touchstone noun 1. an excellent quality used to test genuineness. 2. a stone used to identify something precious. 3. a safe haven, grounding spot.
My personal definition of touchstone as a safe haven extends beyond the traditional definition. I often played neighborhood tag as a child. Our safe zone — a large stone — could be touched by hand or foot, deeming me safe from being tagged. It was a destination that offered a pause from the running chaos to rest and catch my breath. From this experience, I developed my own definition of touchstone — the third listed above. It’s not much of a stretch; touchstones accentuate what’s precious, they point out what’s genuine; for me, touchstones are spaces, experiences or words that remind me to reset or recenter.
I was fortunate to have a rich and active childhood where I often played outdoors. Our home had a pair of beautiful sugar maples in the side yard. When I was old enough to climb trees, my father hung a rope ladder from one of the maples, giving me easy access to the interior haven of its branches.
As a young girl, I played here often. I claimed a special spot — my legs perfectly straddling a hefty limb, my back resting against the trunk. I called this my “comfy seat.” In the spring, I enjoyed the bright greens popping from tips of branches. In summer, I was abundantly camouflaged in a sea of green; in fall, I sat in a swirl of crispy color; and when weather turned cold and branches dropped their leaves, I sat exposed — the rush of cool wind rustling the bare maple limbs around me.
Throughout my childhood, I developed a deep connection with my comfy seat, and when life was difficult, I sought refuge there to reconnect with a pure sense of self, to be reminded of simplicity and ease. Eventually, my family moved from that home. In times of need, I would imagine myself climbing the rope ladder, swinging my leg across the rough bark and leaning into the comfort that was always available to me. My maple became a touchstone — a part of my experience I could connect with to center myself, and to remember who I am.
After weeks of quarantine, isolation and separation from loved ones, we’ve lost the sense of comfort that comes with things familiar. We no longer have certainty about our future. Many are living in fear, feeding on mental narratives that lead to a state of paralysis, physical ailments or impulsive actions. Touchstones can quell our fears. They deliver us to a safe zone where we can more easily center our thoughts on narratives that work.
Our nervous system doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality; we can replace our fearful narrative with one that better serves our nervous system. I’m not advocating that we hide our heads in the clouds as we retreat to our imagined comfy seats. The world needs each of us and our unique gifts right now. I’m also not suggesting we overlook our emotions. Emotions serve as our guiding force. However, if we intend to maintain inner balance and take action to better serve ourselves and others, we must be present, grounded and attentive to hear our respective calls to inspired action.
I’ve developed numerous touchstones throughout my adult years: my morning meditative stillness, hikes in the forest, writing poetry, creating art, feeling the wind on my face and grass beneath my feet. Each one of us likely has a host of touchstones that can provide ballast during life’s storms. We would all be served by establishing our list and engaging with our touchstones often. This connects us with our genuine nature and our preciousness as humans, and helps us gain clear focus and take prudent action.
One thing is certain: we will always experience difficult times that cause us to seek inner peace and comfort. One of those times is now. So I’m choosing to take a few moments, close my eyes, and climb the rope ladder to my comfy seat. Though the maple branches may be bare and the wind chilly, I snuggle up against that hearty trunk, and know all is well. Then I thank my beloved sugar maple and listen for what calls me forth.