January is the cruellest month in Canada, perhaps because it has the word “worry” in its sound. This January has been more worrisome than normal, as we had a huge, record-breaking snowstorm early on, followed by a cold, wintry blast, with temperatures plummeting down to minus 35 degrees C, at one point.
My wife and I spent much of this time inside our heated home, with occasional trips for essential shopping. With a pandemic raging around us, there was not much we could do and we couldn’t even visit friends and family very often. Finally, the urge to get fresh air became too strong and we decided to resume our walking schedule. Each walk, it turned out, was like a spiritual journey.
As in any spiritual practice, the first step was to isolate ourselves from the environment, as much as possible. We put on layers upon layers of clothing. I put on long johns, which are, essentially, a pair of trousers worn inside a pair of trousers. In addition, we put on winter coats, mufflers,winter socks, winter gloves,winter shoes and winter caps. To top it all, we put on masks to protect ourselves from the pandemic and the weather.
We had our first spiritual experience with a few feet from our home. I saw a few blades grass trying to push their way over the snow cover. By early spring, we knew that our lawn would be restored, It was inspiring indeed; if blades of grass could find a way to stay alive in this extreme weather, then so could we.
A little further down our path, we saw a small child playing on top of a snowbank, calling out to his younger brother to join him. The two looked very comfortable, totally unaware that the temperature was minus 19 degrees at the time. They hadn’t heard of hypothermia and they would probably stay healthy. It’s a lesson for grown-up. We know too much and make ourselves miserable, as a result.
We also saw animal tracks in the snow, probably made by raccoons and coyotes, who are known to live in woods nearby. We also saw a squirrel or two and a few birds in the sky, unfazed by the extreme weather conditions. It’s truly inspiring to see how these creatures survive the winter, without any of the creature comforts that humans are used to.
We saw some grown up humans, too during our walks. Some were working in their garages, others were shovelling snow off their drive ways, while some dogs were walking their owners. One person even waved to us, but with all the winter attire, it was impossible to know who he or she was. It was, literally, a cold wave.
After about fifteen minutes or so, we could feel the cold seeping into our brains, in spite of all over layers of clothing. Then, it was time to turn back and go to the warmth of our own home. There is nothing like home when you live in a cold country like Canada.
Whenever we go for a walk in the snow, my mind goes back to Om Swami ji. It’s hard to believe he left all the comforts of Australia and North America choosing instead to spend months in a cave in the Himalayas, with no heating system, meditating most of the time and living on very little food. The results have been incredible for him, and for us and we should all be grateful to him and to others like him who make the spiritual path so much easier for us.
When I take my winter walk, I am also grateful to my home country India, which prepared us so well for living anywhere in the world. People who can survive 45 degree temperatures in New Delhi, or Kanpur can live any where else without much trouble. People who can survive the monsoon season in Mumbai would find living anywhere else a piece of cake. I remember it rained so hard some days that the entire city was more or less flooded. I remember driving on a road by the sea, on a wet rainy day when even the trains stopped running. On that day, the boundary between sea and land seemed to have disappeared, everything seemed to be just one vast body of water. Somehow, I made it home, mostly by following other cars that were following other cars. After living in this climate, any other kind of weather seems quite bearable.
Above all, I am thankful to the early settlers of Canada, who lived here before the days of central heating. They cut down trees from forests during summer to make their winter homes. They grew their own food and made their own clothing, at times. They struggled with diseases like malaria in summer, and suffered from frostbite in winter. Everyone worked hard; the lazy did not survive. One early settler wrote in his diary:
“Canada is hell on earth”.
If he was alive today, he would write:
“Canada is heaven on earth”
Those early settlers changed Canada from hell to heaven. This is the power of the human spirit; it can survive almost any conditions and, it can change any thing to anything.