Balancing Round Stones

I wish I could remember what she really said. I do remember what I heard.

It was at the end of yoga, when we are seated with prayer hands at our hearts, eyes closed. As I understand this final gesture, it is a symbol of gratitude and respect for one another or Namaste. The teacher usually says something like, “the light in me acknowledges and honors the radiant light in each of you.”   I read someplace that the gesture reminds us of the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart. A simple intention.

Amy, my yoga guide, often reads something just before this final gesture. On this evening, it was about the seemingly disparate pieces of our lives as I heard it—the things that we feel, do and are that, at times, seem to be floating around aimlessly. Her admonishment was to let them be.

That idea of pieces of life in disarray describes how I consider my life right now. However, the pieces aren’t only current; they span a lifetime.

Literary scholar Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of a great time and small time, and the unfinishedness [of literature] are ones I will unprofessionally use for my own purposes. Small time, as I understand the concept, is chronological time. The events of our lives happen at a particular moment in history that is measurable in this kind of time. Great time transcends our conception of chronological time. The example Bahktin uses are timeless stories, “works [that] break through the boundaries of their own time, they live in centuries, that is, in great time and frequently (with great works always) their lives there are more intense and fuller than are their lives within their own time.” Meaning transcends chronological time. The words and contexts that surround those words accumulate meaning over the passing of time and events both in and beyond our lives. Attentiveness to the everyday ordinariness of our lives requires the perspectives of both small time and great time.

 We recursively interpret meaning when we read a novel or retell any story—that conflates the time things are really happening and the layers of meaning accumulated over the living of centuries—an unfinishedness of words and events. And so I’m wondering if this is how it is with these “pieces” of my life. Do they have little meaning or one meaning on their own and in the moment, as they are hovering and noticeable? The meaning I hold shifts in the greater concept of time. It isn’t easy to let these pieces be. But, it is necessary.

Which brings me to a powerful metaphor for this letting be—balancing round stones. The story goes that there is a place in San Diego where you can try to balance round stones. Evidently, it is a difficult thing to do. First of all, I imagine how the stones came to be round or even rounded. I’ve encountered smooth rounded stones most often in some kind of moving water, where years of wearing of the elements have shaped them. According to the article I read, the crucial difference between those who could and couldn’t balance didn’t seem to be whether they knew a lot about stones or had a lot of techniques for balancing stones. The people who were able to balance the stones were able to focus their energies and “become one with the stones” bringing seemingly incompatible forces into harmony

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A simple intention or focus to live in God alone overturns all the usual ways of thinking and being that lead to the bigger picture of great time. It is the idea of paradox— I am able to hold two ideas that seem incompatible but somehow co-exist. We do this kind of balancing, I think, by focusing on God—goodness, grace, love—and not the completion of a task. I seem to be revisiting the truth that it is not about getting things done but doing what is before me in the right spirit and for the right reason. I recently finished some revisions I was required to do and it wasn’t so terrible. The most difficult part was my thinking too much about how I was doing. When I accompanied my friend and colleague to meet mentors for students’ internships, instead of focusing on all the wrongs of education, I was able to appreciate the story of a particular teacher. So what does it mean to let all the pieces or doings or whatever it is that our life is, be?

Letting the pieces be means living in great time – to know God’s goodness in each moment and circumstance. To be a faithful steward of all the pieces does not happen by trying to manage them with well thought out techniques. The kind of spiritual energy needed to balance round stones is a matter of letting go and receiving what is being given. It is the gradual emptying of our attachment to our small self, and I would add small time so that there is room for new conception. Trying to figure it all out is living in small time and self, leaving no room for the spirit and all those pieces to be. A simple intention.

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