Snow on a Forest Trail

Ajahn Jotipālo • December 2013

This morning I was walking through the forest on a path that I’ve walked thousands of times before, and everything looked completely different. Two conditions had changed: there was moisture in the air and the temperature had dropped below freezing. This completely transformed the path. Most of the trees were covered with heavy snow and ice. It was quite beautiful.

I was contemplating this in terms of the characteristic of not-self, as a reminder of how we can take our thoughts, moods, and opinions and believe them to be who and what we are. We may have a thought and then some reaction, like anger, but that anger is not who we are—it’s merely a transient phenomenon, like the snow on the trail. It’s merely the result of some condition that came into being. Whatever habitual reactions we may have, they have been conditioned into us. They’re all due to past causes. And just like snow will melt given a certain temperature, when the conditions change for us, our reactions may change as well.

I used to be bothered by a couple of people in the community, the way they habitually reacted in certain situations. Then one day it hit me that those people were merely reacting exactly as they’d been conditioned to react in that particular situation. This has given me a lot of space around difficult interactions that occur with other people, and I’ve been able to recondition my own habitual reactions. When I experience aversion to somebody, I can think to myself, If they could act differently they would act differently. Or I might also think, When the conditions change, this may no longer be their habitual reaction. It can be that impersonal.

This is something we all can do. When we encounter a situation with that sort of wisdom, we can respond with compassion, equanimity, and understanding, and not experience the dukkha of aversion. We can transform our inner landscape, as with the snow fallen on a forest trail.