Dense Peaks Thick With Snow

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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.

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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

4 thoughts on “Dense Peaks Thick With Snow

  1. Jim Hight

    Awesome Dave. I notice when Birgit and I were last camping in Death Valley, it got pretty cold some nights, which was a pain for making breakfast (although not as bad as the windy dusty mornings). I wanted to know the exact temperature, like it would somehow give me some control or extra ability to cope with my discomfort.

    We did light a fire usually, and that helped a bit, but mostly we had to wait for the sun to really get warm. I’m glad you have that indoor wood stove!

    But your point about not knowing is deep and true. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to be an expert on every damned thing, feeling bad when I don’t know something, feeling a little lift when I do (like how to convert C to F: multiply by 1.8 and add 32! Aaah I feel so much better, LOL). Not knowing seems vulnerable, but it’s really the place of deep openness and power.

    BTW, in your first sentence, “its” should be “it’s.” Ooooh that feels so good, LOL.

    Like

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