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Snow Meditation

I offer a koan for winter – obviously a variation on a classic:

What is the sound of snow falling?

I came up with this last night, with the thought of listening to the sound of the snow while going to sleep.  But this morning it occurred that there may be something to it.  If you try it when you’re in a quiet and fresh frame of mind (morning is good, but anytime), actually listening for the sound of snow switches on a different, more refined mode of hearing in which we become aware of subtle ambient sound – and thereby are brought out of our heads and into the present moment.  Kind of like John Cage’s 4’33” – but with the prompt of an element of nature which happens to be rather quiet.  It’s easy to listen to the sound of rain, or wind, or birds, or a crackling fire; why not snow?  Maybe this is what people are doing when they go outside to experience the snow falling – listening to it fall as much as watching it; a really delicate and beautiful sound.

Besides being very calming and grounding, such a practice also has the virtue of celebrating winter in places where we get significant amounts of the stuff; we may as well enjoy and embrace its qualities of crispness and freshness, no?  Then again, I also enjoy shoveling snow, for the same reason (up to a point) – who’s with me on this?

3 Responses to “Snow Meditation”

  1. Marianne Janack says:

    I will try to listen for the sound of snow falling now–I did go out for a snowshoe trek and listen to the woods, but that’s not the same thing. But you’re right–we need to enjoy the snow. I’m not with you on enjoying the shoveling, though, sorry!

    • admin says:

      That’s ’cause your driveway is too long! I agree that the experience is somewhat different depending on your specific object of focus – the woods would include the sound of the wind, trees, and critters – a wider aural lens.

  2. Lisa Albrecht says:


    Since you say you’re a fond of shoveling snow, I offer up this thoughtful and charming piece by Billy Collins, US Poet Laureate (2001 – 2003):

    Shoveling Snow With Buddha

    In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
    you would never see him doing such a thing,
    tossing the dry snow over a mountain
    of his bare, round shoulder,
    his hair tied in a knot,
    a model of concentration.

    Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
    for what he does, or does not do.

    Even the season is wrong for him.
    In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
    Is this not implied by his serene expression,
    that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

    But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
    one shovelful at a time.
    We toss the light powder into the clear air.
    We feel the cold mist on our faces.
    And with every heave we disappear
    and become lost to each other
    in these sudden clouds of our own making,
    these fountain-bursts of snow.

    This is so much better than a sermon in church,
    I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
    This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
    and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
    I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

    He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
    as if it were the purpose of existence,
    as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
    you could back the car down easily
    and drive off into the vanities of the world
    with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

    All morning long we work side by side,
    me with my commentary
    and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
    until the hour is nearly noon
    and the snow is piled high all around us;
    then, I hear him speak.

    After this, he asks,
    can we go inside and play cards?

    Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
    and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
    while you shuffle the deck.
    and our boots stand dripping by the door.

    Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
    and leaning for a moment on his shovel
    before he drives the thin blade again
    deep into the glittering white snow.

    – Billy Collins

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