In his book, “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality,” Belden Lane describes an incredible adventure — the search to catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most rarely-seen animals: the snow leopard.
It lives high in the cliffs of the Himalayan mountains that curve along the borders of Nepal and Bhutan. This big cat’s white fur melts seamlessly into the snowy precipices where it moves silently on heavily padded paws, tracking its prey.
You don’t find a snow leopard as easily as you might an elephant or lion on a game drive through the Serengeti. The snow leopard’s natural camouflage matches its habitat so perfectly that you could be looking right at it and still not see it.
The best way to spot this elusive animal in the wild is to follow a herd of Himalayan blue sheep, the preferred diet of the snow leopard. If you are very still and watchful — and very lucky — you might see just a momentary flash before it quickly disappears into an icy cavern with its prey.
Stillness and watchfulness do not come easily for me. Maybe they don’t come easily for you either.
There is always one more problem to be solved, one more responsibility to be addressed, one more plan to be made. I find myself hurriedly moving from task to task, fancifully believing that I could conquer my to-do list.
For some of us, our busyness is exhausting, leaving us feeling empty and stressed. For others, it feels exhilarating, filling us with a sense of importance and relevance.
Neither the exhausted nor the exhilarated, however, find much space for stillness and watchfulness, and so we never see any snow leopards.
Even when opportunities for stillness and watchfulness present themselves, we somehow end up on Facebook or Snapchat, or we’re mindlessly drawn into whatever program happens to be on our television or whatever game happens to be on our phone.
Yesterday was different for me. I was walking through a tiny forest behind my house and started noticing the fallen leaves. One in particular caught my eye.
It was about the size of my thumb and was shaped something like a football. The coloring was unusual. Part of the leaf was a brilliant red, and then right next to it, along a very sharp line, it turned bright yellow.
I am sure I had stepped over that leaf a dozen times before, going back and forth to my compost pile, but I had never taken the time to notice.
As I held this little leaf in my hand, I felt a sense of wonder. Which tree had it come from? Why was its coloring so unique?
And I experienced something like gratitude for its beauty and something like remorse for not noticing it before.
The moment didn’t rise to the level of spotting a snow leopard. But it was a gift nonetheless, and I appreciated it. And it was a lesson about slowing down and making the effort to pay attention to the many gifts right in front of me that are waiting to be discovered.
Here, at the end of the semester, when our lives get so busy and stressed, let me invite you to intentionally make room for some stillness and watchfulness.
Take a walk, notice a leaf — any leaf will do — and just hold it in appreciation. Breathe the air. Stop working and dance to a song that moves you. Make hot chocolate. Look at the stars. Remember a loved one.
Who knows? You might even find something to be thankful for.