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.
Time stress is rife in our culture, and is a silent killer, being responsible for some forms of heart disease and other ailments according to some research. Time stress can lead to competitiveness, cynicism, anger and hostility which have been called ‘coronary-prone’ behaviour.
Many clues appear in our bodies which we ignore because we are on auto-pilot and stuck in automaticity. One of the first places to begin to learn mindfulness is to pay attention to our bodies. Our 5 senses operate as a kind of outer rim of awareness of what is outside our body. Daniel J Siegel talks about the sixth sense, which is the ability to be aware of what is going on in our bodies.One of the ways we can do this is to start paying attention to our breath.
The breath belongs to no one, we take it with us wherever we go and it often indicates to us when we are stressed or not. For example I do a simple exercise of counting my in-breath, followed by my out-breath.
‘Inhale one, exhale one…’ and so on up to a count of ten. If I lose count I start again. There are many mindful breathing exercises. Will van der Hart and Rob Waller have one in their book ‘The Worry Book’. The key thing is practice and repitition.
The body and the spirit are good and belong together – it is not ‘body bad – spirit good’. That is bad theology. There is much more to be said about this. But think about those who have given their bodies for you?
As a Christian I believe Christ gave his body for me. My mother housed me in her womb, and fed me from her body. My father has protected me with his body from a drunk. The body and the spirit belong together in God’s redeeming wholeness.
Listen to your body today and its messages, it might just save your life.