This past weekend Chris and I took a day trip to one of our favorite spots in Door County, WI to enjoy some time in nature…and of course the brilliant fall colors.
On our hike we came across a spot by the water where people have built stone cairns…piles of stones. These spots always feel so sacred…and entering their space feels like entering a sanctuary. For me, such places are a place for reflection and seeing all of the piles I often feel called to respond to their invitation to offer my prayers and intentions by creating my own stone cairn.
Cairns are seen throughout the world. They are often used to mark trails, places of significant events, burial sites, sacred sites, personal intentions, markers for climbers who’ve reached a mountain summit, and sometimes built by those who simply love the careful skill required to balance stone upon stone creating a tower of rock.
But the way I’m going to speak of cairns today is from the perspective of building a cairn to surrender an intention or bring celebration to an accomplishment.
The first time I built a cairn was while I was traveling in Peru in 2008. I was on a pilgrimage so to speak. I was there connecting to the land, healing, stepping into my truth, and learning how weave the energy of the Peruvian mountains into my mesa (my personal medicine bundle). On this journey we hiked apu Ausungate, and our base camp was at 15,000ft elevation.
Hiking the trail to our base camp was an intense journey. As I hiked, I carried with me a stone. Each time I met with a challenge…an inner voice, an old story, a pain within my body, exhaustion from the elevation, or simply felt like I could go no further…I would surrender that challenge to the stone by using my breath to blow the essence of that piece into the stone. During that hike my inner demons emerged…every single one. And I was so grateful to be carrying a stone to offer each of them to.
When I arrived at our base camp, one of the first things I did was create a cairn with that stone as the base. In Peru cairns are called ‘apuchetta’s’…meaning little mountain (apu = mountain). It felt so good to take the stone, holding all that I surrendered in my climb, and give it a sacred place. Over the next couple days as inner struggles would emerge, I would return to my apuchetta and add to my sacred pile of stones.
On the final night of that journey we climbed to another spot at 16,000 ft elevation…a spot laden with beautiful, soft pink stones. At this spot we came together as a group and created a large apuchetta honoring the sacred work we, as a group, came to Ausungate to complete. Each of us added stones to this pile blowing into them our sacred prayers. As we completed, one of the shaman placed an offering of incense and sacred stones at the very top of the apuchette. It felt like a sacred celebration for each of us…knowing the journey each had to take to arrive at that moment in time to come together. It was powerful to experience.
Ever since then, I see stone cairns with different eyes. I see a pile of stones that someone carefully took time to be present with…to offer their love and intentions…to surrender what’s hurting…to ask for support…or to celebrate their summit.
Tossing what we no longer want or need off to the side is easy to do…just like it would have been easy for me to just toss the stone I carried with me as I hiked up Ausungate. But tossing it to the side is disregarding the journey it took to arrive here, right now in this moment.
Each of us have ‘mountains’ to climb at different times in our life. Cairns as way to acknowledge every part of the journey.
Building your own cairn…
- It’s all about intention. Ask yourself what mountain (physical or metaphoric) you’ve just climbed…or what mountain are you facing.
- Be present with it…fully present.
- Bring along a stone to offer your challenges to…yes…this stone will carry them for you, just offer them.
- When you arrive at your destination, create a pile of stones using the stone you’ve carried with you as a part of the foundation. (oh…I usually carry a small stone, something relatively light and then bury it in the earth piling the other stones upon that spot)
- As you place each stone be really present with how they are honoring the journey you’ve taken, the mountain you are facing, your personal intention, the stories you’ve lived, etc. With each stone, symbolically surrender
- Invite nature and spirit to be the caretaker for your cairn and all of the energy it holds for you. Yes…at some point it will fall and you will likely not see that happen…but you will likely experience your own “breakthrough”
I’d love to invite you to give this a try…you may want to do it out in nature or in your garden. Enjoy!
Also…I’d love to hear…have you built a cairn before? What was your experience like? Have you come across them hiking?…how did you feel in their presence?
Wishing you a wonderful week!