Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today.
It is cold out there. And in here. I live in an old building and my apartment is difficult to heat. There’s a wall heater but it’s expensive to run and doesn’t warm up the entire apartment. Ditto for my parabolic heater, although using it is more affordable. Chances are, where you are it’s much colder than it is here in California. But things are relative, you know.
I used to live in Nebraska where it can get very cold in the wintertime, especially when that frigid north wind is blowing. One year the temperature did not rise above zero for over sixty days, and again I was living in a old place. I was extremely tired of shivering and decided to use some psychology. I thought if I read about people who were colder than me, I might develop some obliviousness to glacial air.
I read some Jack London stories, and some other books I can’t remember now but the one that worked best was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Anytime you feel like moaning about cold weather, read about some guy stuck in a work camp in Siberia and you’ll soon be thanking you’re lucky stars that you’re where you’re at.
Reveille was sounded, as always, at 5 a.m.–a hammer pounding on a rail outside camp HQ. The ringing noise came faintly on and off through the windowpanes covered with ice more than an inch thick, and died away fast. It was cold and the warder didn’t feel like going on banging… and he just couldn’t manage to keep warm that night. In his sleep he’d felt very sick and then again a little better. All the time he dreaded the morning.
But the morning came, as it always did.
Anyway, how could anyone get warm here, what with the ice piled up on the window and a white cobweb of frost running along the whole barracks where the walls joined the ceiling?
At Ivan Denisovich’s camp, the only days the prisoners do not work outside are the days when the temperature falls below -42F (41C), otherwise… I’ve never been there but I’m pretty sure that Siberia beats the heck out of Nebraska for cold and misery.
Years later, I found a much better method for alleviating the cold, and the heat. This method is illustrated in an old Zen parable involving Dongshan, the ninth century Buddhist teacher who founded the Caodong (Soto) school. I have changed a few of the words, but not its essential meaning:
A novice monk once asked Dongshan, “How can I escape the heat and cold?”
Dongshan said, “Why don’t you go where there is no heat or cold?”
“Where is this place? Is it far from here?”
Dongshan replied, “It is right here. When it is hot, become one with the heat; when it is cold, become one with the cold. This is the place of no heat or cold.”
Becoming one with the present moment can make us feel better about our circumstances, even if the circumstances we find ourselves in at that moment are miserable. It frees us from our preoccupation with “if only” thinking. If only it was warmer. If only the pain would go away. If only this, if only that…
I see the present moment as something like morning, and I never dread the morning. Each morning is different, no two are alike, and in the same way, the present moment is ever changing, so we should not try to seize and cling to it as though it was something static. Neither should we try to escape into it, as we would with a book or movie. However, if we adjust our minds and embrace the reality of now, understanding that now is all there is and then we cherish it’s preciousness, some relief from cold, heat, and pain is possible.
The present moment is here. Inside my mind, there is no cold. I feel no pain from the bursitis and lymphedema in my leg. Morning will come.