“Every day we are engaged in a miracle that we don’t even recognize: the blue sky, the white clouds, the green leaves, and the curious eyes of a child. All is a miracle.
When we walk we’re not walking alone. Our parents and ancestors are walking with us. They’re present in every cell of our bodies. So each step that brings us healing and happiness also brings healing and happiness to our parents and ancestors. Every mindful step has the power to transform us and all our ancestors within us, including our animal, plant and mineral ancestors. We don’t walk for ourselves alone. When we walk, we walk for our family and for the whole world.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh “At Home in the World”
Many skiers are familiar with the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn because of his writing and activism during the Vietnam war, but the majority of skiers are not practitioners of Buddhism or familiar with the value it places on what is termed ‘a skilled mind.’ A basic Buddhism guide describes such capable awareness: “Essentially, according to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles are governed by examining whether a certain action, whether connected to body or speech is likely to be harmful to one’s self or to others and thereby avoiding any actions which are likely to be harmful. In Buddhism, there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skillful avoids actions that are likely to cause “suffering or remorse.” It may be a stretch for some to conflate the deliberate, well-placed step of walking with the faster movement of controlling the slide down a snow-covered slope on a pair of skis as equally mindful tools of healing, happiness and transformation for the whole world, but it is a stretch I am willing and obliged to make. More people walk than ski but we all carry our ancestors within, and the necessary control of the arc of the turn is as personally powerful as the placement of the foot and requires the same mindful attention to the present moment. Those who may posit that the act of skiing carries a greater inherent risk than that of walking have a point worth considering, but as a lifetime skier I am far less likely to encounter or cause harm skiing any slope I choose to ski than I would be on a leisurely walk alone in certain neighborhoods of any large city on earth, and, alas, most smaller cities and towns. That said, there are all too many skiers and walkers with unskilled minds, dangerously and obliviously unaware that they do not move alone on the paths and slopes of the world.
Each of us carries and is engaged with the miracle of sky, clouds, leaves, parents, children, ancestors, animals, plants and minerals of Earth with every breath and step we take and every turn we make—for ourselves, our family and the whole world. Every skier who has ever lived knows instinctively if not always intellectually that the act of skiing is transformative, but not every skier appreciates that none of us ski by or for ourselves alone. Stop alongside any blue, green, black or backcountry ski run in the country and observe the action, and I am confident you will notice a surprising number of skiers who seem oblivious to the skiers around them as more than impediments to the arc of their turn, completely unaware of the ancestors carried within. Perhaps you have literally encountered one of them. If so, I hope you both came away from the meeting unharmed, transformed and more mindful rather than in need of physical, emotional and karmic healing.
Common sense and modern science assures us that we do indeed carry our parents and ancestors within us. I like the idea which makes sense that engaging in action that brings healing and happiness to ourselves includes our parents and ancestors, and not just those connected by direct genetics as all things and every person are connected. Those for whom skiing is a major factor of life do not question the importance of engaging in it with a skilled mind.
Mindful skiers are aware that the miracle of skiing as we know it is unraveling in many different though connected ways. One indicator as obvious as and directly connected to the blue sky and white clouds is that in the last 40 years the average annual snowpack in the Western United States has dropped by 41% with a consequent shrinkage of 34 skiable days. This trend is expected to continue so that in 50 years the mountains of today’s Western American ski resorts will be brown in February. Ski resorts around the world are closing because of lack of reliable snow. Another thread in the fabric of the undoing of skiing is the economic reality of recent decades that fewer and fewer citizens of the world can afford to ski, and the rate of new skiers entering the sport is declining. The inequality of the world’s economic reality (especially in the United States), the diminishing snowpack and the subtle changes in the blue sky and white clouds and the unequivocal environmental crises are as interconnected as the parents, children, ancestors, animals, plants and minerals of Earth. These same dynamics are evident everywhere on Earth and all signs are that they will only increase, not diminish. That is, the untying of the miracle of the Earth’s environment and the inequality of its human economy are as woven together as all our ancestors and, it needs emphasizing, descendants.
Our parents and ancestors are walking and skiing with us, and so are all our descendants, including our plant, animal and mineral ones. Humans with unskilled minds have for far too long treated the Earth as commodity and market rather than cornucopia and miracle, and the consequences of such greed based carelessness are obvious everywhere on earth and do not need more description. It is going to get worse and humans are not going to heal the Earth. In the process of healing itself it is possible and very likely probable that the Earth will rid itself of humans, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.
What we can do for ourselves is take each step and make every turn on skis with a skillful mind bringing healing and happiness to each of us and all our ancestors in the present moment. And if that’s all we can do, why not do it?