The word touchstone has several meanings. In times past, a touchstone was a dark stone, such as basalt or jasper, that was used to test the quality of gold or silver. From that came the more common meaning, that of a reference point from which to evaluate the quality or excellence of something.
A touchstone can be a personal symbol or emblem that represents a dream or a goal and that helps you stay on track and stay true to your vision. Throughout the centuries, indigenous people around the world have used ‘medicine bags’ in a similar way.
In 1991, hikers found the body of Otzi the Iceman, a man who had frozen to death high in the Italian Alps over 5,000 years ago. He was almost perfectly preserved and, based on his tattoos, clothing and medicine bag, one of the theories is that he was a shaman who had been on a vision quest or carrying out some mystical or ceremonial ritual when he was overtaken by bad weather. His medicine bag carried objects very similar to those that would be carried by a modern day Native American.
Your own touchstone or ‘medicine’ should be something meaningful to you, something that has special significance or resonates with you. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of finding a small item, perhaps a rock, leaf, flower or shell that seemed to be just waiting for you to pick it up and carry it home. Then when you get it there you have no idea what to do with it. Such a finding might become your touchstone.
Oak leaves have always had special significance for me. There was a huge oak tree outside my window in one house I lived in as a child. A squirrel living in the tree would come down to my window every morning and tap until I opened it and gave him peanuts. While I was attending feng shui practitioner training in Indiana, I had an up close and personal interaction with an oak tree when I was sent out to commune with nature sprites. I didn’t really have an understanding of our own connection to the Universe at that time and I sure wasn’t into roaming around the woods looking for nature sprites – whatever they were. But I did like oak trees and so I went up to one and said, “Hi, ummm, could you send me down a really nice oak leaf?” A leaf fluttered down. I picked it up and dropped it and said, “That one has a hole. Can I have a perfect one?”
A few minutes later I was tangled up in a thorny bush and the thought ran through my head, “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.” When we reconvened, I shared my story and everyone said ‘Oh oh!” which is just about how I was feeling by then, all scratched and tattered as I was.
A week later when the program came to an end, we all said our goodbyes and gave each other final messages. One person gave me a beautiful oak leaf which I wrapped carefully and still keep today hanging from a ribbon.
I live in an area where we don’t have a lot of oak trees but, later that winter, when I was going through a time of decision, I was walking to my car and suddenly, sitting on top of the snow, perfectly clean and unbroken, in spite of the traffic and weather, was a small oak leaf. I looked around but I couldn’t see any oak trees, or any trees at all. I picked it up and remembered the message I received with the oak leaf I was given, “People throw away what they could have had by insisting on perfection, they they cannot have, and looking for it where they cannot find it.”
This afternoon, as I was waiting in line for a bus in Ottawa, I noticed an oak leaf at my feet. The leaf was clean and unbroken just like the one I found on the snow years ago. This was in the middle of a crowded street where people were rushing back and forth to buses. It would have been easy to get caught up in the chaos, but when I saw the leaf it was like I suddenly was in a bubble of calm and quiet. I stood quietly and rethought my intention for my ride home – that I would have a seat and have a pleasant ride home. The bus arrived and it was almost empty and I had a seat immediately. I was able to pull out my latest proof copy of Future Pull and proofread a couple of chapters. One of those was the chapter on Touchstones, where I shared the story of my own ‘medicine’ – the oak leaf. Odd how things roll out sometimes.