven’t figured it out by now, this true story doubles as an allegory.)

When I spotted it, a man driving a zero turn radius lawn mower was zipping and roaring around it, back and forth; expertly, but fast enough for me to wonder about his judgement. Crisp leaves shot into the air and the wind whipped them into little showers of bullets.

“That won’t work,” I said. “What am I suppose do? Have a peaceful prayer time as Zippy here shoots me with leaves and the mower engine drives me to distraction?” I crossed past the paved puzzle a small stretch to a gazebo with park benches set in a circle.

It was still noisy there, but the mower sounded duller. I would wait him out. I tried to settle my mind. Maybe I could do some warm-up praying. No. My thoughts swam. “Who’s Zippy now?” I thought.

Instead of waiting, I went on a short walk in the wood nearby over a little ridge. The path looked to have been crudely bulldozed recently and massive tree parts and 4 inch thick vines were crammed in piles. It was other-worldly–so many thickets covering whole sections like umbrellas, even though most of their foliage was missing. Surreal yellow leaves on the ground seemed day-glow bright. I felt like a zombie putting one foot in front of the other as I made my way around the wet earth and wild terrain. The humming mower served as a beacon to orient me. It was comforting and ironic.

Then a church bell snapped me back. It chimed 11, and I recalled how church bells were auditory calls to prayer and attention. It felt like a call to go home…to something. I immediately wanted to get my bag from the gazebo and look at the church more carefully in a peaceful and maybe prayerful environment. I managed a shortcut straight up a bank after a brief bout with prickly plants. I got my things and trekked toward the church. When I got there, guess who was on the grounds too? Zippy, or some other diligent lawn guardian, was tooling around the church grounds. The noise was worse now because it was bouncing off the stone structure and echoing off the parking lot asphalt.

I decided to double back and sit on a bench near a garden path that featured the Stations of the Cross. (If you’re wondering about the Stations of the Cross, visit again soon, because I’ll be detailing that in a future post.) I munched on some snacks, journaled a few things, prayed some (kinda-sorta), and enjoyed a few sunbeams that momentarily bested the clouds. It felt nice to be there, but, then I started to feel really cold. My nose had a ice cube quality and the sun had ditched me.

I headed toward the large main building. An ancient woman was being rolled toward the main entrance in a wheelchair. Rather than getting in their way, I decided to walk through the covered colonnade and flank out to the door on the right. I passed the prayer garden on my left. It was filled with statues, fountains, and newly manicured hedges and remembered how pretty it had been in full bloom that Spring. It was much warmer then too. I was getting colder by the second. But, then I got to the door–relief.

Except that it was locked. The metal handle sent a shiver to my backbone straight through my arm. But, “No matter,” I said to myself. I’ll just continue around the building and try the next door just around the corner. There are probably no fewer than 25 exit doors to the place. I’ve exited a number of them and try to find a new one to some surprise new part of the grounds whenever possible. It’s all part of the fun.

No. Locked too. Things were getting interesting.

It turns out that there’s just one way into the place. There are plenty of ways to exit outdoors, but the main entrance is referenced on each locked door. I came to this realization by the 5th door. I’m not sure if the cold was my dulling my mind or if I was too distracted laughing to myself. I had just realized I was literally following a footpath around the structure. It wasn’t just  a path but a puzzle. I could have turned back and saved myself a lengthy walk, but I thought, “Oh! Okay God, this is the labyrinth you wanted me to take.”

Then out loud I said, “Stop being so funny.” At that exact moment, a black helicopter hummed overhead and I briefly thought the things were going to end in waterboarding or an unpleasant government website experience and arbitrary fees. Maybe, I was on the psycho path. I pushed my icy hands into my coat pockets, stopped trying to open locked doors, and made my way counter-clockwise to the main entrance–the long way around. This was probably the intended journey in the first place so I might learn something. I was starting to pay attention. Finally.

No, it wasn’t the labyrinth I set out to do. It wasn’t the one I picked to walk or the one studied as I walked by with Zippy swinging his mower wildly nearby, but eventually it would get me inside if I kept going around and circled the place.

As I got most of the way around the complex I could smell lunch cooking from the kitchen. “The kitchen help probably don’t have to go through the main entrance,” I thought. (It was my first useful notion all day.)

Sure enough: I spotted an inconspicuous point of entry, sheltered with an overhang and a coffee can full of sand and cigarette butts sitting outside the door. Maybe it would be open. It was. As I pull the door a blast of warmness greeted me and behind it the smell of comfort food. I was back. I had almost gone full circle, but I had an insiders’ access point to put things to rights.

Just before I left the place for home I took my friend–who had carpooled with me there that morning–to see the new prayer puzzle up close. I walked through slowly but it wasn’t prayerfully. The symbolism had already done its job. I was just canvasing the design and saying my goodbyes. I got to the center of the circle and I knew I was ready to leave for home.

I did a little spin with my arms out because I think if it was a movie that’s what would have happened right at the point, and then I stepped straight through the center to get back out.

The surprise is that you don’t get to ever really pick your own labyrinth. It is picked for you. You can decide how to walk it and how meaningful it will be. You can be frustrated by it and worry about the turns or you can slow down, put one foot after the other, and get to the center. Then you’ll be home.

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