The Four Elements (written 2014)

09/04/2014 15:36

The calendar says it's spring. Some days the air is warm and earthy scents are heady. Other days the wind is blustery and cold and snow makes a reappearance. This is the way spring manifests here in the Great White North.


I've lived in Alberta all my life and still I grumble each spring. The winter feels long. The yearning for tulips, for color, for warmth can be strong. And the aversion to what the moment holds is habitual.


When I'm hunched against the wind, stepping gingerly around patches of ice, wishing for the warmth of summer as I feel the chill in my bones, I can't help but remember the Buddha's teachings on the four elements. What I love at this stage in my practice is that teachings I've heard so many times have worn pathways in my memory. I may not have set out to memorize them, but repetition does its subtle work. I just have to catch myself humming an advertising jingle to become aware of that. But while the ad jingle may be unhelpful, the teachings I've absorbed can be like a personal mindfulness bell for me when they arise at the right moment.


The cold hand of the wind pulls the rope and the bell chimes. I am elements moving through elements. I am one with all that is. My bones are hard and stable like the earth beneath my feet, made of the same stuff. The blood that flows in my veins, the tears the wind coaxes from my eyes, the damp drops collecting at the tip of my nose are the same as the water caught in the frozen puddles, the snowflakes that land on my gloved hands. The wind itself is the breath of the earth. I feel the bellows of my own lungs expanding and contracting. I breathe with all of life. And snuggling my chin in tight to my collar I feel the heat and energy of my own body, my own sun, my own fire.


The elements are mighty here in Alberta. And living in a “rural” community I am not as cut off from them as I might be. I feel the breezes on my skin every day, the earth frozen or soft beneath my feet. In that, I am blessed.


Reflecting on the four elements is a way of bringing myself into the present moment. When I am contemplating this connection with all that is, I am not lost, off on some train of thought to past or future. A mind immersed in temperature and texture and movement, is present in this body here and now. This is what is real, not the replay of this morning's argument, not fantasies about a winter holiday, not anxiety over an appointment later today.


Most often walking, whether for a distance, or brief transitions between vehicles and buildings is a way of getting to somewhere else. Or as my son puts it, “walking is transportation, Mom, not entertainment”. But treating it as the gift it is, when I'm able, makes it a meditation. This enriches my life and amazingly even helps me catch the reactivity of grumbling. Being able to smile in the midst of the throes of an Alberta spring is indeed a gift of mindfulness.