Story of "The Stones"
Where should I start? My mother was Catholic and my father was a Lutheran / Mormon. In most families, perhaps this would have meant civil war, but in my family it was just another problem looking for a solution. As I was growing up, the solution was a rule that I should attend church every Sunday, but the denomination was unspecified. The working model that I have developed was to attend many different churches, synagogues or denominational chapels, usually on a rotating basis. The selection method varied from week to week based on which one had the best picnic or party that week. Sometimes the decision was made for me by the girl that I was dating at the time.
When I joined in Navy in 1957, I was stationed aboard a ship cruising around the Mediterranean. This allowed me to travel to England, Jerusalem, Mecca, Egypt and many other centers of old world religions. Being extremely curious, I read every book I could get my hands on. I explored the King James, Douay and new World versions of the Bible. I studied the Koran and the Talmud. In the early 1960’s, the Navy assigned me to the USS Duncan, a destroyer home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan. I had fair amount of time and my hands, so I spent days, if not weeks, exploring the island nation. Having grown up in Southern California, I had a working knowledge of the Japanese language. A Japanese friend of mine, Eiko, invited me to attend classes at a Buddhist school on the southern slope of Mount Fuji. Taisekiji, as it is known, was the center of learning for Nichiren Bhuddism. Since I was able to speak English and Japanese, I was asked to become more than just a student.
One of the instructors, a very short, very fat, very bald, very old man and I spent many hours talking of religion, life, love and politics. One spring afternoon, I asked him a question. It was a trivial question. I have long since forgotten what the question was, but to this day I remember the answer. He slapped me (they are allowed to do that Japanese schools) grabbed me by the collar and guided me to a bench in a quiet corner of the garden. He “gave” me the following story.
Each of us in this world are travelers, but there are no maps, guidebooks or instruction manuals. Problems and solutions are parts of the same whole. A problem without a solution does not exist, and a solution without a problem is not truly a solution. Many times, a specific problem exists merely to be a solution to another problem. Conversely, the wrong solution becomes a much larger problem.
As we journey through life, we encounter small obstacles that are like stones. What each of us does with the stones ultimately decides what would become as human beings.
Some people will pick up a stone, look at it and put back from whence it came, never seeing it as a problem or a solution. Another traveler can pick up the same stone, seeing it as neither a problem nor a solution. Some people will pick up a stone to merely use it as a weapon. They throw it to demean their friends or family member in a negative or hurtful way. You can recognize this when you see someone who uses one of their own experiences to demean or humiliate someone else by saying, “I solved that problem this way and only a fool would look for another solution.”
Another person will pick up the stone and hold it close to his chest. That stone, along with all the other stones that he is carrying, will ultimately cause his center of gravity to shift forward and he falls on his face. You can recognize this when you see a person who is intent on living and reliving every event from their past. They cannot see the future. Their mind is not open to new experiences.
I have found that an easier solution is to pick up only those stones that you can recognize as solutions. You'll find that any given solution will always weigh less any given problem; you can carry many more solutions than problems. Once you have picked up a stone, the easiest way to carry the stones is to put them in a backpack. The solutions are close at hand, nearby but not blocking our forward sight, to be drawn upon whenever they are needed. You can also see that, after a time, if you keep putting these stones into your backpack, the weight of all of these stones will shift your center of gravity. You will fall on your back like a turtle, and the sun will bake and dry your bones, and your life will end just like a turtle.
To avoid the turtle’s fate, it is important to occasionally empty your backpack. On a regular basis, called the “Time of Self-Evaluation”, remove all of the stones and weigh them. You should carry enough stones to build stair steps to climb over obstacles that are placed in your path. You should be able to construct a bridge to cross a river that you encounter. There should be enough stones to build a shelter to protect you and your family from inclement weather. So gather together as many stones as you are capable of carrying and place them in your back pack. The remainder should be gathered together to form a monument. As you move forward, you can look back at your last monument to determine how far you have come. You may also look back at the last few monuments to verify that the course you are on is still a straight line. Also, since you have created these monuments you will remember where they are and you can find them again. You can return to any of these monuments to relive an experience or find a solution.
You must also remember that between now and your next “Time of Self-Evaluation”, you will encounter many stones, so allow for this and do not overfill your backpack. You need to leave space for the stones that you will encounter in the future. You will be tempted to carry all of them and not build the monument, but remember the turtle.
I personally use my “Time of Self-Evaluation” to do what I call a “P&L” statements. Within my life, I have found that an annual “P&L” does not work. Too many things and too many people provide influence in my life. To cope, I have adopted a semiannual time: my birth date, August 18, and its antipode February 18. Every year on these dates, I find quiet, and/or restful, places to visit. I remove all of my stones and evaluate them on an individual, case-by-case basis. I also evaluate those people who influence my life. I ask myself if the person is in the positive or negative column of my “ledger”. If they are in the positive column, they remain in my ledger. If they are in the negative column of my ledger, I evaluate their potential of moving into the positive column of my ledger. If they have been in the negative column for more than two periods, I “flag” their account and I see what I can do to move the account into the positive column. If they are still in the negative column two periods later, (two years have now passed!) I will try to determine if there is any hope of moving them into the positive column. If not, they are to be written off as a bad debt.
I choose a quiet, and/or restful, place to visit; a tree stump or a rock. I take some time to reflect on my own accomplishments during the past year. I take all of the stones out of my backpack and place them upon an imaginary table. Can I truthfully say that I have been fair in my dealings with my friends and my family? Have my accomplishments been beneficial or detrimental to those around me? Can I be proud of the work that I have accomplished?