In my office, where I do individual and group therapy, I have a basket of polished stones.
(These are also called “tumbled stones.”)
Whenever I am registering and orienting a new person to the groups I do, I use these stones to show how I do mindfulness exercises.
I tell the person to choose a stone. I choose one, too.
I say that the stone will be the focus of the mindfulness exercise. I invite the person to be as present as possible with that stone, to engage with the stone with the senses “sight, touch … eyes open, eyes closed … as you choose.”
I say, “Other thoughts will come up … your mind will go into the past, the future, outside the room. That’s how our minds are built, so this is not about focusing perfectly. It’s about the re-commitment, in the moment, of re-focusing on the stone.”
I say that I will signal the beginning and the end of the exercise with my chime.
I say, “Whatever happens between the two chimes, you are doing this correctly.”
Then, I tap the chime.
During the exercise, I focus on the stone that I have chosen, gently letting go of thoughts that come up for me, which often include “I wonder what this experience is like for this person?”
Then, after a few minutes have gone by, I tap the chime again.
I say, “You don’t need to tell me, but I am always eager to hear what that experience was like for you.”
And the person almost always responds, often mentioning a memory inspired by this stone. Or surprise about how easy (or difficult) it was to focus.
Sometimes people say that the stone they chose was a lot like them. They note imperfections in the mostly perfect stone. They use words like “strong,” “hard,” “smooth,” “chipped,” “scratched,” “rough,” “beautiful.”
I am often moved by what people say about their experience of the mindfulness exercise.
When they are finished speaking, I say that the orientation for the group is done, and that they can participate in the group, as they choose, from now on.
And, finally, I tell them that the stone is theirs to keep.
It never ceases to affect me, how people respond to that.
Almost always, it’s as if I have given them an important and precious gift.
A simple, imperfect stone.
Thanks for the gift of your presence, today.