Disclaimer: This was originally posted in January, 2014, to Hothouse Online Magazine which is sadly no more. After making the discovery of its disappearance from the public domain, I am re-posting the piece here because it deserves a home on the Internet.
Practicing Loving Kindness Towards the Vortex
I have sure heard a lot of complaining going on with this polar vortex thing. I have done my share too. You are probably complaining about the vortex as you read this. Or maybe you are reading this on one or another of your pads while on the bus, and you hear for the umpteenth time a grandma seated next to you beside a younger man, probably her son, probably on the way to fill a prescription, and the grandma is saying, “What is a polar vortex, anyway?”
And the son says back something about how air currents in the arctic have slipped down further south than usual causing half the country to shiver in unison. If he’s a progressive thinker he might say this weather could be traced back to human induced climate change, as an extreme warming event in the polar regions has the capacity to disrupt the mechanisms that usually keep the arctic cold in its place. Or he could have recently listened to Rush Limbough tell his followers that the term polar vortex was essentially invented by fear mongers promoting their leftist agenda. You might want to ask him what exactly this leftist agenda is, and how a hoax about climate change would aid the media in their ongoing leftist assault, but most likely your feet are quite cold, and you have got your scarf wound so tight it practically serves as a gag, and you remind yourself of your tried and true rule to never engage with anybody on the bus.
No matter the city name stamped on the side of this bus that is now crusted over with road salt, the grandma beside you might remind her son that in fact, looking back through her long life she cannot remember such cold. You know that grandmas along with all the rest of us sometimes suffer selective memory. Still, in a lot of places we have not felt such extended cold in a quarter to a half-century. On top of that, the low temperatures come as a shock after basking in over a decade straight of above average global temperatures.
Don’t let me, or that guy or his grandma, or anybody on the bus undermine your predicament though. Your dislike of this cold is justified. Climate change or not, frozen toes or not, seasonally affected to the point of disorder or not, our problems are all relative, and you are plumb worn out with this weather system that seems to have intentionally plopped right down on your head.
I was tired of it too. I will tell you what I did to break out of that coldest of clouds. I started practicing loving kindness.
See, this winter has been so cold, so dark, so full of complaint that I recently found myself in a hole of doom and gloom, perusing my bookshelves for some bit of wisdom or salvation to get me through the bleak weeks ahead. There I stumbled upon a book probably purchased in the depths of some winter past.
The book talks about breathing and gratitude. It is one of those books. Deep in the heart of the polar vortex, with no immediate alternative entertainments, I helped myself to a heavy dose of self-help, and then, as the book suggests, I drew up a gratitude list geared towards my worst enemy. According to the book, I should eventually learn to include my worst enemy in my circle of loving kindness.
After wracking my brain for a worst enemy, an engaging winter pastime in itself, I realize my worst enemy has essentially got me surrounded. As far as enemies go, this cold, this blasted polar vortex, outranks them all.
By practicing loving kindness towards the vortex, I hope to set myself free from the binding traps of inaction and discontent that my disgust for this winter weather have set upon me. Through love I will set myself free. You can go there too. If you haven’t tried it, you should make a gratitude list of your own. Not a list making person? No problem, you can borrow mine. I have been inside revising it all day. I mean, come on, it’s not everyday a girl even manages to change out of her pajamas.
Anyhow, I thank the polar vortex for so very many reasons.
- The polar vortex has forced me into relative stillness and afforded the down time to write this wonderful list. Had other weather conditions prevailed, I might be out doing practically anything.
- The vortex might be enough to kill off some booming populations of pine beetle in the west or deer ticks in the east.
- The cold offers an excuse to snuggle up inside with a coco or a whiskey or whatever.
- This much cold should remind us about trying to save energy. When knit caps, slippers, and long johns become mandatory indoor attire, we get motivated to seek out the drafts and seal them up.
- If you’re brave enough to venture out, you get the fun all to yourself. Winter is about wearing enough of the right kind of clothes. Layer up and go admire the snow sparkle through those few precious hours of daylight.
- Who doesn’t appreciate an excuse to wear wool socks?
- Speaking of precious hours of daylight, check out the sun. I am not only grateful for the sun, I am grateful for my gratitude towards the sun. Follow that?
- Romantic partners become all the better with their bonus offerings of warmth appeal.
- This weather event has proven major enough to cause our country’s hordes of dislocated consumers to notice weather happens. That must have some sort of net positive effect on the nation’s collective psyche?
- The sound of trees popping with cold is a good sound.
- The sound of snow creaking underfoot, it is good too. Where tree popping jolts the spine with electricity, snow creaking adds a mellow accompaniment to the song of winter.
- Chickadees seem all the heartier when seen bopping around on days like these.
- Thinking about fat black bears sleeping right through all this blustering gives me the warm fuzzies inside.
- Let’s face it; frozen nostrils are a delight. Don’t agree? Aside from pain, what other physical experiences hit you with such blunt force? I bet you can count them on one hand. Sex, drugs, and frozen nostrils.
- The modern pleasure of indoor plumbing cannot be overrated.
- Shoveling is good exercise.
- The polar vortex extends to us long stretches of nothing much to do but lurk about in kitchens, and all that cold sure spurs the appetite. Yum to soups and cream sauces, chicken stock, stew and gravy.
- People look cute and funny when bundled up and hunched deep in their knit-ware.
- Steam condenses on the innards of coffee shop windows and makes for the most intimate, cozy atmosphere.
Speaking of intimate, cozy atmospheres, did you miss your stop? Practicing loving kindness can do that to you. Recognize this moment as the first shift in the necessary realignment of your priorities. But, oh, your toes are still cold, and now you have to backtrack three blocks into the biting wind? Isn’t it good to be alive?