A monk asked Tozan, “How can we escape the cold and heat?”
Tozan replied, “Why not go where there is no cold and heat?”
“Is there such a place?” the monk asked.
Tozan commented, “When cold, be thoroughly cold; when hot, be hot through and through.
On a day like this, when it is around 44 degrees C with the humidex, and you sweat just sitting still, this Zen saying comes to mind. So many people try to escape the heat, much as they try to escape other less than pleasant aspects of their lives. Some people even try to escape the “good” things that happen too. We have developed all sorts of energy wasting devices in order to maintain our “comfort” levels. Now, I realise that I have central heating and drive a car to work in the countryside, and so contribute to the energy consumption that these devices use. But I will never, ever get air-conditioning, for example.
Growing up in Canada, I loved the summers as much as I loved the winters. It is -30 in the winter, +30 in the summer – quite a temperature extreme. In the UK, where I now live, there isn’t as much of a temperature flux between the seasons, but we do occasionally get a hot spell in the summer, and a cold spell in the winter, which does get everyone talking about (or complaining about). However, I digress – I always found it odd that people wanted to escape the season.
In the wintertime, we long for those hot summer days, and vice versa. We always want, or always think we want, something else. That something else will make things better. In the sticky, sweaty heat of summer, it will always be better if we have air-conditioning. What I propose is that it isn’t – it’s just cooler.
I know a lot of people would say that being cooler IS better, but it isn’t – it’s just cooler. Problems that we have are still with us, and the air-con has its own problems as well, with health and well-being that affects some more than others. I know also that for some it is a godsend.
However, what if we spent all the energy we put into fighting the heat into simple acceptance of the heat? On a sweltering, sticky day, instead of running to the air-conditioned stores, what if we just accepted the sticky, sweatiness of it all? I often find that when I do, I’m a lot cooler, even though that isn’t my goal. When I’m hot, I just be hot. Then it isn’t a problem for me anymore, because I’m not trying to be anything else. I have a little more trouble being cold – if I’m cold, I do put on an extra sweater, for example. The zen saying doesn’t advocate hypothermia, or heatstroke – it’s more of an analogy to life, perhaps not to be taken so literally, but still darned good advice.
Instead of trying to escape our lives, if we totally immersed ourselves in them, and accepted them for what they are, then perhaps things would be a little different for us. And in a good way. What do you think?