An Intimate Exploration of Rock Stacking
as a Sacred Form
Evoking the Numinous Experience

by Dr. Peggy Stringer
Pacifica Graduate Institute

Chapter IV : Contemporary Artists

Jim Needham
Jim Needham is a master rock stacker who lives in Carmel, California. He has been featured in local newspapers and has a professional video which interviews him and demonstrates his rock stacking. Needham was born on Long Island, New York, the oldest of 6 children. He began his rock stacking at the same time I did, from the rocks that were a gift of the same winter storm that hit California in the winter of 1994. On one of my drives up the coast of California in May of 1998, I came upon his rock stack forest. There were rocks stacked in totem pole fashion one right next to the other. There were rocks balanced on top of boulders. There were rocks wedged into the crook of the trees with other rocks balanced on top of them. Rocks created an enchanted rock forest full of lively playful spirits. I got out of the car and was enthralled, entranced, energized, and fully captivated by the presence of these standing stones. Soon I found out that all of these rock formations were the artistic creations of Jim Needham. `There was a newspaper with a cover story article that featured Jim Needham and introduced the visitor to this landscape of rock fantasy held in place most appropriately by a rock.

A weaving of incredible synchronicities led to Jim Needham and I meeting a few weeks later when I would once again be driving up the coast of California. Needham's enchanted mystical rock stacked forest can be seen growing along Pacific Coast Highway on the south side of Carmel. His work is seen by thousands every month as they drive into or out of Carmel.

Once Needham and I met, it was obvious we were of this same eccentric tribe which seems to have been called and gathered by the Tao of rocks during that winter storm. Needham began to create a rock stack monument for me to demonstrate his style, skill, technique, and mastery of the sacred art of rock stacking. He does a silent meditation, followed by shaking off ego body. Needham literally shakes his hands and body to loosen up and be fully receptive to the energy of the rock. He focuses and moves about the rocks picking them up to stack them higher than he stands. The monument he built for me was almost seven feet tall.

As he places a heavy boulder on top of the rocks that are stacked, all the rocks begin shifting under the added weight. Suddenly, there is this fluid dance where all the rocks are shifting, rolling, moving, and adjusting. It looks very snake like as it is fluid in motion. Needham uses his knees, his body, his shoulders and chin to settle the rocks down as he is listening intently for that still point of perfect balance. All at once, all motion stops, the rocks are still, perfectly, sacredly, silently motionless, and still. It is a deafening moment of silence. It only lasts a moment because once that point of perfect stillness is in place, Needham sets about responding to being called by the next rock that will begin the dance all over again. Once the rock stack has become completed by the dozen or so boulders that comprise it, sometimes it wants to be topped by some smaller topping rocks in stark contrast to the immense boulders beneath it. The huge rocks that Needham builds with are probably close to the one hundred pound category. These rocks were massively enormous.

Needham explained that there are days when some rocks do not choose to be moved. In a sense they do not choose to cooperate or become part of a certain rock stack, and they become sort of stuck to the earth, unmoveable. The very next day, with another rock stack in formation, the same rock may call to him and be very participatory and eager to be in that rock stack and will indeed participate in being moved. I also have had this experience of the weight of the rocks being variable. It is much more mystical and definite than my personal variations in strength and energy from day to day. The rocks themselves either cooperate or refuse depending upon a wide range of influences and choices.

Clients in therapy can exhibit similar phenomena. When there is a willingness to relate to evolutionary changes enormous shifts in perceptions can occur causing generous gifts of insight and transformative experiences to begin to happen dramatically in their lives. When the client refuses or resists to be open to ideas which may alter or influence their fixed beliefs, they often cannot be moved no matter how wonderful the therapy is. The client will often only respond to therapy to the extent he is internally willing to connect to transformation and willing to participate in getting his life in balance.

Needham says the essential attitude in getting the rocks to balance is a matter of faith, of believing (James, 1997). Needham's rock stacks are being shown in several local museums, art galleries, and along several paths around Carmel Village and Monterey. Needham has been inspired by the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Andy Goldsworthy, and Isamu Noguchi. His first series of rock stacks was entitled "Gravity at Work" (James). When I was interviewing Needham, he said "One of the most important things to remember is that this is all silly." Spoken deeply, authentically, and irreverently sacred, exactly as a true Zen master speaks. Oh the subliminal joys of listening to and hearing such playfully deep wisdom.

Needham, J. Personal Interview, July 17, 1998, Gravity Garden, Carmel, California.
(c) 1999 Peggy Stringer