Finding just the right message of inspiration at just the right time might just change everything. For West Barnstable resident Megan Murphy—and countless others on Cape Cod and beyond because of her—these inspiring messages have come in the form of rocks.
In the spring of 2015, Murphy, 49, started the Kindness Rocks Project by displaying vibrantly painted rocks bearing inspirational messages at locations around Cape Cod—including Sandy Neck Beach in West Barnstable, the Sandwich Boardwalk, and Gray’s Beach in Yarmouth Port—for unknown recipients to discover. Her goal: to spread a little hope and comfort to those who would see the rocks, which have painted messages such as “Great things are headed your way,” “Focus on what makes you happy & what gives meaning to your life,” and “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”
What began as a hobby for this life coach and mother of three has grown in the past two years into a grassroots kindness movement, with individuals from around the Cape, across the United States, and even as far as New Zealand, taking part in creating these random acts of kindness.
“It’s the art of connecting,” Murphy says of the project. “Whether that’s connecting people through an awareness, or just connecting them back with themselves. There’s no way in my wildest dreams that if I tried to make it this, it would have happened. I wouldn’t have that power to do so. I was just a seed, a woman who had a hobby.”
Murphy says an epiphany sparked the Kindness Rocks Project. From 2004 to 2013, she ran three jewelry boutiques on the Cape, one each in Chatham, Hyannis, and Falmouth. Her businesses were doing well, but in 2013, she recalls feeling that her accomplishments seemed irrelevant. “Every time someone would say to me, ‘You’re so successful, you must be so happy,’ I would pause and think, ‘Wait, I’m not happy,’” she recalls. Realizing she needed to make a change, she sold her stake in the company to her business partner, started training to become a life coach, and began to spend some soul-searching time at Sandy Neck.
“I found myself walking the beach looking for signs during that difficult time of transition,” Murphy recalls. “On days that I would find things like heart-shaped rocks or pieces of sea glass, I felt happy, and I felt like these were signs I was heading in the right direction.” On one particular Sandy Neck stroll in March of 2015, Murphy began to think maybe she wasn’t alone—maybe others were looking for signs from the universe, too. That day, she wrote messages on five rocks, each about the size of a golf ball, and scattered them along her two-mile route. “I was really insecure about it,” she says. “I’m a middle-aged woman. What am I doing leaving messages on rocks?”
Some might consider what happened next a moment of fate. “That night,” Murphy says, “a friend of mine texted me a photograph of a rock with the message ‘You’ve got this!’ and asked, ‘Did you drop this on the beach today? If it was you, I just want to let you know how it made me feel. I was having a bad day, and it really made me happy.’ That was the moment I realized this isn’t weird, this is good.”
Murphy continued leaving messages on rocks at the beach, collecting and then painting some 200 a week that summer. At the suggestion of her youngest daughter, Madelyn, Murphy began adding a hashtag on the back of the rocks so their visibility could be tracked. In coming up with the hashtag, Murphy explains that she decided to call what she was doing the “Kindness Rocks Project” as a way to indicate the intention of goodwill that was behind the rocks and also as a play on the idea that kindness rocks. The handle “#thekindnessrocksproject” became so prevalent on Facebook and Instagram, Murphy says, that social media pages and a website soon followed. Messages began to flood in from people sharing their own kindness rocks stories and who were looking to join the movement.
Murphy says she has been blown away by the passion demonstrated by those who have joined her in the effort. “I call them ‘rock stars,’” she says of the group, which she estimates to be in the hundreds; she also has 16,000 Facebook followers as of March 2017. From the 150 participants who took part in free rock-painting events at Cape Cod Beer in Hyannis in the summer of 2016, to a woman in Canada who works at Starbucks and paints hundreds of kindness rocks, leaving them in a basket at the coffee shop for patrons to take, Murphy says many individuals have been paying the project forward in ways she never could have imagined.
And the way Murphy sees it, the perfect message always “finds” the perfect person—the individual for whom the message was “intended.” That certainly seems to have been the case with Emily Johnson and Leslie Hall, two Cape Codders whose lives have been changed by the project.
A resident of East Sandwich, Johnson, 36, says she was in a dark place in 2016 after suffering a nervous breakdown. Then, while walking through the woods along Scorton Creek, she came across a rock with a bright and inspirational message: “One small step may be the start of a beautiful new journey in the right direction.”
For Johnson, this was a turning point. “The rock gave me the inspiration and motivation to keep going,” she says.
Today, Johnson says she loves painting Kindness Rocks—and doing what she can to inspire others. “It reaffirmed that I was going in the right direction,” she says of the rock she found, “and that it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.”
A resident of Cummaquid, Hall, 58, has a similar story. Following a chemotherapy treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute one day in 2015, Hall spotted a colorful rock with a powerful message while walking through a parking lot in Hyannis. “You are loved,” the message proclaimed.
When Hall got home that day, she looked up the hashtag she found on the rock and read about the Kindness Rocks Project—and could not wait to get involved. “The most wonderful part about painting the Kindness Rocks for me, in going through breast cancer” Hall says, “is that it was a way to escape. It was like therapy.” Hall, who has painted close to 1,000 rocks—and left them around Barnstable, along Route 6A, in Provincetown, and even in Boston—says the project has also helped her rediscover a long-lost passion for art. “It has become a big part of who I am,” she says.
Murphy smiles, even gets teary, when hearing stories such as these. Offering a message of kindness to someone, anyone—including those one doesn’t know—is simple and easy to do, and Murphy says gestures of kindness are needed today more than ever. “Kindness,” she says, “is awesome in any form.”
Hall and Johnson agree. “When you turn on the TV and look at the newspapers, it’s all negative,” says Hall, “and this project really uplifts people and brings so much joy. As little as it is, it’s big.” To Johnson, the rocks foster kindness and unity. “The Kindness Rocks Project gets at the root of what we all crave and need: love and connection. It has connected so many people, and it’s all connecting back to the fact that we’re all here to walk each other home.”
Looking ahead, Murphy says she plans to write a book based on the stories those affected by the project have shared with her. She also plans to sell 3” x 3” square “random-act-of-kindness” cards featuring photos of Kindness Rocks, which people can pass along for others to take. Murphy says the cards, which will be available in the future on the Kindness Rocks Project website, are another way for individuals to get involved.
Today, Murphy still finds herself walking on Sandy Neck Beach, and she often contemplates, in humble astonishment, how she ended up the leader of what is now a global movement. “I don’t know why I’m supposed to be doing this,” Murphy says, “but I am—and I’m in.”
Haley Cote is the staff writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.