The cold hard truth Chicago’s winter taught me about finding happiness in challenging situations.
It’s winter in Chicago. I’m jogging down its many alleyways, leaping over ankle-high mounds of snow, being careful not to touch down on the slippery sheets of ice that paint the entire city a midnight blue.
I’m not one to talk about the weather, but living, existing and struggling through a winter in Chicago feels like attempting to find warmth wrapped in a wet blanket in some wintery hell.
The moment you step foot outside, the cold seeps into your flesh like spilled red wine on cashmere — penetrating your eyes and ears and fingertips and bones, permanently existing there until you can submerge yourself under the falling water of a steamy shower or deep below the surface of a hot bath.
I moved to Chicago in June of this year in hopes to find inspiration for my creative writing business and the upcoming launch of my book on poetry and prose and while the city has gifted me a plethora of invaluable little gems and lessons, perhaps its most prized has been taught whilst freezing my ass off, slowly learning to cope with the 3–4 months that are notorious for the city’s most violent and volatile mood swings — winter.
How to find happiness whilst freezing your ass off.
I’ve come to find that weathering a Chicago winter isn’t about trying to stay warm but instead about learning to be okay with (and even happy with) the wildly uncomfortable feeling of always being cold.
Learning to find happiness whilst freezing your ass off isn’t unlike learning to find happiness in any shitty situation. It happens through total immersion…
Or, being fully and totally present in a miserable situation.
Take going for a two-mile jog in the cold, for example.
I kicked off this piece of writing describing something I do often, despite Chicago’s merciless winters… jogging.
I’ve always jogged.
As a writer, it’s a good way to get out of my own head and give my subconscious room to “sort shit out”.
(It’s also a good way to keep my ass from widening, an all too common side-effect of spending most of your days sitting, slinging ink).
In the spring, summer and fall there is something blissful about running outdoors. It’s warm enough to put a nice glimmer of sweat on your working muscles and the planet looks prettier, more vibrant and so very much alive. Everything feels caffeinated.
Unfortunately, in the winter, there is nothing romantic about jogging.
You’re bundled, from head to toe, and when you start working up a sweat, this bundling begins to feel more like a wet sauna versus a warm sanctuary.
As you take the cold air in with each passing step, it sets fire to your nostrils and lips and tongue and gums and throat. Your eyes water and at times the world becomes blurry and to get through it, you do the thing so many adults and therapists and teachers and coaches have told you to do before…
You go to your happy place.
You look to the light at the end of the tunnel.
You give yourself something to look forward to.
Initially, to get through these winter jogs, I would often think about the steamy shower I could take at the end of it all or the hot meal I could devour or the warm blanket and tv show I could curl up to.
And, while like Advil, it provided momentary relief, eventually the pain would come crashing in again. And, more so, what I found was that when I was escaping the pain through the anticipation of pleasure, once I got to the pleasure I wasn’t able to be present in the pleasure… I was again looking towards the next thing.
I think this is one of the biggest challenges humans are up against today…
Being present in both suffering and pleasure.
I once wrote an article about Immanuel Kant, a philosopher who believed that… humans should be treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else.
It’s an extraordinarily thoughtful line and one more relevant than ever before, especially in a world where an individual’s value is measured by the size of their following… social media has turned people into numbers and statistics… the antithesis of Kant’s philosophy.
But, that’s neither here nor there. Kant’s philosophy can easily be applied to moments, both pleasurable and miserable, too.
Moments should be treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else.
Like our fellow humans, people have the tendency to use moments (especially miserable ones) as a stepping stone to something else.
The problem with this is two-fold…
For one, the thing we’re stepping to is rarely what we think it will be. From my experience, the grass is rarely greener.
For two, being that all we have is the present moment, viewing present moments through a future lens is dangerous because it forces us from living in the present and since it is impossible to live in the future, one might be tempted to ask the question… are we really living?
That said, we need to move past the hell/heaven fallacy. That to reach heaven on earth — gradation, high-paying job, retirement — we must walk through hell.
And, more so, we must not look at the challenging situations as a means to something else but instead as an end in themselves.
If every time I step foot outside for a run in the freezing Chicago winter thinking about the hot shower at the end, it will feel colder.
However, if I learn to accept the cold and be present in the cold and smile while I grit my teeth through the cold, I’ll find presence.
We must learn to run in the cold for simply the sake of running in the cold.
But, I digress.
By Cole Schafer.
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