It’s cold out. Tonight, the temperature is dropping to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (F˚), with the wind chill dipping into the teens. I always wonder how wildlife endures these frigid nights. I know my dogs understand the comfort of a warm house and bed, but the wild animals outside don’t have a lot of options. Most animals, however, are not self-aware and cannot catastrophize or feel self-pity. Still, the biting cold is biting.
I admire nature’s toughness. Throughout my life, I have pushed myself to physical extremes in search of this quality within me. Nature does not feel what Zen teachers call the “second arrow,” the human ability to take a real hardship and make it psychologically worse. Nature only distinguishes physical pain from comfort, constantly moving away from the former and towards the latter. And when nature cannot move away from misery, it simply endures.
While pushing ourselves to extremes causes physical discomfort, it provides the valuable benefit of recalibrating our perspective. Some people are unable to deal with being cold or hungry. But after experiencing severe cold and hunger, missing a meal is no longer a big deal. It’s easy to wait two hours for a missed meal when you know what it’s like to go days without food. These minor inconveniences unbalance many people, but an expanded perspective makes you feel grateful that comfort is right around the corner. Depending on your experience, the same event can be a ferocious lion or a tiny gnat. As the saying goes, our minds can make a hell of heaven or heaven of hell.
It’s late, and the deer are bedded in the tall grass, huddled against each other for warmth. They routinely use several bedding areas on my property for this purpose. I imagine this helps raise the deer’s temperature by about ten degrees. And while 30 degrees F˚ would feel like an unbearable sleeping condition with only a thin coat, this difference must feel warm to the deer. It is enough to drive their behavior and likely brings a sense of comfort.
On the other hand, people are used to heated homes and thick blankets. Anything less, and we start to feel uncomfortable. In this sense, constant comfort and convenience can weaken us, while occasional suffering…