It is better to travel well than arrive.
Today I did not travel well. I caught an edge at speed and flew head over heels across the packed piste, landing on my helmet. Later, I helicoptered through deep snow before finally becoming planted face down (aka a face plant*) and I lost count of how many times my ass bit the hard-packed snow. From a beautiful blue sky day, I remember these things most vividly, not the crepe, snow streaked mountains, the magical walls they make around your little world, the sun, the speed, the friends…
What we think we become.
A spiritual ‘I told you so.’
When the idea for this trip was new I was immediately curious about the opposition of the two things I wanted to do: work in the Alps for the ski season, snowboarding, almost inevitably drinking, before visiting Nepal to work in a Buddhist monastery. I explained this to those who asked in terms of yin and yang, the hedonistic and the spiritual, one balancing the other.
But now it has begun, it is not that simple. It has been suggested that people do sports like skiing, snowboarding, parachuting (the list is endless) to seize the same sense of freedom that might be experienced through enlightenment; a sort of oneness.
During these activities you are thrust into the present moment by the immediacy of velocity and the need for control. You must be there. In one moment the piste curves and shines ahead, then the next minute you are on it, riding it. No past or future exist inside you; one moment follows the next. You inhabit yourself and the slope completely. This is the reason I snowboard, but these moments are rare. More often I brake hard on tired legs as my mind tells me I cannot deal with the challenges on the piste, the lumps, gradient, ice, cannot keep up; I break inside and almost inevitably fall. Then I get up, tired, defeated and a little more jaded. The quality of my snowboarding is a reflection of my state of mind.
And, contrary to the Buddha’s advice about anger and resentment (just let go – paraphrased) I am a terrible hater on the slopes. Everybody else is there to foil me. The skier who overtakes and brakes in my path, the learner skier who needs the whole piste to turn, the learner boarder, arms flailing, who could simply topple like a felled tree, the joker who stops in the middle of the piste and then makes their way across it without looking, the ESF dragon (that chain of learners, snaking across the slope). Those skiers with no concept of personal space or those who simply get off on abusing it (you know who you are). My fear makes me an irredeemable hater. And without the luxury of a direct quote, the Buddha would say ‘that sucks.’
So, it seems I can’t experience the freedom on my snowboard until I can experience the freedom in my head.
Concentrate the mind on the present moment. Roughly translated as ‘no mental hi-fiving for the last turn or landing a jump and no anxiety about the steep icy bit 100 metres away.’ Like Kenny Rogers sings, ‘don’t count your money when your sitting at the table…’
It is better to conquer yourself than win a thousand battles. Which for me means ‘quit worrying how everybody else on the slopes is doing.’
The secret of existence is to have no fear. Do not fear what will become of you. This one is easier said than done in the face of, er…The Fear. once gripped by it then I have already imagined myself leaving an icy cat track in a windmill of colourful arms, descending hundreds of feet to ultimate doom (long falling with indeterminate crashing and breaking apart at the bottom) or suffocating face down in the pow pow*. Having imagined such a scenario I am understandably worried about what will happen to me. So clearly, I have not mastered the fear thing.
Curiously, these nuggets of wisdom are reminded to me by the Buddha App. A tacky, throw away medium for a spiritual leader? perhaps. It might seem like a joke. It can be, it is easier to say things like
The tongue, like a sharp knife, kills without drawing blood.
with a hint of the ridiculous to avoid alienating friends and colleagues. However, if you don’t care or if alienation is your thing, the Buddha can be quite direct when he wants to be; ‘Buddha says “shut the hell up,” seems to work a treat…
Here’s me raising a vin chaud to that positive state of mind…
*Reference the legendary snowboarding dictionary
**well not strictly, there is usually a definitive list in your travel insurance wording – what they won’t insure without some extra cash, if at all.