Relaxation: Rock Stacking and the Art of Balance

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Rock Stacking and the Art of Balance

People have been stacking rocks for centuries. Cairns were used in ancient Greece to help travelers find their way with the help of the god, Hermes. Around the world, piles of rocks have been gathered and stacked as burial markers and trail markers. It is likely a human marking behavior, an instinct passed down from our earliest ancestors. You may have encountered rocks balanced on top of each other at the beach or a river’s edge and wondered, who did that? and why?

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Rock balancing is enjoyable simply as the act of putting things on top of other things. It is remarkably rewarding. If you haven’t tried stacking things for the heck of it, just try it. It’s calming, relaxing, and easier than you might think. The idea is simple: clear your mind, and focus solely on putting things on top of other things.

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I started rock balancing years ago either because I had seen other human-engineered temporary rock formations, or because I was bored at the beach, or perhaps I was channeling my inner caveman. In any case, I walked up to a bowling-ball sized rock and put another, slightly smaller one on top of it. With just a few, subtle shifts in weight, the second rock stayed on top of the first. Neat-o, I thought. I tried a third. They all fell over. I set them up again, shifting things around, intrigued by the challenge of it all, and when I stepped back, ta-da! I had a mini rockperson. It was actually a lot like building a snowperson. But, in a way, it was more fun.

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I could have tilted this article: “Zen and the Art of Rock Balancing,” because the act itself is a process of relaxation through focus as much as it is aimed at an end product. First and foremost, I was at the beach, in the sun, comfortably warm, at one of the many wonderful beaches here at the Sonoma coast. But there is also a calmness that comes over you when you focus so completely on just putting this on top of that.

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For such an exercise in calm through stacking, I highly recommend rocks as a medium for several reasons. First, they’re free. Second, there are a heck of a lot of them at the beach. Third, they don’t break when they inevitably fall over the first time. Fourth, they look nice when you vary the colors and patterns and shapes. Or make a sculpture from rocks of all the same shape and color. Or, or, or…  Do you get the idea? Just make sure they don’t fall on your toes. Otherwise, you could call it: “Zen and the Art of Shouting Obscenities at the Ocean as You Hop About on One Foot.” There isn’t much calmness or relaxation associated with minor blunt toe trauma.

It begins simply with a firm base and continues…hey, and maybe this on top of that. Does that look like I want it to look? What if I put them in a different order? What if I put that one on top of this one? What if I had something in the middle that kind of stuck out at an odd angle? Suddenly, you’re not thinking about the myriad worrisome minutiae associated with being an adult, and you’re focused on just making this thing stay on top of that thing.

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Rock balancing is not about making something for someone else. It’s not about having to do something. It’s not about building something taller or bigger or cooler or stronger or better than anyone else. It’s about simply putting things on top of other things. It’s about listening to the sound of the ocean sighing at your back as you calmly pick up a rock…and place it on top of another rock. It’s about not thinking about anything else. It’s about focus through a simple act. An easy act. Or a challenging act.

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It’s about simply putting this on top of that. Ohmmmm…

by Peter Rogers

Note from the editor: Why balance rocks? Reason 1: Because they are there. Reason 2: Because for a short time you leave something in the landscape artfully altered, showing you were there. Reason 3: The joy of the process. I was not surprised when the author began balancing rocks. It seemed to fit with his interest in Legos, juggling, hands-on technical and construction work, and other activities in arranging objects in space. I was surprised however, when he finished stacking once at No Name Beach and people began to applaud! It is a skill that takes patience, a gentle touch, and a kinesthetic understanding of weight and balance.

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