The Cold of Winter, the Heat of Summer, and our Neighbors are not Abstractions

It’s snowing again. It has snowed heavily for a day or two, lightly for over a week. More snow. More cold.

 

Yet, it’s beautiful. White flakes fill the sky. When the wind speaks, the flakes whip around, the air itself excited.

 

How can we look at the snow and simply enjoy it, see only the white flakes, and see no other time but this? Back in November, the first snowfall was exciting. I couldn’t help but let my eyes delight in it. But now?

 

The snow and cold is what we mean by winter. Winter is not just a date on a calendar and time not just an abstraction. Dogen Zenji, a 13th century Japanese Zen teacher said, in reference to spring, “The time we call spring blossoms directly as an existence called flowers.” The time we call winter falls directly as an existence called snow. If we don’t like the cold, we can’t suddenly decide to love it, but we can love the fact that we can feel. Then, although we won’t suddenly warm up, rip off our winter clothes and run naked in the snow, we can be naked in our response and dress accordingly.

 

When we feel something we don’t like or that threatens us or is hurtful, we turn away. This is crucial to our survival. And when the threat is ongoing, we might want to turn away from anything or everything that reminds us of the danger. This can give us needed relief whether we’re facing immediate danger, trauma, or a malignant political administration.

 

But also crucial is noticing⎼ are we protecting ourselves from the threat, or from feeling the threat? Or from both? It’s awful to fear our fear so much we can’t see clearly what frightens us. We then don’t take needed action. As much as we are able in each moment, we need to see clearly enough to act.

 

Even though it was cold and snowing, I shoveled the path from my house and then took a walk up our hill. It was tough going. My wife and I live on a fairly steep rural road. A neighbor, who I had gotten to know slightly since I started taking daily walks during the pandemic, was out shoveling. After greeting him, he said to me, “Where is global warming now?” I thought, at first, he said it as a joke, but then realized it was a barb. We had had discussions about the climate before.

 

He said natural events, like volcanic eruptions, magma and the clouds they cause are warming the earth, not humans. I replied that global warming did not mean there would no longer be snow or cold. It meant there has been a raise in average temperature all over the world and an increase in destructive weather events, all happening too fast for it to be explained by volcanoes or other non-human processes.

 

I realized he wasn’t really listening to me and, distressingly, I didn’t have all the facts at hand. So I tried what I thought was common sense. “Isn’t it logical that all the air pollution caused by human manufacturing, fossil fuel energy, etc. would cause problems? That the released gases like carbon dioxide would create a sort of hothouse effect over the earth? And that we bear most of the responsibility for this increase in global temperature?”

Vocanic eruptions

He didn’t seem to know or want to know anything about carbon dioxide. So we switched gears. I wished him a good day and continued on my walk, resolved to go online when I got home to update my knowledge of global warming….

 

To read the whole piece, go to The Good Men Project.

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