For much of the time, we pay little attention to the assorted rocks in our lives. We nonchalantly crunch over them as our cars enter our driveways. Standing on the edge of a pond, we fling them, watching satisfactorily as they skip over the water.
At the outset, we must happily recognise that for many, there is an intrinsic beauty to rocks, with the unique reasons they formed being sufficient reason to study them and be in awe of them. Just ask a geologist.
Still, something happens when we extract that particular rock from its usual everydayness. Whether we paint it, collect it or simply admire its texture and colouring, somehow, there is a profound connection we make, permitting us to delve deeper into its hidden meanings.
Over the millennia, people have been painting rocks of varying sizes. For some, it was no doubt the only canvas readily at hand. Some of the first examples of cave art were found in Spain. Now a World Heritage Site, in the Cave of Altamira, the cave art stems from the palaeolithic age.
Image of cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art
Traversing the deep pathways of time across the globe, from Portugal, France, England, Italy, Romania and German to Russia and Indonesia, we find other illustrations. In each, our forebears have shared their expressions, ideas and beliefs, images that no doubt touch on elements of religious or symbolic nature.
For those of us in more modern times, we, too, create and express our sentiments and ideas in paint on the various rocks we find. We do so for various reasons. Sometimes it’s just to have a bit of fun, passing the time doing something that may bring a bit of levity to another. We may even leave the rock in a place where we know it’ll be found and thus bring a smile.
Others paint rocks to enhance their sense of spiritual wellness. If we’re feeling a little down, painting rocks can help take our minds away from whatever is troubling us. And if we choose, as noted above, to leave the rock for another, our spirits can be heightened by the connections we’re making with another person.
Alongside painting rocks, another activity many of us enjoy is simply collecting them. We do so for a number of reasons. We’re sometimes visiting a place of meaning and feel the urge to collect a rock.
Many of us have visited spots both near and far and looking down, we spy a rock, noted for its colouring or texture. Picking it up and inserting it into our bag, we’re contented the rock will readily evoke the accrued memory for that locale. It’s an emblem for the sense of place linked to that spot in our hearts. Rocks can be a heartfelt and evocative keystone for our memories of place.
At other times, rocks may be used as a particular marker for having visited a location. So, every day thereafter, we smile, looking at an emblem of our accomplishment. “I did it,” we might say. Sometimes, rocks might be a proof we’ve visited a particular location where only certain rocks can be found. For instance, the igneous rock llanite can only be found in the area of Llano County, Texas.
Qualities of Rocks
So, many of the rocks we collect are ones of unforgettable aesthetic beauty. Their colouring or qualities of their texture are ones we admire. But what is it about rocks that captures our sentiments? Is there something else? Are there characteristics of rocks towards which we ourselves would strive?
In many cases, rocks offer one very important quality—durability. So, yes, if we collect or paint it, generally speaking, we can be fairly sure, in even 50 to 100 years or more, it’ll still be in markedly good shape.
Is there something else in particular about this quality? Is durability something we would like to see in ourselves? What does durability mean? According to most dictionaries, it’s the ability to withstand wear and tear or decay. Well, even in our own lives, we highly regard qualities of durability. Think of our health, something that would speak to our longevity on earth.
For some, durability against the expected decay of the years passing us by is vital. People go to great lengths to stem the inevitable weakening of their bodies, taking measures to allay the expected changes we experience as we age. So, being of such merit, is the durability of rocks an innate quality—a form of continuity—one to which we inherently aspire? Is this an underlying element of rocks we love vicariously?
Being durable, rocks are unchanging or steadfast. Of course, rocks undergo the eroding effects of wind and water. However, they do so at a rate that is sometimes imperceptible to our eyes. Thus, they may appear to be unchanging.
And to be unchanging is something we, as humans, generally prefer. Biologically, we are hardwired to not change through the condition of inertia. Inertia plays a key role in how our bodies maintain a state of equilibrium—homeostasis.
The idea our bodies are able to maintain steady levels of temperature and other conditions needed for our survival and well-being is central to life. Could this be why we inherently value the unchanging conditions of rocks?
Finally, the strength of rocks is undeniable. As much as being a quality we respect and admire, it is also one we would seek to see describing ourselves. Thus, it is an aspect of rocks we would readily seek to mirror.
Hidden Meanings of Rocks
We paint and collect rocks, admiring their inestimable beauty. At other times, we gaze at them in admiration of their sturdiness and stability. However, are there hidden meanings concealed in our regard for rocks?
Elements of durability, strength or steadfastness are all qualities of rocks we understandably admire in rocks, as well as in ourselves.
Rocks are thus not just rocks. They are symbols of continuity we hold as models for our own behaviour.
Andrea 2024 “Why Do People Paint Rocks? https://rockpaintingart.com/why-do-people-paint-rocks/
Clottes, Jean 2023 “Cave Art” Britannica https://www.britannica.com/art/cave-art
Ryback, Ralph 2017 “Why We Resist Change” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201701/why-we-resist-change