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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Snowflakes or Snowfall: The Circumstance Dictates Our Reaction

On a cool day in May, several years ago, I observed a scattering of snowflakes falling.  They were far from memorable, being tiny and nondescript.  Yet, the emotions that they aroused were far from neutral.  I live in a cooler climate – Manitoba, Canada – but snow in May used to be a rare sight, and always unwelcome.  Perhaps in more mountainous regions of the western Rockies or other mountain ranges, such trivial moisture would have not even been noticed, much less been a source of irritation.  Yet, I had been anticipating spring, and, soon to follow, warm summers, since late March.  In Manitoba, summers are short and intense, so we need to savour every second of the event.  May snowfall was a direct punch in the teeth those longed-for days.
On a cold January day last year, I devoured the vision of large, fluffy snowflakes falling. Same precipitation, different response.  Why?  In January, we receive healthy doses of minus 35 weather.  Fluffy, floating snowflakes meant that the temperature was warmer than normal.
On another January day, I was enthralled by millions of diamonds dancing in the early morning sunlight.  Ice crystals.  The air gets so cold in January that moisture simply is squeezed out of the atmosphere, driving relative humidity to below thirty or forty percent.  The vision of countless sparkling, dancing pinpoints of light was mesmerizing.
On occasion, we also receive dumps of snow exceeding 40 centimetres (15-16 inches).  These blizzards are far from the intensity of blizzards in the Maritimes, or in the mountains.  Yet, depending upon the circumstance, they can be captivating and exciting.  However, a snowfall of three or four inches generally stimulates nothing but mild aggravation, and rarely a hypnotic appreciation of the event.
This is the way that most of us experience life.  We either are drawn to major events and items, or focused on the magic of minor miracles. Most of us opt to reach for  bigger, more elaborate, or just plain more.  We want bigger houses, more powerful cars, more exotic holidays, fancier clothes, rarer collections of possessions and more glamorous lifestyles.  We want the blizzard.  Yet, most often, we find the magic in the single snowflake, or the miniscule ice crystals.  When we have the modest amounts of snow, we are dissatisfied, disgruntled.  Instead of exploring the pleasures in less, we crave more.
Western society – indeed, all of society, it seems – is oriented toward the pursuit of the excess of happiness, when we should be seeking fulfillment and happiness.  Forty years ago, a simple black and white television and a car in the garage was adequate for us to feel successful.  Today, two or more of each is the standard, with sixty inch television screens being commonplace.  Are we happier because of this new normal?  No.  Study after study shows that , beyond a certain level of comfort, more doesn’t make us more happy.
Back to the single snowflake concept.  Watching that demonstration of nature’s beauty remains with me, and provides an inner peace when I recall it.  The memory of those ice crystals dancing on a cold day is as valuable as my memories of tropical vacations, but cost me nothing to savour.  We need to take the time to appreciate moments, rather than continuous events.
And why was I somewhat distraught by a snowfall in May, and captivated by one in January?  Expectation.  I expected certain things, in an orderly manner, and snow in May interrupted that sequence.  Was the snow as intriguing?  Of course.  But I chose my reaction, and, instead of revelling in the uniqueness of that event, I was repelled by it.  Had I, those many years ago, realized that it is the moment that is valuable, not my demand for an ordered existence, I could have turned what most saw as a negative experience into a truly positive one.

The point I wish to make is simple.  Expect experiences, not predictability.  Embrace unique moments, experiences, people, and so on.  By accepting that we are travelling through a lifetime of experiences, rather than shaping them to our wishes, we will not be disappointed.  Instead, we will be transported, into a world of wonder and enjoyment.