Spirituality and the Snow: Women and their Journeys
For the last three weeks England has been covered in a beautiful blanket weaved of sparkling white snow flakes. Unusually for Britain the snow has settled, stubbornly lining pavements and roads, resisting the grit. I enjoyed hearing the sharp crunch of the snow underfoot and being dazzled by the chaste white which stretched for miles. The whole of England became a fictional scene from Narnia.
But it didn’t take long for the country to panic. Snow days announced on the radio were related to companies losing money. The term ‘cold snap’ was inserted frequently into news reports, accompanied by digital, flashing snowflakes and a warning of ‘the big freeze.’ Friends and family couldn’t travel to see one another and students missed classes in the important lead up to A Levels. We were all snowbound.
As the country ground to a halt, those of us who avoided the panic could enjoy the leisurely pace enforced upon us by the snowfall. What better time to help us with an internal journey than following the messages from signs of nature, and in a midwinter stillness turning inwards.
Rather than rushing back to work after Christmas and New Year I had time to slow down, breathe, take a look around me and enjoy myself. As I wandered around town in my huge hiking boots I watched the children and their parents shooting down the hills on plastic sledges and saw enormous snowmen being constructed from the white powder. One morning I even saw a couple optimistically strap skis and snowboards to their feet and zoom down the slopes. I could smell the bread toasting on an open fire as memories of being very young and extreme-weather power cuts came flooding back.
With the mid-winter feast over and celebrations of New Year a distant memory, the whole of January stretches out as a cold, endless month filled with diets and stressful bank balances. Nothing like a bit of retail therapy to cheer us up. But shopping centers shut with stranded staff unable to reach work meant we were forced to utilize what we have, our inner resources. Maybe the snow will help us to turn our backs on capitalism.
For me spirituality is an inward journey, just like this one. To be spiritual is to relate to the spirit or the soul, in contrast to the material. Spirituality emphasizes introspection and following your inner guidance – all of which can be developed through various disciplines or practices including meditation, prayer and contemplation. There are many things that can help us along this path, in this case the beauty of creation. It is interesting to see what is at your core as you embark on such a journey.
A journey means reaching from one place to another, experiencing and observing on the way, and growing from what you’ve seen. For many women the interior landscape is as significant as the outer. Lawrence Durrell, British novelist, poet, dramatist and travel writer wrote of traveler and Arabian expert Freya Stark, “A great traveler is a kind of introspective as she covers the ground outwardly, so she advances inwardly.” My personal love of travel comes from the ability to reflect on what is happening around me with much more clarity than when I’m stationary and cannot look from the outside in.
For centuries it was socially unacceptable for women in the West to set off on a journey without a chaperon or their husband, waiting at home for men to visit them. Until the last part of the twentieth century, all of women’s fiction describes women waiting for love, waiting for their adventure when the stranger comes to town. Women bold enough to throw all of that behind them left their homes and discovered the world. Many reflected profoundly on what they saw.
Along this journey is the inevitable development of a respect for – and ability – to follow our own intuition and we can listen carefully to our inner thoughts, no matter how minor or trivial we hold them to be. This internal dialogue and decision making is surely how women assess their state of balance, more than an external observer can assume, for example her ability to know if she is melancholy or if she is sad. That is, as far as her domestic circumstances allow.
Such an exercise in existential development does not go without a thought on my re-assessment of being a woman, both from continued travel between England and Egypt, from writing this piece, and the time given to me by the snow. As I continue to look inward I see a lot more underlying sexism in England than I used to. I also enjoy being in touch with my sexuality, a natural part of my being. Maybe I have to keep such thoughts to myself to avoid the negative reaction I am likely to be greeted with, and the guilt I may feel in having them. Maybe internalizing things is a way of hiding them.
As I looked out of my window on Friday morning I could see green peeking out from underneath the white and potholes in the road where the ice has eroded the tarmac. A night of heavy rainfall has melted the snow and the whole country breathes a sigh of relief. The fields around my house have become full to burst with water that has gushed down from the hills and the sun shines across the water. Solitary trees, stripped of life, give the landscape a haunted air. But as the outside world gives the appearance of returning to normality, how far have we traveled internally? How much more of ourselves have we allowed ourselves to experience and feel?