We are so many snowflakes in the storm. Such is our lives.
As I write these lines, it is snowing softly outside my apartment. However, I do not wish to talk about the present, but about the past. I want to talk about one night, back when I was in my early twenties. At that time, I still lived in Montréal, in an apartment, with a roommate. I had not yet met the woman who would become my wife, and then my ex-wife. I was still a master’s student in computer engineering, and an extremely naive beginner in Zen.
Little did I know about the life that awaited me. I did not know that I would have a heart attack. Furthermore, I did not know about that soon thereafter I’d be moving to the USA, because I fell in love with the woman who would become my wife. I did not know that much later, I’d get cancer, that I would survive it, and what silver linings it would bring. What an eventful life it would prove to be!
One night, the snow was falling in earnest outside the apartment in which I lived then. I looked outside. There was a streetlight not far from my window. This streetlight illuminated the snow falling under it. As I looked at the snowflakes falling and dancing in the wind, I realized that this is what our lives are made of.
As is often the case, I don’t think I’m particularly original in this realization. Masters of old, and those that were forged yesterday, have often said that we are like so many leaves flowing down the stream. They were pointing to the same thing I am. However, for me, perhaps because I’m from the north, the analogy of a snowstorm feels more apt than the other analogies. In the final analysis, this is merely preference on my part. There is no substantial difference between the analogies of the Masters, and my analogy.
We are the snowflakes falling and dancing in the wind. Most of the things that happen in our lives are outside our control. We are moved by the air currents that surround us. We collide haphazardly into this and that other snowflake. Sometimes we clump. Sometimes the clump is destroyed. All our machinations, in the final analysis, amount to nothing, nothing at all.
“Pfft! The self-made man in a thing, you know.”
The self-made man is but an illusion. Chance made him clump with a clump of snow. The safe-made man is not able to control the wind. Circumstances made him what he is, and circumstances will be his undoing.
Given that our machinations are futile, then what remains? Kindness is what remains. Mind you, I’m no saint, and I do find it difficult to extend kindness to everyone. However, I have become kinder in time. Kindness definitely drives most of my life, starting with my romantic partners. I never coerce them, or use them to my benefit. So much so that when an ex-partner told me she wasn’t into polyamory, there was no begging and no fight. We simply parted ways.
“But you’re a Dom! Surely you use them to your benefit!”
In a sense, yes. However, when this happens, it is to our mutual benefit that I use my partners. It is not a one way street where I get the riches and they get nothing. If you come to me wanting to be used, and my partners do come to me like this, then I will use you.
Some Masters will tell you that there is no separation between spiritual practice and the rest of our lives, outside of practice. I fully believe this. The kindness that I’ve been able to show to my partners has deepened my spiritual practice.
“You seem to contradict yourself. You talk about becoming kinder, but you say that we don’t control our lives. What gives?”
It is true that we do not control our lives. It is definitely possible to become kinder, however. See, we cannot become kinder just by wishing it one day. We don’t go from being a jackass, to being a kind individual. This does not happen. This is what I mean by the notion that we do not control our lives. However, we can inflect the trajectory of our lives, softly and gently. We can aim this trajectory towards greater kindness. This, we can do.
Let’s go back to the analogy. If we are snowflakes, then eventually we will melt, and become fluid water. The snowflake will be no more. Then this water will freeze again. A new snowflake. I think this is a more apt analogy for rebirth than the popular one. Sorry, but the notion “I was once a cow, and I am now human,” is bunk. Given the impermanence of the self, there is no cow that is now human.
“But the teachings…”
Yes, some Buddhist teachings do hold that a cow became human. However, other teachings contradict these teachings. Ultimately, the contradiction does not matter, but when it comes to our understanding of the world, we have to pick one or the other. Lightning can be, poetically speaking, the anger of the gods, and electricity. However, for the task of protecting myself, I consider lightning to be electricity. I might seek shelter when a thunderstorm comes, rather than pray to the gods to leave me alone.
Enough verbiage! Now, as I watch the snow falling this morning, I am reminded of this time, back in Montréal, when I realized this simple truth.
We are but snowflakes in the storm.