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A Practice in Stone


"For while the human being is as different as possible from a stone, yet man's innermost center is in a strange and special way akin to it (perhaps because the stone symbolizes mere existence at the farthest remove from the emotions, feelings, fantasies, and discursive thinking of the ego-consciousness). In this sense the stone symbolizes what is perhaps the simplest and deepest experience — the experience of something eternal that man can have in those moments when he feels immortal and unalterable." — Jungian analyst Marie Louise von Franz in Man and His Symbols

This article appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of Spirituality & Health.

We all know that stone can be used to make our outer terrain more accessible, but how can working with stone do the same for our inner landscape?

Although it is much easier to purchase stone, whenever possible, commit to personally gathering stones for your project. Then, before you begin poking, prodding, and digging the earth, take time to look at your tools. Stonescaper David Reed reminds us that stone is our oldest tool. “Archeologists have found 2.5 million -year-old flakes from tools our ancestors made." If your pry bar, shovel, hammer, and chisel are old — either handed down or purchased at flea markets and garage sales — think about the hands that held and used them. What marks did those hands, the earth, and the hard stones those tools en countered leave behind? Ask yourself: What tools do I need to use to discover the hard issues in my life that hide below the surface? What would be the cost of prying them loose and digging them up? The promise?

Next, survey the area in which you will be digging. Acknowledge that the stones you will be relocating have sat quietly and patiently for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. Then ask: What's the longest I have sat in one place and felt settled and at peace with everything around me? What in my life feels secure, stable, and well-grounded? What in my life feels heavy and immovable?

While it seems as though stones stay in place forever, Reed reminds us that eventually something gives way. As the ground erodes and shifts, a stone on a mountain may move a few feet or tumble over a cliff and becomes something else - a river stone, perhaps. As you dig, move, and begin stacking stone, consider the power of gravity. What in your life has grounded you? What has happened when that ground shifted? Where did it move you?

Our ancestors stacked stones as a way to protect themselves from the elements and other creatures. The stone you stack creates an outside wall that is visible. Name an invisible wall that may surround your body, mind, or spirit. Ponder what it protects you from. Consider the cost and promise of tearing it down; of not tearing it down; of building others.


The Art and Craft of Stonescaping by David Reed (Lark Books). This is one of the finest books available on how to set and stack stone to make walls, benches, gardens, etc. Reed conducts workshops in dry-stacked and dry-laid stonework. 

Stone by Andy Goldsworthy (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.) Goldsworthy's sculptures explore time, change, and impermanence, as well as the natural materials that he works with. In this book he explores stone in all its forms — slate, limestone, river boulders, sand, mud, and clay.

Augusta Heritage Center: To receive a catalog and learn more about stonemasonry and other workshops offered during the five-week summer program write: Augusta Heritage Center, Davis & Elkins College, 100 Campus Drive, Elkins, West Virginia 26241.  

Columcille Megalith Park: This 17-acre megalith park and Celtic art center is located about five miles south of I-80 near the Delaware Water Gap. Open dawn to dusk daily.

Opus 40:  This 6-acre bluestone sculpture park is in Saugerties, New York, about a hundred miles from New York City. It is open Memorial Day to Columbus Day, with occasional concerts and special events.

Caren Goldman is a freelance writer, retreat leader, and conflict resolution consultant. Her articles on spirituality and health have appeared in Natural Health, New Age, Intuition, Yoga Journal, and other magazines.

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