Always it’s cold on this mountain!
Every year, and not just this.
Dense peaks, thick with snow.
Black pine-trees breathing mist.
It’s summer before the grass grows,
Not yet autumn when the leaves fall.
Full of illusions, I roam here,
Gaze and gaze, but can’t see the sky.
~ Han-shan (“Cold Mountain”, an 8th century Chinese poet and wild mountain sage)
I step outside into a cold, clear dawn. Its crisp and the world is very still. Frost covers anything left outside and the dark green pines are delicately frosted like wedding cake. I breath in and feel the cold air hit my lungs, hurting my nostrils which is a sure sign that it is cold. I set up my meditation spot in its usual place – the porch of the abandoned double-wide next to where our bus is parked – and wrap myself in a sleeping bag, settling in to meditate. Breathing in and breathing out, counting breaths, I focus and settle down. Quickly I become focused on my finger tips and toes which are cold and getting colder, at least that is what I feel. After fifteen or twenty minutes, I bow, get up, put my cushion and sleeping bag away and head back into the bus. Damn my toes and feet are cold and hurting. I wonder how cold it is outside as I plop down on a stool (an upside down five-gallon bucket) next to the woodstove. Cozy and warm.
While I didn’t know how cold it was in terms of degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, I sure knew how cold it was in terms of body and sensation. As I sat there warming up, I wondered, “Did I need to know what the number was or could this experiencing of cold be enough?” My mind kept wanting to look up how cold it was, which would come from a local weather station and might not represent how cold it was at our place (known locally as one of the coldest places in the valley). “Well I could just go and buy a thermometer at the hardware store,” I thought.
Our minds or at least mine anyway is always searching for an answer, for an explanation for things. Where does this come from? Is it a hallmark of human consciousness or is it a vain attempt at making sense of a world that is ultimately unknowable? Do we seek out the “truth” because we are scared shitless about both the uncertainly of our lives and the certitude of its finality?
I found that I had to make an effort to just let go of the impulse to know just how cold it was. Andy why did I need to know? Probably just so that I could congratulate myself or boast to others about how tough I am.
The search for understanding and knowledge is not a bad thing and in fact it’s a wonderful characteristic of humanity. What I am discovering, however, is that I can know in a lot of different ways including what I think is the deepest way – not knowing. This not knowing is an open-hearted way of being that allows our life to unfold naturally, with us as co-conspirator rather than absolute controller. The insatiable drive to know everything combined with the fact that we cannot possible know everything means that we are left always feeling a bit dissatisfied. Did I really need to know what the temperature was when I already knew, in a very direct way, just how cold it was? What would this knowing do that not-knowing could not?
I pondered these thoughts as I held a hot cup of coffee in my hand and then I just put another log on the fire, letting go of desire to know how cold it was that morning. The subsiding pain in my fingers and toes told me all I really needed to know anyway.
written by David LaFever