Years ago, when we were building our dream house in the mountains of Georgia, I came across an engraved stone for sale in an art booth at a fall festival. It read, “Nothing is etched in stone.”
I found the sentiment humorous, considering the words were indeed etched in stone, and I felt the find was very unique, so I bought the thing, and when we were cementing in the stone work on our impressive, grand fireplace, we had the stone permanently set into the dramatic rock façade. Within two years, we had lost that house, stone and all – in fact, we lost our life. Our marriage, our dreams, our security, our friends, our family unit, self-confidence and more was wiped away by a series of unexpected mishaps. It was like the stone foreshadowed what was to come.
Recently, I went to visit my daughter in Georgia, and we enjoyed visiting the very same yearly festival. Oddly, all the same booths were set up in the same configuration selling the same things. (Which revealed to me that what seemed such a remarkably unique find the first time around was in reality me naively assigning meaning to a tourist attraction that repeats itself over and over, and all in all, picking up the stone was not as special a treasure as I wanted to make of it. No doubt there are hundreds of people with similar stones also thinking they have something remarkably unique in hand. )
Anyway, on my recent repeat visit, don’t you know I see the same vendor and he is selling the same stones. I had been thinking about that purchase before going to the festival, remembering the day I bought the stone. I knew if I saw another like it, I’d buy it again. And I did.
My daughter lifted her eyebrows quizzically and said, “Are you sure you want that? Isn’t is a reminder of all you lost. Perhaps having that thing in a pace of honor in your home is a bad omen. Do you really want anything from the past as a reminder of that difficult time in your life? ”
I thought about the warning a moment, but decided the stone, while reminiscent of a failed former dream, carried a very important message that deserves contemplation and respect. I brought the stone home, and it rests on our fireplace now, a constant reminder that life doesn’t always unfold as planned. We must appreciate and honor each and every day, because what we have in the here and now is a gift. Everything is impermanent. Our health, our money, our loves, our careers, our homes … everything…. In the end, we will all age, things will drop away and everything we have and we are will be gone. I like this second stone even more than the original, because I have a deeper appreciation for the message now.
There is a story I use when teaching yoga students about impermanence.
Once upon a time, a student asked a wise guru how he could bare the loss and heartache that is part of the human condition. The guru held up a beautiful vase and answered, “Do you see this spectacular vase? It is made of the finest crystal and it was given to me by someone I cared very much about. This vase is one of a kind and very special. I know, one day, the vase will no doubt drop and break into a thousand pieces. When it does, I will not cry because my beautiful vase is broken. I won’t grieve and laminate about what the vase meant to me, or be concerned that I’ll never have such a beautiful vase again. I won’t stress about the lost value, or the empty space created because the vase is missing from the place of honor on my shelf. I will not distress on the day this vase is lost, because in my mind, this vase is already broken. But between now and when this vase is actually gone, I will enjoy the beauty and splendor of the vase every time I look at it, appreciating that this inevitably broken vase is here now, a gift to enjoy.”
I think the stone says the same thing. My life today is a gift, as is my home, my marriage, my career, my business, my health and my current state of heart and mind. Someday, I will lose all of these things – to sickness, or failure, or old age, or death. But between now and then, I hope to nurture and enjoy what I do have, and certainly not spend my energy concerning myself with what was lost from the past. When you see everything you have and are as “inevitably broken”, there is a soft poignancy and deep appreciation for even the most common moments of life.
I picked up a few other stones at that second visit to the festival and they rest about on the grounds of the retreat center as fun reminders not to take life too seriously. I hope they remind people that our mind determines our world. What a gift it is to have the power to control how we think and view our experiences. We each have the ability to keep negativity at bay and face every day with gratitude and the wisdom of lessons learned.
A good attitude is everything. That’s a rock solid fact, my friend.