February 12, 2016

The Zen of Shoveling Snow.


Shoveling snow can be a zen activity. Anything can be a zen activity, if we bring mindfulness to it.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

I just came inside after about an hour of snow-shoveling. It was beautiful outside, not too cold at about 36 degrees, and the sun came out while I was working. I took a picture this morning of the trees in my yard, and the sky was so grey that the photo appeared black and white.

When the sun started to clear after the snow finished falling, the sky was half whitish-grey (dare I say greige, to borrow a paint color) and half blue.


According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of “Zen” is, “A Japanese form of Buddhism reaching enlightenment through meditation, contemplation and intuition.” However, popular culture defines zen as being in a state of calm, or an approach to an activity that emphasizes simplicity and intuition rather than conventional thinking or fixation on goals.

This is the zen I’m talking about.

I walked outside and dragged my garbage can to the end of the driveway. The snow was about seven inches deep. I surveyed the driveway and grabbed the shovel.

Starting with the area right behind the garage, I used the shovel like a snow plow, pushing it forward and then scooping the snow into the area to either side of the driveway. I divided the driveway into sections, removing the snow from each section methodically. I felt a sense of satisfaction as I completed each one.

As I cleared the driveway, I was reminded of my sixth grade son’s recent science unit on simple machines. The shovel is considered a machine, a lever. I thought about that as I lifted the snow—how now, with all the technology that we have available to us, at one time the shovel was a huge step forward in progress.

I breathed in the cool air, feeling the quiet that only a snowfall can bring. I am not a huge fan of winter, but I do enjoy the beauty and quiet when snow is still fresh and clean. Before it turns slushy and brown from car exhaust, piled so high at the end of the driveway that I need to dig out the mailbox, it is beautiful, blanketing my world in a pristine cocoon of white.

There were very few cars out while I was shoveling, and I didn’t see any people either. It was peaceful.

Any activity can be an exercise in mindfulness—if we approach it that way.

Today’s snow was heavy and a bit slushy underneath, so I needed to be careful not to lift too much too quickly and hurt my back. I needed to pay attention to what I was doing and be present. When I finished the driveway, it gave me a great sense of satisfaction—perhaps greater than the task merited. I felt happy about completing the work and enjoying the beauty around me.

There is a well-known Zen saying that goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” I might amend it to say, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, shovel snow. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, shovel snow.” But do be mindful of your back!


Author: Lea Grimaldi

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Author’s Own


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