Today I’m in the company of someone having a procedure at a hospital. The facility is massive and beautiful like so many others that I’ve visited over the last fifteen years. During all my duties as caregiver to family members I’ve spent many days and nights finding ways to keep a calm head and heart in hospitals much like this one. It hasn’t always been easy.
Today I walked to the edge of the building to look outside. One of the interesting features of the architecture is the layers of smooth stones used to cover the roof just outside the windows. There are thousands of these stones resting in place and yet their patterns also suggest movement.
Qualities of stone
I’ve always loved stones and have collected many of them over the years. I don’t believe they possess magical qualities or emit forms of energy or healing as some people suggest. But their presence is still magical in terms of consideration and they do depict a form of energy in this world. That’s how I look at them anyway.
I used to have a small zen garden with an inch of sand and some favorite stones in it. It was pleasing to drag the small rake around the surface to create patterns around those stones. Some were rust red. Others were pale or dark gray. A few were black or white. They were fun to arrange. It was fun to do.
Our garden outside our home has a collection of smooth reddish stones gathered from the shores of Lake Superior. Some are nearly a foot across and flat. Others are slightly round and robust. They are arranged like a waterfall down the incline of the garden edge. On rainy days they shine like dull gems.
We pulled many of them from an iron-tinged stream that trickles into the lake from the steep hills beside the Porcupine Mountains. Others we dug out of the warm sand along with bits of smooth driftwood. All these we piled into the car and brought back to Illinois over several different trips to the Upper Peninsula.
Those stones have always reminded me of time out of mind. Moments when there was no hurry to do anything but pick up objects that catch your eye. That is the height of calm to me. Being absorbed in some activity that doesn’t have a specific goal other than to enjoy the moment is one of the great pleasures in life.
Keeping calm alive
It feels like those stones on the roof of this medical center were put there to bring people into a contemplative state, to keep calm alive amid the deadening silence of a waiting room. The stones represent some non-transactional form of wealth that comes to us principally through the spirit. Like stars in the sky, we take comfort in the fact they are there.
I get the same feeling many days while out on the run or riding in the country. Just taking in the sights while moving along. Not counting footsteps or feeling any sense of acquisitive need, because those moments are the experience. These days they often show up later as data, but that’s incremental too.
Last October we traveled by cruise from the west to the east of the Mediterranean Sea and back. Along the way there were plenty of shore excursions but by the last couple days I was feeling a bit strung out from all the food, the booze, all the running around amid the ship’s floors and quarters.
So I left the family and walked down to the shore of a French city. There were people scattered around the beach like bits of colorful paper. When I sat down, it was pleasing to find the entire surface of the shore was composed of millions upon millions of smooth stones.
Immediately I felt calmer. I put my hand into the stones and lifted a few to feel them. There were gray beauties and pale lovelies. Some held patterns. Others were gloriously plain. The entire history of the earth seemed available to me through those stones.
I gathered a few and put them in my jacket pocket. They were coming home with me. Now they rest on the oak table next to my writing desk. They remind me to keep calm, and that is how they speak to me.Listen to what the stones are there to tell you.
We are all alone and all together.