Skiing is a doorway into the present moment and present-moment awareness. When you stand on top of that mountain with the sun in your face, the wind tugging at your jacket, the sound of silence following you, the smell of Alpine clean air, able to see the valley below you, and feeling the snow beneath your skiis, you are taken out of auto-pilot, out of ruminating about the past or the future.
You ski into the present moment, out of thinking and into awareness. It is like a wardrobe into a beautiful new land that has always been there, but we just couldn’t find the door.
There might be no visibility one day and you have to feel your way down the mountain with the soles (souls) of your feet – you are skiing on pure awareness. This is a mindful awareness practice. Your soul can express itself and feel through the soles of your feet.
I was talking about this to a group of skiers who also believe in God, and believe skiing brings them closer to God. Skiing is gloriously reality-focused like most mindful awareness practices (attending to your breath, your walking, what you eat). It enables us to experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’, ‘the sense of gratification that we enter when we feel completely engaged in what we are doing.’ (Martin E.P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness, p.113)
Flow as a concept is related to mindfulness. Apparently Mihaly’s surname is pronounced ‘cheeks sent me high.’ Flow involves ‘deep, effortless involvement…our sense of self vanishes…time stops…'(Martin E.P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness, p.116) It sends us naturally high.
Skiing is intensely physical as is truly incarnated Christianity. Both pay attention to the body. Mindfulness also pays attention to the body.
The body is intelligent. The latest thinking is cognitive science of an embodied mind (Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, MIT Press). As Christians we would agree with that, we would just want to put Brain, Body, World and God together again.
It was Pope John Paul II who said, ‘The body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine…'(quoted in Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners). As we ski in embodied minds in the mountains we begin to see the invisible, the spiritual and divine. We are present to a deeper Presence that has always been there.
Though autumn wind blows/spring lake in me is greening/fear not winter snows
This is a Haiku inspired by a road sign.
Frank Cottrell Boyce is a children’s writer who said this in an article in The Daily Telegraph recently, ‘I believe my job is not to dazzle with new wonders, but to scrub off the patina of familiarity so that my readers can see again how dazzling things already are.’
He is a mindful writer.
The ordinary is dazzling. An ordinary road sign can be seen in a new light. Why don’t you look out for road signs that catch your eye and write a Haiku or some other reflection on it? Our eyes are smeared with the lard of familiarity. Seeing with new eyes requires us to access the streams of awareness in us, moving out of ruminative and automatic thinking. We often dismiss people in the way we dismiss road signs. Mindfulness is seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.