Keep Your Eyes on the Goal

“What have you been doin’?”
“Killin’ time, but it won’t die.”
—Johnny Dowd to Jim White,
Searching for the Wrong-eyed Jesus (2003)

Friday, July 5th. I was killing time while waiting to pick up The Lioness from an appointment. We were scheduled to run some errands later in the afternoon and I decided to sit on a bench in a grove of Redwood trees at the San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) in San Anselmo, CA.

The deep shade of the trees was a welcome respite from the heat wave that we had endured the previous week. I sat on the bench and enjoyed a gentle breeze while I answered a few emails on my smartphone and relaxed in a quiet, dark green oasis.

After ten minutes, the photographer in me took over and I was up and about taking photos of trees, sky, dappled shade and ivy. A quick look at my watch confirmed that I had enough time to work with a new B&W photo app, Camera Boost, and learn how to use its various functions. I was up, up and away on a quest, but for what?

I experimented with contrast, exposure, vignettes, saturation and hue. I learned to use color balance, effects and lighting. My biggest lesson was when I learned how to combine any/all of the previous settings and make my own “Pre-sets”; with this particular app the photographer makes all the decisions before making the photograph, just like we would do with a DSLR/SLR Film camera.

I had a desire to take some more photos, but of what? The SFTS is one of my favorite local places to explore and I try to approach each visit without an agenda. A sign with a directional arrow caught my eye, Labyrinths. I knew the location of one labyrinth, but the word on the sign was plural, Labyrinths.

After a quick look around the outlying area, I saw a building with what appeared to be a map of the area. I walked over to the window and sure enough, it was a layout of the campus with two labyrinths clearly identified. I decided to go to the one that I had not visited before, the classical turf Spirit Walk, and take some photos.

Something happened to me last Friday when I finished taking photos of the bricks and grass that made up the Labyrinth—I took a walk inside the path just to experience whatever was going to happen.

The Goal Photo © Allan G. Smorra, All Rights Reserved

The Goal
Photo © Allan G. Smorra, All Rights Reserved

The beginning of the path was not far from the end of the journey. One quick hop and I could save a lot of time, but saving time did not seem to be the goal. I looked at my watch, I had enough time to pound this out and leave to pick up The Lioness; it was totally doable, ready-set-go.

I stepped into the path that lead in a wide arc around the outside of the labyrinth and it eventually made a hairpin turn to guide me back along the inside of the arc that I had just traveled. Hmmmph, I thought, this is going to be lots of walking around in the grass, between bricks, eventually ending up over there…

After several more switchbacks I was more convinced than ever that this was an exercise in futility. I could see where I was headed (it was right over there…), I was plodding along in that direction, I had no doubt that I would be there soon and then be on my way. Case closed, problem solved, move on to the next one and then things changed.

I made a turn and suddenly, I was facing away from the goal and moving about in a whole new set of twists and turns that seemed to be taking me farther away from my goal. How could this be? I was almost done with this thing. The goal was just over… just over…there, there it is!

In a subtle way, my sense of purpose and control was gone. I was yards away from finishing my quest and here I was facing away from my goal and doubting my ability to get there. At the same time I knew that I was going to get to the end, I mean c’mon, this thing is totally feasible, right? Right?

It may be a coincidence, or it may be on purpose, but when I looked for the last of the path that I would follow, I found it concealed a bit by overgrown grass. The path was there and by focusing on where I put my feet, one foot at a time, I glided to the end of the serpentine trail. I reached the goal that was just over an arm’s-length from where I started my journey.

Standing at the end of the Labyrinth and turning 360 degrees, I looked at where I stood in relation to where I had traveled. I walked over to a shade covered bench and sat down to think about what had just happened. I was interested in how my thoughts had wandered, how doubt crept in and how faith got me through.

In the beginning the Goal seemed so attainable, so certain to be reached. As I moved towards achieving it a aura of entitlement and boredom moved into the front of my thoughts (I was going to get there, it was only a matter of time).

When my thoughts filled with more of me, and less of the Goal, I found myself somehow going in another direction, suddenly less likely to make the Goal. I believed that I could do it, but I realized that I had no faith that I would do it. Only after focusing my attention on the last twenty feet of the twisting path was I able to relax and enjoy the end of the journey.

I learned that I had to believe before I could have faith, and I am happy that I learned that here in the SFTS.

Have you had any experiences with Labyrinths? Please leave a message in the Comments section if you care to share.

  11 comments for “Keep Your Eyes on the Goal

  1. July 11, 2013 at 5:55 AM

    I’ve heard but can’t confirm that the circular shape is related to Celtic designs. There certainly are resemblances to Celtic knots in many labyrinths.

    I’ve never walked one, but I’ve seen a couple – one at Chartres, and one right here in Houston, at St. Thomas University. One of the regrets of my life is that I didn’t walk the one at Chartres – but I was too young and impatient at the time.

    And there’s always the humor to such things. Did you happen to read the story about the couple who got lost in a corn maze and called 911 for help?


    • July 12, 2013 at 12:57 PM

      Thank you for the information on the designs and your experience. I will look into it further at some point.


  2. July 10, 2013 at 6:21 AM

    You do so well with your stories, I simply love reading them. Like Honie I have walked some meditation labyrinths in my time. Most in Europe, though a couple also in Asia. I always found them quite peaceful, though one I was lost in for over an hour.


    • July 10, 2013 at 8:06 AM

      Hello Valentine,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this post. One thing that I have noticed about the few labyrinths that I have seen is that they are circular, or fan-shaped, as opposed to rectangular like a maze.

      Has that been your experience?

      Cheers, Allan

      Sent from my iPhone


      • July 10, 2013 at 8:38 AM

        Yes, mostly. Though the one I got lost in was a square and it was on one of the great palace grounds France I think, I would have to go back to my journals to find that adventure.


      • July 10, 2013 at 9:13 AM

        It sounds like a “puzzling” adventure.


  3. July 8, 2013 at 6:38 AM

    I’ve walked a couple of meditation labyrinths. One where walkers pick up a stone at the entrance. The stone represents a burden or concern. You carry the stone with you as you slowly move toward the center of the labyrinth, all the while concentrating on the stone/prayer/meditation. When you reach the center, you lay down the burden and walk away. It is a powerful experience.


    • July 8, 2013 at 7:27 AM

      Thank you for sharing this story. It sounds like the “Ancients” knew a thing, or three, about the human/spiritual condition.

      Sent from my iPhone


  4. July 8, 2013 at 12:45 AM

    Fascinating! I love your stories, Alan, always very readable, entertaining…..if ever I find myself in a labyrinth (we seem to call them mazes here), I shall have to watch my approach. 🙂 Oh, and was CameraBoost worth looking at?


    • July 8, 2013 at 8:12 AM

      Hello Sue,

      Thank you for joining the conversation. I am glad that you found some benefit to my post, I am never quite sure how they will go over in the blogging community.

      As for the Camera Boost app: I really like it. It is my go-to app for B&W photography on my iPhone. Be aware: there are no post-production edits in this app. It is like having a DSLR in the sense that all settings and adjustments are to be done BEFORE taking the photo. That is where the personalized custom presets come in handy.

      Here is a link to the article that introduced me to the app. After purchasing the app I downloaded the author’s free Leica presets and tweaked them from there.

      I love the rich blacks and clean whites that this app delivers.

      Good luck,


      • July 8, 2013 at 8:41 AM

        Thanks, Allan, I’ll take a look…


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