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by Evelyn Cash
I returned home from retreat last week, feeling very cheerful and very Zen only to be literally smacked in the face by the first winter storm of the year. The solstice may not yet be upon us but you know its winter on the Plains when the windchill puts the “feels like” temps into sub-zero territory. This – of course – was only the first of the season’s storms; even now, weather.com tells us that a fresh storm is set to dump snow all over the mountain West while the upper Midwest is dealing with freezing rain and icey roads. Yes, the eggnog has been broken out and so have the ice-scrapers, winter has come to the lower 48. Buddhism may have its roots in the heat of India but the Buddhist ideas
of mindfulness, patience and compassion are essential tools for braving
the winter weather.
It always perplexes me when people seem surprised to find me bundled up in hat, coat, mittens and earmuffs and remark, “I thought you were from Ohio… aren’t you used to this?” Yes, I grew up with the snow in Ohio but that doesn’t mean my ancestors evolved there and so I’m somehow physically immune to the cold. No, it simply means that I know how to prepare for the cold and snow of the season. When you grow up in the Midwest, you learn how to shovel snow at a young age, you learn how to bundle up and you learn how to drive on the white stuff. But as I’ve become an adult and have had to brave the elements many times to get to work, I’ve seen that adding a little bit of mindfulness and patience to my morning drives on those nasty days goes a very long way.
It’s very easy to step outside, see your car frozen over and slip into some small frustration or irritation with your situation but I think its important to remember a few things as you dig your scraper out of the trunk. First off, recall that we have no control over the weather and that the fact that your car is covered in ice isn’t a personal attack or punishment just for you. Afterall, just look at the other cars in the parking lot, you’re not alone in this.
When you look at it with a Buddhist perspective, winter storms offer us a unique opportunity to practice patience. No matter what meeting or important task is waiting for you at the office, it’s not worth risking your neck on the ice-rink of the roads to try to get there early. And so, when the roads get bad, I simply turn on my favorite playlist and enjoy the music as I slowly and carefully make my way to work. It may take me much longer to get there but at least I’ll get to my destination safe and without a car insurance claim called in.
And lastly, yet most importantly, I think it’s important to recall that when the temperatures dip into the single digits and below, there are people in every city who are out in the elements without the benefits of even so much as a warm fire. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have cars that run and warm beds at night would do well to remember that not everyone is so lucky. These thoughts inspire me to try not to pass the Salvation Army tin without adding what I can and to volunteer when I can during the winter season. In the same vane, it’s also important to remember to treat our fellow shoppers (and service people, I remember working those holiday shifts) out braving the elements on the yearly gift-hunt with a little extra helping of compassion. This can be a stressful time of year for many reasons – weather related and otherwise – everyone could use a kind word or a smile during the holidays. And so, when the elements force us to slow down a bit on our rush through life, let’s try not to forget just how lucky we are to have the opportunity to scrape ice off our cars.
Til next week, stay safe out there everyone and try to remember to practice a little more mindfulness, patience and compassion out on the road.