The Fierce Sanity of Stones

A friend of mine who had great trouble with her mind told me once that she had brought a stone into her apartment, and when she felt her mind going, she would concentrate on the stone.  She said, “There is a fierce sanity in stone.”  (John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us)

On our first day in Scotland, on our way to our supposed destination, we stopped at Samye Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist center in a tiny Socttish village whose name I will never be able to pronounce: Eskdalemuir.  It was a glorious visit for so many reasons, including that it plays an important role in my husband’s spiritual path some forty years ago.  I intend to write about it later.

Across from the parking lot for Samye Ling, there is a wooden gate with a sign announcing “Fairy Hill” and that all were welcome.  Behind the gate was a steep hill, not too tall, but covered in green grass and green trees, and two footpaths worn into the side of the hill.  One of the footpaths had a gentler, spiral nature; one was of a more direct direct.  Through the trees, I could spy colorful flags flapping in the breeze.  I had, in fact, seen them during our exploration of the Samye Ling compound, wondering what they heralded.

Tony begged off the adventure of the hill, but I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by.  I may not have been in Ireland, but I was in Scotland and who can give up a chance to see fairies in their natural environs?

At the summit the flags were of varying condition, some worn, others new, all bright and colorful at one point in their existence. They flapped at different levels, some far above my head, a string of others that fell at my ankles.  There was a kind of altar at the center, filled with a variety of whimsical offerings (this is why Tony would have hated it — whimsy is not his thing): coins, a miniature toy car, a doll with one eye missing, a rather evil-looking dancing Buddha, hard candies.


I lent nothing to the abundance already there; the only material thing I had in my pockets was the stone I had just taken from near the gigantic Green Tara statue in the Healing Garden at Samye Ling; I wasn’t ready to part with it.

I did offer a small prayer of gratitude at the top of this lusciously-green and greenly-fragrant hill and hoped it would be enough.

Though I ascended gently and playfully, I descended more directly and steeply.  I came across two slate-like stones, flatter than flat, and knew they would join the collection.  One is for me and one is for my friend, Louise, who is an über-fairy herself.

On this trip I have collected stones from the ruins of the Disibodenberg cloister where Hildegard of Bingen was first an Anchorite; from the Healing Garden beneath the watchful gaze of Green Tara who can banish fear (please, bless me); from a walk in the woods outside of Sinzig, Germany on Midsummer; from our stunning walk along the Bracklinn Falls in Callander, Scotland, with its red stones flaunting themselves so cheerfully in the rain; and a rather plain, in fact possibly ugly stone, from one of the most beautiful and calming places I have ever been: the ruins of the Inchmahome Priory on an island in Lake Menteith.

photo-3Each stone is necessary.  It represents place and source.  Though I initially was drawn to each one (except maybe the one from Inchmahome) for its visual beauty, I would never purchase one in a shop or store just because it looks nice.  If it comes from somewhere where I have also found myself, then I must not only behold it, but feel it.  Its heft and feel in the palm of my hand determines if it will be placed in my pocket or dropped back to the earth, back to its source.

All this intention.  Yet when it comes home and joins its stone siblings – each one also from somewhere particular — on my picture window, odds are that I will forget from whence it came.  Perhaps it retains an earthy, cosmic recollection of its source, but it is lost to me.

These rocks and stones (and a few shells, plus one or two weather-beaten sticks of wood) sit there, enveloped by sunlight and nightdark, reminding me of my earthly source, and perhaps grounding me in their fierce sanity.  They are not the only things which sit on that generous window sill.  Other idols sit scattered among this collection of memories and reminders: a few Buddhas, some gifted, some chosen; a simple Polish icon of Mary I found at a local thrift store a few years back; a cement statue of Ganesh, the many-armed elephant-headed remover of obstacles.  There, too, are other cherished objects: a faded photo of four-year-old me looking up adoringly at my big brother; a wooden box that smells of cinnamon which my daughter gave me years ago; and most cherished: a jelly jar of polished agates which were handed down to me through my aunt from my great grandfather – stones he polished himself.  Source.  Both a place and people from whence I came.

Is this my own source of fierce sanity?  Too often I forget these stones.  Too often I take their presence for granted.  I do have a neglected practice of building the stones into cairns of gratitude — like my kids (when they were little) and I used to do when we would visit the Peace Pagoda in Leverett.  I place stone upon stone, each placement an opportunity to express gratitude.  Yet so often these cairns fall over: dog enthusiasm, cat exploration, my own inevitable clumsiness.  More often than not, I let these piles lay tumbled and unattended.

Yet, before setting out on this trip across the Atlantic Ocean — the one that is just about to end (insh’allah we arrive safely home!) — the longest and farthest I have been away from home for twenty years, I cleared all these idols away.  I disposed of numerous dried carcasses of flies and raisin-like fallen leaves from the three plants that share the window sill.  I dusted.  (I never dust.)

Then I returned every item, clean and like-new, placing each of those very important stones, their origins lost to me now forever, in carefully balanced cairns of aspirational remembrance, cairns of deeply-sourced gratitude, cairns of possibly contagious and fierce sanity.  I look forward to introducing them to some new siblings and cousins.

gratitude cairns

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