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Being Mothered by Stones
t doesn't take much for me to feel humble. After all, I wrestle stones. These jewels of the Vermont landscape remind me that life is a practice of bringing the kindest heart we can to every moment we have, and that to do so demands a very special relationship with the earth. Which may be why, to me, stones are like badgers: fearless, relentless. I've got the scars to prove it.
May 20, 2004 was among the deadliest days on Mt. Everest. Six people died, including some of the world's most experienced mountaineers. Those who reached the summit and lived to tell about it included one David Watson of Vermont.
In a subsequent interview Mr. Watson made it clear that he certainly hadn't "conquered" Everest. "I feel like I worked with the mountain, and she let me to the top. It's definitely a symbiotic relationship."
The Tibetans believe that Everest is the Mother Goddess of the World. David Watson has found that "...if you don't go there with a good heart and good intentions, you won't get to the top. You really have to be in tune with your heart and listen to the mountain."
Whatever else Everest may be, I feel she is a dramatic example of the sacred power that exists in the earth everywhere, and thus is available to each of us, not just mountain climbers. All we need do, as Mr. Watson says, is be in tune with our heart and listen.
My understanding of this practice has deepened since I became a wild man infatuated with building stone sculptures.
I fell in love with my bride pretty much the instant we met, and I fell in love with stones just about as quickly.
One day, for no particular reason, I started picking up and replacing the "droppings" that had tumbled from the many rock walls built on our land during the past two centuries. Next thing I know I've got a crowbar and a tractor with a bucket. I've worn out several dozen pair of work gloves. I'm schlepping boulders that can weigh more than a sumo wrestler, and I'm dotting our 200-acre mountainside with rock formations that suggest the artifacts of a pre-historic culture-or a fellow with definitely too much time on his hands. If I build all the sculptures I can imagine, just on this farm, I'll live to be at least 175. I'm like a man with a hammer in a nail factory.
Along the way, stones have become my teachers, and not just the ones that spark some pretty colorful epithets when they roll on my fingers or drop on my toes.
The inevitable despair that comes from trying to make a stone do something against its nature has led me to become a better listener, more fluid in letting go of preconceptions, and more able simply to be an instrument in service to something larger than myself.
But the biggest thing I've learned from stones is that to be a listener, to be fluid, to be an instrument doesn't happen by just thinking about it-I must also allow myself to be mothered by the earth, the ultimate nurturer.
I believe that those who say we can destroy the earth are mistaken. We can surely make the planet uninhabitable (we seem to be moving in that direction with mindless alacrity), but destroying the earth is something else again. Whether Hiroshima or Chernobyl or Mt. St. Helens, the earth heals her wounds relatively quickly. I have a feeling that if every nation detonated its entire stockpile of weapons and unleashed every poison possible, we humans might cease to exist, but some number of millennia down the road-hardly a blink in the universal scheme of things-Mother Earth herself would be thriving once again. The land is the mother that never dies, say the Maori.
Such is her resilience, her power, as well as the depth of her urging for us to live in conscious union with the Yin of creation. There's a reason we humans are making life increasingly miserable for ourselves, the same reason many die on Everest: lack of attunement.
Of course, awareness of this truth is one thing, action another-as I demonstrate regularly when some rock extravaganza about which I am oh-so-proud collapses with a noise that, to my ear, sounds suspiciously like a chuckle.
Among the spiritual practices I'm attempting to get the hang of is navigating my moments resting in the energetic embrace of the earth. From this grounded place, on those rare occasions I actually remember to choose it, an amazing thing happens. My mind lives in service of my heart, rather than the other way around. This shift is such a gift, for it means that I manage with a measure of grace, the fear and pain that arise in the natural course of events.
The big plan for my life is simply to choose more of these moments.
It is said that you find two kinds of people on Everest: those who wish to climb her, and those who wish to stand on top. Both impulses are very much alive in each of us, I'd say: the ego's desire to win, and the heart's passion to join. The question is which do we ask to lead?
As my love affair with stones grows, so does the part of me that can make room for anything. It is an awakening that is not only beautiful but terrifying. Which is why, as powerful as the earth is, she's not more powerful than denial. I can ignore her with the best of them. I've got the scars to prove it.
It is said that you find two kinds of people on Everest: those who wish to climb her, and those who wish to stand on top.