The Wrath of Winter
Why winter exists.
I have a friend who hates the winter. He’s from India and so cannot understand why anyone would want to live in a part of the world that experiences an extended period of dark and cold. He’s only in New York for school, and he’s doing everything in his power to move to Southern California when he graduates. He’ll even move back to India if he has to.
Of course, if you’re trying to live a Bacchanalian life throughout winter, then it will seem like treachery. The warmth of your frivolity will eventually give way to the deathly cold. Like a drug, you’ll need more and more distraction, eventually becoming detached from yourself and your environment. You’ll be like a priest who tries so hard to suppress his desire for women that the desire becomes mangled and manifests as pedophilia.
Therefore, don’t try to avoid winter. It won’t work anyway. Instead, let’s submerse ourselves in winter. Get in touch with the fact that our senses are going to be miserable no matter what we do. The only escape is to seek a deeper satisfaction. The sharp, cold winter wind is a whip that keeps us in line. We become serious about life in a way we never would have if it was always 82 degrees and the park smelled of ovulating girls.
So as we forgo the instant gratification of warmth and sun, we also forgo the instant gratifications of fat and lazy summer habits to live a bizarro life.
This is why I love winter. Instead of fighting it, I work with it, and so winter works with me.
Here’s how I do it.
Take cold showers
A common way people fight against winter is to scald themselves in their morning shower. But in upside-down winterland, we go down to go up. Hot showers only delay the inevitability of cold, and they make the cold feel colder. If, however, our skin turns purple every morning in an ice shower, we don’t get cold until the temperature drops in the low teens. More importantly, we get in touch with the fact that there will be nary a moment of pleasure for the next few months.
I make a habit of fasting periodically throughout the year, but I step it up during winter. It makes sense. We’re the only mammals who eat more during the winter, and we’re the only mammals who get cellulite. Routinely go 20 to 24 hours without eating. The wind chill won’t seem so chilly, we’re compelled to seek pleasure through deeper and more meaningful experiences, and we emerge in April lean and mean.
No alcohol or sugar
Booze and sweets reduce the pain and loneliness of winter. That’s great if Oprah is our spiritual advisor, but if we’re not afraid of getting in touch with the possible meaninglessness of existence, it’s good to lay off the comforts. If we’re going to work our way out of any sort of metaphysical strife, it will need to be through work, not through nummies.
Limit internet and television
We can skip across the surface of winter by distracting ourselves with an OCD internet loop and Netflix queue. Or we can stare down the bedroom wall and submit to the boredom, thus allowing a genuine emotion to come to the surface.
When I was 10-years-old I visited Yellowstone in the winter. During the tour of the park, our group saw a lone wolf out in the distance. The guide told us not to be afraid. Wolves spend most of the winter conserving energy and biding their time for when food is more plentiful. Wolves go through their own kind of hibernation, but without sleep. “Then why don’t the wolves just sleep?” I asked. “Because then they couldn’t get angry,” the guide smirked.
I receive emails from young men with a wide range of problems, mostly personal but also professional. Nearly every one of their issues could be boiled down to anxiety and shame—these two emotional barriers stand in the way of what they want. But the anxiety and shame are going to be there, at least at first, so the trick is to get in touch with our desires and focus on them. As we feed desires with attention, they grow larger and larger, eventually plowing through the barriers. But this won’t happen if we’re always blanketed in the warmth of wine or the comfort of a cookie.
Winter understands this, and that’s why it exists.