This morning I enjoyed walking my dogs through the first real winter storm of the season. Ask me any other time and I will tell you, I don’t like the snow. I don’t like the winter. I don’t like to be cold.
So, despite what appears to be turning into a wet, sloppy, wintery mix that will inevitably lead to muddy footprints in the gym, soggy clothes in the laundry room, and smelly dogs lying on my pillow, why did today’s snowfall elicit a sense of joy?
Well, I would offer that I had a different perspective on what was falling out of the sky this morning. Snow, for me, usually meant shoveling the driveway and cleaning off the cars. Packing kids into winter boots, snow pants, gloves, and hats. Getting to the park and the big hill before the ground has been worn down into a muddy luge. Eventually the day would close with getting everyone home safe and sound, and cleaning up the whole mess before everything took an emotional face-plant into the ground.
But those days have passed. My kids are old enough to more or less be self-sufficient. A few minutes of digging out some old snow pants, finding a few pairs of Gortex socks, a quick warning to be safe, and off they went to find their own adventure in the snow, leaving me to wax poetically on a blog that people may or may not read.
What I’m left realizing is that the snow hasn’t changed. It falls. It melts. It makes the same mess whether I’m in it or not.
Instead, my perspective has changed. I placed different labels on the snow today; and with those changing labels came a new emotional perspective.
You may have heard the old cliché that Inuit tribes have over 50 different ways of saying snow. Outside of the blatant cultural appropriation, it’s also not really linguistically true due to the misinterpretation of the research in the pursuit of popularizing the sentiment. But in the end, the idea expressed by the cliché fits my argument so I will go on appropriating.
The language we use manifests the world we see. In other words, if we see snow and want to be mad, we use labels like dirty, wet, sloppy, frustrating, annoying, dangerous.
But if we see snow and want it to take us into a different emotional space, we might say things like peaceful, blanketing, quiet, majestic.
For cultures where snow and ice serve as a psycho-social-emotional foundation of their lives, the words used to describe it take on a significant amount of power.
Similarly, Ohana means family in Hawaii. But it also means home. It means tribe. It means neighborhood. It means loyalty. It means death if you cross it. It means life if you are in it. Like the Inuit and snow, Ohana for the Hawaiians means much more than just one word.
We see frozen water drop from the sky, we say snow. We describe those closest to us as our family. We use words to describe the world we inhabit. But that world has always been and will continue to be whether we exist in it or not.
Therefore, the question I am left asking is how do I want to manifest myself in that world.
In the words of the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
I don’t put a lot of stock in Stoicism or any -ism really.
But in a recent episode of Grounds After Rounds, I mentioned the Buddhist parable of The Second Arrow. I like that story because I often use it to remind myself that we are all going to take that first hit. Whether it’s physically or emotionally, the world shoots arrows at us. That’s life.
The question is how do we respond. That’s the second arrow.
Do I lament my fate with words of sorrow, suffering, pain?
Do I try to find someone to blame?
Do I lash out at those closest to me?
Maybe because maybe that makes me feel better. I don’t know why or what that’s all about, I’m not a psychologist.
What I do know is that if I stop, breathe, and take a moment to recognize that the accident has happened, that it always happens, and that it was always going to happen whether I was there or not, in the end, none of it actually matters.
What matters is my response. And in realizing that very nuanced difference, in that moment, with clarity, and with a sense of open-eyed awareness, I feel the impact of my mindfulness practice. For that brief moment, I am at peace.
So as I watch the snow fall, as I feel it hit my face, soak my jacket, cause my dogs fur to become wet and matted, I realize that the snow falls. I walk. I breathe. And as I pass through the world, I am both simultaneously of the snow but also separate from the snow.
As the ice collects on my face, I can either wipe it away or let it sit. Whether I do or do not act, the snow falls and I walk.
I need not let my emotional response change that moment and for just a moment, if I let go of all the stories I may or may not have been telling myself about the snow, I find that I can actually exist in that moment without any expectation or desire to know what that moment is supposed to be.
And then the moment passes and I am once again simply walking in the snow.
Enjoy your snow day and we’ll see you on the Creek.