The Grief Stone

grief stone

When I was going through some very bad times at the turn of the century, I was reading way too much about depression and madness (Health Tip: that doesn’t help) and I came across a brief reference to a Native American belief in the use of “grief stones.”

I didn’t do any deep research into it but decided to give it a try. The idea was that you selected a small stone into which you would rub your grief.  Focus on the negativity, problem or grief and rub it into the stone. The stone I chose was smooth river rock and I used my thumb to rub it. When you feel that you have transferred those feelings into the stone, you bury the stone in the ground where the bad energy will slowly dissipate.

I know how “new age” that sounds. Did I believe it? I guess I was willing to believe it at that point. After a week, I felt better and I dug up the stone. Maybe I was supposed to find a new stone, but I was comfortable with this one.

Perhaps, my improvement had nothing to do with the stone. Science would say that it had nothing to do with it. But I carried the stone with me and rubbed it when things were bad. I buried it again and waited for things to seem better. That took a few weeks. I dug it up again and kept it in my car.

I began a practice of leaving work and rubbing into the stone anything bad that had happened during the day. I did that for two years before I felt that I had packed as much into that stone as it could hold. I had actually worn away a very comfortable groove in that stone with my thumb which I found pretty remarkable. 

I buried the stone a few times again in the woods nearby because I didn’t want the grief to dissipate too near home. I left it there for a season, dug it up, and put it back in the car. It is still there, but I rarely use it. It’s more of a reminder of what had happened to me back then.

This past week I did some searching online for grief stones. I didn’t find much more than I had found back in 2001. There were sites selling grief stones, which bothered me for some reason. I found stones called “Apache Tears” that are said to be good for “transmuting one’s own negativity under stressful situations.” It is a dark black stone of obsidian and when held up to the light appears somewhat transparent. I read that some people claim that when the grief one feels goes into the stone, it turns opaque.

I claim no special powers for my stone. I don’t even know what kind of stone it is. What I believe happened is that the practice of rubbing the stone and thinking about the grief, worry, sorrow, pain, anger, or whatever it was at that moment that was bothering me was what had some effect. Recognize it, process it, and try to dismiss it. More psychology than sorcery.

I did find a reference to the grief stone on a site about art therapy. In this practice, you create a stone to represent the pain, memory, and emotion and bury it. I also found the recommendation to cleanse the bad energy in a stone by burying it in a crystal bowl of sea salt or placing it in a stream or into the ocean.

But I don’t think you need a special stone or a special cleansing. A stone that feels comfortable in the hand and the burying is as much ritual as you need.

Do I still use the stone? No, things are pretty good right now. Do I think the stone still holds some of the negativity? No. Did it ever? I know I held some negativity and it went away. Coincidence?

I still have the stone in the car. I hope I won’t need it again, but it’s there. The ground around where I buried it is green and growing. My grief didn’t kill everything nearby.

Everyone has days when you need to stop for just a bit, focus on what is causing negativity, and try to rub it into some other place outside of you and those you love. It might take a long time to rub out all that grief. It might take many more days for the grief to be neutralized.

Don’t Sit On Your Tail

Back problems. Very common. Even more common if you spend a lot of time sitting. But sometimes you have to sit.

That back pain might be coming from how you sit rather than how much you sit. I have tried a variety of things including a kneeling chair and a standing desk. When I was more serious about meditation, I has a lot of problems with meditation poses. My back gave out and I tried sitting meditation, different cushions, even standing.  I finally settled on kinhin, walking meditation.

But one must sit. I tried physical therapists and a consult with an orthopedic surgeon, but surgery is not high on my list.

One study reported that Americans sit about 9-13 hours each day, on average. Sounds high? Consider sitting for breakfast, in the car or commute, in the office, at lunch and dinner, watching TV. It adds up.

I heard a story on NPR’s Morning Edition (link at bottom) that suggests looking in profile at people who are sitting down. Look at their spines. Chances are good that their back is curving like a letter C with shoulders curved over and butts curved under.

If you are rounding your back when seated, your spine is in an improper position and that can damage the intervertebral disks that act as shock absorbers.

How do we straighten out the curve? Untuck the pelvis and elongate the spine.  A spine straight up with shoulders rolled back.

Were you ever told to “Sit up straight?” You probably reacted by sticking out your chest. Wrong. Lifting your chest is going to make your back pain worse.

You need to focus lower down, below the waist, at the pelvis – your butt. You want the base to be sturdy.

If your pelvis – your tail – is tucked under the spine, you need. If we had a tail would be at the base of your spine and you shouldn’t be sitting on it. One way to do that is to not bend at the waist when you sit, but bend at the hips, which is counterintuitive.

In the story they suggest that you stand up, spread your heels about a foot apart, put your hand on your pubic bone and push it through your legs. Butt out, and behind the spine. Relax the muscles in your back and chest, don’t stick out your chest, vertebrae in a straight line.

You should feel your hamstrings stretch and your quads relax. If you don’t feel that, you’re doing it wrong – perhaps pushing your lower back muscles to push your butt out,

Sounds easy, but you’re correcting a lifetime of incorrect.

Story at NPR

The Bee Sting Pain Index

No one wants to be stung by a bee, but if you had to be stung, where would the sting inflict the least and the most pain?

The Schmidt pain index measures the painfulness of stings from 78 species of insects on a scale of 0 to 4. Thankfully, bees don’t get up to 4. That level is saved for the bullet ant and the tarantula hawk.

Of course, what I find very painful might not seem very painful to you. Mr. Schmidt rated all of the stings himself. A study that came later wanted to see if the pain level of a sting varied depending its location on the body.

Drawing of the human form with Xs and labels at the sting locations

What locations hurt the most? The most painful location for being stung by a bee is on the nostril. Next is the close by lip. Not everyone will worry about the third place pain winner (loser?). It is the penis.  The subject being stung was a man, but I imagine the female equivalent area might rank up there also.

So, if you have to be stung, which locations are the least painful? The three least painful locations were the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm which all scored only 2.3 on a scale of 10. The study did not draw any conclusions on how to get that honey bee to avoid the nostril and lip and drift over to your skull instead.


Being Selfish About Pain

I remember in my teen years being introduced to The Tibetan Book of the Dead by my friend Karen. I bought a copy of this classic, but never really got very far into it.  It was a seed that was planted and finally did see life when I read it in later years.

I took it off the shelf this weekend after reading something online that referenced a meditative technique developed by Tibetan Buddhists that has been in use for many centuries, and predates the medical use of anesthesia. It’s also something I had read about in the essential teachings of the Dalai Lama

The practice is known as Thong Len and there is surprisingly little about it online. (Wikipedians, get to work.) The interesting aspect of it is that it is not only a technique to relieve your own pain, but, simultaneously, the pain of others. The practitioner is imagining another person’s pain (physical pain like a burn or injured nerve) and then drawing that pain into their own body/mind.

That sound foolish on the surface. Why would I want to take on your pain? Those who practice the technique claim that as you take the pain from others, your own pain disappears. You could view the action as almost selfish. If I was doing Thong Len throughout my day and drawing pain from everyone around me, I would constantly be improving my own well-being.

“I was amazed a couple of years ago when I discovered Thong Len. I had a burnt hand, and (when I used) that technique, it was like an anesthetic had been injected into my arm,” said Jack Pettigrew, a renowned Australian physiologist, at a Science and the Mind conference that was attended by the Dalai Lama.

Pettigrew takes a very scientific approach to the practice.  He is intrigued by experiences like when people in a room with a Thong Len practitioner report feeling better though they were not the “subject” of the technique.

Of course, this is only one of many examples where Western science has examined how Eastern practices involving meditative, introspective, and other thought techniques affect the body become a part of  trying to understand how the brain works.

Further Reading
Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead)