Sunday, February 3, 2013
I have just returned from a wonderfully exhausting and renewing three days of skiing with my family. For me, the beauty of down hill skiing is that it requires a high degree of focus. To not focus is to risk getting hurt. The past few days, every time my mind has wandered to something at work, I have found it very easy to push that thought aside and refocus on my body hurtling down the mountain on two skis. I am only an average intermediate skier with a healthy interest in NOT falling.
While sipping hot chocolate slope side I was reminded of Thomas Kelly's call for leading an integrated internal life as the best means for simplifying our lives. Somehow or another skiing feels for me a bit of a metaphor for this. Skiing is a dynamic activity that demands coordinating a whole host of activities beginning with deciding what to wear and then over the course of the day constantly checking equipment. There is a constant feed back loop from my feet to my legs and torso to my brain. Are my hips and shoulders pointing down the mountain. Is my right foot cramping (and why never the left foot?)? How are the Charley horses in my thighs? In the physical world there are the slope conditions. Is there ice on the trail ahead, moguls (I hate moguls), sharp turns, or precipices to avoid (cliffs make me queasy)? On top of this there are the other people on the mountain. Where is my family? Who is moving around me? Is it a child? A teenage boy or other young male who may or may not have had a second beer on the chair lift? How is the visibility--there are few things as blinding when your are heading down a slope as skiing through a line of blasting snow making machines! Are my toes cold? I ﬁnd I go from comfortable to cold in a heartbeat and once my toes hurt, my skiing becomes less effective --hot chocolate is always the solution so where is the nearest lodge?
Meanwhile, another part of my brain is reveling in the pleasure of being outdoors, enjoying the quiet and the natural world. The mid-westerner in me delights in the cold, the frosty trees, and icy creeks as I go whooshing past. My spirit is focused and ﬁnds it natural to rest in gratitude in the present with my Creator. Though I have described all of these as separate and distinct thoughts, in truth, on the slopes this is all one singular state of being as integrated and natural as breathing. Now as I reflect on my skiing and because I am an educator, I am left considering how to lead my students to this place of simplifying their complex, dynamic external lives through focusing and integrating their internal life?