A Reflection on Shoveling Snow, the Work of an Educator, and the Value of Meditation

by Rev. Shingaku Jenny Henderson

For many years I’ve claimed that I love shoveling snow. And, I do…when the day is calm and the snow has stopped falling, and I can see the satisfying results of the clear, even path I’ve created. The love of shoveling snow in perfect conditions comes easily to me. What’s harder to muster is the enjoyment of shoveling snow in the middle of a storm, when my path is covered again two hours after I’ve shoveled it. Or shoveling on a windy day when, for every shovelful I relocate, three shovelfuls blow back. Enjoying shoveling itself, the very act of shoveling with no hope of a particular outcome has taken practice. And to care deeply about the potential outcome (the beautiful path) while also, simultaneously not clinging to the actual outcome takes even more practice.

My relationship with shoveling snow reminds me a lot of the art and practice of teaching or leading a school. It’s easy to feel good about the work when the day is going as you had planned it. Your students finally mastered converting fractions to decimals. Colleagues collaborated to find a solution to a recent challenge. The hallways are quiet and empty during class time and full of joyful community during passing time.  On days like these it’s easy to love the work and to feel the impact of your efforts. On other days, you may feel like you are standing in the midst of a blizzard, freezing wind whipping through your coat, barely able to stand your ground. 

When a school community is running well, there are more days of gentle snowfall and fewer days of blizzard. Yet, regardless of how strong a community is, blizzards will still happen because schools are impacted by the world outside the school, and in the world there are blizzards. You can’t prevent all blizzards. But, you can work on your own ability to to stand, stable and balanced amidst the swirling snow. This is where meditation helps. 

Picture the inside of your mind like a snow globe. There’s a little winter scene inside a plastic jar filled with water and tiny bits of fake snow. You shake the jar and the snow swirls around in chaos. If you set the jar down and just watch it, eventually the snow particles will stop moving and fall back to the bottom of the jar. Leaving perfectly clear water. Clarity. Meditation is the process of settling the snow globe. Each time we sit we give those particles of snow a few minutes to settle down. When those particles (the distractions, anxieties, and confusions of our daily life) settle down, we gain more balance and perspective.