In the past month, the temperature in NJ has ranged from arctic (-9 F) to spring-like (in the 50s). We, like much of the country, have been blasted with some heavy snow, only to have unseasonably warm temperatures follow only days later. This has allowed me to observe one of the coolest--pardon the pun--winter phenomenon in fast-forward: the creation and melting of the suburban snowman.
Building a snowman is like designing a Tibetan sand mandala. We put all of this creative energy into rolling, lifting, shaping, sculpting, and finally dressing this human simulacrum, knowing full well that it is only going to melt away. Tibetans spend countless hours fastidiously designing intricate mandalas--miniature representations of the universe--only to blow the sand away when they are done.
Both are celebrations of impermanence, and I think of life itself. In Zen, we say that we eat to eat, sleep just to sleep, with no intent of a reward or payoff. The same can be seen in the snowman. We build it, not under the illusion that it will be some timeless memorial to our efforts like the Mona Lisa, but precisely because it will soon melt.
We do it for the joy of it. The snowman, like the human it mimics, deteriorates rapidly, which makes it all the more marvelous. The trick to Zen is learning how to carry that joy of snowman building--or knitting, writing, exercising, drawing, meditating, or whatever brings us peace--into the rest of our lives.
Now that is true art.
Snowman image courtesy of Creative Commons flickr user: IngaMun.
Mandala of CakesandSpiders.