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.
I’ve been re-reading Miriam Darlington’s luminous book Otter Country: in search of the wild otter, published by Granta Books.
I noticed two phrases I hadn’t noticed first time:
‘Ash trees are most popular with otters because their roots from a complicated system of shelter below ground, and re often right by or even overhanging the water, so that the otter can slip subtly in and out.’ p.77
‘Up and down the banks are the complex root systems of ash trees, which otters particularly love to use as holts as they provide hidden shelter and easy access to the water.’ p. 175
I have been entranced by the otter following Miriam Darlington’s description of them, where it as if she has become the otter. I have been left wondering if the otter is at increased risk and threatened by the Ash tree crisis? They live together, the ash tree and the otter.
Does anyone know?