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.
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.
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.
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.