Engage in Your Version of Stone Therapy

I first learned of stone therapy from my friend, Bob. Bob had done exemplary work for a mining company for much of his adult life. About ten years before he was due to retire, he got a new boss. The two men didn’t get along. When Bob returned from a scheduled vacation, he was called into the boss’s office and fired.

Bob went home, too young to be out of work, too old to start at another company. And, for the first several months, too angry to be around other people. So Bob got smart. He channeled all of his anger and frustration into building a stone-lined pond on his country property.

Fifty feet in diameter, that pond needed a ginormous pile of rock. Bob went to his local quarry, ordered in stone by the truckload and, for long days over many months, he sometimes threw and sometimes carefully placed rocks in his pond. At the end, Bob had a beautiful pond and the idea for a viable business. He called that period of his life his stone therapy, joking that it was far less expensive than traditional therapies.

The Value of Stone Therapy

Bob tossed rocks but digging dirt works just as well. So does cutting grass, pulling weeds, and raking leaves. If you’d rather be indoors, washing windows or sweeping floors may do the trick. Really, any repetitive physical labour is a valuable form of self-care if you do it right.

Doing it right involves working your body hard if you are angry, frustrated, or upset. But what matters most in all repetitive physical labour is what is happening, or rather not happening, in your mind.stone sculpture ape with finger to lips

Instead of focusing on getting a job done as quickly as possible, or on stewing about the past or the future, consider practicing a bit of Zen.

Zen is the Japanese word for meditation, but you need not sit still in order to practice it. Zen can also be applied to daily activity.

When you practice Zen, you become one with an activity or, as tenth-century Zen master Unmon said, “When you are walking, walk! When you are sitting, sit! But above all else, don’t wobble!”

Gary Thorp, author of Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks (2000), summarizes the value of Bob’s stone therapy:

“The purpose of practicing Zen is not to experience, in the future, some wonderfully extraordinary event, but to realize that each moment of life is unique and extraordinary, and that each one of us is both quite ordinary and most miraculous….When you give your attention and care to another being or object, your life slowly takes on another shape and begins to have more meaning than before. Your conception of time changes, and your actions become less hurried. And as you become less hurried, you begin to understand yourself a bit better.” (p.3)

You Don’t Have to Believe

Bob is more mountain man than monk. He would never describe his stone therapy time as “practicing Zen.” However, when Bob told me about that period of his life, he talked about the angry thoughts of his boss gradually giving way to a focus on the rocks he was placing. Then, over the months, new ideas started to emerge. Bob ended up developing his own mixture of stone, concrete and marble. He used this mixture to cast pieces of garden art that his wife designed. I have a number of these pieces on my property, including the two photos in the margin– Simian on a wall of the back deck and dragons Jasper, Guinevere, and Jigger in the yard.three stone dragons in yard

Gary Thorp explains what was happening to Bob from a  Zen perspective:

“Strangely, when you’re able to quiet the interference of your own thinking, you become more mindful, not less. Rather than shutting yourself off from things, you’re able to see them more clearly and experience them with more intensity. When you learn to appreciate the focus that quiet can bring, you may be better prepared to handle a sudden maelstrom of activity and may be less likely to attempt to do everything at once. You’ll be able to respond decisively rather than waste time pursing a variety of unproductive options.” (p.129)

I Give Stone Therapy a Try

A small sign nailed to a tree took me down a country road to Bob’s home and studio. I went back many times over several years. Then one day, Bob said he was ready for a new challenge. He wondered if I’d like him to help me develop my country property. I would indeed.practicing stone therapy by hauling rocks

Bob came to my place every week, three seasons of the year, for five years. He clambered aboard a huge backhoe and sculpted hills, cleared away brush, reclaimed meadows, and cut branches from the bases of trees so light could get through. I paid him for his work, but could never begin to pay him for his vision and the way he made my home the place of my dreams.

One of the things Bob did was to bring in a ginormous pile of rock. Some of the rock was used on one side of the house, some to fashion a tiny pond near the front door. Last year, I decided to redo both of those areas so I drained the water from the tiny pond and made that area my holding pen for all of the rock from the side of the house. This year I’ll be using that rock to line the bed of a stream so the weeds don’t take over. I will also be building a labyrinth – more about that in a future post.

As I pick up rocks and pile them in a wagon, I count. One hundred rocks and then I’m ready to haul them to their new home. I also examine the rocks, choosing the ones I want for specific spots. Until I started this process, I had no idea that rocks were so beautiful and so unique. Sometimes it’s the shape I love; sometimes the feel of the rock in my hand, and sometimes the veins and speckles of colour. Gary Thorp talks about the importance of this close observation. He writes,

“There is much beauty in all that surrounds us, but in order to discover it, we must begin with our feet on the ground, observing in great detail everything that appears before us.” (p. 6)

When thoughts intrude, counting the rocks helps. And when I feel anxious or frustrated, observing the rocks makes all the difference. My conclusion is that Bob’s stone therapy really works.  Who knows –by the end of this summer’s therapy sessions maybe I’ll be like Bob in another way. Maybe I’ll have figured out my retirement identity!

What’s your version of stone therapy? Please let us know in the comments below. 



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  1. Stone therapy sounds intense but effective. Really just as intense as cognitive therapy only the work is more physical to allow your mind to clear in stone therapy whereas cognitive therapy has to do with memories and emotions. LOL, I think both will leave you exhausted but satisfied with a job well done in the end.

    My version of stone therapy is taking care of this apartment – specifically the sweeping and Swiffering of the floors. Dark brown click flooring covers every square inch of this place and you see EVERYTHING on it. So this is my stone therapy that I do at some point every day. Depending on what I am feeling and what is going on in my mind at the time determines how fast and meticulously it gets done.

    I hope your stone therapy does provide the clarity as to your identity in retirement when you are done moving your stones. Your yard will look wonderful even if you don’t determine your identity by this method. I do wish you luck though. You will have to show us pictures of the stones in their new home when you are finished, please?

    I love those dragons of yours and Simian on the back deck. That is so cool that you are developing your property to reflect your journey and your personality. Nothing drives me more insane than cookie cutter houses in urban neighborhoods with repetition everywhere you look. Good for you for leaving your mark on where you live to make it a unique, pleasant, and interesting place.

    1. So many of the homes on television have dark hardwood flooring. It looks beautiful but I’ve often wondered if it’s difficult to keep clean. You’ve given me the answer! I hope you can make all of that Swiffering and sweeping a meditative, stone therapy time.

      1. After reading your post I think maybe I will turn it into some stone therapy. Given the flooring here I will get plenty of time to practice. LOL

  2. I wonder how my apartment complex would respond if I started moving stones around the property; obviously I would have to explain that I’m practicing “stone therapy” and they would likely want to lock me up.

    1. True enough. I doubt they’d be too thrilled about you digging dirt or cutting grass as alternatives to the stone therapy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t practice it. Sweeping or vacuuming counts, as does washing dishes by hand. The key is to be meditative – try to relax that busy mind!

  3. There are so many great layers to this post, Karen. I love the back to nature and physical engagement aspects. I love how you so richly capture that ‘each moment of life is unique and extraordinary,’ I love the vision and commitment that Bob invested in your home. Your property sounds amazing….and very conducive to ‘stone therapy’!

  4. Hi Karen
    A couple of comments. I believe in stone therapy and have several examples to share.
    -at my previous school I had a Head of School who was very good at welcoming you into her office no matter what she was doing. Out came the tea and cookies (biscuits in England). When the impromptu meeting was over, she insisted on doing the dishes herself. She said it made her feel like she was accomplishing something!
    -pottery production especially throwing on the wheel requires your full attention. When I used to go to classes after work, I was amazed how the act of throwing clay on the wheel, completely cleared my mind of any left overs from the day.
    -pulling weeds and hoeing my garden also does it for me, although I do find it is less effective because I can still allow errant thoughts into my head. I need to work on this!
    thanks for making me think about this.

    1. All great examples, Fran. The pottery throwing example is especially appealing to me, maybe because I have that wonderful image of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in my head. That scene from Ghost was more sensual than meditative, but even as a solo act I can imagine that throwing on the wheel would be amazing stone therapy.

  5. Karen, I think that many of us do not have enough physical labour in our lives. I know I don’t. Yet, when I am doing a physically demanding task, like turning over the compost heap, digging and planting a garden, packing boxes, or washing windows, it does serve as a kind of mental holiday from the usual planning, thinking, and worrying that tends to occupy my mind. Pursuits like oil painting and canoeing or hiking in the wilderness also provide an immense release.

    On another tack, I love rocks! Or, more specifically, pebbles. Everywhere I go, I am always watching the ground, looking for interesting rocks. At a beach or stream, you will find me squatting on my haunches, picking up pretty rocks. Usually a couple of little pebbles find their way home with me in my pocket. I have bowls on my coffee tables holding little rocks from all over North America, none of them labelled or classified! I just like to look at them and hold them.


    1. Hi Jude,
      Yet another thing we have in common. I share your passion for pebbles/stones/rocks/boulders. Rocks, trees and water – they are my big three.
      The weather here hasn’t been conducive to much physical labour lately. Rain, rain and more rain has led to bugs, bugs and more bugs. Looking forward to the time when more physical labour can provide the mental holiday we all need. You’ve had some of it with packing. Hopefully soon it will be labour devoted to working the garden in your new home.

  6. What a beautiful true story about Bob and how he affected your life, visions and garden! Any productive and healthy way to express/channel anger is a good one. I can totally see why the stone therapy works and I agree with you: stones and rocks can be beautiful, inspiring and calming! I like to observe them in nature when I take my time strolling on or along rocky paths. In general, taking the time to do certain things and not rushing with everything we do is a good start. I won’t try the stone therapy for practical purposes (I don’t have a house or a yard, but only a car, and rocks are heavy :-)), but I can find other substitutes not taking up any room…

    1. What a great comment, Liesbet. Reading your posts, I imagine that you have many versions of stone therapy at your disposal. In your posts at least, you seem a mellow, contemplative woman.

  7. Karen, I have really enjoyed this. My husband and I frequently go to the Lake Erie beaches nearby, and every few years to the beaches of the Outer Banks In North Carolina. We enjoy the sound of the waves, the ways the light reflects on the water and the water shapes the shores, and searching for interesting stones. We have never been disappointed. My mother, too, would sit for hours in the sand, always finding interesting stones within easy reach, and I think of her when I am doing the same. I imagine bringing our grandchildren more often, were they nearer, and showing them that it is quite challenging to find two stones exactly alike, and yet each one has its own unique qualities and beauty. And all together they make up something so vast and beautiful. The analogies reach far.

    1. What a lovely comment and insight, Johanna. I can so easily visualize the light on the water, and hear the sound of the waves. And I love your analogies. I’ve never been to the Outer Banks although have read a dozen novels set in that location. I think that sometime I must go.

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