As the first few trip reports of the season float in, I want to try and reset a little bit. I’ve been feeling a little down lately. It’s nothing particular, but November (for some reason), always inspires a general feeling of sadness and self doubt. Am I doing the right things with my life? Am I where I want to be with my career, my family, and my goals? Am I happy? Every other time of year, the answer to these questions is almost always a resounding “Yes”. But for some reason, November is different. Maybe it’s the Squaw Valley trip reports that I read, maybe it’s the financial crush of the holidays, or maybe it’s the dreary gray days, but I always question whether I live in the “right” place, have the “right” job, or feel the “right” way. It’s not that I plunge myself into a deep depression, I just start to question myself. And whenever questions are asked, I feel compelled to come up with a definitive answer (even if a lot of things have no correct “answer”). Sometimes, this gets me into trouble. Because I’m always questioning and researching and generating future scenarios in my mind, I lose the ability to back up, relax, take a deep breath, and just be content with the present.
But this all changes with the first ski day. Skiing, more than any other sport, puts me in a perfect, zen like state of mind. When I’m riding my road bike, I still think of bills I have to pay, people I have to talk to, or meetings I have to attend. On skis it’s different. I’m paying attention, I'm alert, and I'm focused on the task at hand. I’m not thinking about my job, thinking about my life, or thinking about other places that I could be. I’m centered.
I don’t know too much about Buddhism (or any religion, for that matter), but I found a list of quotes relating to the concept of living in the present. This one stuck out:
Miss the present and you live in boredom. BE in the present and you will be surprised that there is no boredom at all. Start by looking around a little more like a child. Be a child again! That’s what meditation is all about: being a child again — a rebirth, being innocent again, not-knowing.
Maybe that’s why skiing is so great for me. It really allows me to be a child again. I do the same things now that I always did on skis. I find fun lines, I go fast, I jump, I fall down, I get back up, and I do it again. I look around, I explore new terrain, I follow tracks into the trees, and I try new things. And I am happy.
Obviously, the concept of living in the present is nothing new. But this article from the Guardian (UK) is. Money quote:
Psychologists at Harvard University collected information on the daily activities, thoughts and feelings of 2,250 volunteers to find out how often they were focused on what they were doing, and what made them most happy.
They found that people were happiest when having sex, exercising or in conversation, and least happy when working, resting or using a home computer. And although subjects' minds were wandering nearly half of the time, this consistently made them less happy.
The team conclude[d] that reminiscing, thinking ahead or daydreaming tends to make people more miserable, even when they are thinking about something pleasant.
Even the most engaging tasks failed to hold people's full attention. Volunteers admitted to thinking about something else at least 30% of the time while performing these tasks, except when they were having sex, when people typically had their mind on the job around 90% of the time
So skiing, for me, is like sex. I’m totally focused and into it, I’m completely involved in the moment, and afterwards, I’m ready for a beer. But seriously, living in the moment, no matter what you’re doing, seems to make you happier.
I was thinking about this today, and I was also thinking about a guy on a snowboard that I saw on Sunday. He was coming down Sunway, right under the Gondola, carrying both gloves in one hand and staring into his phone. He was actually text messaging while he was riding! We joked about it for a little while, that this guy was so important, and that message was so critical that he couldn’t possibly wait until he got to the bottom (or at least stopped on the side of the trail). But I guess that isn’t really the most important point.
The guy was taking himself out of the moment. He could have been enjoying the rush of snowboarding, looking around for a fun feature to play with, or working on a skill to improve his riding. But he wasn’t doing any of that. He was staring at a little glowing box with words on it, and occasionally looking up to make sure he didn’t hit anyone. It was ridiculous!
I guess everyone is free to enjoy the mountain as they see fit. And maybe that guy had an awesome time and I’m just making a big deal out of something that seems to be an increasingly common sight on the slopes. But for me, I’m happiest when I’m not connected to the outside world. I’m happiest when the only things in my vision are trees and powder. I’m happiest when I’m skiing.