Kathleen Hirsch | Zen
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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The Zen of Snowflakes

On a very cold morning recently, my yoga instructor told this story.

Snowflakes are born when a drop of water strikes a speck of dust high up in the atmosphere.

They begin, as almost everything in life begins, with a collision.   Think of the last time you bumped into something unwanted.  Perhaps just last night. Remember that sense of well-being crashing into the heavy solidity of the insoluble – a story, a problem, a quandary.

Once the encounter has occurred, there is no undoing it.  Water and dust particle, (or mind and external event) are now fused into a single crystal, tumbling through time.  The ice crystal, to earth.  Our challenges into the darkness of worry, sleeplessness, disorientation.  As the ice crystal falls through the atmosphere, it continues to expand, so that by the time we see it on the ground it has metamorphosed into a beautiful piece of frozen lace.

We should be so lucky.

Change demands that we move through times of upended expectations, with no clear end in sight, no guaranteed outcomes.   The spiritual challenge is whether we close down into a defended inertia, determined to hold onto the past at all costs, or become pliant enough to withstand a process that demands a letting go, growth we didn’t ask for, and as much affirmation as we can manage.

As I lay in corpse pose on my mat, my yoga teacher continued his meditation.  “We do not grow without challenges,” he said.

Hmm.  I affirm this with my mind, but I fight it with my instincts.

Change often appears in our lives disguised as failure.  But what if, as the New Year approaches, we could learn to see change for what it really is:  not failure, but the breakdown of order, of the familiar.   Maybe it has less to do with our ability to control things, to avoid the catalysts that would make us see our lives in a new light.  Maybe change has more to do with the needs of persons and situations to become something different from what we had in mind.

In this sense, our “failure” is guaranteed.

As I lay on my mat, absorbing the new flexibility that an hour of vinyasa brings to my limbs, I am grateful  for a refreshed inner openness to my own journey as well.

Starting on New Year’s, I begin my first ever sabbatical from teaching.  The decision to do this didn’t come from an experience of failure.  But as my drops of dewy enthusiasm hit specks of dust — weariness and wonderings — I did do a dance of resistance for some time.  It took some nudging and long conversations to become willing enough, receptive and curious enough, to step away.  I hope that my time in the familiar realm of an open schedule will be the beginning of — well, a snowflake.

At the moment, the months ahead of me stretch out in a fullness that feels like vast tracks of untrammeled snow.  I know that this won’t keep, that the bills will arrive, my hair still need cutting, the cat her annual (traumatic) visit to the vets.

But I am removing as many mundane obstacles as I can to make room for this tumble into whatever wants to become, for new patterns that will form as I release control, reading lists, and assignments, and instead let the time teach me what I need to discover.  Already, I find myself reaching for long-neglected books on my shelf, and contemplating the unblemished paper that awaits new thoughts and words in a field of open time.

Poised as I am on the cusp of this journey, on the eve of the New Year, I wish all of you, too, journeys that continue to form you into souls as complex and unique as the crystal wonders that are latching onto my windows in this morning’s growing light.