On Being is my favorite podcast. Led by Krista Tippett, it interviews guests on what it means to be human. A few years ago I listened to her interview with John Paul Lederach, one of the most esteemed mediators in the world today. He shared a haiku which has always stuck with me. It packs a punch, even in its short simplicity:
“Don’t ask the mountain
to move, just take a pebble
Each time you visit.”
I know from personal experience, and from lamentations from clients, how easy it is to become overwhelmed by all the work there is to be done on oneself. It is common to wish it would just go away or to wish someone else would take care of it. Carrying the metaphorical “weight” of change can feel like an impossible task, especially when in the depths of depression. If you focus only on the work to be done, the perceived “impossibility” can be crippling, leading to helplessness and hopelessness, which are ironically counterintuitive to change.
Instead, I have found it useful to focus on tiny steps forward. When it comes to true, lasting change, what we are looking for is not the miracle of moving mountains; it’s simply to be one percent better, one day at a time. It’s something each individual can only do for themselves, pebble by pebble, action by action. Over time, these pebbles add up to a new mountain – not one made of problems, but rather of a life freely chosen and diligently and lovingly built over time.
If you are someone who feels paralyzed by all the progress you want to make, I created an exercise which may be helpful. It involves using actual pebbles as markers of change. To do it, fill up a large jar with hundreds of tiny pebbles (or beans, or rice, or whatever you have!), and place an empty jar next to it.
At the end of each day, reflect on the positive steps you made towards your recovery. For each positive thing you did, such as got up when the alarm went off, made a healthy choice at lunch, smiled at someone, or loved yourself through an anxious moment, pick up a pebble out of the first jar. Look at it, feel it in your hands, and celebrate it. Then, move the pebble to the empty jar. This is a practice which can be done daily. It will provide you with an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate your recovery process step by step, and gain satisfaction as you watch the once-empty recovery jar fill up slowly and steadily, one action at a time.
This is how mountains are moved, and how change is made. One pebble at a time. It need not feel like an impossible task, but can rather become a journey to be savored.