Day 2: Rocks and Sand

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

There's a post I've been trying to write for almost two years now. It changed me so much back in the fall of 2011, and I always meant to come back here to share the glorious idea and my subsequent journey. I took photos to match the idea a few months later, in winter of 2012. And then in both June of 2012 AND July of 2012, I started to write actual blog posts. The drafts still linger in my blog post list as evidence that I really DID intend to write this all down at the time. Except by then, by 9 months after the fact, I'd healed and strengthened enough that I sort of ended up shelving this grand idea and moving along.... In the best possible way, mind you. This IDEA had run its course and done what it needed to, and I didn't need to be so rigid with it anymore. I moved into other phases of my life.

Fast-forward to summer 2013. and though it feels like the craziest coincidence, I think perhaps it is not: just when Quinn hit 6 months old, I suddenly and completely needed this idea again. The first time? Fall 2011? Lucy was 6 months old. I think maybe, just maybe, there is something to this time in the journey of having a new baby where the "just hanging on and keeping your head above water" phase slowly ends, and the mama begins to wake up a little from the fog and realize maybe she's got her crap together JUST enough to start moving forward again.


In any case, here I am, almost two years later, and I am back to thinking about rocks and sand.

It's not my original idea. In fact, I believe it is covered in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. And I daresay it is not HIS original idea. It's a simple thing, but so profound. And I almost missed out on its beauty, because it was my mother who brought it up, and though I love my mother so completely, you KNOW we all get a little bit "teenager-ish" when our mamas try to suggest ways we can change or improve. Even when we're 36. So I shrugged it off... not ready to hear it. But then one day the words sifted back up to the top of my mind, and suddenly it was right. It was time.


The rocks and the sand. Here's the basic idea:

You have this jar. You have a lot of sand and a handful of bigger rocks. If you start out by filling your jar with all of the sand first, you'll never be able to fit those big rocks in at the end. They simply don't fit.


If you put all of the rocks into the jar first, then put the exact amount of sand as before into the jar, the sand trickles between the big rocks and fills in all the gaps, and lo and behold-- it all fits.

This is an analogy, of course. And here is what each thing represents:

Jar: your daily life.
Rocks: the most important things. Your priorities.
Sand: the rest. The minutiae. The to-do list. The dusting and the laundry.

It is so simple. The idea is to try to always put your rocks in first. The sand will follow. And it will somehow fit. But if you spend your days only ever doing "sand things", by the end of the day, when you are tired, cranky, worn down, how will you ever have the time or the desire to work on your "rocks"?

It's a cool idea. But in order to really get deep into implementing it, you have sit for a quiet stretch of time and really ponder what your "rocks" are. You must figure out what REALLY matters to you in a daily way. In my case, I tried to keep my list short. It would be easy for me to go overboard and end up with a list of 20 "rocks"--- an impossible daily life. I ended up with eight. (Now that I have Quinn, it's at 9.)

Allow me to share MY rocks. Yours won't be the same. They shouldn't be. They are so intensely personal, these rocks. Only YOU know what your daily life needs above everything else. Here are mine:
1. Joe
2. Noah
3. Lucy
4. Quinn
5. prayer
6. scripture
7. 15 minutes of creativity
8. 30-minute walk
9. 10-minute pick-up

That's it. And it is hard to keep it to that. What about work? What about extended family or friends? What about bills or grooming or music or writing or education or naps? I could easily add any of those to my rock pile. EASILY. They matter so much to me. In the end, I made myself winnow it all down down down-- especially because of the overwhelmingness of being a new-again mama. For now, I HAVE to have faith that if I attend to those 9 rocks above, the other things, especially the other SPECIAL things, will fit. They will follow. And it will all work out.

And you know what? For the most part, it does.

For me, right now, this works because I can so easily find myself spinning my wheels and wondering where my day went. If it's 3pm and I'm feeling a  bit useless and like the day has been wasted, I can run down that list of rocks and latch onto one of them and do it right then--- to get myself back on track... to feel like I'm back in the "zone" of what truly matters. (The most any one of those rocks takes is THIRTY MINUTES. I can manage that.) And at the end of the day, I can review how I did and plan how to do better the next day. Because INEVITABLY, even with only 9 things to accomplish daily without fail, I still fail to do at least three a day. Different ones every day. But the goal is there, and it is simple and it is consistent. And so these are the days I think about rocks. All the time.

In fact, two years ago, I even went to a pond and gathered visual aids to keep me going. (forgive poor Quinn's name missing from these images. Remember I photographed my rocks in January 2012, a year before he was born. I DO now have a Quinn rock. I promise.)
 Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket 
I have these pretty reminders on my entry table right now. On especially hard days, I actually take them out and line them up and then put them into their bowl, one by one, as I manage to get them done. It is really healing and positive and marvelous to hold these rocks in my hand as tangible reminders of what really matters to me. 

And I guess maybe a few of you might want to know more specifically what I mean when I say Joe is a rock or what a 10-minute pickup is, or why it matters to me, specifically. 

So with my beloveds-- my husband and the kids, my "rock" is that I want to devote at least 10-20 minutes a day to really BE in the moment with each of them individually. In the case of Quinn, well, that's easy. It means I try to put my phone away one or two of the times I'm nursing him and just gaze at his face--- stroke his hair, touch each of his toes individually. Or it means when I'm playing with all of the kids, I remember to face him to ME, instead of away, and look him in the eyes and try to make him laugh. Oh, he is the best at laughing! 

For Noah, it might mean letting him talk on and on and on about whatever he's drawn that day, and ask him more engaged questions than usual... Or it may mean getting on the floor WITH him and getting more physically committed to the pretend games he loves so much. It just means LISTENING and SEEING him better, for a good concentrated span of time, each day. 

For Lucy, it's somewhere between the simple attentions I give Quinn and the more mentally rigorous attentions Noah needs. Lucy just needs to be played with. Sung to. And these past few days, I'm realizing she also just needs me to go HER pace a bit more. Let her determine how fast or slow we walk, and where we go to next. 

And for my Joe--- well, this last few weeks, it's manifesting in a strange and lovely little ritual I brainstormed one evening, remembering our pre-kids days. We used to be addicted to backgammon. Like crazy. But neither one of us had played it in over 5 years. So I asked him if he'd play a nightly game with me. So we do. Most nights. And its so small, and no big deal, but it puts us at the table together, talking as we strategize... a light-hearted span of time where we don't have to talk about the bigger issues or the kids... We can just chat and play. I'm loving it. He is too. 

Other rocks--- the prayer and scripture rock are pretty self-explanatory. For me, I tend to not feed my spiritual side as consistently as my soul craves. So if I can get better at it being daily, it really helps set the tone for the whole day. 

15 minutes of creativity: two years ago, this was the sewing I alluded to in yesterday's post. Right now, it may simply be pondering what to hang on my dining room wall. Or planning a photo shoot. Or even just TAKING a few iPhone photos and making time to cull and edit them. I'm being pretty lenient with myself for this one. As long as I feel like I dipped my toe into the pool of inspiration at least a little each day. 

30-minute walk: this is proving SO hard to do right now. Two years ago, it was October and GAWGEOUS and so so easy to get out and get moving. Right now it is A*ugh*st and so UGH and blah and ick. And I'm just gonna be lame and say it-- there are just more hills out here. Meh. I'm a blob of non-activity. But CLEARLY this is why this is a ROCK and not sand. I may not manage it, but I NEED to be trying. 

10-minute pickup: I need just a little bit of order in my life to feel sane. So if I can just manage to finish the day with 10 minutes of putting things back in their place, the next day starts out so much better. This is really so small... and for most people,  probably NOT rock-worthy. But I've learned for ME, it is so good for my chi. 

And there they are. My rocks. And like the parable of the rocks and the sand, I just have to trust the rest, like sand, will fit. That if I can attend to the most important parts of my life, the other things will fall into place. I will be more charged and filled and receptive, therefore being more prepared to manage the rest of it. 

It's a daily work. And many many days, I'm still left with handfuls of sand and a few big rocks and that jar is nowhere to be seen... But there is always tomorrow. 

And who knows? Nine months from now, I may have grown enough from this exercise to find that I've put it away again. Just a pretty bowl of named rocks on my shelf. 

(At least until the next baby hits six months old, amiright?)


  1. Hi! Love this post. On the walking thing: I downloaded the Pacer app (free!) and find getting 'credit' for walking is super motivating for me. Anyway, hang in there, and glad to see you writing more again.

  2. Funny that you should choose today to post this... I, like you, have seen various versions of this "story" over the years; and also like you, I am always struck by it and its simple profundity.

    A FB/Balloon friend, whom, I frequently tell him, is my "Spirit Infusor" (he always manages to post just what I need to hear, just when I need to hear it), posted the story on his timeline yesterday (and it came up in my NewsFeed).... I have been contemplating it, non-stop, ever since. Your post simply reinforces my need to continue focusing on it... I like the idea of the physical rocks.... I may just have to encorporate it into my own (current) "journey of growth" , toward the "authentic self" I long to find... thanks, AGAIN, for your beautiful words and your willingness to share!

  3. This is wonderful. I want to hug all you guys.

    And go find some rocks.

  4. Off to get me some rocks! And we used to play backgammon, too!! Funny. This is a wonderful idea, I really am going to get some rocks.

  5. Oh, Em. I needed this today - the day in September when all the craziness of the beginning of school is ALMOST over and we move from survival to living. Gotta refigure my rocks and make sure they match the time that I spend. Love you for this and so many other things.


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