When my daughters and I traveled to the Northern coast of Scotland last summer, we visited the enchanting village of Findhorn. Findhorn is an Ecovillage that became famous in the 1970’s when founders, Eileen and Peter Caddy with Dorothy McClean, parked their RV in the dunes and began to transform piles of sand into thriving vegetable gardens. By collaborating closely with nature, they began to grow things in a place previously thought to be a barren coast. Mindfulness was a cornerstone of their communication with nature and was what drew millions of spiritual pilgrims to meditate, collaborate in service, and learn spiritual principles in the retreat center that was eventually built on that land.
When my daughters and I spent that rainy July afternoon wandering the peat forest, we could FEEL nature deeply within our bodies, hearts and minds. The spongy soil and moss was ALIVE beneath our feet. There was an automatic calm that happened for me, a great sense of well being that came from just breathing and walking in that forest, which had been intentionally infused with the love of human/nature collaboration for nearly four decades.
Wandering the sand and pine needled paths, the girls asked me if they could bring home a stone from the forest and seaside. They wanting to somehow capture the essence of this beautiful sanctuary. I responded with, “Well, ask the stone,” inviting them to turn within and to deeply feel if that stone was wanting to come along or not. My goal was not so much to show my daughters how to talk to rocks, (as I don’t really speak with rocks much myself), as much as it was to awaken them to the deep peaceful response that comes from really tuning in to the world around them by listening deeply and relaxing their minds to sense the wonder of the natural world. As adults, we can gift the experience of natural places in this way, using nature as the ultimate relaxation tool.
For the next few hours, I experienced the delight of a mom watching her two teenage girls spend time looking for the rock that wanted to come along, eventually finding THE perfect fit from a couple of beach pebbles. My mom heart was in the ultimate contentment.
We’ve since returned Stateside, (well, two of us did, we left older daughter to go to college in the UK), and I have often found my thoughts returning to that gorgeous forest haven. My body naturally relaxed walking in that place. I wanted to find ways to share the power of this relaxation with my students here.
Relaxing with the Stones
One way I’ve found to bring this experience into my classroom has been to use stacking stones as a relaxation activity in my small groups. Of course, it’s important to be mindful that there’s no danger of being hurt by large stones, so select ones that are the appropriate safety size for your little ones. Not only is this a perfect relaxation activity for my small school office, but it is AWESOME to do near your favorite stream or other beautiful spot in nature, but it can be done right at your desk as well.
When they came, I realized that they were secured by a rod through the middle, in order to serve as a garden ornament. However, that didn’t stop the conversations from flowing as I placed them in the middle of our table for small group. Kids asked why a pile of stones suddenly appeared here. It was the perfect intro to my relaxation activity.
Start with Mindfulness
Give each student stones of various sizes to hold in his hand and invited him to take a deep breath while studying the stone. Then, asked the following questions:
What does the stone feel like in your palm? Heavy or light?
What is the texture of the stone? Smooth or rough?
What is the color and shape of your stone?
Balancing the Stones
Before you start the next part, guide students in a body scan, checking in with how their body and minds feel. Invite them to share if they want. Next, help students to activate their patience, focus and stillness of mind as they try to balance several stones together. Perhaps play some nature sounds, (perhaps a YouTube video with some gentle flowing water with birds?), in the background while you are doing it.
Ask students to pay ultra attention to where each stone connects to the one beneath it, seeing if they can sense if balance is going to happen or not. The slower that each person moves, the better. Ask them to tune into their bodies again and see if there is a difference, (hopefully they will report more stillness, quiet, focus, or calmness–if they aren’t overly worried when the stone falls or if they can’t get them to balance–but talk about that too if that is the case).
Discuss how you are building stone towers but that they aren’t meant to last. Just with relaxation practice, we must create and return to relaxing moments, again and again and again in order to feel cool, calm and collected overall. Stone towers can be built again and again to achieve this sense of feeling calm inside.
Secret Stone of Stillness
A stone can serve as a triggering symbol for calm. Explain to your student ahead of time that this is your shared secret stone of stillness. When your feel it in your palm, it signals your body to calm down, to quiet, to re-center. Then, next time you see him struggling to focus, as you are walking around the room, gently place a stone in his hand to symbolize calmness. Do it quietly, gently, and without words and this will begin to be your shared secret stone of stillness. Develop a way for him to return it just as calmly and secretly to you.
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