The great Christian monk Thomas Merton once compared the spiritual life to the search for a path in a field of untrodden snow: “Walk across the snow and there is your path.” This thought came to mind this weekend as snowstorm Nemo blanketed the Eastern U.S. with deep snow. How can we make a walk across the snow into a spiritual practice? Here are some ways.
The day after the storm, we went over to our neighborhood park in New York City. The sidewalks and streets were already cleared, and we did not have to worry about slipping, sliding, or falling.
Winter storms increase our sense of vulnerability and fragility in the face of Mother Nature’s power. Often, we can feel isolated, in need of friends and family. So it’s important at these times to acknowledge and what others have done for us. This day, we are thankful to the snow plow operators, to the superintendents of the buildings on our block for salting the sidewalk, for the delivery men bringing in food for our neighbors, to all the people who make this city rebound so quickly from a weather emergency.
Playing around enables us to express ourselves, to savor pleasure and the lightness of being, and to imitate the Giver of life who created the world in play. Make your “snow day” into a play day. Catch a snowflake with your tongue. Make a snowman. Lie down in the snow and create a snow angel. Look for animal tracks in the snow. Take photos of trees with pillows of snow on their branches. Go sledding.
Patience is a virtue, but you don’t “get” it overnight. Spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran describes it as being like building up a muscle: “Every day you need to work on it, to push its limits. You need to practice it, building it up just like a muscle. When people tell me they don’t have any patience, I always say, ‘that’s only because you’ve never pushed it.’ ”
A snow storm gives us ample opportunities to build up our patience muscle and to push its limits. You soon find that you need to be patient with cars driving slowly and with traffic jams caused by accidents or icy roads. On partially cleared sidewalks, you have to be patient with other walkers on the narrow path. At home, you may need to be patient waiting for repairmen for your power lines or a delivery of oil for your furnace. And your patience may be challenges by weather reports that are misleading and/or confusing!
The building next to ours is doing major renovations so the walls are covered with scaffolding. Yesterday, we noticed that icicles had formed on the metal bars at the base of the scaffold. We had never seen them there before, and they were beautiful. Wonders are all around us!
In the DVD series based on our book Spiritual Literacy, there is a clip in the episode on “Play” illustrating a passage from Platte River, a book by Rick Bass, a Montana writer who has written eloquently about winter weather. He describes how a woman would go skating on a pond under the light of the moon. She would shake for hours until her legs were trembling, and then she would lie down on the ice and rest. “She would watch the moon, panting, her face bright as bone, and would imagine that it was watching her.”
Watch Skating Under the Stars.
May you experience such a moment of beauty, joy, wonder, and unity with the natural world as you make being out on a snowy day into a spiritual practice.