With the first snow on the ground here in Nova Scotia and the ski season approaching (or already here in more alpine places) I thought I’d share a little piece I wrote for our “Body” issue (July 2013) on skiing as a practice of fearlessness and trust:
Skiing is a beautiful blend of body, physics, and nature. Through graceful bodily movements and subtle shifts in weight you redirect the force of gravity with your skis, describing any arc you want, at any speed you dare. When it all comes together—when technique, equipment, gravity, and the snow underfoot are one—it is winter’s dance.
It is also an unnatural thing to do. Skiing is falling down a mountain. A controlled fall, yes, but a fall nonetheless. That’s where meditative practice comes in. The problem isn’t distraction—things are moving too fast to get lost in thought. The challenges in skiing are fear and trust. Both are well-known to meditators.
Imagine you’re standing on a steep hill. If you’re afraid of falling, you’ll lean back toward the hillside behind you. It’s the instinctive thing to do, but completely wrong for skiing. You have to lean forward and commit your body to falling down that hill. You can do it because you have trust in your skis.
Skis don’t just turn. They hold you up. That’s where the trust comes in. If you can overcome your hesitation and commit your body to falling forward, your skis will not just save you from falling on your face. They will work beautifully, and you will be a skier.
You know that trust exercise where you stand with your eyes closed and fall backwards, trusting your friends will catch you? Skiing is like that — in reverse. Stand at the top of the hill and let your body fall forward. Trust that your skis will catch you. They’ll take you on the ride of your life.