Fresh Tracks

Growing up in West Central Wisconsin, I know intimately the inhospitable season that is winter. Parker Palmer notes in Letting Your Life Speak, that these winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them. That’s what I learned to do way back in my High School years: I ventured out in a pair of snowshoes to ward off the restlessness of cabin fever.

There were no groomed trails out near the county line where we lived, so I blazed my own through the neighboring woods, along the creeks and to the edge of the Chippewa River. The light of the warm house glowed in the distance as I walked through the insular crystalline blanket on the earth. It was quiet. Still. I could hear nothing but the sound of falling snow, the shush of the snowshoes through the powder and my heartbeat pulsing loudly.

I set out because I needed a shift, a change of space – a new experience and way to be in this winter. I had a rough knowledge of the landscape in the area, but had never traveled these paths before. I trusted my homing pigeon instinct or inner compass to get me home at winter light’s curfew. As pedestrian as it was, these expeditions were exhilarating. While adventuring out, I found I was going in. Those lines in the snow became a whole new form of journaling.

Parker applies the same “get out into it” advice to our own inner winters, which may take many forms: failure, betrayal, depression, etc. He writes: “Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives. But when we walk directly into them, protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship or inner discipline or spiritual guidance – we can learn what they have to teach us.”

This adventuring inward takes courage. Facing fears takes courage. Change takes courage. A dear mentor once told me that our habitual patterns of being are neurologically much like the well-worn rut of a sledding path that’s been used over and over again. In order to change, we need to pick up the sled and move it to a patch of fresh powder (in Colorado, this is known in some circles as ‘gnar gnar pow’) and open up to a wholly new, potentially exhilarating experience. In these moments of awareness and choice in the process of change, I am reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh’s gentle reminder of how to proceed: “Breath. Smile. Go slowly.” That quality of pace tempers any fear that may arise as one ventures out into something new.

Our Winter Bootcamp begins this week. The fluffy white stuff is forecasted up in the mountains. As we welcome this year’s CEO cohort, I hope they find something enticing about the sound of stepping out into freshly fallen snow and decide to make fresh tracks in their ways of being in their own lives. And, I hope that they are met with a stillness that reminds them softly, profoundly, that every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.