Lessons from rocks: The side effects of adversity may include strength and beauty
For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with rocks. Once, when I was little girl hiking on a trail near our relatively isolated cabin in the North Carolina mountains, I found a rock in the woods that had the word "baby" written on it. Now, this was several decades ago, before the trend to write and draw on rocks to leave them for others to find came about, and this was a pretty remote trail. I was mystified by this rock, and carried it around with me- I was not a big fan of dolls, but this rock was my baby, heavy and solid in my pocket. In those mountains, I collected pieces of quartz from the dirt, found slivers of shimmering mica in the nearby stream, and combed through piles of red clay, looking for treasures. As I grew older, my eye for rocks expanded to the shoreline of Florida beaches, to rocks and sand worn down and battered by the moon fed tide for millions of years that currently provide homes to sea creatures, respite for sunbathers, and an ever-changing path to explore and discover. These rocks, minerals, crystals have always given me comfort, and filled me with a sort of awe,. I think part of the reason is that they reflect our own struggle as humans, along with our capacity for resilience, strength and beauty. Here are two lessons I have learned, and a simple meditation practice you can do to help you feel grounded during rocky (sorry, I had to!) times:
Lesson #1: Rocks, crystals, stones are extremely strong, and yet have been created through the most extreme, long-lasting, and volatile conditions of intense change:
While rocks may look strong and stable, they are actually borne of the most extreme and dynamic conditions, all that involve changes- both chronic and explosive. Igneous rocks are formed from molten lava that has been blasted out of volcanoes. Metamorphic rocks come to be as a result of intense heat and/or pressure from deep within the earth. Volcanic blasts are so powerful that they can actually shoot chunks of rocks out up to 12 miles, and can launch 10 ton massive boulders up to a half mile out. Sedimentary rocks are broken down by erosion, they may be mixed with pieces of decomposing plants and animals and compressed together and eroded again by weathering, by the weight of oceans and the heaviness of time. All of these rocks, and the minerals that grow within them to form stunning crystals and gemstones, are such a symbol of strength, and yet they have become this way because of the tremendous pressure, heat, cooling, breaking apart, wearing down and change they have undergone. It is like that with us, too. There is an expression we often use for a person we know who is strong, resilient, and present for us- we say that person is "our rock". Much like rocks, when we face adversity and change, we become stronger, more interesting, different but the same, broken down and mixed with other things. The difficult forces we face shape us and build us.
Lesson #2: Beautiful things can grow from emptiness
One of my favorite quotes from Bruce Lee is "the usefulness of a cup is its emptiness". A full cup, a full mind, a full schedule, a full list of completed life goals, cannot take anything in. Emptiness can result from loss, disappointment, pain and injury. Some of the most beautiful stones and crystals, including agate, jasper and chalcedony, grow inside the empty hollowed out spaces inside of rocks. Over millions of years, random groundwater and sludge filled with of silica flow in and out, building layer after layer of strong, intricate, beautiful substance. Creations that would not have occurred without the empty voids. When we feel empty, we can remember that it is our nature, and that it can invite beautiful new things to happen that can fulfill and transform us.
A rock meditation:
I initially developed this practice to help kids and adults to be able to experience the shifting or reallocation of attention from worry or persistent thinking about unpleasant emotions and sensations such as anger, sadness, shame, anxiety and pain. Of course, it is important to be able to be with, feel and observe these emotions and sensations, but this practice is for help with breaking a cycle of thinking about them, ruminating on them, mental time traveling to the past or future in which we felt or are concerned we may feel these things again. It can be beneficial if you find yourself dwelling on persistent ideas, thoughts, emotions, experiences, mistakes.
To begin, find a rock or stone with a smooth surface that is cool to the touch. Take time to remember that what you are holding is millions of years old, and has been through trauma, weathering, erosion, and extreme temperatures and forces.
It has experienced pressure and has broken down and yet it is there in your hand, solid and strong as can be, beautiful in some way because of all of this. Take a few breaths and notice how it feels cool in your hand. Then take a few breaths and notice the thoughts, emotions, emptiness, sensations that are troubling you. Recognize that this adversity is shaping you, changing you, making room for strength and growth. Take a breath in and shift to the feeling of the cool rock in your hand. As you breathe in and out, put your attention on how the rock becomes warmer and warmer as you hold it. When the rock is warm, reflect on the idea that you share a similar strength, borne of change and struggle.