This is the fourth year in a row that we’ve seen record high temperatures in July in many parts of the United States. To the usual tips for staying cool (drink more water, stay in the shade, find an air-conditioned spot) we would add some spiritual ways of dealing with heat — tips from sages and seers who have lived through hot times.
See Your Connection to the Weather
The world-famous Catholic monk Thomas Merton sets the tone for our spiritual weather strategies in this passage from When the Trees Say Nothing, a collection of his writings on nature edited by Kathleen Deignan:
“Our mentioning the weather — our perfunctory observations on what kind of day it is, are perhaps not idle. Perhaps we have a deep and legitimate need to know in our entire being what the day is like, to see it and feel it, to know how the sky is grey, paler in the south, patches of blue in the southwest with snow on the ground, the thermometer at 18, and cold wind making your ears ache. I have a real need to know these things because I myself am part of the weather, and part of the climate and part of the place, and a day in which I have not shared truly in all this is no day at all. It is certainly part of my life of prayer.”
We like the challenge of seeing the weather as deeply and intimate connected to us. We see the heat or the cold as part of our experience of the day which we cannot change or ignore. It has an effect upon us and we reflect it in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We once asked an Antiguan how he was, and he said: “Partly cloudy, chance of rain.” Make it a practice to relate to the weather. Let it be a metaphor for you. For example, on hot days, be “heated up” with passion for your work or some other aspect of your life.
When You Are Feeling That It Is Hot as Hell Outside, Remind Yourself “Here Is Heaven”
In his book, Zen 24/7: All Zen/All the Time, Philip Toshio Sudo writes:
“It is often said in martial arts that the best training occurs in the hottest and coldest weather. Times like these are when the body learns to attune itself to nature’s elements.”
“There is no air conditioning or central heating in Zen monasteries. Complaining about the temperature once, a monk asked his master, ‘How can we avoid these extremes?’
” ‘Why not go where there is no cold nor heat?’ said the master.
” ‘Is there such a place?’ said the student.
” ‘Certainly,’ the master said. ‘When cold, be thoroughly cold, and when hot be thoroughly hot.’ ”
“The master was saying, become one with the environment. We are in and of the environment, not separate from it; the temperature is not distinct from us. When there’s no escaping the heat and the cold, the only way to combat it is to accept it.
“Stay warm and keep cool at the same time.
“The moment you think it’s hot as hell, remind yourself: ‘Here is heaven.’ “.
Good advice from a Zen master but hard to follow when we are used to having things our way. It took us a long time to accept the fact that whenever we landed on our favorite island, it started to rain. We wanted to spend all our time on the beach sunbathing. The island’s vegetation desperately needed water so in that paradise, the rain was heaven. We had to change our view of the weather, accepting whatever it was that day. Or as Sudo puts it: “Stay warm and keep cool at the same time.” That’s a wonderful mantra for scorching hot days!
Remember the Sweet Pleasures of Sweating
When we are at a low point on a boiling day, and we feel like the heat has drained all the energy out of our bodies, we can think of all the times when sweating has been a time of sweet pleasure — while making love, dancing, jogging, or any other form of exercise. Keep in mind that sweating is not only a sign of discomfort and inconvenience but a sign that the body is exerting itself and feeling good. Give thanks for your body’s diverse responses to the world and the flesh.
Don’t Curse the Heat: Use It as an Opportunity to Pray for Others
One of the things about heat waves is that we often get so wrapped up in our own state of vexation that we forget the genuine and wide-spread suffering of others. So the next time you find yourself falling into this self-absorption trap, say a few prayers for all those have been adversely affected by the heat: the elderly who have been stricken by heart attacks, the poor who have no access to air-conditioning, the lonely and isolated individuals imprisoned in small rooms, the animals who have not been given enough water, the plants that are wilting in the sun.
Welcome the Heat Wave as a Chance to Slow Down
We are all moving at breakneck speed. Perhaps we are being given hot weather in order to make us slow down. Our addiction to doing and achievement is so accelerated, we need to learn the importance of allowing the mind, the body, and the soul more down time to see more clearly, feel more dearly, and listen more intently. In our society slowing down is often identified with sluggishness or loitering. Dedicate this hot day to the Amish and indigenous peoples everywhere who try to live in sync with nature’s slow rhythms.
Accept All Weather as Weather We Like
The Catholic priest Anthony De Mello tells a story that sums up the best way to live with scorchers:
“Traveler: ‘What kind of weather are we going to have today?’
“Shepherd: ‘The kind of weather I like.’
“Traveler: ‘How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like?’
“Shepherd: ‘Having found out, sir, I cannot always get what I like, I have learned always to like what I get. So I am quite sure we will have the kind of weather I like.’ “