The Spirituality of Skiing

I just came off the mountain from what was the best day of skiing I’ve ever had. After several lessons and lots of teachings from friends, I was finally able to synthesize everything I’ve learned. Not only did the physical experience of skiing feel more enjoyable and fluid, it was a profoundly spiritual experience that allowed me to see myself and the way life works more clearly. Here is what I learned.

Focus your attention where you want to go

I get totally freaked out when I’m at the top of the run and I look down to the bottom. It feels steep. And in a flash I see myself tumbling down the mountain, breaking all of my bones in the process.

But today I saw how important it is to focus your attention exactly where you want to go. My first run of the day, there was an accident about half way down the mountain. Several people were gathered as the ski patrol huddled around the injured person and gingerly lifted them onto a toboggan attached to a snow mobile. As I was skiing, I was staring (read: rubbernecking) at this scene. And then I felt myself going directly toward these people. Oh no! Was I going to crash into an already injured person? What do I do? Immediately I set my sights and shoulders towards a tree to the left of the incident. And immediately I moved out of their way. I learned that where intention leads, attention follows. In this way, you will go exactly where you set your sights.

It was profound to experience this phenomenon in my body, and to see how clearly it translates to all other areas of my life. One of my teachers told me, “be very specific about the creative fields you want to manifest.” Now I truly understand what he meant. 

Lean into your fear, even though it’s uncomfortable

One of the worst parts of skiing for me is the fact that you have to point your upper body straight down hill. It feels so unnatural. You mean you want me to lean towards the super steep really scary mountain? Um, ok.

The first several times I skied, I defied this rule. I thought if I pointed my chest towards the trees on each side of the mountain I would be fine. But I would fall every time I tried to turn. So today, every time I felt out of control, I would do the thing that scares me most - lean forward. There would be that split second of terror, followed by complete grace. Leaning down the mountain - leaning into my fear - actually gives me more control than I would otherwise have. And I see this in my life too. The more I lean into my fear and expand into that feeling, the more I am able to work with, and ultimately, transform it. 

Enjoying Lakeview.

Enjoying Lakeview.

Control what you can, let the mountain take care of the rest

So there’s this thing with skis where they’re designed to work with the mountain. I learned today that most modern skis still contain a wood interior even though the outer layers are composite material. The physics of wood allows it to absorb and release the correct amount of energy that lets a human fly down a mountain. We humans are pretty fucking cool. We invent the most interesting things. I loved learning about the wood and understanding that natural materials are the best way to transfer energy from our bodies into the snow. It makes sense, and it makes me smile.

Every ski has a natural turning radius, which allows you to glide seamlessly down the mountain. It’s such an exercise in trusting your skis as you go down, knowing that they will turn when they want to turn, or you are going to have a very taxing run. Many times today I would be skiing, and I would want to control exactly what was happening - when I was turning, how fast I was going, what the consistency of the snow was. Each time I would try to control the mountain, the mountain would control me. I’d lose my balance, my arms would flail, and I would nearly fall down. But each time I noticed what was happening and could say, “I’ll control my form, you do the rest,” my ride would be as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

For the past 10 weeks I’ve been working through the Artist’s Way. It’s been an incredible process that has opened me up to my own creativity and my own creative blocks. It’s helped me listen to my intuition and lean into my fear. It’s helped me to create, create, create and let go of my perfectionism. One of my favorite parts of the book is the prayer she asks you to place in your workspace: “Dear God, you take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.” That’s how skiing feels. I’ll control my form, you (God the Mountain) control the rest. 

And this experience in my body allowed me to understand manifestation on a whole new level. Yes we can put our intentions out there. Yes we can visualize success. Yes, there are synchronicities. But we must take action in line with our goals in order for this magic to occur. We control our form and take steps in the right direction, then allow God/ the Universe/ the mountain to place things in our path that allow us to move forward.

Don’t look at the path, look at the destination

I hadn’t fallen at all today, and I was gaining lots and lots of speed with each new run. I kept feeling fear that if I fell while going fast, I would really injure myself, so at one point I decided that I was going to fall on purpose. If I generated the fall when I was going fast, I thought that I could overcome my fear. So I looked at the ground right in front of my skis and allowed myself to gracefully fall into the snow at high velocity. I knew that if I looked down, I would go down.

In Infinite Possibilities, Mike Dooley teaches about creative visualization and how important it is to focus your attention on the outcome, rather than dictating the steps that get you there. In skiing, it’s the exact same. If you look down at the snow and where your skis are going, you are sure to fall. But if you can look at the tree line, the “slow” sign, the bottom of the hill, your body will intuitively move you in that direction. This is the same in life. Keep your eye on the prize, and you intuitively will take the right steps to get you there. Focus too much on the path, and you will get stuck.

If you’re going to fall, you might as well be having fun when you do

As the day waxed on, my confidence increased dramatically. I would allow myself to bomb down runs, feeling comfortable that I knew how to slow down without bailing out. The very first time I allowed myself to go faster than normal though, my fear alarm went off. Bah bah bah bah bahhhhh. You’re going too fast. If you fell now, you would really hurt yourself. You better slow down. As my inner monologue ran the “you’re going to fall and hurt yourself story,” I separated myself from the fear. I saw that I wasn’t my fear, but I was experiencing fear. And then I retorted, So what if I fall? At least I’d be having fun when I did it. Why would I slow myself down right now? This is amazing!

This experience reminded me of the Brene Brown book I’m reading right now. In Daring Greatly she asks, “what would you do even if you knew you would fail?” Woof. That is a big question. And a beautiful one. What things do I care about so much that I’m willing to risk vulnerability and even pain to have a chance at them? What do I love so much that I would be okay doing even if I knew I would fail? I feel that way about my relationship. As scary as it is to give myself fully over to love, I’d choose complete surrender every time. I used to close my heart when things felt too good - I’d pick fights, find something wrong, look at the grass on the other side. But skiing, and life, have taught me to continue expanding. To open to joy and adventure. And to not stop myself, even if I know I’m going to fail.

Your heart always knows the way

When I’d take a really great run, I’d end up at the bottom, with my heart pounding in my chest. I’d feel it in my throat. I’d hear it in my ears. At first this excessive heart rate frightened me. Do I have altitude sickness? Heart arrhythmia? Am I going to pass out? And then I recognized that this was not a bad thing. It was actually a very, very good thing. 

My Osho tarot deck has a card called Schizophrenia that I’ve pulled a handful of times. In the card it talks about how we often straddle the divide, not wanting to choose a direction and in turn sentence ourselves to purgatory. It urges you that if you don’t know the way, just jump. Your heart will beat so fast, you’ll know exactly which direction to go. In skiing, and in life, this could not be more true. The things worth doing are the ones that make us uncomfortable. They’re the experiences that make our heart feel like it’s going to leap out of our chest. So after today, I commit to letting fear - and my heartbeat - serve as my compass. I urge you to do the same.

Oh and don’t forget: keep your tips up.