Shortly after my mission I was in a home evening group with an apartment of girls across the way from mine. I went over one day a few minutes early and met with a massive wave of heat as I walked in the door. It must have been 90 degrees inside.
I stood in the doorway, somewhat shocked and somewhat wanting to let the apartment cool off, until one of the residents asked me to close the door… since I was letting all the heat out. I was shocked that she had actually intended the apartment to be that hot. She told me that she loved the heat. And even though I had trouble understanding her (how could anyone love sweating?), I could tell she was telling the truth.
A few months later, it was summer and I found myself driving in a car with no air conditioning. I was frustrated, and squirming, and anxious, and hated being in the heat. And then an idea came to me. I wondered if I could somehow learn what that sister had learned – to love the heat.
The thought came to me that sometimes people seek out intense heat – like when they go to a sauna or steam room. Why not just pretend that my car is a sauna… and try to appreciate the time I have to spend in it?
It felt like a stretch, but I wondered if I could actually make it work – if I could actually learn to enjoy something I hated so dearly. So I closed the windows and began to sweat. Over the next few weeks, I went to the sauna almost every day – a real sauna in addition to my car, which sometimes felt even hotter. I drank tons of water, ended up changing clothes far more often than normal, and eventually somehow learned to actually enjoy the heat.
I’m not sure how that actually happened inside my brain. I’m sure the heat didn’t get any less hot. My sweating didn’t get any less either. But somehow I convinced myself that being hot wasn’t a bad thing… and the angst that came along with intense heat disappeared like water on pavement.
Today I am eternally grateful for that sister in my home evening group, and for a car with no air conditioning that gave me the impetus to learn to enjoy the heat. Otherwise living in a room that air conditioning can’t touch, constantly in the sun, during 108-degree weather that feels cooler outside… would be pretty miserable. As it is, the last few nights I’ve soaked my shirt with cold water before going to bed just to cool down a bit.
I think there are other things in my life that I tell myself are intolerable… which, maybe if I let myself just experience them, really aren’t necessarily intolerable at all.
Aloneness, for example. I spent 16 years blissfully alone… and then one day felt like there was something wrong with it. Sometimes I recapture the bliss of my younger years, but most of the time I have trouble believing that it’s okay to feel alone.
Depression is another one – one that I think I’ve mastered a bit better than aloneness. I used to hate the feelings of depression, and they consumed me and my ability to really do much of anything. Now depression intrigues me. It definitely still impacts my relationships and ability to get things done… but I don’t allow myself to feel guilty for the things I didn’t do or the relationships that fell apart. It just happens. I focus instead on the intricacies of working with a different set of assumptions (as depression causes with me) and being able to run my decisions through those assumptions to create more robust options for when depression is over.
I’m not totally sure… but I think that we can learn to appreciate most feelings in life. Some may be harder than others, but I feel like it’s possible – and if not to appreciate, to endure well. To take pain and learn to embrace it. To take sorrow and learn what it reveals inside me. To take fear and see the holes in my faith, or to take depression and see the holes in my logic. To take the feelings of SSA and honestly love people. To take aloneness and realize how simple life is when I focus just on others. And to take intense heat and successfully pretend that I’m falling asleep in a sauna, and not in my room… or appreciate the heat anyway.