Pebble Meditation

One of my most favorite people in the universe is Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. I have a deep respect for his teachings. My most favorite meditation that he does is called Pebble Meditation.  In my opinion, it is one of the most calming meditations that one can do. I also find it is much easier to do than many other forms of meditation because it is what I call "self-guided meditation".  Unlike traditional meditation, the pebble meditation gives you something to focus on instead of simply trying to "clear your mind." I have chosen Pebble Meditation as our skill of the month for May.

For Pebble Meditation, the use of pebbles is recommended, although I have many clients that have found other items to use instead (beads, pennies, buttons, etc.) For each pebble, we assign it something specific from nature. The first pebble represents a flower; the second, a mountain; the third is for calm water; and the fourth is for space. For each of these elements, we can take or meditate on what it represents. The flower represents the freshness, newness, and beauty of a flower. "I am a flower. I feel fresh." From the second, the mountain pebble, we take solidity, strength, permanence. "I am a mountain. I feel solid." The third pebble is calm water. From it we remind ourselves to clear our mind, to see reality. Reflecting all things clearly. "I am still water, reflecting things as they are." From the fourth pebble, space, we take freedom. "I am space. I feel free."

I have attached this video of one of Thich Nhat Hanh's followers as he leads you through the Pebble Meditation. I like the video, even though it is not Thich Nhat Hanh himself, because the monk does a good job of explaining what we gain from using this tool.

I have used this meditation many times in session with children and adults alike. Nearly every person to whom I have introduced the meditation find it easier to do than traditional meditation. Additionally, most people feel comfort from nature. We love to be in nature and most people feel calmer when they go into nature so the natural imagery is not only easy to imagine but also inherently calming. Adding to that the well being that comes from each item only increases the meditation's effectiveness.

I like doing this meditation especially at night. When I find my mind running around thinking about this,that and the other, it is one of my go-to skills for helping to calm my mind and fill it with pleasant imagery which then facilitates sleep. Of course, when I do this at night, I omit the use of the physical--I don't take rocks into bed with me! I merely go through each item in my mind silently, focusing on my breath.

One other thing that I have done with this meditation is to go beyond it. When I'm using it to help myself go to sleep, sometimes, it's just not long enough. I will repeat each phrase ten times and move on to the next and at the end of "I am space, I feel free", I'm still very much awake.  I have therefore decided that there's no reason I can't imagine other things in nature. I'm partial to trees so I do "I am a tree, I feel strong." I've even done "I am a rainbow, I feel unique". You can choose whatever word you want to associate with whatever item you would like to extend onto. I had a client once do "I am a snowflake. I feel special." If that works for you, if it brings you joy, do it! Keep adding items to your pebble meditation to make it really yours.

It helps, though, to practice the meditation with a physical object--be it actual pebbles or some other hand-held item that you choose to represent each of the four elements. I like the use of objects because it gives me one more thing that my mind can focus on, preventing me from "forgetting what I'm doing".

As is mentioned in the video, sometimes you just need one moment to focus on your breath and think about one of the items. I'm particularly fond of "I am still water, reflecting things as they are." It reminds me that when my mind is not still, when I have ripples on my still water, I distort reality and cannot see clearly. When I can return the calm to my mind, I will be able to see clearly again. This is especially helpful imagery for times when we feel anxious because frequently we are not seeing clearly. Our mind is like water that is anything but still and as a result, we are seeing things that are not there, that are not accurate, that are distorted. So I find that sometimes, we can do a mini meditation with just one pebble when we need a reminder. This meditation becomes very easy to customize to your particular need in any moment.

I like that the meditation is really easy to do. I only have to remember 8 to 10 words: "Flower, fresh. Mountain, solid, Still Water, reflecting, and Space, free." That's not too hard and the objects I'm imagining are very easy to picture in my head because I have seen them many times in my life. I also have, in my office, a photograph that I found online which I call my "Pebble Meditation Picture" because it has all 4 of the elements in one photograph. It is a picture of Mt. Rainier and in the foreground are flowers, behind which is a calm body of water in which an exact copy of the mountain is reflected. Behind that is the mountain and surrounding the mountain is the sky. It is another way I can do Pebble Meditation without the use of pebbles. If you have a painting, a photograph or something similar in your home, use it as a cue to do pebble meditation. You can use it to find other items to add to the traditional pebble meditation as well. Then, every time you look at that picture, you can instantly usher in a sense of calm.

I hope you'll give Pebble Meditation a try. I love it and hope you will find it a helpful and enjoyable way to bring peace into your life.