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Dive 17: The Joy in Pain
Hey, it’s Alvin!
With the first snowstorm of winter, a friend of mine recently mentioned how he still hasn’t gotten used to the Canadian climate. He’s lived in the country for 10 years.
I’ve lived in Canada for over 30 years and, in a way, I’m still not quite used to it. To give you an idea of what it’s like, here’s a common experience I have every year:
I’m on a warm, cozy bus on the way home after a long day at work. It’s only 6pm, but the sky’s dark as the streetlights cast their orangey glow on the snow-covered streets.
Time to get off the bus.
The snow started falling earlier in the afternoon. City workers haven’t plowed away any of it yet. So, to get home from the bus stop, I have to wade through snow about 1m (3 ft) high. The falling snow reduces visibility to about 50m (150 ft), so I have to be more careful at intersections. Even if drivers see me, the snow on the road reduces traction, so there’s a longer stopping distance… if they can stop at all.
The issue with walking through layers of snow higher than my boots is that it’s easy for snow to get into my boots. There, the snow melts, soaking my socks. If you want to know what it’s like to wear cold, wet socks, soak a pair of socks in water, put them on, then put your shoes on. Imagine walking around with that for 30 to 60 minutes.
Walking through snow is like walking through sand. There’s resistance, so it takes some effort. But the snow’s not the only thing on my mind.
It’s -10°C (14°F). But with the icy wind blowing right in my face, it feels more like -20°C (-4°F). Even though I’m wearing glasses, the freezing breeze dries my eyes. It’s harder to keep them open. When I breathe through my mouth, my throat dries, making me cough. So, I breathe through my nose. Then, every inhale forms icicles in my nose, and every exhale melts them.
Any skin that’s exposed is frostbitten. It’s like being scorched by ice.
You’d think I hate Canadian winters, and sometimes I do. But I also secretly love them for this experience:
I arrive at the door to my home. I open the door, step inside, and close the door behind me. My glasses fog up instantly to the warm 23°C (73°F) room.
I turn on the lights. Then I take off my boots, puffy jacket, woolly hat, and fluffy mittens.
As I pat my rosy cheeks with my warm hands, I can feel they’re cold and chapped. They’ll warm up.
At this point, I might settle down with a cup of warm cinnamon-spiced apple cider or hot (dark) chocolate with a marshmallow in it.
On this day, though, I steep a piping hot cup of sencha tea as I sink into my couch, doing nothing but basking in the warmth of my home.
What would make it even more perfect would be some lit candles and sitting near a roaring fireplace, but I don’t have one.
At some point, I noticed being out in the piercing cold winter climate gives me a much greater appreciation for the simple experience of being in a warm, comfy home. I used to hate the cold all the time. But I learned to tolerate the cold by looking forward to warming up indoors.
I realized something more in recent years, though. The joy and relief of stepping into my home is greater the colder it is outside and the longer I spend in the freezing cold. So, the cold was, at least, part of the reason I loved the warmth. The cold made me happier. This epiphany made me appreciate cold weather much more than I used to. Of course, I have my limits. I won’t go outside naked. But I also don’t necessarily see the cold as a source of misery.
The first part of the story where I was trudging through the snow? For some, it sounds miserable. But I loved it. It was fun. I felt like a kid on a winter adventure.
A friend mentioned how some phenomena are best understood by their opposites. The reason we understand warmth or happiness is because we also understand cold and pain. They’re two sides of the same coin.
This is something I learned from monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who said:
If you can recognize and accept your pain without running away from it, you will discover that although pain is there, joy can also be there at the same time.
From what I understand, other religions acknowledge this too. Even scientists discovered that the same part of the brain affects how we respond to pleasure and pain.
So, in banishing pain to feel joy, we may cause ourselves more pain, not less.
No pain, no gain.
I hope you enjoyed this dive Below the Surface of gamified reading. Reply to email@example.com if you have questions or comments. What do you think about the relationship between pleasure and pain? Let me know what you think, especially if you think I’m full of shit. I deserve to know!!! And I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful holiday. And I’ll see you in the next one.