Lessons # 5 / December 2012
Winter Lesson – Letting Go of Fear
Winter’s classroom is filled with lessons and one of the most powerful ones I learned took place in a patch of woods owned by the Case Western University in Cleveland, OH. My daughter, Ashirah, and I had learned to construct wilderness shelters that fall and were eager to put out skills to the test. It so happened that the Case Western University owned a large piece of land in the country that included softball fields, picnic areas and a 100 acre patch of woods with large beech trees. We spent several days before the first snow constructing debris shelters. These are essentially large leaf piles dumped over tent-like frames of sticks. More leaves are stuffed inside each shelter to provide ground insulation. We were also able to make a lean-to from the large strips of beech bark stacked against uprooted tree.
We had to wait until late in December before the weather got very cold and snowy. It was still snowing when we hiked in after dark. We put our sleeping bags in the shelters and retired to the lean-to to heat our evening meal. We talked, made notes in our journals and sat by the fire watching the snow fall outside. I was uneasy. It suddenly occurred to me that the shelters may not work the way they were supposed to. These were our first shelters. What if we didn’t make them right? What if we went to sleep and didn’t wake up? But we didn’t have much choice. My wife had driven us to our hike in spot and she would not return until the next day.
I came up with a secret plan (I didn’t want Ashirah to know how worried I was). I’d let Ashirah go to sleep first and I would check on her to make sure she was okay. I walked her to her shelter, helped her slide into it, said the Sh’ma with her and told her good night. I returned to the lean-to, waited 20 minutes and walked back to Ashirah’s shelter. I called out to her. She awoke and answered. I told her to go back to sleep. She did. I went back to the shelter and put on a warmer hat and gloves. The temperature had been dropping from the time we had arrived and was in the lower teens by then. The wind had picked up adding to the wind chill. I returned to Ashirah’s shelter and woke her again. This time she was less patient and told me to go to sleep.
And this is when I discovered that I was in nature’s classroom. I turned to go back to the lean-to and saw a female deer standing a dozen feet away. She was just standing there looking at me. I looked at her and the first thoughts I had were, “She’s not wearing a down jacket. She doesn’t have on Gore Tex gloves or Sorrel boots and she’s not shivering.” She doesn’t have a thick layer of fat to keep her warm and her fur is not nearly as thick as a bear – or even my dog for that matter. But there she stood in all her “deerness” without an apparent care in the world. What quality did the deer and my daughter share that made it possible for them to accept the cold. Only one thing – the lack of fear
The only difference between them and me was that I was afraid of what might happen. Fear can bring about pain that’s not real and sharpen pain that is real. Fear magnifies the bad and obscures the good. My fear was amplifying the effect of the cold. All I needed do was let go of the fear. And I did, at least enough to go to my shelter and stop bothering my daughter. I wish I could say that I went to sleep that night as soon as my head hit the leaf pillow but that didn’t happen. It’s one thing for the mind to realize something and yet another for the heart to act on it. It took 20 minutes before my body could heat the inside of the shelter. The leaf pile worked. The heat stayed in. And 20 minutes later I was unzipping my coat and taking off my gloves. At last, I slept the sleep of the peaceful.
Let go of fear and the cold isn’t as cold, the pain doesn’t hurt as much
And the Anger dissipates like the mist in the morning sun.