Last night was the coldest we’ve had yet this winter—somewhere in the realm of -17° C. I got home from work around midnight and sat for a moment in my car, eyes closed, head on steering wheel. Exhausted.
Outside my nose hairs froze upon first inhale—that’s my personal equation for distinguishing “cold” from “really fucking cold.” Frozen nose hairs= really fucking cold.
Nothing else greeted me but starlight, cool and blue on my skin. All sounds stilled by the still-dropping temperatures. Even the horses across the stream were silent, no rattling of the feed troths, no misty snorts. The coyotes did not warble. The owls did not hoot.
In my tipi, I lit a few candles and changed as quickly as possible into sleeping clothes: thermal pants, leg warmers, wool socks, wool slippers, long-sleeved shirt, a wool hat. My fingerless gloves I pretty much never take off. Last night, I kept my puffy jacket on as well. I had to pause between exchanging various layers to allow my fingers to reheat inside my jacket sleeves. It took three more cycles of finger re-warming to get my sleepingbag zipped, pull the three outside blankets up to my chin, and cinch the elastics tight so that only a little hole was left for my nose and mouth to peek through. I warmed my fingers one last time, scolding them, staring up, my body body fighting to heat the icy coverings.
Above me, Jupiter slipped out of sight, ending his nightly visit to the hole at the top of my home, where the poles and the canvas come together, leaving little triangular gaps through which the night sky passes. “Goodnight, Jupiter.” I folded my hands on my chest and closed my eyes.
The still empty air yawns through me, I dissolve into it, I am a black and gaping mouth turning inside out into the night. In the deepest reach of icy solitude, I pass through the emptiness that aches and disappear for a fleeting moment into that which is bliss. With no more walls to define me, I am no longer separate, touchable. I could stay here forever, couldn’t I? In this place where there is no lonliness, no cold, no pain, because there is no me. But this is not life, it is death. I come here to recover, to remember, but I cannot stay.
This to say, there is more than one way to escape the cold.
Chögyam Trungpa said:
I find I must also allow myself to feel the cold outside, it is not enough for it just to exist. Here, in my tipi in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, I practice feeling cold. Over and over again. Sometimes, the cold consumes me, overwhelms me. More often, it is manageable, it moves with me. I shiver for hours playing my ukulele with fingers fighting to feel the strings, always moving. I laugh at the steam rising off my toothbrush after it’s been in my mouth. I drag my sleeping bag outside and lay beneath the cold stars until I’ve given almost all my warmth to the ground. I celebrate snowy evenings when my tipi is insulated by soft frozen blankets like they are godsend. They are.
The cold reminds me of another lesson, one easily forgotten in the desire to self-protect:
Conquering & controlling are not the ultimate goals of all this suffering, all this feeling. The journey is the destination.
There is no conquering cold. One can avoid it, they can ignore it, they can numb themself to it, they can protect themselves against it, but it is always there, somewhere. I choose to feel it, so that I may also feel warmth. And it is not enough to have experienced it once; we humans are forgetful creatures. Life is cyclical: cycles of cold to remind us of warmth, of lonliness to remind us of love. The deeper we feel one, the deeper we may feel that which relieves it.
I find it is much more difficult and painful to be lonely, to leave a gaping open space for love to inhabit, for love and life to enter and leave at their own unknowable will, than to be a closed and whole island unto myself–or even to dissappear into the dissolving mouth of the realms beyond physicality and individualization.
I sit with my loneliness, my seperateness, in the cold. I feel them all. If my fingers go numb, I warm them so that I may feel the cold again (and because if I let them sit numb to long, I risk never feeling them again). It is harder to come back to lonliness, once you have detached, than it is to come back to warmth. But I am learning. Or remembering how. Or both. Learning to allow that hole in my heart to exist, to persist, to not stuff it up with superficial salves, or worse, seal it over. Picking away that seal so that I may let someone, or the absence of someone, hurt me, and not just at my command but independent of it as well. Learning not to keep my heart behind bulletproof glass, to let its layer of protection be breathable, penetrable, living, real. This, for me, is a far more difficult lesson than learning to be cold. And when that pain finally comes, when I can finally feel it, feel feel, it crushes me blinding suffocating searing screaming but when I can breath again I know that I will trade in my emptiness, all my nothing, all my hollow for this pain.
I think of a place where these two meet:
Have you ever come in with your lover from a long day in the wet snow, and stripped down and climbed in bed to press your naked, icy bodies together, and felt that heat build between you, sharing the body parts that warm faster with eachother, friction and shivering kisses until there is nothing but fire? Even when it means tolerating your lover’s frozen feet against your just-warmed ones, it’s oceans better than being alone in the cold dark dry with five blankets and a hot water bottle.
Text quoted from “Loneliness” pages 139-140 of THE PATH IS THE GOAL, by Chögyam Trungpa