The Gifts of the 'Dwarfie Stane' (Dwarf Stone)
1st January 2020
"We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants" (Bernard of Chartres)
The morning after the recent UK general election, I woke up early in the youth hostel, in the Orkney Island of Hoy. I was there to guide a storytelling week for a group of young social entrepreneurs who came from all corners of the world to travel and journey together for a year. The theme was exploring our personal stories of challenges and callings in these times.
It was Friday the 13th of December, the fourth day of our course, and another ‘in the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan…’ kind of morning, with some moaning members of the group, disappointed by the election results adding their own whines and groans to the sound of the howling winds outside. The mists have rolled in and my mind was full to the brim with the depth of the trials and quests some of the students have shared with me. The world felt heavy that morning. I carried the weight of their questions as well as my own wonderings - such as what was the right next step to bring to this workshop…questions about my own life path surfaced, questions about where on earth we humans are heading…
During our coffee break, Sachi from New Zealand told me about her hike to the ‘Dwarfie Stane’. This mysterious stone rests in a steep sided remote valley on the island, and is thought to be the only tomb cut into a rock in Britain. It was hollowed patiently from solid rock using basic stone tools around 5000 years ago. Local legends about this rock tell of dwarves and of a giant who punched his way out after being trapped there by a rival.
Thinking this may be my once in a lifetime chance to meet a giant or at least a dwarf, I decided to use the free afternoon to walk and seek the Dwarfie myself and ask him for some good Stone Age inspiration on how to tackle the mountains of challenges we people sometimes have to face in our lives.
I packed a small bag, tightened my waterproof gear and walked outside. I walked for a long hour in deep silence, without seeing another human soul, the North Sea waved to my left, the mountain to my right. A single Eagle circled high above. I walked across the Heather clad valley and came to a path where I had to cross carefully over planks of wooden boards, the astounding peatland. By the time I arrived at the rock, nature has already managed somehow to slow me down and breathe space into my crowded mind.
A wave of gratitude washed over me as I paused for a moment to scan the stunning, isolated landscape. I asked permission from the Dwarfie and crawled into the two small joined chambers inside the rock. I could just about stretch my legs to fill both chambers. I lay in the darkness inside the rock in an awkward position when another wave of happy gratitude washed through me. There was some strong presence in this place…and so, knowing there were no humans around, I sang my gratitude loudly in that fantastic acoustic chamber and then closed my eyes and handed my questions to the universe: “come on Dwarfie…please illuminate my mind with some ancient wisdom…”
After what seemed like ages of laying there waiting for an insight, I realised it was not going to happen. Disappointed I let go of hoping to get any answers. I stayed in the rock for a while, resting, listening to the rain and the wind outside, and to my own breathing and heartbeat. All of a sudden I heard a voice. It was the voice of the rock itself speaking to me! And I heard it from inside my inside. It told me this giant rock was pleased to have a tiny human embryo in its stony womb, and to have my beating human heart inside it: “There are people with a heart of stone! But look now, I am a stone with YOU, a human as my heart!” It spoke of many other things. As the ‘Dwarfie Stane’ spoke, it suddenly dawned on me that in this moment the real dwarf was me…with my small ridiculous contemporary questions facing the ancestral solid certainty of this ancient glacial erratic rock, who has been sitting here for tens of thousands of years. I heard the rock laughing off the general election results saying it will pass in a blink of an eye and reminding me of the 12,000 years it took the thick peat moss outside to grow in the slow rate of one mm a year. The rock said that moss captures Carbon Dioxide and can help humanity navigate through climate challenges and protect us from radiation. I asked the rock back about how we have to act now and mentioned humans were destroying the peat, the water, the planet, but the stone hushed my stream of thoughts: “I shall give you two gifts before you leave”, it said, “for soon it is your time to go. Here is my first gift: know that you humans are ready and capable to deal with ANY challenge out there, so long as you remember that you are never alone and remember that everything is connected.”
I took a moment to digest this message, and then I spoke back protesting: “I have heard this before rock, but listen, it is not enough! We people forget!” I paused , searching for words: “I keep forgetting my nature of interconnectedness myself too often.’’
The stone was silent.
“I am so sorry stone”, I said. “Please tell me…what is your second gift?”
The stone remained stone silent.
I crept out to start the long and lonely walk back to the hostel, for it was now quite dark. I stumbled in the muddy bog but kept on walking until I found a clearer path. I kept on walking as night descended; the icy cold wind lashing me with horizontal rain and blinding hail. My hands and face went numb but for some strange reason I didn’t mind it at all. In fact I loved it all - the feeling I was so insignificantly small, all on my own, completely at the mercy of the elements, knowing I had no control whatsoever over anything…somehow made me feel so free! I suddenly noticed the light of the full moon rising over the mighty sea. It was then that I heard again inside my inside the now familiar voice of the great rock speaking with a soft Orcadian accent…”Yes” it said, “you humans forrrget sometimes…you often forrrget….but that is why you need my second gift.”
There was a silent pause and I stopped to look at the moon. Then the rock continued, saying: “Here is my second gift; you will learn it with pain and with gratitude. Receive from me a little dose of stone medicine for yourself, for others, for the world – I give you… patience.”
At that moment on the dark path, I knew patience was truly the gift I needed to receive that day. I experienced a slow, third wave of gratitude cleansing and washing through a very wet yet satisfied dwarf, marching slowly up the hill, trusting again in the natural process of ripening, taking one step at a time, slowly, p-a-t-i-e-n-t-l-y and happily.
The gift of patience is real medicine we may need to re-discover in the hurried lifestyle we live in. Often in life we encounter things we cannot control, but good stories remind us it is possible to find freedom and sovereignty when we are able to choose our inner response to outer events. Patience is a practice.
Once in a big city supermarket, a man noticed how a woman and her four year old daughter who was sitting in a shopping trolley, passed near the sweets section and the child asked for some sweets. When the woman said “no”, the child began to moan and fuss and push, but the mother replied very calmly: “Now Helen, keep calm, we have only half of the items on our list left to find and then we are done. Don’t be upset.”
The man passed them again by the bakery section. The little girl demanded a cake and the mother told her again she couldn’t have any. This time the girl began to cry. The mother hugged her and said softly: ”There, there Helen, you have managed so well until now, we are nearly done, and we can soon go outside in the fresh air. Don’t cry Helen my love, please don’t cry.”
Later the man happened to stand behind the two as the mother was paying the cashier and the girl burst into a terrible tantrum when her mother refused to buy her a chewing gum. The mother again spoke with great patience and said: “Now listen Helen, we will be out of here in two minutes and we can go home and have a delicious lunch and a good rest.”
The man followed the two of them outside the supermarket and stopped the woman to give her a compliment: “Excuse me lady…I must tell you, as a parent myself, that I admire your patience with little Helen…” The mother stopped him mid-speaking and said: “My little girl’s name is Alice… I am Helen."
As we welcome the New Year and a New Decade with the challenges and hopes they will bring, I wish to conclude with just one last gift of a story for you. I know storytellers have an essential part to play in cultivating healthy, resilient, conscious and sustainable communities into the future. We will need much patience, but the wise story keepers who came before us, have passed on to us the gifts of rhythm and repetition, conscious gestures and slow breath, deep listening, and silent suspense and the stories themselves to prepare us for this task.
This story is told about the 18th century sage and storyteller Rabbi Nachman who knew it was possible to repair the world through the telling of wonder tales.
It is told that one evening the sage Nachman was challenged by some of his close disciples. They said “Rabbi, why are you not constructing great new theories like all the other famous rabbis? Why won’t you lecture in some great schools or write some great books? You could become famous! But all you seem to do is speak to us in simple words and spend your time sitting and telling stories like the old Babushkas!”
The humble rabbi smiled. He paused for a long while with a faraway look in his kind eyes. Then he opened his mouth and said: “Once the stinging nettles asked a rosebush: ‘Dear Lady rosebush, teach us your secret! Tell us, how do you make the rose?'
The rosebush blushed. ‘My dear nettles’, she said, ‘the truth is it is actually extremely simple. All winter, I work the soil with great patience. I work the soil with love, trust and tenderness and all this time I have only one thing in mind: the rose. The moaning icy winds lash me, the rain and hail strip off my leaves, the snow crushes me, but I hold only one thing in mind: the rose. That, dear nettles, is my secret!’
The disciples looked at each other confused…"We don’t understand, Master” they said.
The rabbi laughed: “I cannot say I understand it myself, but I am patient with myself.”
The disciples frowned and seemed puzzled.
The master laughed and said: “I think what I’m trying to say to you is something like this: when I have an idea, a vision or an aspiration, I work it for a long time silently, patiently, lovingly, trustfully. And when I open my mouth, what a mysterious moment that is, when I open my mouth the idea comes out as a story.”
The sage laughed again: “We humans call it a story”, he chuckled, “and the rosebush calls it - a rose.”
I wish us all much patience, joy, creative adventures and many good, beautiful and true stories to last us for the whole of the new decade.