One fine day I went to sit alone by the side of the lake. Many things were bothering me and I hoped that there, on the lakeshore, I would find some peace of mind.
I was already a grown man, and yet I still hadn't managed to fulfill my aspirations. A long time before, when I was a boy, I had dreamed that I would have a small souvenir shop – the kind where visitors to the lakeshore would buy special surprises and touching gifts for their loved ones. I wanted to have a happy family and lots of friends, but I had none of these. I was still alone, and I didn't have even one good friend to advise me.
There was only one other person by the lake that day. I noticed a man who was older than I. He had a long red beard and wore a fisherman's cap. He was sitting not far from me. To my surprise, after a few moments he walked over and asked me how I was. Since I hadn't spoken to a soul for several days I was happy to respond, and I told him that I wasn’t doing all that well.
At first I didn't attach much importance to the conversation or to the man, and related to our exchange as though it was of no special significance. But as the minutes passed and I looked at him more closely, I realized that he had a good and happy smile, and eyes that sparkled with vitality. It had been a long time since I had seen someone who looked so contented. Soon I felt as though he was truly interested in how I was feeling, just like a friend would be. I told him about my life, and the more we talked, the more a sense of friendship blossomed between us. It was as though we had known one another for ages. He continued to smile and seemed like someone who both knew and felt what I was going through.
"Come with me," said the man after he had heard my story, and I was too curious to refuse. We walked along the shore for a while until we were a few feet away from an unimposing rock that was slightly bigger than the others scattered there. The man selected three small round stones from the beach and placed them in the palm of my hand.
"Do you think you can throw these stones and hit the rock in front of us three times?" he asked.
"Sure," I answered, hiding a smile. The rock was only a few feet away and I had no doubt that I could hit it easily. "Then do so," the man gestured with his hand.
I looked at the rock and then at the stones in my hand, and without giving it much thought I tossed them one after the other. To my great surprise, I missed the rock with every throw!
The man looked at me and said, "You see? If you aren't focused enough to take aim and hit a rock that is so close to you, how can you imagine that you could realize big and distant dreams?"
I was shocked. I had never noticed before that my mind was so distracted, that my hands were so unskilled. I was even a little embarrassed.
"Try again," said the man, "And this time, do your best to empty your mind of every thought, even the smallest worry."
I tried a few more times and continued to fail, but the man insisted that I persevere.
After a few more attempts I felt as though something inside me was starting to change. My consciousness became clearer, sharper, and more focused, and finally I managed to hit the rock once.
"We'll remain here until you hit it three times in a row," the man said.
I wasn't sure how long we had been standing there, but I felt that I had to keep on trying. I was flooded with a refreshing sense of wellbeing that I hadn't experienced in years, as though finally I was doing something meaningful that could release me from my sorry state. It's funny to feel this way about a simple game with a few stones, I thought to myself, but that's exactly how it was.
After quite a while and many more attempts my mind became even more focused. I felt lighter, as though a weight had been lifted from my body. For the first time in ages I felt no sorrow or anxiety, and my mind was perfectly clear. It was just me, and the man, the stones, the rock, and the glow of the setting sun. I was suffused with pleasure and a simple joy which I had almost forgotten that one could feel. I was surprised that the elementary acts of concentrating and persisting could reawaken me. It was as though I was roused from a long, deep sleep and brought back to life. And then finally I managed to hit the rock three times in a row.
The man smiled a quick smile and said, "Well done. Now that you have succeeded with the target that's close by, let's set our sights on something farther." He pointed to a tree standing a fair distance away. "I understand," I said, as I took aim and missed.
By the end of that day, I had also managed to hit the tree three times in a row. That's when the man nodded at me and said, "If you can be as focused in your daily life as you were here today, then one step at a time you will be able to achieve everything you want."
From that day my mind was free of worry about the dreams I hadn't yet realized. I understood that I had been so preoccupied with thoughts about far-off goals that I had forgotten to take those small, important steps that could lead me to them. I learned that when you place your feet thoughtfully on the ground and focus on those small steps, they gain in momentum and seem to propel you forward by themselves. I found a job in the souvenir shop in the next town over. I smiled at the customers and greeted them warmly. I spoke to the people I met on my way to and from work and paid attention to what they had to say.
As time passed, I made many good friends. And one day I met my beloved, and together we brought a daughter and a son into the world. In time I opened my own souvenir shop close to our home, and the visitors to the lakeshore bought special surprises and touching gifts for their loved ones.
Sometimes I walked down to the water in the evening, hoping to find the man with the red beard. I wanted to thank him for the wisdom he revealed to me, but I never saw him again. I often wondered where life took him, but I was convinced that he was doing fine, for after all, he knew the secret of the three stones. On one of my strolls by the lake I noticed a man sitting on his own, not far away from me. He seemed sad and deep in thought. I walked over and asked him how he was…