Playing in the Snow as a Spiritual Practice
One of my goals this year was to take up skiing again. On my first trip with my husband, I was fascinated to notice how I was processing my experience from a coaching point of view. It occurred to me how fun it could be to articulate skiing as a reflection of how I handle myself in life.
Skiing is a challenge for me. I skied when I was a kid which I’m sure is the only reason I’m able to pick it up again after 15 years of not skiing. My body has muscle memory which is the foundation I lean on now. I am remembering and that feels so much easier than learning something new. At 52 years old I noticed fear coming up when I went out on the hill. Mostly it was a story I heard from others, “You’re too old to be doing this.” “Be careful and don’t hurt yourself.” “Don’t fall.” and that sort of thing. The first few times I skied I was afraid a lot.
The fear started to build as soon as I began to pick up speed. I was a body hurtling through space. Velocity slaps you in the face to launch the adrenaline pumping through your veins. There are moments of “Wow this is cool”, mixed with “Oh my God I’m going to die.” It is a push and pull between the two. A tug of war between being in the moment and struggling to control the moment. I learned quickly that the more thinking I did, the more panic I created. The fear of falling became my face in the snow. With my last big wipeout it felt like an elaborate somersault that followed the WTF! when I hit the unexpected powder and dove face first into an ocean of white. All my husband saw was a big cloud where I once stood with vague flurries of movement inside.
I am not a big fan of falling. It takes up time. Oh my God the effort it takes to get back up from flat on my ass. An all consuming endeavor to become upright; struggling with sprawling limbs on the ground while the clock ticks away erasing my ski time. Once upright, the fear of falling again is more powerful. Have you ever noticed that? Each time I go down feeds the belief that I will fall again.
It becomes a mental loop that’s easy to get stuck in since it is a pattern I know very well. The fear is fresh after a fall reminding me of the powerful aversion and the tension it creates in my body. It becomes a spiral of thinking and feeling. I don’t want to fall. The more I think about falling the more I fall. On one trip it was such a strong pattern that each time I was falling, it was in the exact same spot on the hill!
How the hell to get out of it? The answer was less thinking and more flow. I started paying attention to myself and noticing what I was doing that worked. Stop thinking negative thoughts and go with the flow. Sure, great! And how to do that?
The first step is always breathing consciously and feeling my body. Imagining myself connected to the centre of the Earth. I did a grounding meditation a while back that gave me a vivid visual of a line of energy from the core of my being going all the way to the centre of the Earth. It is an intimate tether I reach for whenever I am struggling. It brings me to the present moment and holds me to the Earth. I feel centered, calm and safe. I use this image of an energy beam from my being to the heart of the Earth all the time when I’m skiing. (Join my FB group for access to the meditation) It is comforting, it gives my mind something to focus on so my body can do it’s thing.
The story I tell myself is “It keeps me upright.” I focus on the thought “My body knows what to do” and it keeps me skiing rather than falling. That’s what I believe and so that’s true for me. It is all about breathing and going into my body. My body knows what to do. All I have to do is let my body do what it knows. When I surrender to my body I am able to enjoy the view, feel the snow and have fun. That’s what I came skiing to experience. It’s a practice like everything in my life. The more I do it the better I become.
Since this was our last trip I spent most of the time focusing on my success solutions rather than my fear. Using all these beautiful tools from my day-to-day life: breathing, prayer, meditation and my guiding principle “What I focus on expands” helped me relax and enjoy skiing. My husband asked me what I meant by meditation and prayer? Being in recovery I use them as practical tools. On the hill my meditation is breathing into my body and imagining an unbreakable connection between myself and the Earth. Simply put prayer is asking for help. I ask my guides and angels for help all the time. With skiing prayer looks like me thinking “Please help me stay up.” along with “Thank you for helping me ski and enjoy this gorgeous day.” By paying attention to my thoughts I have the power to consciously choose the words I say to myself. Choosing the mantra “My body knows what to do” rather than hitting the panic button of “Oh my God I’m gonna wipe out!” focuses my thoughts on what’s working and paves the way to going with the flow. I spent more time playing in the snow and less time afraid of falling.
I loved the idea of skiing as a spiritual practice. They say how you do one thing is how you do everything. For me successful skiing means relaxing with whatever happens. When I start to panic on the chairlift, I start breathing consciously, soothing myself with “I’m okay, I’m safe. I know what to do.” When I start to pick up speed going down the hill I shift my thoughts from “Oh my God I’m going to fall.” to “My body knows what to do.” I relax with my breath and go into my hips letting go of thinking and surrendering to my body. I come into the present moment and behold the incredible sapphire marble of the mountains against an empty sky. When I fall I remind myself how much easier it is to get up now than it was when I first started at the beginning of the year. This simple shift transforms falling from failure into another way to focus on my success. A day on the hill is an extraordinary gift of beauty and joy. Playing in the snow becomes part of my spiritual practice.