At the Eastern tip of Long Island’s South Fork is Montauk Point. That’s where my life partner’s granddaughter, Kathryn, recently celebrated her 24th birthday with her boyfriend, Zach, at Hero Beach Club. The weather forecast was rain. So, when I received Kathryn’s text, explaining that she had decided to follow in my spiritual footsteps, by praying for sunshine at Council Rock, I was inspired to share yet another spiritual practice: rock stacking. And, since Kathryn’s prayers had been answered with good weather, my suggestion to build cairns was well received.
A cairn is a mound of rough stones, built as a memorial, landmark, or guiding path in the wilderness. For many centuries, across many cultures, the practice of building cairns (rock stacks) has carried spiritual meaning. It requires patience, intention, and balancing of stones. This practice derives its power from the ancient wisdom of slowing down. A departure from the cacophony of everyday life, building cairns is a discipline that requires concentrated stillness and solitude.
One rock may be placed with grateful appreciation of your own blessings. Another rock may be placed with your prayerful wish that others heal. Another rock may be placed with your intention to chip away at the collective trauma that resides in all of us, across generations. Eventually, and without awareness, rock stacking results in submersion of all thought. Somewhere between mindfulness and absent-mindedness, we connect with the Universe. In the stillness, we drop our yearning for social connectivity and discover something much, much deeper — our self.
Meditation teaches us to concentrate on the sound of our breath and clear our minds of all else. Similarly, by focusing fully on creating balanced rock formations, we free our minds from worldly distractions. In the silence, time disappears. We leave stress behind. We forget our problems. We become oblivious to external events and turn our attention inward. By engaging in such personal development practices, for a brief period of time, we’re able to forget about hate, violence, poverty, political discord and, yes, even the coronavirus. That’s a great, and much-needed, emotional relief!
Stillness is a great teacher, but it takes practice. As we become more adept at balancing rocks, we learn to balance our mind-body-soul. We become stronger and more resilient. We cope better. We become more fully present and more present-focused. As we learn to empty our minds of meaningless chatter, we become better equipped to focus on life’s bigger questions. As we learn to let go of our need to control, we gain control. As we discover our authentic selves and what is meaningful for us, we find more peace and joy in each moment.
Can stacking rocks really provide such wisdom? Ironically, as we build cairns to guide others along their paths, we find our own path. I invite you, as I did Kathryn, to spontaneously engage in an afternoon of building cairns. Beyond stirring the energy in those ancient rocks, I think that something will stir deep inside of you, too.