Whistler inspires local author to take to the hills, explore new environment
By Holly Fraughton ~ Pique News magazine March 20th 2008
Anyone who has learned to snowboard knows the importance of finding your centre of gravity. But for Michael Symonds, the experience was also about exploring his spiritual centre.
Symonds has studied with renowned spiritual leader, Deepak Chopra and is a personal growth facilitator and certified primordial sound meditation instructor. After living in Vancouver’s west end for over 20 years, Symonds decided to retreat from the “up-town experience” of the city to the quiet beauty of the mountains.
“Even though Whistler itself is a busy town, the truth is, you can escape up on the mountain or into the parks or the forests and get away,” says Symonds. And now he has taken his experiences and put them in a new book, ZEN Shredding. The about-to-be published work is about the pursuit of dreams, and chronicles Symonds own foray into the world of snowboarding, using vignettes from his personal experiences to outline the process and explain the risks, fears and insights he gained during the process.
“It depends on the angle you look at it from,” explains Symonds of the book’s content. “It’s a book of insights, but it’s also kind of a journal of my whole exploration of learning how to snowboard in the past three years.”
While some of the vignettes are personal and specific, the insights and ideas drawn from the process can be applied universally.
“I think that someone reading, even though they might not be a snowboarder or might not be a skier, or even play on the mountains in the snow, they’ll be completely able to relate to the questions and the insights,” says Symonds.
Learning to ride wasn’t exactly an easy process for Symonds. During his first season in Whistler, he was too busy working 50 to 60 hours a week in the resort to learn.
“I was intrigued by it, and also, by being in Whistler, you’re also kind of seeing it 24/7,” says Symonds. “I spent a lot of time just hanging around the bottom of the hill and watching all these people having fun.”
He took one lesson the next season, but it was icy and intense, and he gave up. It wasn’t until the following season that he decided to give it another shot, this time, signing up for four back-to-back lessons, immersing himself in the process.
“It ended up being very magical for me, because I’m a more mature learner in terms of snowboarding,” says Symonds. Now, he continues to take lessons and has progressed to play in the park and ride in the trees.
Symonds attributes a lot of his recent personal growth to the drastic change of environment he experienced when moving to Whistler.
“Environment has a huge impact on us – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, if you’re into that kind of thing,” explains Symonds. “Being up in Whistler was really like a new start for me.”
The new surroundings and community has helped to inspire him to take on new challenges and explore a different side of himself.
“When we get older or spend a lot of time in certain environments or cultures, there’s a tendency to limit ourselves in terms of what we’re doing and who we’re being, and so to pick yourself up and move to a completely new environment sometimes opens doorways and also opportunities that weren’t there before,” says Symonds.
He is currently in the process of approving the final draft of ZEN Shredding, but says the book should be available by the end of the month. He is working with a Victoria-based company, Trafford, which takes an on-demand approach to printing, eliminating the need for excessive inventories and allowing lesser-known authors an opportunity to see their work published.
He is also using the web as his primary marketing tool, and has released a 13-minute presentation on Google, YouTube and his own website, www.zenshredding.com.
A portion of proceeds from book sales will go towards the Zero Ceiling Foundation, an organization that brings at-risk youth from Vancouver and Montreal to the slopes of Whistler, the Laurentians and Mont Tremblant for adventure-based learning and employment skills training.
Symonds says he wants to help make a difference in the community.
“I’ve started to recognize under the surface of the superficiality of what Whistler can sometimes be perceived as, there’s a great activity going on in terms of volunteerism and just supporting all the different organizations.”
He decided Zero Ceiling’s mandate meshed well with his own life philosophy, and some of the main messages in ZEN Shredding.
“It’s an unbiased organization, and I think that really spoke to me in terms of taking people off the street … and putting them in a different environment, like I had been put in a different environment, and seeing how that environment can shape and open doorways.”