Monday, August 15, 2011

Snow in August

I promise this blog is not going to become a weather report between this post and the one about Frost in June, but these have been big events for me. This time, it is not about respecting our limits (though I still keep saying and thinking that it is December), but actually about seeing our ability to handle what is thrown our way by entering the world as it is rather than what our imaginations make us think it might be.

Yesterday morning I awoke to not only snow-covered Dunedin but “bitter cold southerly gales.” Kiwis know that a “southerly” means the wind is coming straight from Antarctica. There is no land to warm it up between the icy desert and a little town called Dunedin. In other words, it is cold and fierce. But I had to get to town for something. So, I bundled up; I put on my waterproof pants, my hiking shoes, my brand-new thermal jersey, my merino jersey, my awesome winter coat, and I even learned to use the hood on the coat to keep it on even in the crazy wind. In other words, I prepared. But I was nervous.

Before leaving the house, all I had to go by was a weather report online and snow-covered streets and footpaths (sidewalks) as far as the eye could see. I imagined how bad it was out there, how terrible it would feel to be there, and how much I just wanted to stay inside where it was warm(er). (New Zealand is not well known for its indoor heating; that’s my judicious way of saying how obscenely cold it is inside here.) Yup, the imagination is a powerful tool. But I put on the proper clothes and walked out the door.

This is the first hill I walked down. I live just at the top there.

And this is the hill I had to walk down. Beautiful view of snow covered Dunedin, eh? (And no, the buses were not running.)

Guess what? By the time I made it to the university (over an hour later), I was sweating and also had some fun!

Halfway down the hill, I realized something important as I was laughing at myself and enjoying the snow. I realized preparation and mindset make the difference. When we are prepared, we can handle just about anything life throws our way. It means we do not have to let stress and fear determine our lives. Our state of mind allows us to determine our response to our situations rather than allowing the situations to run our lives.

This is never more apparent to me than every six months watching the bar exam ritual. The bar exam is the legal version of hazing. I remember the summer of study when stress took over peoples’ lives, when imaginations ran wild with all sorts of ways to fail. Many people do not sleep the night before the exam. Some people pass out during the exam. People get so worked up and nervous about the exam they forget how much they actually know. They forget how prepared they really are.

Life can throw any number of situations at us. From little quibbles with our friends, families, and colleagues to unprecedented weather situations. We can, of course, ruminate on these situations, think about them and how terrible they could be or could become. But we can also throw on a few layers of preparation and walk out the door.

Yoga is one way to help prepare us for those times in life when simply putting on a few layers and a windproof jacket are not enough. It helps us slow down, take a step back, and meet each situation as it is rather than as we imagine it to be. Yoga, through our breath and attention to our bodies at individual moments, provides us the insight for being with life rather than with our crazy versions of all the ills that might occur.

After all, when you walk out the door, you may just find that things are a lot more enjoyable than you had expected.


Postscript: This post was dually inspired – partly by the snow and also partly by a film I saw. I could not put them in the same post because of a) length and b) the film confronts torture, not snow, and I want to write about it on its own terms. That will be the content of the next post.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved


  1. I used to be terrified of winter, because I had no decent boots or coat but didn't know that there was no reason my feet should be frozen all the time. Now that I bought new boots, and down coat, and have hand warmers, I am actually looking forward to winter again this year. The wind in the Mid-West is terrific (Canadian origin) but nothing like Arctic. Having a hood and mouth guard is essential. Bundle up and enjoy!

  2. You had a VERY special reason to go to town...

  3. Exactly, Toni. And yes, MJ, a very, very good reason. Be safe!