#55 - live the seasons
Even the cold and hard ones.
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One year ago I wrote about my desire to reclaim winter, or what I referred to as the brittle cold. Upon reading it back, I can hear the conviction in my voice from being absolutely spent by the power a season held over my well-being and I am amused by the unintended consequence of this newsletter being a kind of ledger for my micro-evolutions.
After spending nearly two weeks in Finland, in temperatures from -9°C to -30°C, I can confidently say that I bagged my intention. Under a pink haze from a shy sun, where the sky and pine trees reached for one another, the snow spooned branches and fields, and all that swayed became sculpture, we hiked and biked, snowshoed and skied, wore snowsuits and cold-dipped in frozen over lakes like the locals. It was exhilarating.
On several occasions I paused to catalogue the feeling of invincibility when my body warmed despite the polar conditions as we neared and inhabited the Arctic Circle. Hastily, I would take off my gloves to document the blinding beauty of a town cloaked in icing or to capture a moment that was less about climate and more about an uphill resistance to doing uncomfortable and hard things. At times, the visibility was so low and the wind so hush, there was no sense of distance, and it felt as if we were the only two people left standing on the planet.
But it wasn’t all victorious, and even after investing in good gear over the last year, we ended up making trips to the department store to buy new gloves and balaclavas after I erupted in a panic attack one afternoon. Long story short, while taking a break from biking to grill some vegan sausages on an open fire in the middle of the woods, the accumulated sweat on my body turned into an internal air conditioner. Then, when we arrived at the wilderness lodge we were staying at in Saariselkä, our guide took one look at our warm costumes and quietly whispered, this is not going to work, escorting us to the ‘wintering’ room - full of snowsuits, hats and boots for well-meaning tourists who could not have known what they were getting themselves into.
If anything, winter is a lesson in preparation, humility and thresholds. An annual reminder that the elements can destroy our fragile bodies if we don’t understand or respect its nature. Given this very clear reality, it makes the human urge to dominate and conquer the land and its mercurial climate both foolish and strangely admirable in its hubris.
Thoreau was famously fascinated by the ‘endless cycle of seasons, the endless pursuit of self-improvement and the relationship between them’. He wrote Walden after nine years of obsessively observing the details of the natural world in his journal, setting up appointments with plants while living in the woods to take note of the exact dates they bloomed, when the birds above them left and returned, and how deep the artery of streams and ponds between them ran. ‘We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day. We must make root, send out some little fibre at least, even every winter day,’ he wrote shortly after Christmas in 1856.
Like Camus, Thoreau reflected on how the extreme polarity of winter would provoke the other end as a kind of summer within. ‘There is a slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill,’ he wrote in an essay from 1843 called A Winter’s Walk. This observation bears similar to the concept of yin and yang from Ancient Chinese philosophy, which recognizes that ‘contrary and opposite forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world’, and ultimately, ‘give rise to each other.’ A swirling indoor fire paired with wool lined socks feel like gifts from the beyond because of the thresholds that winter takes us towards.
In the North-East, we are living through this annual season alongside another, perhaps unexpected, period in the pandemic. It seems as though culturally when we thought we were exhausted before, we were bluffing. At this threshold, there are no reserves left. And within this emptying is also any remaining capacity for reason, compassion and understanding. It turns out, we need a lot of energy to even begin to care about the interiors of another’s experience.
Though we have the practice of restraint and responsibility from the the last two years, we don’t have the right gear. Practically, gear looks like access to free and accessible testing, paid sick leave and solutions for parents that go beyond simply empathy. But more holistically it is an acknowledgement of our dwindling mental and emotional health, our desperate need for community and support, our unwavering desire for intimacy and connection, and a culture that gives people some god damn grace and slack.
While walking back to our hotel in Rovaniemi (the official hometown of Santa Claus) after a failed attempt in chasing the Aurora, an itch arose down the middle of my back. Between wearing five layers of clothes and two layers of gloves, I could not reach it but it persisted viciously, screaming for relief. After three attempts of trying to scratch this itch while protecting the carefully crafted heat in my body, my patience flagellated and I had a full on tantrum about winter in the middle of a well-plowed path. In my defeat, I childishly told winter I hate you, but I think what I was really trying to say was, why is this so hard.
A global pandemic would be challenging under any circumstances, but the lack of imagination in measures that might have also considered our emotional and spiritual needs is short-sighted and disappointing. We may never know the total number of lives we defended against untimely death by collectively taking on pandemic measures. But we do know, viscerally, the consequences of the state seeing humans as one-dimensional beings in policy considerations.
My intention to reclaim winter at its core is part of a broader project of peace and surrender to that which is. Thoreau advised his readers to ‘live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.’ Surrender is not approval or a substitute for resistance. Rather, it is an act of allowing one polarity to give rise to another; to allow the present to plant a knowing within. Must we know this season of existence, to appreciate, fight for and inspire its contrary? How might we rapture in play and give to our people having known their absence for one season too long? Will we remember this when the next party proposes to cut taxes and with it the infrastructure of care and support?
If you are angry right now, it is not without validity - even as the most vulnerable, remain vulnerable. Disabled, chronically ill and working-class communities experience no disease as mild. In our fury, I hope we remember this uncomfortable season as a critical precursor to the next one, which will arrive eventually, as it always does. May we use this friction to erode that which is already decaying and transform the very conception of what it means to be human - even when the forecast is chilly.
My sis, Rhea Mehta launched her EP, Soul Ceremony today, which is a compilation of ancient Sanskrit mantras set against contemporary melodies to guide and accompany you on your meditations. Rhea started the journey of reconnecting with her voice and the mantras that she grew up hearing within the walls of her home a few years ago (while also casually building a health tech company) and its been so special to witness how her passion for holistic health and healing has taken so many forms. You can listen on Spotify or wherever you get your music. Light up your mornings friends!