The year was 1975. A group of friends had gathered at a local pub. The conversation turned to pets and the problems the owners were having. The one without an animal waiting for him at home came up with an idea for the perfect pet. The perfect pet, he deduced, was one that would not need exercising, to be fed, fail to obey, need grooming, or could become ill. In short, it was decided that the perfect pet would be a rock. The evening ended with everyone laughing over the perfect pet and then returning to their respective homes. Gary Dahl decided he had come up with what really was the perfect pet, however, and he developed the idea. Within two years he was a millionaire and pet rocks were the new trend.
Rocks have been around as long as mankind, longer depending upon which story of creation one believes. Patricia Farmer, author of the book “Embracing a Beautiful God”, lives in Ecuador and considers admiring rocks to be an everyday spiritual opportunity. Rocks represent symbols of eternity to Farmer and are a connection with primal people who saw in rocks the faces of gods and spirits. Since they hold the heat of the sun, Farmer describes rocks as “the perfect vehicles for the re-enchantment of nature”. Rocks afford comfort and healing as well as being objects of play.
Rocks have long been involved with spirituality and were the first altars of mankind. Practitioners of Shinto in Asia participate in shamanistic rock worship. They feel rocks give off a spiritual energy. This energy not only enables people to worship but to also recognize a universal life force. In Suiseki, a form of rock appreciation, rocks represent the mountains, the home of the highest deities. Rocks formed in animal shapes represent the energy of the corresponding animal. Rocks falling from space were gifts from the gods to primitive man. These bits of meteorites as well as volcanic rocks were considered mementos and messages from the spirits and thus were revered greatly.
From the Valley of the Chiefs in Montana to Ubirr in the Northern Territory of Australia, mankind’s art has been displayed on rocks, cliffs, and in caves. Sierra de San Francisco, a part of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve in Mexico boasts vividly colored rock paintings of both hunters and wildlife. It is believed these were made from 1100 to 1300 ACE by a long-forgotten culture of giants. The oldest rock art in the western hemisphere dates back to 7370 BCE and is in Argentina. Located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, the Cave of Hands contains hundreds of human hands drawn on the cave walls.
Sometimes entire civilizations are reduced to piles of rocks and stones. The ruins of Machu Picchu tell the story of an ancient civilization in southeastern Peru. Once an empire as large as the Roman Empire, the city of Machu Picchu lasted less than one hundred years, a victim of Spanish conquerors and civil wars. Abandoned in the fifteenth century, it was swallowed by the surrounding forests until it was rediscovered in 1911 by archaeologist Hiram Bingham. The ruins tell of crumbling temples, ornate palaces, and a thriving world that is now just rock amid the growing vines clinging to the vertical hills of the region.
For decades, the spirituality of rocks representing spirits seemed to be evidenced in the so-called “sailing stones” of Death Valley. Death Valley is a national park located in the Mohave Desert region of California in the United States of America. Death Valley is basically a barren basin which contains the lowest elevation in North America, situated only eighty-four miles from the highest elevation in the continental USA.
The sailing stones were studied and filmed as scientists tried to determine what was causing them to move. What was proven was that the rocks did indeed move and that they moved on their own. However, no one was able to figure out what made them move. Thus, as they appeared to sail across the basin floor, many felt spirits moved them. Others blamed the pull of the earth’s magnetic force. After all, some of the rocks weighed several hundred pounds and as they moved, they left tracks in the sand. Considered a geological mystery, some rocks traveled as far as fifteen hundred feet.
Recently, a team of scientists finally solved the reason behind the phenomenon of the sailing stones. As the weather changed in the area, jagged plates of ice would form. Upon heating by the sun, these plates of thin ice would break and due to gravity and the movement of the earth, would push the rocks across the flooded playa. When wind was added to the equation, the rocks would move across the wet mud and sand.
Sometimes we become rocks. We sit and vegetate until something moves us to…well, move. In finding the sacred in our every day, we cannot allow ourselves to be stagnant. We have to become the story that the rock art tells, not the rock upon which someone else’s story is written. We cannot blame anyone for our lives becoming ruins except ourselves. Sometimes tragedy occurs and often people are mean. We still have the power to control how we respond.
The typical rock is a jagged piece of stone. What turns these uneven pieces of compacted life-material into art or gems is friction. A polished stone is one that has been made smooth by water or the pressure of other stones. Contact with life turns an unpolished rock into a beautiful, valued stone. We are much the same. It is the person who has been tested by life that has the most interesting layers of beauty. We all experience turmoil, grief, problems. We cannot allow these things to cause us to hide between stone walls or to become nothing more than pet rocks that simply exist. By keeping our beliefs as the touchstones for our living, we stay connected to our world, our spirituality, and ourselves. Then the light of the world and the sun will shine not only on us but in us. The purpose of life is to take the friction it brings and polish ourselves from mere rocks into jewels of and for humanity.