Tonight was the first full moon of 2013. Three months ago I started taking a walk on the first night of the full moon. I've been calling it Full Moon Mindfulness Walk and, as the name implies, I walk for about an hour with the intention of being mindful of the present moment.
Today it began snowing around two o'clock and continued snowing throughout the afternoon. I took my walk at twilight. The watery gray sky obscured the full moon and illuminated two inches of thick snow that covered the streets and sidewalks and buildings and trees and parked cars. Huge flakes continued to fall. My practice of mindfulness while walking felt heightened by the incredible beauty of the present moment. The moment, so transitory in its nature, instantly struck me, and in an attempt to capture it, I took several pictures.
Since it was snowing heavily all day and it was a Sunday evening most people had hunkered down in their homes. I saw only a handful of people driving. Except for the falling snow, my little sliver of the world was still, and when you watch snow falling, in its steadfast slow descent and its almost hypnotic rhythm, you realize snow falling isn't still at all; it contains the most motion and movement in winter's stationary repose.
The wetness of the thirty-two degrees felt welcoming compared to the crisp iciness of the below zero temperatures we've experienced for the last week. Pine smoke from a chimney scented the air. In the distance, I could hear the traffic of Interstate 35 North, not as loud or consistent as it usually is since most people heeded the travel advisory and stayed home. As I followed the sidewalk down a hill, I could see the headlights of the cars traveling along this highway, few and far between but surprisingly steady.
No one else had walked on the sidewalk I was walking on. My footsteps would be the first. This recognition evoked a memory, one I'd forgotten until I had looked back and saw my lone footsteps momentarily imprinted in the snow, soon to be covered, and soon I was lost in that memory.
And back to the present moment.
That's what you have to tell yourself a lot when you're practicing mindfulness: back to the present moment. Whether you're walking or sitting or cooking or eating or driving or playing or creating, your mind wanders. You remember the past; you dream about the future; you plan what you'll do when you're done being mindful; you analyze yourself; you ponder life; you imagine. But since you're practicing mindfulness, you gently remind yourself to return to the present moment and notice this moment, right here, right now with all of your five senses and with a still, open, and expansive mind.
I continued walking. I heard a jet fly over and then another one. They use to drive me crazy. Their sonic boom detracted from the perceived notion of peace I desired. A good psychologist, an excellent book, and a mental makeover allowed me to acquire an acceptance of the airplanes that now lets me notice them without the attachment and judgment as much as I did before. This is Zen. As Shunryu Suzuki stated in Not Always So, “...just hear the big noise or the small noise, and not be bothered by it. It may seem impossible, especially for a beginner, because the moment you hear it, a reaction follows. But, if you practice..., if you continually just accept things as it is, eventually you can do it..”
I didn't see any people until the end of my walk. A woman and a boy--a mother and son, I assume--bundled in black parkas and hats walked two black Labradors down the hill of the sidewalk as I walked up it. The ebony movement in the white stillness was like black ink on white paper, live action calligraphy, a haiku awaiting creation.
“Hello,” I said as I approached them. “Beautiful evening.”
“Lovely,” the woman said.
Nothing more needed to be said between us. Four words summed it up. Often less is more.
Perhaps seeing the boy made me think of snowballs because I wondered if I could make a snowball with this snow. I bent down and scooped snow into my two gloved hands. The fluffy snow fell through my open fingers like soft white flour. I gathered another scoop and this time held it longer. The warmth from my palms melted the flakes and I shaped the snow into a ball. I held it, pressed it, turned it in my palms, aware of it, aware of the moment.
And then I wanted to know what snow tasted like. Or rather, I wanted to remember what snow tasted like, because I'm sure I've tasted snow before. We have these precious images of people catching snowflakes on their tongues, and I'm sure I've done that, but I wanted more than that. I wanted to really taste the snow. So I bit into the snowball. A big bite. I let the snow melt in my mouth. I noticed its coldness and texture, different than an icecube, which I have sucked on, because a snowball is flakes of ice and an icecube is a cube of ice. The density of ice makes the difference. I took another mindful bite. While the snowball melting in my mouth is cold water it tasted unlike water. Snow tastes like snow, and until you've tried it, in large quantities, obtained as if eating apple, you don't really know what snow tastes like.
Another memory emerged from the recesses of my mind, beckoned to play in the present by the visceral immediacy of eating the snowball. I'm five years old. I live with my family in the country about five miles from Holdingford. It's winter. I'm walking by myself along the perimeter of a snow covered shorn cornfield. I'm eating a snowball. So I have eaten a snowball before! I have handfuls of peanuts still in their shells in my coat pockets. I've been opening the shells, dropping the shells onto the snow covered ground, and eating the peanuts, and now, the snow from the snowball I'm eating quenches my thirst brought on by the dryness and saltiness of the peanuts. I feel carefree and happy and alive and aware. Walking across the flat prairie, the horizon rests at a vast distance, the world seems boundless, and the snow tastes iridescent.
And back to the present moment.