Presence and asking the right questions

rock balancing

This week I am at the Modern Elder Academy at a week-long workshop entitled “The Psychology of Presence“.

This is a week I am taking to “deepen my practice” in my work. What do I do? Fundamentally I listen, ask questions, reflect, sometimes (only sometimes) advise, mostly support others in finding their own answers. I call it being a Sounding Board.

Over many years of this work, yes there are many skills and practices one can learn, but at the heart of it all is one word. Presence. When we are truly present then we can truly become attuned (a word that is defined as “to become receptive, aware”) to another person or a group.

So, here I am, focussed on how I can become ever more present.

Now to the photo above.

Rock Balancing and Presence

I took that photo this week on the beach in Baja, where we spent time in the late afternoon “rock balancing”.

In all my many childhood hours and days on the beaches of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, with rock fields so similar to Baja, I stacked rocks many times, often into what are called cairns, yet never did it occur to me to balance a rock point to point.

In preparing for this exercise, Christine Sperber simply told us: “there is nothing to this, all you need to do is be present to the rocks. Be patient, then you will find a “click” where one rock engages with another”.

Ok, never tried it, I thought, but let’s give it a try. We got to the beach, I chose two rocks, sat down, and then, heck, within seconds I had done it. I was mesmerised.

Excited, I then tried again, choosing a little more pointed rock, and after a minute or so I did it again. Wow! Ok, I thought, what is next? I then found a second rock and balanced it on top of the first.

I was amazed at this, so took a breather, stood up, looked around and saw my compadres all doing the same. I then looked at Christine, who had two huge rocks and was trying to balance the sharpest point of one on the sharpest point of another. I watched her for several minutes as she was, yes, present to the rocks.

I then walked into the rock field and chose two similarly large and pointed rocks. Wow, this was not easy, in fact, it felt impossible, and yet.. and yet.. I relaxed, settled, even closed my eyes for a few minutes. Not moments, minutes. I gently held the large rocks with both my hands, making microscopic movements, almost as if I was listening to what the rocks were telling me to do, I was that present and focussed. Suddenly it happened. No, not an audible “click”, but suddenly the rocks settled against each other and were solidly balanced. I felt as if electric shocks went up my arms, then I released the two rocks and there they were, balanced. Point on point.

By this stage, I was mesmerised. Again I had to take a few minutes, then I decided to stretch even further. I picked out two large and super pointed rocks where I felt there was no way I could balance them. This time I was with the rocks for at least ten minutes. Though at times it felt close to balance, it never happened. For me, though, what happened was more profound. It was a meditation of sorts. The whole world had fallen away and my level of presence to the practice of rock balancing was deep indeed.

Presence and asking the right questions

I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post. For today I will simply note that I have learned over the years that the more present we can be for others, as one needs to be with the rocks to allow them to find balance, the better we are able to ask the right questions.

This week I was paid what was, to me, a great compliment. I was told that I ask great questions. If that is true, for me I feel it comes not from me “thinking” of a question, but from a question coming to me by being present to the person.

The more we can be present, the more we will ask the right questions.


Also published on Medium.

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