Feeling cold

My daughters and I joined an architecture-themed tour group the other day that involved trudging around downtown Portland, OR, in cold, heavy rain, going in and out of fancy hotels filled with wealthy folks in luxurious surroundings—eating expensive food, wearing expensive clothing, sitting on expensive chairs, uninterrupted by children or anyone else (until we arrived, haha, dripping wet, cold, and noisy).

There we were, near the end of the tour, inside the luxurious Benson Hotel, where we were told the woodwork was from a now-extinct species of Russian tree. How strange to stand in a hotel lobby surrounded by the ghosts of trees who no longer exist!

Soon we were taken back outside, and there, on the sidewalk just outside the door, in the covered space where one might stand for a moment just before getting into a cab, stood one of those tall outdoor heaters. I couldn’t feel the cold at all. “Wow,” I said (smugly, idiotically :slight_smile: ) to a friend walking with us, “rich people don’t have to experience cold even when they’re outside!”

I thought of one of my favorite stories from the film “My Dinner with Andre”: Wally Shawn is talking about using an electric blanket in the cold winters of NYC, how he wouldn’t want to give up that electric blanket because it’s a cold, abrasive world out there and the electric blanket is one of the few comforts he has. Andre Gregory replies that he wouldn’t want to use an electric blanket because being cold is wonderful: you feel uncomfortable, maybe you snuggle up next to the person you’re with, get more blankets, and it triggers other things as well, perhaps most especially the awareness that OTHERS must also be cold. Maybe you even wonder how others are handling it.

It connects you to your place, in other words, and triggers empathy.

Of course the Benson Hotel reminded me of this just because it’s even more extreme than my own level of sensory deprivation. I live inside my own heated, windless building, and the experience of those rich folks I’m judging is just a slightly exaggerated version of my own. What I’m getting at is, if I don’t experience the cold rain, if I manage to seal myself off from my world, what part(s) of me goes to sleep? Am I even alive or what?

All kinds of basic life experiences (experiencing cold, hunger, exhaustion, grief) set in motion all kinds of other little worlds in us (some of which we are aware of, some of which we are undoubtedly unaware of). How many of these little worlds never come to life? sacrificed in favor of “comfort”? How many of us are guided away from a rich life by the notion that life is about being comfortable?

Here’s one example I think about from time to time. Many women in our culture are encouraged to avoid experiencing labor during childbirth. What feelings, outcomes, events, stories are triggered inside a woman (and inside the baby) during labor? Oxytocin is one obvious example: the domino effect of hormonal release, one step in labor making way for another and another. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. What kinds of things are set in motion, or not set in motion, based on what is allowed to be experienced?

Anyway here I sit, away from wind and cold, contemplating how experiencing things like wind and cold help wake us up, hold us together in the community of life. Haha.

I wonder if any of you has a story to share about your own experiences with “comfort” and “discomfort,” or with experiencing something vs. avoiding experiencing it?

A very interesting question indeed. In a way, to want to experience (some degree of) discomfort is a luxury in itself.
My mother’s view on me taking survival/primitive skills classes and learning to forage, find/build shelter etc. was that she had no desire to do so, because she had experienced enough discomfort and hunger in WW II. Still, it reminded her of certain activities like cooking beets for their sugar and she was happy to do so together so I would be able smell the smell that accompanied those difficult times and to taste what she had tasted.

My view on seeking out such things is that yes, going through hardships individually or as a community can and will indeed bring profound experiences and connect people in a powerful way.
However, if we want these experiences to be truly profound, they should not be “games”, i.e. situations that you can get out of by “using a safeword” which brings in the rescue team. The circumstances should be such that there are real risks involved. And that we must be prepared to accept that serious injuries or worse may occur.
To me this means that we should be prepared to not only celebrate success, but also to grieve and mourn together. This is hard in any society, and perhaps even harder to realize in a society where children are no longer children of the village but only of a single couple.

From all the stories I’ve heard tell about the advantages and disadvantages of “progress”, one I recall above all is one about an Inuit elderly lady. She was asked what she thought of all the changes that had taken place in her lifetime and of how the landscape had changed and been polluted. She said “but our children don’t die anymore”.

So I’m just very grateful that we have that choice and that it is very important to pass on all of those skills that will help our children not only cope with and survive cold, hunger and other adversities, but also to help them build community that will support its grieving members.

So too am I grateful that there are many people out there who are supporting their children and loved ones to seek out their own adventures, knowing full well that there always is that slight chance they won’t come back unscathed.

We have the luxury that we don’t have to send out our young ones on long initiation journeys in order to prepare them for life and that young people are usually free to choose to seek out wilder adventures if they want to. On the other hand, allowing our children to just sit and slide their fingers over touchscreens gives them very superficial experiences, literally, and no preparation for handling any adversity.

When you starve, even the plainest foods make your mouth water. When you thirst, water tastes like honey. When you’re exhausted, just falling asleep is almost orgasmic. When you and your kin face trial after trial, you’re filled with joy and gratitude being alive and together. You can’t truly appreciate the wonders of life until you’ve faced real danger and pain. The pain can often become a pleasure on its own, as the hungry anticipation leading up to the feast. You have not lived until you’ve almost died.