Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Do you share my love of stones?
There is comfort and strength in stones. Just hold a pebble in your hand for a few moments and you'll see what I mean. What never fails to fascinate me is the fact that different stones have different temperatures, maintaining a chilliness or a warmth with the same apparent randomness as they are rough or smooth. And you only need to look at the balancing stones in this picture to recognise their individuality.
If, as is said, every snowflake is unique, then surely the same applies to stones?

What made me think of stones? Well, I had a letter from a friend the other day, he's a scientist and he mentioned a study he'd been carrying out into this subject. In addition to the scientific properties of stones, he'd been looking at their historic and spiritual significance. However, it was what he said about milestones that made me pause and think.

Stones were the physical building blocks of our civilisation. Sacred standing stones have been objects of veneration over the centuries. But stones once played an additional role . . . they were used as signposts. I'm sure you've seen them, white-painted milestones embedded in the grass verge. One side of the stone tells the traveller how far he's journeyed, the other points him in the right direction and gives him the distance to his destination.

Milestones are quite different from maps. Maps are indifferent as to where you are and have no interest in where you want to go. They give you the layout of the vicinity and leave it to you to chart your route, to choose your destination.

Milestones, on the other hand, know exactly where you are. They know where you have come from and the path that you intend to take. In relation to that precise moment in your life (not a moment before and not a moment after) they can offer you valuable guidance.

My friend was looking at milestones from this broader, more philosophical viewpoint. We can get attached to our milestones, he wrote, which means that instead of seeing them as reference points on the journey, sources of advice to guide us on our way, we mistake them for the destination itself. We set up camp by our milestones, venerate their wisdom, and forget their essential message.

It struck me that he's right. The comforting support of a milestone, and the companionship of others pausing at the same point, can seem infinitely preferable to pioneering an unknown path. When you come to think about it, there would seem to have been many congested milestones in the history of our civilisation.

So, with a pebble in my pocket to sustain me, I will look upon my friend's letter as a milestone, accept its guidance . . . and continue on my way.

Will you join me?