A cornerstone is a core around which everything else takes its shape. It’s the primary reference point, which determines the position and character of the structure around it.
Anything can become a proverbial cornerstone. It’s a source of meaning and purpose. A simple core to which we choose to commit our time, energy, and attention.
We all shape life around cornerstones. But we might not be intentionally aware of what they are. In this episode of The Gentle Rebel Podcast, we will use this image and think about ways to apply it to our lives.
Table of contents
- A Cornerstone For Change | 4:20
- A Lot Can Change In A Year | 12:40
- Our Inner Vocabulary | 15:19
- The Best Time To Plant a Tree | 22:59
- Life as a Separate Entity | 26:25
- But It’s Deeper and Stronger | 33:32
- How To Identify Your Cornerstone | 39:32
A Cornerstone For Change | 4:20
A Haven Courtyard workshop I did with Brandon Bennett inspired this episode. Someone Brandon worked with shared the idea of setting a cornerstone for change. He had chosen “cooking” as his theme at the start of the new year.
Brandon’s friend committed to cooking meals from scratch once or twice a week, which he hadn’t really done before. Beyond the cooking itself, this commitment became a cornerstone of change across various areas of life. For example, it impacted his relationships, health, creativity, confidence, and business.
A Lot Can Change In A Year | 12:40
People overestimate what can be done in one day and underestimate what can be done in a month.
By committing to do one small thing regularly, we can change the trajectory of everything over time.
Cooking one or two new meals each week adds up. Showing up between fifty and a hundred times over a year, the impact gradually takes root. Skills, experiences, understanding, stories, and opportunities are all contingent aspects of living with a simple cornerstone.
So rather than prioritising everything, we can trust that the other important stuff will begin to take shape around the cornerstone.
Our Inner Vocabulary | 15:19
Brandon talked about how he became aware that some words were not helpful. For example, rather than thinking about new habits as “challenges”, he approaches change with a spirit of “experimentation” and “play”.
This is not about the words themselves. But instead, it’s about how to engage with what the terms represent.
In this respect, a cornerstone is a point of freedom and expansion. It’s not a burden, like a proverbial millstone around the neck instead.
Experimenting and Play | 19:05
For example, when it comes to identifying a cornerstone, if a particular word feels heavy, pressurised, or like a strain on your nervous system, we can find one that doesn’t. It’s incredible how often we attach weighty words to our desire for positive change in life.
The Problem With Chains and Streaks | 17:25
For me, the millstone can appear in the pursuit of chains and streaks. If I see success as doing something every day, the need to keep the streak going can become more important than the underlying change.
Balancing and Sequencing | 20:32
Likewise, the word “balance” can feel unduly weighty. It seems like a noble and positive state of being, but it’s an impossible quest. If by balance, we mean we want to hold everything equally and evenly, we are setting ourselves up to fail. Because we can never achieve perfect balance. When we live it, life by nature is unbalancing and destabilising.
We might think of life as a sequence of events instead. So we try to figure out the best order to pursue our most important desires. But there is always more to do. Another destination to aim for. And like with our effort to balance all our responsibilities, dreams, and aspirations, it gets overwhelming when we hold them up to the capacity of time, energy, and ability.
The Best Time To Plant a Tree | 22:59
You may have heard the Chinese proverb, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today”.
It is frustrating to wish we had already begun work on something we want to create or change.
It has also been noted that “people overestimate what can be done in one day and underestimate what can be done in a month.”
We might lose heart and give up when we don’t see quick results.
We put off planting the tree because its growth seems so gradual and far off that it’s impossible to appreciate its value. Many of us might say…
“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?” Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t.” – Julia Cameron
It can be hard to connect with the value of getting started or continuing something that doesn’t give us an instant sense of gratification. But in twenty years, the present will be twenty years ago and imagine what might change between now and then.
And that’s the point. The stuff that unfolds along the way. Every tree we plant makes a difference gradually and immediately. It feeds into the soil and alters the landscape around different parts of our lives, blossoming and fruiting in new ways. The tree grows during those years. It creates meaning and a sense of satisfaction as we go.
This is what makes for an effective cornerstone. It’s something around which the ecosystem of life takes shape.
Life as a Separate Entity | 26:25
There are three parts to any relationship. There is me, there is you, and there is the relationship itself.
What IS the relationship? What is its purpose? Do we share expectations? What does it require from each of us? What do we need from IT?
It’s the same for families, businesses, communities, bands, and just about anything you can imagine where people need to rub along together.
It can help to view life itself as the thing we are shaping and creating rather than the thing we are. It’s something we contribute to, build, and invest in. When it doesn’t go to plan, it’s not because we are a failure. It’s just that something didn’t work in the way we hoped. If our life feels like a mess, we can step back and figure out how to clean it up.
We can find a cornerstone to shape our lives by nurturing a sense of depersonalised distance.
Life As Serenity Island | 31:52
This is part of what drove me as I built The Return to Serenity Island course. By imagining our life as an island, we can see it as separate from us in this sense. It’s somewhere we get to hang out, nurture, grow, plant trees, and dig for treasure.
This helps us see the part we play in life. We can know that we are not in complete control of everything, but we can impact many aspects of it.
By viewing the different areas of life as parts of this island, we can imagine how they affect one another. We get to play on the landscape of our life. To experiment, to explore, to dream.
But It’s Deeper and Stronger | 33:32
Having an intentional cornerstone is like a root. Its growth can be challenging to see because a lot of it happens underground. It’s not flashy or grand. But it enables everything else to grow out of and around it.
Focusing on fewer things makes deeper, broader, and more meaningful progress over time. But this doesn’t come easily. There is always a temptation to get bogged down in details and busy work. And this can have a halting influence in the long run as we spread ourselves thinly. Maintaining momentum is impossible when you try to move in multiple directions at once.
A Cornerstone of Cascading Change | 36:02
The cornerstone is a site of normality that gives rise to a gradual and gentle cascading flow.
When something has been around for a while (e.g. a family, business, social circle, sports arena, theatre etc.), it collects stories of memorable moments—some of these become legends that stand the test of time. But these tales are not the result of force.
They are the product of spontaneous happenings. A magical evening, a funny series of events, or an experience that came out of nowhere. Something that just happened one day.
These stories might make us believe that these venues are where the magic always occurs. But they are told precisely because they are NOT typical. They are outliers—exceptional situations. The legends are a result of normality being stretched from time to time. The cornerstone (the place, practice, or event) is ordinary. Still, because of rhythm, focus, repetition etc., we find the conditions for all possibilities to occur from time to time.
How To Identify Your Cornerstone | 39:32
Every passing moment is an opportunity to pause, breathe, and recommit to our role in creating life. In the episode, I briefly explore Brandon’s prompts. The practical part of the workshop was divided into four parts that helped us look back at the past year and think forwards to the coming one.
Part One – What are your creations for the past 12 months? | 40:49
This is an interestingly worded question. I found it more helpful than accomplishments or achievements. But I’d encourage you to think about it in your own words once you get to what it’s asking.
Part Two – What are you letting go of this year? | 42:24
What HAVE you let go of? What are you looking to let go of? How has letting go been part of those creations for the past 12 months?
Maybe there are things you’ve done or been part of that show you’ve let go of something – a mindset, attitude, or fear. You might not have thought about it like that until now. Maybe it’s an idea, a person, a hope, a struggle, a belief, an expectation, an old pattern of behaviour etc.
Part Three – What would you like to continue? | 43:40
It’s tempting to view the things we want to stop and the things we want to start. But there are tracks already in place that are good. What are they? Particular commitments, relationships, habits, practices, approaches, processes, routines or aspects of routines, and so on.
Part Four – What would you like to start? | 44:16
It’s important to do this without judgement or editing. Just allow anything that bubbles up to flow onto the paper. What would you like to start doing next?
Making Sense Of Our Cornerstone | 47:51
If these questions are useful to you, I’d love to encourage you to use these prompts to consider your own cornerstone for change over the coming months.
If you find it hard to do this alone, I invite you to talk to Brandon or me if you wish for a more focused conversation. Find Brandon through his website here.