Wild is the wind

Gusts were so strong near the lake last Sunday that they blow-dried my clothes faster than the raindrops could get them wet. snowpath

That’s as helpful as the wind has ever been to me on a run. It must have regretted it too, because it ambushed me on the trail two days later. And this time it brought friends – ugly ones.

Lake-effect snow led a sneak attack about a third of the way into Tuesday’s six-mile run in the country. The wind flicked fat, icy flakes against my face like a bratty kid with a peashooter.

At the three-mile mark, things took a more serious turn. A blinding flash ignited the sky, followed – not even half a Mis-sis-sip-pi later – by a crash that went full John Bonham on my eardrums.

I’d never seen lightning strike in a snowstorm; it seemed supernatural. I was half expecting the god of the Old Testament to part the clouds and reveal himself. “Buddhism, eh?” he’d say, his arm cocked with a second lightning bolt ready to finish the job. “Bad choice.”

I really didn’t feel like dying, especially since Bowie had just passed on the day before. That cat is one incredibly tough act to follow.

So I picked up my speed. The fireworks soon fizzled but the snow and wind intensified, blurring visibility to maybe six or seven feet. White powder wiped my footprints clean within steps and obscured ice patches ahead, turning the trail into a slippery minefield on the last mile back to my car.

Reading back, this looks like it would have been a good lead-in to what’s known in Buddhism as the eight worldly winds. But it’s not. And that’s the wind for ya – you think you know which way it’s blowing when it suddenly shifts course.

Here’s what I did take away from that run: relief that I could still see the outline of the trail through all that whipping snow, and recognition of how much shit I would have been in otherwise.

That run has also made me think about the other navigational markers that help me stay on my intended course in hazy conditions.

Horribly predictable for me to mention, of course, is Buddhist practice, particularly seated meditation. Dedicating time each day to paying attention to what’s happening in the moment has helped me see I don’t have to be pushed around by selfish impulses, or fears about a future that hasn’t even unfolded.

Running has also been a beacon of sorts. Just as the wind and snow mixed to obscure my intended direction on my run, so did cookies and cakes over the holidays. I’d probably still be stuffing my face with Santa-shaped baked goods were it not for the ritual of running. I was hardly the model of health over the holidays, but putting on miles regularly kept me from straying too far.

I used to view rituals as strange, complicated religious ceremonies that involved reciting stuff in a language I couldn’t understand. That’s sometimes the case, sure. But as I’ve gone deeper into spiritual practice, I’ve discovered rituals can be simple, everyday things.

Cleaning has become more of a ritual for me, whether it’s dishes, clothing, floors or dogs. It’s still just a dumb chore some nights, but increasingly it’s developed into a deliberate act of gratitude for whatever it is I’m taking care of.

Opening a door is another one. It can be a fairly quick, mindless action (once I remember which pocket my keys are in). Grabbing hold of the handle can also be a time to consider my intention. If it’s a car door, do I want my focus to be on driving attentively, or on the all the stupid red lights I’ll get stuck at?

It seems the more importance rituals have taken on in day-to-day life, the less complicated they’ve become. Like the simple outline of the trail on last Tuesday’s run, they may not be flashy, but they can act as signposts that point in the right direction.