“This is so stupid.”
My sixteen-year-old was stretched out the length of our sofa scratching notes in the margins of 1984, the novel he was reading for his AP Lit class. The assignment was to write a journal entry every fifteen pages about what was going on in the novel and his thoughts about it.
“This is not what reading is supposed to be like. I get what’s happening. This is just breaking up the flow. I know she’s not even going to read these entries. There’s no way, so what does it even matter. This is so stupid.”
I breathed through the urge to remind him he’d chosen to take the AP course and that I was not going to survive a year of dragging him through it.
“No,” I answered. “This is not what reading is usually like, but school isn’t like life. It’s not supposed to be. This is the part of life where you learn the basics you need to function effectively in life. It’s the place where you do the drills that create the neural wiring that enables you to do things in life with ease and competence.”
I continued, “The grade isn’t your only goal. The bigger goal is to be able to synthesize your thoughts about what you’re reading.” And in fact, he was developing some very interesting and insightful ideas about what he was reading.
He grinned at me from over the top of the book.
“This whole book just describes the current American educational system.”
“There you go,” I smiled back. “Now be able to back that up and you’ll create quite an interesting and meaningful conversation.”
But it’s easy to sit back and extol the virtues of drilling, and much, much, much more difficult to create the discipline to actually do them. That’s why it’s essential to find ways that have meaning for you.
Rock stacking is one of the drills I’ve chosen. It teaches me many lessons and skills. Lessons on impermanence and attachment are some of the most difficult. There’s something so self-satisfying about standing back and admiring your magnificent balancing feat. I love looking at all of the air between the rocks. I am endlessly amazed and awed by how they’re able to stay balanced. There’s something that feeds the ego to see the finished product.
But that’s just it with rock stacking. It’s not a finished product until the next to last rock falls. Time, movement, weather, the natural settling and shifting of things as gravity continually works on your stack; these are all part of the process, as they are a part of the natural process of our lives. Sometimes the stack falls shortly after you finish. Sometimes it takes months. It can happen suddenly and violently or it can happen stone by stone. The only inevitable truth is eventually that stack is coming down.
There are some amazing rock stacking artists, like Michael Grab of Gravity Glue fame (http://www.gravityglue.com/ ). I am not one of these. I am simply a person who enjoys balancing rocks and who finds this practice to be a beneficial meditation. The practice centers me. It keeps me in the present moment. It also keeps me unattached to my outcomes or at least keeps me aware of my attachment.
Here’s a picture of one my favorite stacks. As I mentioned, I’m no Michael Grab, but I was pretty pleased with this. I admired my use of the longer stones and was amused by the whimsical feeling it gave me. I have to admit it played with my ego. I was very attached to just what a creative rock stacker I am.
My stacks often take place on my back deck. They withstand quite a bit of bouncing as people run from the back door, across the deck and down the stairs. I am endlessly amazed that any of the stacks survive any time at all. There’s always this sense of disappointment when they fall, but I know it’s part of the game.
This stack, however, offered an exceptional opportunity to practice lots of skills: non-attachment, impermanence, creating a pause before responding. Most importantly, it offered the opportunity to honor something that was more important than my ego.
I was sitting on the deck with someone near and dear to me. I was talking about how pleased I was with my creation and basking in my glory when this person jumped up to point out something happening in the woods and, with what felt to me like deliberate passive aggression, walked directly into my rock stack!
It was as if he’d become a human wrecking ball!
I was stunned. Frankly, he seemed stunned too, but I knew immediately I had a choice. Respond or breathe. I chose to breathe. And this was a good thing.
He just stood there and watched me breathe.
“I am so sorry,” he said. “That was totally an accident.”
I continued to breathe as I sat on the bank of my Stream of Consciousness and watched the angry words flow by.
Non-attachment. Breathe. WHAT THE HELL!!! Non-attachment. Breathe. WHAT THE HELL!!!
I realized pretty quickly that there were two really important things for me to work with. First was the non-attachment to the rock stack, which after years of practicing, was readily available for me.
The more important thing, was that this relationship was obviously extremely important to me on a very deep level and the rock stack was not. My ego was, but my rock stack was not. And as I breathed and worked with non-attachment, I could see that, in that moment, my ego was claiming the right to be the more dominant experience.
My breathing created clarity and, rather than giving expression to the angry words that were flowing down my Stream of Consciousness, I breathed through them until the storm passed. It was not until this point, until my ego calmed back down, that I was able to find my connection and love.
This was accessible to me through drilling. The drill of a daily meditation practice allows me to become aware of the physiology of anger and fear. It creates the ability to calm things down. It creates clearer seeing and deeper connection. The drill of rock stacking allows me the ability to connect with the Present Moment rather than thinking about what will come next. It allows me to see my ego and attachment more easily.
These drills that I’ve chosen were not easy pursuits in the beginning. Meditation was often boring and rock stacking was frustrating and a bit back breaking, but they also both offered rewards, both immediate and long term. The ongoing and consistent participation in mindfulness practices wires the brain in healthy and amazing ways. Give it a try.