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Threes and Doing versus Being

This poem “Shoveling Snow with Buddha” by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins beautifully illustrates the quintessential dilemma for Enneatype Threes: unconscious doing versus true being. Our author finds himself ripe with busy-mind “commentary”, while the Buddha has simply “thrown himself into shoveling snow as if it were the purpose of existence”. If the Buddha would have spoken, he might have said something like…”when I shovel snow I shovel snow”, and later “when I drink hot chocolate and play cards I drink hot chocolate and play cards”. Perfectly present to the moment.


How much unconscious doing went on for you today? As a Three myself I can confess to plenty of mindless doing! Brushing my teeth, washing the dishes, even driving the car. All of these were opportunities to practice presence, and all went by in the usual flurry of busy-mind conversation with myself.

And when did you feel truly present today? For me it was during meditation (an all-too-brief slice of the 24 hours I was given for today), and walking my sweet dog, Sita, and simply enjoying her enjoyment of the world.


As the new year enfolds, may we all practice embodying a little less doing and a little more being. The world so needs us right now.




In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok you would never see him doing such a thing, tossing the dry snow over a mountain of his bare, round shoulder, his hair tied in a knot, a model of concentration. Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word for what he does, or does not do. Even the season is wrong for him. In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid? Is this not implied by his serene expression, that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe? But here we are, working our way down the driveway, one shovelful at a time. We toss the light powder into the clear air. We feel the cold mist on our faces. And with every heave we disappear and become lost to each other in these sudden clouds of our own making, these fountain-bursts of snow. This is so much better than a sermon in church, I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling. This is the true religion, the religion of snow, and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky, I say, but he is too busy to hear me. He has thrown himself into shoveling snow as if it were the purpose of existence, as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway you could back the car down easily and drive off into the vanities of the world with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio. All morning long we work side by side, me with my commentary and he inside his generous pocket of silence, until the hour is nearly noon and the snow is piled high all around us; then, I hear him speak. After this, he asks, can we go inside and play cards? Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table while you shuffle the deck. and our boots stand dripping by the door. Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes and leaning for a moment on his shovel before he drives the thin blade again deep into the glittering white snow.


- Shoveling Snow with Buddha by Billy Collins


Photo courtesy of our beautiful Upaya Zen Center here in Santa Fe, New Mexico

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