Thich Nhat Hanh has his niche, walking meditation. (Okay, his “niche” is as wide as the Grand Canyon, but humor me.) Now I’ve found my niche, snowshoeing meditation.
I went snowshoeing for the first time today, on a crisp, sunny morning. (By crisp, I mean cold enough that exposed fingers could be snapped off like icicles hanging from your gutter.) The snow was nearly pristine, save for a handful of human and dog footprints (and the occasional patch of yellow snow) and a couple of bicycle grooves. The sun was bright, if not warm. There was nary another soul to be seen.
Perfect conditions for meditation. Snowshoeing meditation is going to take off. Get in on the front end before the meditation trails fill up with meditators. Because they will, when people hear about the rare insights that I found while trudging through the powder.
Mortal embarrassment is a reasonable approximation of humility. I was no more than a tenth of a mile into my first snowshoe journey when I stepped on one snowshoe with the other snowshoe and tumbled head first, ass second. Laying on my stomach, snowshoes tangled behind me, snow in my face, I benefited from the unique perspective of looking up at the rest of the world. Lest I think the experience a fluke, I repeated it misstep for misstep a mere five minutes later. No mistaking the message: This is the way I ought to look at the world.
Barely a day ago, this path along the Tarrytown reservoir was bare, perhaps sporting the occasional dead leaf. Late yesterday it was a pristine boulevard of unmarked snow. With the passage of each hiker, dog walker, squirrel, deer, child on a mountain bike, and other wild animals, the path changed. Sometimes slightly, imperceptibly; sometimes significantly, unmistakably. No doubt, as the day progressed, more and more beings passed through, experiencing a different path from the one I did, and altering the path again. Tomorrow it promises to be warmer, there may even be some rain, and the path will change again.
Fresh snow resting atop tree branches is a lovely, peaceful sight. There was plenty of evidence of the damage last year’s major snowstorms did, however, with the woods populated by jagged stumps of trees that had snapped in two from the weight of the snow. Occasionally, as I passed a younger tree bending under its snow coat, I would poke a branch with one of my walking poles. Freed of its burden, the tree would snap upright again. The things that we attach ourselves to, or that attach to us, can weigh us down as well, bending us over under their accumulation. Meditation, acts of compassion, and other practices are needed to shake those attachments off and free us to walk the path uprightly.
As I neared the end of my snowshoe trip, I was beginning to draft this blog post. That’s the way I generally write. By the time I sit down to type, much of what I intend to write is already in my head. That’s neither good nor bad, but it’s definitely not conducive to snowshoeing. I guess I had already forgotten the lesson of face planche-induced humility. My snowshoes tangled again, nearly dumping me on my melon once more. I literally heard the words in mind, Pay attention! I had stopped being mindful of the main task at hand, putting one snowshoed foot in front of the other, rather than on top of the other. I was grateful for the lesson, and thankful that it didn’t take another face full of snow to learn.
So, am I right? Snowshoeing meditation is going to be all the rage, right? Hello?