The Lessons in Rocks

IMG_0670 Jutting shards of Squaw (Piestewa) Peak

To many Native American tribes, rocks are the “stone people,” or Ancestors. I was in a sweat lodge once and the huge volcanic rocks in the pit glowed red like searing hot sponges. The holes in the rocks, along with the shadows from the fire (or maybe it was my encroaching delirium from the intense heat), causing me to start truly seeing rock faces, their expressions changing…dim and glowing. My Apache friend told me that these sweat lodge rocks have actually spoken to people — which would be very disconcerting — and have even on occasion jumped out of the pit!

Rock formations: Escarpments at the top of Piestewa Peak jutting out at an angle like great steely shards. The buttes and formations in Sedona, ancient and majestic. Devil’s Tower from the Close Encounters movie. The crazy hoodoos of the Chiricahuas down in southeast Arizona, whose formations appear to defy the laws of gravity. Our own Weaver’s Needle deep in the Superstitions and Superstition Mountain itself, part of a huge caldera millions of years old, steeped in mystery and revered by the Native Americans who lived in the area hundreds of years ago.

Chiricahua Tombstone July 06 055 Duck Rock in the Chiricahuas of SE Arizona

When on road trips, I find myself wondering how the landscape was formed. Did a huge wind caused by an ancient pole shift blow the hundreds of boulders I see from somewhere else and scatter them across this valley? If not, how did they get here? Why is that rock shaped like a duck? Why is there an infusion of sparkly rock flowing through that exposed cliff face? How did that five-foot-high layer of pale rock get into the red sandstone that’s hundreds of feet thick?

I was in heaven when I found an amazing book that describes the landscape along each of the major highways in Arizona and how it was formed, including the features’ names. But the only problem is I always seem to be the driver, and no one wants to read to me as we pass the points of interest marked in the book.

IMG_3398 One of the many ruins in Sedona

My love for ruins, especially Native American ruins, comes in second to my love for rocks, but I’ve realized that although I appreciate ruins for what they are — or were — ultimately, I revel in the fact that they are rocks forming a structure. There’s a wistful atmosphere of abandonment surrounding ruins, yet they make me feel so close to the people that walked there so many years ago.

The rocks thoughtfully chosen and placed; the mortar spread so carefully between the layers of rock; impressions left by careful fingers hundreds of years ago frozen in stone. I think the way I feel when I’m near a ruin comes from the rocks that form it, yet the fact that they’ve been used to build something bigger than themselves symbolizes something so much more complex.


Ruins embody the fact that rocks don’t have to move to have life, they don’t have to do anything to prove they exist. They just ARE. They have seen so much over so many thousands of years; been silent witnesses to the millennia. These ancient Ancestors watch and listen. Through their presence alone, they retain their power.

IMG_0512 Ruin in the Sierra Ancha

Perhaps this is symbolic of a bigger truth for me: the very fact that each one of us is here on this earth is by no means an accident, or chance. To gain a better understanding as to why you are here, like the rocks, you just need to listen and be Present.

Sometimes it’s hard to stop trying to influence your surroundings or life situations with your own ideas as to how things should be and to just observe the world around you (especially the natural world), allowing yourself to receive its teachings. But by doing so, you will begin to enter into a whole new relationship with life that is almost magical!

Living this way takes trust, or faith if you will, that things are going to be OK without your intervention. It requires you to enter a state of humility, and surrender to something you may sense, but may never truly understand or comprehend. When you’re in this state of receptivity, little things will start to happen that seem like strange coincidences — synchronicities. The more you acknowledge them, the more often they will happen. It’s almost like the Universe likes the attention and will interact with you even more, the more you open yourself up and notice!

IMG_1167 Ruin in Chaco Canyon

The tools you are given to realize your purpose in life are intuition, and the ability to follow your heart. If you are listening, these tools will always tell you when you’re heading in the right direction.

I love rocks and ruins, and it’s hard for me to articulate why. But finally listening to my heart led me to go back to school in my adulthood as an Anthropology/Archaeology major even though I have no idea what I will do professionally (if anything) in that field, or where exploring the past will lead me.

What makes you feel alive? Whatever it is, it’s no accident. Explore that path with your heart wide open, even if you don’t know where it will lead you. Like the rocks, be still and listen. By honoring that which speaks to your heart, ultimately, you are honoring Life itself.

Related Posts:
The Most Precious Stone
Adventure in the Sierra Ancha
Quick Jaunt to Copper Forks

8 thoughts on “The Lessons in Rocks

  1. Nice. Indeed, for many peoples rocks are potentially alive. It has come up in my academic research (and personal life) repeatedly. If, as a student, you are interested in some relevant readings on the topic, let me know.

    1. I would most definitely be interested, thank you for offering! Rocks have always fascinated me but I have never delved into the subject beyond some geology and anecdotal reports, of course…

  2. If you are in anthro, you will hear someone talk about the “ontological turn.” In reality, the turn was made by some scholars long ago, following the work of A.I. Hallowell. See his “Ojibwa Ontology, Worldview, and Behavior.” For something more local, see Charlotte Frisbie’s Navajo Medicine Bundles. I can’t remember exactly if she talk about rocks, but similar things for sure. There are lots of examples of living rocks among the Blackfeet in Alberta and Montana (my area). Their language is related to Ojibwa, and Hallowell’s work really resonates.

    1. Amazing. After looking it up, I actually do recall reading the Hallowell piece in a Native American Religious Traditions class, I remember it pretty much blew my mind at the time in the way quantum physics can; trying to wrap your mind around a concept that was previously just beyond your range of cognition…I am going to have to reexamine it, I totally forgot about it! I will also check out the medicine bundles piece, I really appreciate your input, thanks!

      1. It was Seth Schermerhorn, he does a lot of work with the Tohono O’Odham here in the Phoenix area. I found a cool write-up on the jish medicine bundles, I’m going to shoot you an email here soon about that and some other things! Thanks for pointing me in that direction, fascinating info.

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