On the cold (or embracing an ally)

Fall seemed to last about a week. Warm seventies gave way to fifties, then a sudden drop to freezing, and there we’ve remained.

The Eugene that has accustomed to Florida aches for the sun. I forget how the winter creeps as the light hides. Down south, the days never seemed to vary much from the 12hr night/day cycle, maybe an hour or two either way at the solstices. I haven’t longed for the sun like this since my time in New Hampshire.

My movement practice has changed dramatically, along with the seasons. The fine motor skills required to loose an arrow are challenged greatly by the cold and thus I have an excuse for not practicing archery in weeks. I find myself huddling indoors, attracted to the warmth like a moth to flame. I cannot recall the last time I had an earnest, full-body sweat. Instead, I practice gymnastics when I can and this keeps some movements strong but there is a cohesion that is missing. I have slacklined once in the past three months. I rarely touch a barbell. I have not grappled in months. In some ways, I feel lost. There’s nothing to practice for except multiple-choice questions.

Except now, I have the cold. I began the practice down in Florida, when I deeply missed cool mornings during the July heat. Following the Wim Hof Method, I learned some basics and then developed my own spin on cold showers, apneic breathing practice, and stretching. Then, like most people, I found what worked and promptly stopped.

A freezing walk to the movie theater reminded me of this practice. On Friday, my loving partner took me on a date night. First, we enjoyed a couple’s massage in downtown Bethlehem after a long day of clinic and lecture. Then, we enjoyed too much delicious Thai food in a cozy restaurant on our way to the movie theater. There, we walked a good distance from the car to the lobby. During this walk, I recalled the importance of active participation in the cold.

I could walk and shiver and try to endure the cold piercing through my sweatshirt. This would get me through the parking lot, though I might be a bit grumpy and I might be a bit stiff by the end of the walk.

Or, I could help myself. Inhale and flex. Exhale and relax. Breathing carefully and in measured amounts. Each breath requires focus, lest the chill take hold.

I can put my head down and grind through or I can feel the cold and meet it with warmth. I know which I prefer, now that I have some reps under my belt. The cold can be an ally. It reminds me to stay engaged.

Back when Frank was healthy, he would meow incessantly. Sometimes, this was endearing. Other times, infuriating. You could never really get him to stop. Picking him up and moving him would quiet him for a time, but then he’d shamble back to you and resume his droning noise.

On one particular morning, I decided to enjoy his noise. I won’t get him to stop, so why waste that energy? Instead, I tried to take a breath every time he meowed. I found myself in the middle of washing dishes and that he had been telling me to breathe. Then, I’d notice the tension in my body and the delight of a full and relaxed breath. I would thank Frank with a pat on the head. He would blankly stare back and meow an acknowledgement.

The cold is here. It will remain from now until March, if not later. I can embrace this reality: tending the fire, breathing through the experience, and smiling as I do so. Wishing for a different environment will only detach me from what gifts I have now.

And come spring, I may find myself longing for the cold again, much like Frank’s gross meow.

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