I was collecting rocks at the beach. Wind blew hard against my face and I was glad to have the many layers of clothes I had worn. It was time for a healing ritual, an unloading of unwanted accumulation.
I sat on the sand like a kid, examining and fingering each rock. Some were perfect and round, others jagged with veins of white running through the center. They were every shape, variety and color. I unzipped the pocket of my fleece and pulled out a magic marker. Each rock would represent a burden I carried that I wanted to release.
On one rock I wrote the name of a friend whose connection had become strained and heavy. I wanted to keep the friend, but not the troubles surrounding us. On another, I wrote the word, stagnation, sighting my desire to travel and my feelings of being stuck. I wrote the names of foods I needed to stop eating, foods which pleased my taste buds but harmed my body. I went on this way choosing the right rock for the outgrown belief or trouble I carried.
When I finished, I piled them in two plastic grocery bags with the intention of walking as far as I possibly could to bring the reality of what I was doing emotionally into a real world understanding. I hefted the bags from the beach and began to walk. I had only gone a few yards when both bags broke open and spilled on to the sand. Determined to finish, I took off my jacket and bundled them inside. It was more difficult to carry as one bundle, but I managed.
I looked around. The beach was fairly empty, a tall man in an orange coat with a golden dog walked in front of me, and a handful of people who played by the parking lot entrance disappeared behind. The wind encouraged my efforts as it blew against my back, making it easier to walk. I thought about all I carried as I made my way down the shore. I thought about how heavy it was and how tired it made me feel. There was a moment which mirrored my life, when I actually felt proud. Wow, look at me, I thought. I am so strong and can carry so much. I wanted to celebrate my strength. Emotions rose and fell with each new step. After awhile I slung my bundle on to my back and realized how familiar that felt. I looked so normal from the front. No one would guess I carried such weight out of sight.
When I could bear that no longer, I shifted the rocks from shoulder to shoulder and finally pulled them in front of me, where I acknowledged them for the troublesome weight they were. At one point, I noticed a sand dollar and wanted to pick it up, but had to ask myself if I could do it. I wondered if I could hold my burden and reach for what I wanted at the same time. I studied it. It was small and beautiful and would add no weight, but there was the juggling of the load to consider. Would it be easier to pass it by? How symbolic that moment was, as I remembered my recent desire to book a massage and how easily I had over-ruled it, sighting lack of funds or too much work. I carefully lowered myself near the prize, plucked it from its resting place and tucked it in the pocket of my shirt.
After walking three miles, I came to a path that led away from the shore and up to a cliff where I could perch on the point and rest. The path was sand covered, steep and shifting, a challenge on a good day. I struggled to hold my bundle as I grabbed tree roots for balance and leverage. I pulled myself to the top exhausted and panting, dropped to the earth and gratefully took in miles of shore line, seagulls, fishing boats and the distant orange speck of a man and his prancing dog.
The mountain served as a welcome protection from the wind as I waited for my breathing to descend from chest to belly. The sun warmed my face. I pulled each stone from the bundle, thought about its shape and size, and the words I had written. I cried about some and settled into my willingness to release them.
I knew from my healing practice that it was not enough for my mind to decide things; my body had to decide also. This ritual was making my decision both integrated and real. I remembered a client I had seen a week earlier who felt he had lost his masculinity in an overbearing marriage. He had complied so much that his essence seemed to have disappeared all together. It had been helpful to talk about his feelings, but it wasn’t enough. What worked was a physical ritual that placed a knife in his hand, called his warrior self from memory and brought rage up and out of his belly in great howls of self-claiming. Ritual is the missing spiritual piece in our ability to heal.
Finished on the cliff and ready to head back, I prepared to leave. I picked up my bundle and was surprised to feel my body recoil in resentment. But my ritual was not complete, so I picked up the rocks, made my way down the mountain and walked to the ocean’s edge.
Waves lapped at my feet as I pulled each stone from hiding. As I threw them into the water, I spoke again of releasing the energy they carried, but this time I invited new energies to take their place. Where there was conflict, I invited harmony, where there was stagnation, I invited invigoration, and so it went stone after stone until my hands were empty.
I finished with a great feeling of liberation and peace, but the wind was no longer at my back. I tied my empty jacket over my head to shield my ears and walked the three miles back to my new beginning.