People deal with anxiety in different ways ― some like to hike, some enjoy painting, while others might play music. For Traverse City resident Mary Van Valin, it's collecting heart-shaped stones on the shores of Lake Michigan.
“I really started collecting them three or four years ago when I used to go out to Maple Bay,” Mary says.
She was on the hunt for Petoskey stones, but they were hard to find.
“But oh, I’d find heart stones,” she says laughing. “This is kind of fun to have more than one thing to look for.”
Mary began noticing more and more heart stones as she walked the shoreline. Soon, looking for the stones became one of her routines.
“My day usually starts with an early morning walk in the water with my puppy, and I even go out in the snow and I go out in the rain,” she says. “I put my warm waders on and just gather Petoskey stones and heart stones.”
You might have to use your imagination when looking at some of the heart shaped stones Mary collects. Some are more defined than others and not all of them are the exact shape of a heart. But anything that catches her eye is scooped up and added to her collection.
“They’re not perfect,” Mary explains. “I think metaphorically that’s really good because love demands of us that we get through a lot of hard stuff but it’s still worth holding on to, and I think it’s a nice symbol.”
She places the bigger heart stones along the walkway leading to her front door.
“When people arrive, it’s the first thing they see and I think, ‘Oh, that’s a good symbol for being welcome here where love abounds.’”
Mary keeps some of the smaller rocks on a wooden board in her kitchen. Most mornings, she’ll pick the stones up and rearrange them. It’s part of her quiet time and helps her feel centered, especially when she’s feeling stressed about something.
“I’ll look at them and move them around and decide ‘this one would be better here,’ and ‘look how beautifully this one is shaped,’ and ‘I wonder how the nick got out of that one?'” she says.
Mary says during the COVID-19 pandemic, meditating with these rocks helps her reframe her fear.
“I think we’re in for lots of uncertainty,” she says. “I think the heart stones are good for just staying in the moment, because that’s what we’re assured of, is just this moment.”
Before the pandemic, Mary would give away some of her heart stones to friends and family. But since she can’t be with them now, she takes pictures of them and sends those instead. She says if you can pass along a little love – it’s a good thing.