By Kathy Simpson
What a fierce winter this has been with record snowfall and Arctic surges so raw they sting. I’ve personally spent a lot of time avoiding it, dashing from one warm place to another, doing my best to keep the cold from penetrating too deeply. I’m grateful for the modern-day conveniences that shield us so reliably from winter’s extremes.
But this begs the question, what might I be missing in my attempts to maintain homeostasis, preferably between 65 and 80 degrees?
A few years ago, I was on a five-day study retreat in Massachusetts during another cold and snowy February much like this one. In the classroom, we were exploring the Buddhist concept of aversion and how it keeps at bay that which we fear, find unpleasant or feel threatened by. Aversion may help assure our survival, yet Buddhism considers it to be an unwholesome response that steels us against clear seeing in the present moment.
I was contemplating this notion as I left the classroom and stepped onto the outdoor path that led back to my room. The cold was nipping at me, and I was about to break into a jog to hasten the trek when it occurred to me: in this very moment, I was experiencing aversion. I stopped and became aware of the resistant state of my mind and body. Then I posed the question to myself: “What is it to be cold?”
Instantly, my body relaxed, my mind softened, and curiosity took hold. I noted what it was to simply stand, feet on the snowy ground, the air brisk and sharp, my exposed skin tingling. Then my awareness broadened outward to the shimmering snow, the barren limbs of the trees, and the blueness of the sky. Had I even noticed the beauty of the day until now? No, I had been bracing myself against it. Now there was no “cold,” there were no labels, only a fresh opening of the senses. It was invigorating. I resumed a brisk walk, but with a sense of joy. The aversion had dissipated.
This brief moment was life-changing, and it’s become my touchstone when aversion arises, as it inevitably does, and I’m tempted to fight or flee – whether from an emotion, an uncomfortable circumstance, an unpleasant sound or smell, or any experience at all. Sometimes the moment passes before I even notice, but when I have the wherewithal to be mindful, to stay without turning away, to let go of labels and preconceptions, the freshness of the moment shines through. It may not always be wonderful, but it’s always enlightening.