The Cold and Rain (A Love Letter to Minnesota)

Shoveling snow off the car!
Shoveling snow off the car!

Growing up in the north, winter always was the major season. Minnesota sometimes has snow all the way from October till May. With that being said, it’s hard to feel like a northern without mentioning the cold. It defines us – gives us a common distaste. We experience it together every year.

Where I’m from, we’re always talking about the weather. We bond over how we managed to get out of our driveways with a foot and half of snow. I once had my car doors freeze shut and I had to grab an extension cord and hair dryer. Yes, I was outside in the cold, at 6 in the morning, defrosting my car locks. It was awful.

Since moving down to South Carolina, I feel like I’ve lost that social aspect of my life. Here the weather barely drops below freezing. A friend from here had never even seen snow. Instead of winter being defined by snowplows, starting your car fifteen minutes before you leave home, or using a broom to clear the newly fallen snow off the roof of your car, it just gets cold here.

The days get shorter. The leaves don’t change color, they just fall from the trees and rot on the ground. There’s a dryness that keeps the air feeling sharp. When it does rain, it becomes gloomy. There isn’t any jokes about snowfall or any hope about getting school cancelled.

Everyone that I work with comes from different parts of the country. My coworkers are from New York, Alabama, California, Texas, and everywhere else. Winter means something different for them – whether that be holidays or, for my friends in Florida, waves of travelers hoping to escape winter for a few days.

See, in the north, winter isn’t loved. Facebook floods with agony when the first snow falls. There’s a collective groan because everyone knows they’ll soon have to plow their driveways again. Yet, we’re together in our stewing.

In Charleston, we’re caught in sort of purgatory. Winter isn’t loved here either. We no longer go to the beaches on the weekends or walk downtown in shorts. We put on our jackets, in the 40 degree weather, and stay inside. But it’s different from the north.

I think there’s an appreciation for winter in Minnesota. It isn’t loved, by any means, but it’s an inevitable part of our lives. We must face winter each year. In each direction we look there’s either a ‘winter wind advisor’ or, yet again, an incoming onslaught of snow. Greeting the cold is almost a reminder that life has difficulties – we must all face it together. When spring arrives, we know that we’ve conquered something. We’ve grown in a way.

In Charleston, we’re not quite “winter”. We’re between the north, which has mountains and snow, and the south, where we could escape winter’s cold breath. We’re entangled in a mix. The temperature drops but nothing really changes. The days get dark but we don’t really have any struggle. There aren’t many funny stories you can tell about a cold, snowless winter day here.

In the Minnesota, you can go to a Target anytime January through March, and expect to see cars running in the parking lot. It’s so cold that people leave their vehicles running while they shop. Their doors aren’t locked and you can spot each car that is left on. The exhaust leaves a plume of smoke that reminds you how cold it really is.

If you take boiling water into the Minnesotan winter and throw out in the air, it turns instantly into vapor. The water from your cup never reaches the ground, it goes straight into a fog. When you want a drink cooled off, you walk outside and put it into a snowbank for a few minutes. If you own cats, their company at night is invaluable to keeping your feet warm.

While, yes, there is a lot of hate tossed towards winter in the north, I think it’s a lot better than the cold and the rain. Secretly I think we love the snow, broomball, and wearing flip-flops the moment the temperature reaches 45 degrees. There’s something we can call our own about all of it. We’ve all survived the fallout and winter’s cold grasp. We can appreciate sleeping with six blankets on or going for a walk in 5 layers.

It’s bizarre, perhaps that’s the reason we love it, because inside we know that we could leave. We could disappear from the glistening snow. Why would anyone want to go to work in -30 degree weather or wait for their car to warm up? I think we love it because it’s absurd to think about living there. Where else can you freeze your hands to your steering wheel? Where else can you rejoice about seeing the snowplow clear the two feet of snow that had fallen last night?

It’s absurd that anyone would want to experience Minnesota but for those who live there, it’s really something else. The winter is a challenge that we overcome each year in the north, and I miss that. I miss Minnesnowta. Exploded cans of soda in the trunk and all.

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P.S. That picture at the beginning of the post was taken by my loving mother, who mocked and videotaped me while I shoveled.

 

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1 Year

This past year has been a roller-coaster of emotions and experiences. I’ve been in the deepest pits and on top of the world. I’ve found myself unable to function for days while others I’ve motivated myself beyond belief. A couple of weeks ago I wrote this down:

The truth in the game is that you are not able to be mentally repressed by anyone other than yourself. As long as you think that you’re trapped, you will be. Drop your own chains and set your gun down. You were never at war with anyone but yourself.

There are times when you will be driving and a cliff will appear out of nowhere. You’ll find yourself falling into a dark pit. In these moments, you can be your own worst enemy. You can fight a war against yourself and that’s hardest battle a person can face. There’s no reason for that sort of bloodshed.

This past year has been filled with those mysterious cliffs and I’ve found myself falling more times than I’d like to count. I’ve also discovered that I tend to be the one who drags myself down. I could be standing in 1 inch of water, but I will still find a way to drown. And, by god, if anyone told me to stand up I’d push my face further into the water.

It took a year of suffering and half a year of blogging to realize this: you may find yourself in horrible circumstances but you will always come back up. You will heal and life will go on. Depression is a very real thing but you will move past it.

Nobody could have helped me last September. After all, I was in the deepest pit of my life. I couldn’t find anyone who understood my situation. I was torn between desperately wanting consolation and wanting everyone around me to shut up. More than anything I felt alone.

I think that we isolate ourselves because we think we suffer alone. We think that our struggles are unique or that others will shame us. We don’t want others to see us as weak.

The truth is, you’re never alone. We all suffer, and while I may not fully understand your situation, I’m here for you. You may experience horrible things in your life but you will move past them. You will heal and you will feel better one day. If there’s only one thing I’ve learned in this past year, it’s that we all have an unimaginable capacity to heal.

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Unfortunately tonight I lack an order to the words that are flowing through my head. I wish I could write more but I haven’t digested my thoughts yet. Days like today feel chaotic because I have so much emotion but I don’t have a way of letting it out. I’m not short on feelings but I can’t bring them to a line of text. There isn’t that organization to box how I feel right now. Waiting until I figure this all out will have to suffice. Don’t worry, I’m fine. I’m just trying to find myself and make sense of my life.

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To live is to suffer

It’s odd how when we suffer, we can gain a lot of insight into our lives. It’s not until everything goes wrong that we see what was going right before. When our car finally breaks down, we notice how well it was running before. We hate our job but we find that we don’t have any other job we like better.

To suffer is a condition of life. We must constantly tear down and rebuild everything around us. If we don’t tear it down, the walls will crumble anyways. The impermanence of everything assures that. By accepting life as a struggle it ceases to be one.

I wrote last night about a lot of the struggles I was going through. My car broke down, my jaw kept me up all night, and a lot more things were at the forefront of my mind. However, I was unconditionally accepting of it all and let it pass by. I accepted the suffering as part of life’s way of challenging me as a person.

When we stagnate, we become ignorant. When we stop all struggling and suffering, we neglect change. We become ignorant of the things around us. By suffering, we embed compassion and understanding in everyone.

This does not mean that to suffer is good. Rather, suffering is part of life and as much as we wish for only growth, we also have to take a few steps back sometimes. To suffer and to mentally reject it, we fall into another self-defeating track. We must realize that although we will suffer through our lives, we will also have great joys and great losses.

To have is also to lose. To have loved is also to have lost. In great happiness, there is also great sadness. As Osho describes, it is like a great tree; happiness grows towards the sky and branches out, while the sadness buries itself into the ground to form roots. The greater the happiness, the greater the sadness. In everything is its opposite.

Once we realize that life will inexplicably move on, we can accept life as it is and the suffering is not as bad. We can help others who suffer and enjoy life in a different way.

Remember, when you’re going through a tough time, it may become worse but it will definitely become better. Life challenges you and sometimes you will feel like you’re peddling backwards, you’ll feel like everything is wrong, but I assure you, your life is moving forwards. When you struggle, you learn how not to struggle, then you struggle with something else (ad infinitum). See the process as part of life and you will relieve a lot of stress.

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Don’t let life get you down

Sometimes stress can be overbearing. For the past two weeks I’ve been stressing over a test I had to take today. It has consumed my mind constantly and I’ve been waiting to get it over with. After taking the test and passing my car broke down while I was driving a friend home. So I had to get it towed and find an auto-shop down here in Charleston. Then I had to call friends and see who would drive through the insane traffic to get us. After I got home my wisdom teeth started hurting – something I should have taken care of a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I don’t have a car or any friends with Advil. Tomorrow I’m going to have to walk to work and leave 30 minutes early.

However, none of this is getting me down. This is part of life, and as Osho teaches, we should accept life as it comes to us. Yes, everything is unfortunate. However, I’m happy that there are so many gracious people around me to help when it gets difficult. I’m grateful for everything right now. Sometimes life is difficult and stress is overbearing – but when we struggle against what’s happening, we suffer.

I do this by accepting what’s happening and removing the extra or the interpretations. “My car broke down today” instead of “my stupid car broke” or “this would happen to me“. I could label things as good and bad but instead I choose just to feel it without the label. Inside that feeling I don’t feel good or bad, it just is what happened.

Sometimes stress is overbearing and we’re blindsided by the things that life throws at us. Sometimes it’s okay and sometimes we breakdown. It’s important to let life just flow. It happened and I’ve moved on. I’m here now. That’s all the world has to offer us, deal with the situation at hand and let go of it.

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Let go

One of the things I struggle with, and I think many of us struggle with this, is trying to find ground. When we have situations that discomfort us, we resort to certain things. Stereotypically, women love chocolate after break-ups. That’s a ground. When someone dies, a ground may be looking at photographs of them.

As I’ve been reading further into Buddhism, I’m finding that a huge part of our suffering as humans comes from this grip towards a ground. We try to find solace in materials things or memories in our heads. The truth is, there is no ground. There’s no point of absolute stability that you can stand on.

By accepting that there is no ground, or replacement for what we’ve lost, we can move on to to the next stage of our being. We can accept what is.

This is my struggle right now – I search for a ground and I’m tired of trying to find peace. I’m tired of trying to find solace. I place my ground as producing art, driving my car pointless around, and, mostly, by giving time. I think that if I reach for time and think everything will be better in a few years, I don’t have to deal with what is happening now. I find comfort knowing parts of my life will end. That’s a ground that I struggle with.

Realize that there are no true grounds in life. A ground is a replacement for what truly is in front of you. It’s the excuse to not accept what is in your life. Things are hard, trust me I know, but things are much easier once you accept them. Stop trying to hold onto everything.

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Become Intimate with Your Fears

Lately I’ve been reading a lot from “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. It’s a rather small book that seems almost too small to be significant. The book almost feels like it’s an older novel in size. This contrasts with how big the ideas are inside.

Pema came to my life when I needed her the most; amid the mental crisis of moving to a new place and hitting the restart button on most of my routines. There is excitement in going to a new place, but, for me, there is also the fear that I may not like what I’m stuck with.

When I was flying from Minneapolis to Charleston, I began reading. The way that everything is explained goes much more than typical Eastern philosophy. Sometimes you get those books where you have to interpret what the author is try to say because they don’t have English grammar down. Pema doesn’t have that problem at all! All of her examples are totally applicable too!

Basically “When Things Fall Apart” is a self-explaining name. The book is about crisis and when we react to those crisis rather than respond. Inside, Pema explains how fear is something that shows you that you’re alive and progressing. It’s something to become intimate with and understand.

Part of my struggle, and what I believe a lot of other people face, is that when we face the unknown, many of us become subdued. We climb into our shells and retract from the world. Pema explains that through fear, we can realize a lot about ourselves. We can look and see what we are attached to. We can see that we are attached to much more than we think.

Over time, we can release this fear of losing what we think we have, and we can accept fear as an emotion. So much of what we fear is illogical or creates unnecessary suffering for us. By paying attention to our fears and our worries, we can move past them.

Each time I’ve gone somewhere new in the last year (I’ve moved 4 times around the country), I’ve been afraid of the unknown. When I’m about to move, I become gloomy and act as if everything around me is coming to an end. Especially when I moved to north Texas. This fear destroyed the pleasure of getting to know a new place, and enjoying my last days in Mississippi with my friends.

By realizing this is cyclical, I can become intimate with that fear. Realizing that growth doesn’t happen without change. Fear and worrying go hand in hand; by worrying about moving and leaving things behind, I fear what I will experience in the new place. By fearing what I will experience, I worry about things that may never happen.

The silly thing is that fear is of itself. Let me explain. Fearing fear is another great fear. We realize that we are afraid and it amplifies itself. That fear compounds and becomes much more simply because we have a bad relationship with fear. We are afraid of being afraid.

That is exactly what “When Things Fall Apart” is about. Changing that, and realizing that fear is nothing to be afraid of. The cycle of fear is becoming afraid of something, then becoming more afraid because you are afraid.

Become intimate with your fear and when you are afraid, acknowledge it. Realize that you fear something and accept it. Don’t try and fight it or reject it. Simply think about the feeling of being afraid and why you are afraid. Your fear may not dissolve but you will stop being afraid of being afraid. Learn to be intimate with your fears!

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