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Metta’s Snow Days

Welcome, dear readers, to another month of taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world.

Last month’s article, “Metta Carries Wood, Mops Water,” found me volunteering at an ancient woodland and happily surprised by a level of teamwork I had not previously experienced.

For the past month, we’ve been clearing paths and thinning trees, as well as chopping firewood and milling planks for floorboards. It was fascinating to observe how the five of us would naturally fall into our place in the chain of any given task, considering just how different we all are in terms of experience, age, stature, strength, and personality. And when a sixth person joined our team, I was again happily surprised to discover they had just sat their first 10-day Vipassana course.

In his book The Hidden Life of Trees (Greystone Books 2016), forester and author Peter Wohlleben introduces readers to an unseen social network among trees when it comes to sharing nutrients, preventing threats, disseminating knowledge, and even parenting seedlings.

As I came to know the team members better, both individually and collectively, while we tackled the 101 day-to-day tasks that go into managing an ancient woodland, I began to wonder whether perhaps the trees were also managing us in 101 unseen ways?

We would often find ourselves finishing each other’s sentences, or able to instantly provide a random something that one of us needed, or remember a unique skill we’d forgotten we had to complete a job, or lose all track of time or day or month. Effortless doesn’t quite describe it . . . perhaps seamless is a better word: a group samadhi state-of-sorts that I’ve not even experienced in spiritual settings such as sitting or serving Vipassana courses. It might almost make the usual forming/storming/norming/performing/adjourning stages of group development—coined by psychologist Bruce Tuckman—obsolete?

At first, I marveled at what was happening. Then, I tried to put my finger on it during chats with my fellow meditator, who was unpacking ways they had painted red flags green in life, and with the longest-standing resident, who’d seen several cohorts like ours come and go. Eventually, I just accepted and welcomed the magic underfoot and underway. A few nights later, the hunter and fellow bookworm on the team hit a surprise bullseye for me by comparing us to the ka-tets in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series: ka referring to a wheel whose only purpose is to turn, and tet referring to several central characters bound for a purpose.

When several feet of surprise snow fell overnight, I was curious what would become of our usual group flow on a “snow day”—a term to describe widespread shutdowns due to heavy snowfall or extreme weather—that eventually stretched into a “snow week.”

The first day was snowmen and sledding and lots of slipping and sliding as we became accustomed to our new landscape. We kept a tap dripping so that the pipes wouldn’t freeze overnight, and ensured that the kitchen wood stove was burning 24/7 for much-needed warmth.

The next few days mellowed into long walks and even longer boardgames, with lots of laughs and snacks and naps and movies and interesting conversations in between.

I’ll admit that part of me was waiting for the other snow boot to drop and for some form of indoor storming to arise from being cooped up and cut off by an outdoor storm. But I was happily surprised to find this ka-tet’s wheel kept turning, even when its purpose was on ice. Once the snow had melted enough for our host to return to site, they too marveled on arrival that not only were we all still alive but that we all still seemed to like each other!

And then it came time to disperse for the holidays. Regular readers may remember that this time last year, I decided to leave my beloved city of Liverpool, where I’d settled after seven years of lily-padding (my own term for combining meditation practice with location-independence). Returning to the city for the first time since moving away—one live-in job and five voluntary farming placements later—felt simultaneously like I’d never left and like I’d been gone for a decade.

Happily, surprising my city friends proved great fun: one quipped that they’d always suspected my life was like one long Monty Python sketch, and that it was hardly surprised that I was living the “Lumberjack Song” for real. My favorite happy surprise, however, was gatecrashing a former workplace on Christmas morning, knowing that a Muslim friend would be working alone by kindly covering the holiday shifs for everyone else. We sipped our favorite tea and munched on mince pies as my friend helped me to catch up on the latest office politics and dramas. Considering it had been one of the best teams that I’d ever been part of and that I’d left with a heavy heart, I secretly marveled that in hindsight it wasn’t a patch on my current team.

With each visit to old friends, I also ended up visiting former belongings, appliances, and furniture that I had gifted them before my move. I’d totally forgotten until I saw them again, except one memorable item: a much-loved sleigh-bed, which I still sometimes pined for while bunking on a mattress beside the wood burner for warmth.

With each catch-up, I was happily surprised by the “a-has” that only life’s snow days and reunions can surface. Fast-paced city life and hospitality work were no longer for me. I had almost tried too hard to put down roots in Liverpool after my lily-padding years, and—after all of this year’s dramas volunteering on organic farms—I felt surprisingly happy and settled in a way that my monkey mind couldn’t understand but that my heart totally did, surrounded by some 120 acres of actual roots.

And so, after a week of long walks and even longer games back in the big city, with lots of laughs and snacks and naps and movies and catch-up conversations, it felt right to return to the woodland indefinitely until its current ka-tet’s purpose has been served.

Metta had the last laugh when I discovered that one of my teammates had built me a bed in my absence! I laughed until I cried remembering a former new bed exploding (described in my article “Diving (Back) Into the Pool of Life”), and here now was a bespoke bed pieced together from former shelving, cladding, and even a door-turned-headboard made from the very trees we were felling and milling.

And so this Dharma Goldilocks gratefully slipped beneath the covers, feeling exhausted after some 12 years (that often felt like a hundred!) of exploring the extremes of location-independence and location-dependence, only to find herself happily surprised by a new and unexpected “just right” middle way. And so, dear readers, whether you’re feeling snowed under by the end of 2022, or feeling like you’ve drawn a blank about how to welcome 2023, please take a breath—or several—and gift yourselves some metta snow days for your next “just right” to surface.


Or, to metta-morphose Adam Rader’s song “Living at the Speed of Life:”

And its no straight line
Man, there are bends along the way
Some days it feels right
Others, I feel Im lost in space

And its easier to say it wont take long
Until I find a speed of my own
The truth of the matter at hand is
I’ll never truly understand

All I know is
It might take another day
Until in my heart I feel safe
Its so hard to say goodbye

Another day turns the page
And were off to find our way
The world feels bigger in size
As I try living at the speed of life

See more

The Dark Tower (YouTube)
The Hidden Life of Trees (YouTube)
Tuckman’s Five Stages of Team Building (YouTube)

Related features from BDG

Buddhist Voices in the Climate Crisis: The Eightfold Path of Sustainability
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Growing into Our Full Potential – Imagination Lights the Way
Are the Sustainable Development Goals Today’s “Opium of the Masses?” An Interview with Prof. Kohei Saito
Seeing And Revering Nature With Love: Trees Of Dharamsala By Nicholas Vreeland
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