A Meditation on Rocks

Updated: Sep 28, 2020


I was watching a National Geographic show the other night about secrets of the parting of the Red Sea. With fancy 3-D computer imaging, drones, photogrammetry, and satellite data, the scientists were able to create a plausible story for where the Israelites crossed and how the water moved, but they couldn’t figure out how the water suddenly returned and drowned the Egyptians. They concluded the drowning was from another time, an earlier time when the volcano at Thera erupted.


I was surprised. I’ve been studying the effects of that volcano for 23 years. It was the largest volcanic eruption in historic time: the equivalent of 2 million atomic bombs. 42 billion tons of rock shot 22 miles into the air causing hundreds of tsunamis. Tsunamis that easily traveled 500 miles and drowned Egyptians. It was heard 200 miles away in Greece and even further. The myth of Atlantis was born, an island that fell out of favor with the deities disappearing into the sea. In the Book of Exodus, it says “v’el daber emanu elohim p'en namut let not god speak with us, lest we die.” The power balance changed in the Mediterranean and the goddess-focused Minoans were conquered by the militaristic Myceneans. And the rest, as they say, is history.


In 1997, I stood on what is left of the island of Thera. It’s shaped like a crescent hugging the caldera. With my mind’s eye, I could envision the eruption, the deep hole before me that a moment before had been a mountain. A corpus of stones surrounded my feet, the kind I used to throw over streetlights in the dusk and skip into Little Lake Sunapee. Who gives a thought to rocks, where they came from, what they are. The rocks of Thera are old. I picked one up and held god in my hand. I thought about that moment of the eruption, that one moment that changed western civilization forever, changed our lives, changed our values, it changed everything. The sound they say was louder than anything ever heard except perhaps for the cry of the sailors, returning to find, instead of their homes, a mile-deep hole being filled in by the sea.

An Ode to the Immeasurable Mystery of Life

By Jennifer Williamson

To move through the world transparently—

Wouldn’t that just be nice?

To not pin things down

And tie them up,

Wouldn’t it be a relief—

To not have to identify

With everything,

And sometimes even anything?

I’d like to just live in the world,

Just for a glimpse,

Without needing to be

Of the world,

Without a label or a word

For everything.

Are the dead

More alive

Than the living?

I wonder if we should

Stop wondering about everything.

If I think a little less,

Or a little more,

Does it change who I am,

Really, at the core?

What’s underneath

Is underneath,

No matter what I throw

On top of it.

Maybe if I stop describing it,

I can start living it.

Maybe life will start living me.

When I stop trying to close in on

My self,

Trying to nail down the truth,

And open up to the

Incomprehensible mystery,

I can join the truth.

Am I so hypnotized

By what happens

That I’ve forgotten

A vital half, missing?

No.

Not aligned with a greater reality,

Simply needing to look

Through my eyes

Instead of with them.

I feel the guidance to

Hold the truth

That I’m living and dying

All at the same time.

It’s a paradox,

Complexity,

Whole and wondrous

In its own right.

If we look out

Into the vast night,

There’s more than what is seen:

There’s the unseen,

The unheard,

The unfathomable half,

Without which

There would be no path

For the stars to align

Into portraits painted

Across the sky—

Nothing for us to

Place words upon,

And nothing for the eye.

To think that I am only

What I think

Would be a lie.

Even space

Would like to look at itself

Without being called a sky.

“Just look,”

It might whisper,

“Without needing to know,

You will know.”

Perhaps if I looked through my eyes

And not with them,

I’d be looking at myself,

Wherever it is I go.

That’s the paradox,

The complexity,

Of understanding that the soul

Doesn’t need to know,

In order to know.

Only in stillness

Am I present inside

This great mystery.

Participants’ Reflections:

  • I like the idea of mystery and not knowing. We tend to think we have to know things. Being and not knowing is a good place to be. But for me, it’s hard to get there. To be reminded of that is good. Because there are things we just don’t know. And mystery is wonderful.

  • As a scientist and writer, I split my brain between the knowing and the mystery.

  • I hadn’t heard that story. It is the invisible that makes us thrive. Think of the words ‘love’ and its opposite. What you read about the invisible, I was thinking how lucky we are, as we move through life. What would it look like if our skin was on the inside and our organs on the outside. There was enough in that reading to last for the year.

  • That was an amazing reading. I focused on the paradox of living and dying at the same time. My meditation was a journey. I started by remembering the time I spent four or five weeks living on the side of an active volcano. That led me to birthing, that kind of eruption when we are born into this world. It’s like a volcanic eruption, it feels that way. Then I went to the sacred circle, sunrise, sunset, it’s everywhere, the sacred circle. Which brought me to Sufi dancing and twirling. And that surrender you reach when you just let go. That was the end of my meditation, that moment when you are there but not there. That duality of spinning until you surrender to life or death. The meditation was quite a journey for me.

  • I’ve been struggling with staying in the moment and being okay with whatever comes up in meditation and whether I can feel like I am dropping in or the mind just keeps going. One of the things that has felt foreign and what I’ve been trying to reclaim in a conscious way is creativity. Today, sitting here during the meditation, my monkey mind kept telling me things. I got annoyed and pushed it away so that I could go down into the silence. And then it occurred to me to pay attention to what it was that was coming up. And I checked in with the chatter and it was creativity, and it was giving me a solution: it was saying if you just do this. What I recognize in meditation is getting closer inside and being able to shut off this process for me. If I think I’m going to do it right and being all set, then I have unrealistic expectations of myself. I’m going to stay in the moment and enjoy what keeps coming up.

  • I was drawn to the line that said, “Look through your eyes, not with them.” Sometimes I have situations where I take things personally. And that’s looking through my eyes and not with them. There were other lines, like ‘stop wondering about everything’ and ‘think less and live more.’ There is so much uncertainty right now. And I could just look through my eyes, like observe, and not attach myself to things. Another line, ‘Move through the world with transparency.’ It feels lighter to me, if I can do that. It’s a work in progress. Yesterday felt like a heavy day, so much of life, and it gets to be overwhelming sometimes. This is perfect what you read today.

  • When I feel overwhelmed during the day, I work on a jigsaw puzzle. It keeps me in the moment.

  • The phrase that really spoke to me was ‘pick up the rock and hold god in my hand.’ I love the tactileness of it. It helped me go deeper, the solidity of it, rather than the transparency. I thought, I’ll start meditating holding rocks. Everything is right there. It will keep me grounded. It’ll stop all these thoughts hurling back at me. And I also noticed that when I am meditating, creative thoughts, like that volcano, come up. I was pushing them away, telling myself to not think of poems or haikus, come back, come back. And then I thought, why not let that bubble up? And then come back. It was wonderful.

  • I was struck by two things. One was the enormity of the change for the sailors coming back to where their village had been. I think COVID might be akin to that, that what we knew in many ways is gone or altered. The other thing is looking through your eyes with your eyes, and I was thinking about listening with your heart instead of listening with your head.

  • Yes. I had to learn to listen to my dad with my heart. It was the only way I could have a relationship with him. It’s true.

  • We are carrying amethyst around now in order to help stay healthy.

  • It brought me comfort to embrace the mystery we are in. A hurricane strengthened last night and is coming towards us. We have prepared as much as we can, and we’re still not sure where it is coming. Just to know there is an inner stillness before a storm arrives. It made me think of what you shared, in ancient times, with the volcano. I appreciated it.

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