April 2015

Fingers numb under wool gloves against the icy Wisconsin winter, I used to complain of my hands freezing in pain. With a sly smile, my father, a brilliant man, would respond “it’s all in your mind”. In frustration, I would rip off my gloves and fret that it is not in my mind because my hands are physically cold and purple and losing feeling. 

He’d advise me to pretend they were warm, burning even, by a fire. Tell yourself the warmth feels good instead. See the flicker of orange warming your palms. Really feel the heat in your mind. Feel it flow all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Then they will be warm. And warm is what you want….right? Then stop thinking about it all together. Your hands will be fine. Your body can take it. They are warm. Focus on the fish we are trying to catch
Minutes would pass, me grimacing, contemplating if infact my ice fishing father was a Sconnie lunatic; And I wouldn’t be able to take my arresting thoughts away from my numb, frost bitten fingertips.
But then we’d get a nibble. Suddenly my focus would be on the perch… the northern..the bluegill… What fish is biting our bait beneath the ice? Without realizing, my mind shifted from my chilled, pained hands to the fish we were about to catch. I’d stare at the bobber dipping ever so slightly under the calm dark lake water. I’d strain my eyes and hold my breath in excitement, willing the fish to chomp on our line. 
Before the bobber went completely under, before the fish took hold, my dad pulled up the line. 
“But we almost had him!” I shrieked. “Why didn’t you let him eat the bait!?”
“Now, are your hands cold or warm?” He asked. Then he smiled, and left me on the ice.
20 years later, in Rishikesh, India after hours of asanas and pranayamas and meditative mind control, I finally understand this lesson.
I remember thinking as soon as he asked me- I have no idea- Are my hands warm or cold? I had to think about it.. And then I realized my hands were not really feeling cold anymore- or at least they were not hurting. Sure, my nails were still purple and the actual temperature of them had not changed, but my mind had changed. Unconsciously, the desire for a fish, eradicated the painful focus I had on my hands moments before. It was not even about my hands being cold: it was about the judgement that my hands being cold was a painful, bad feeling.
I understand now my dad was trying to make me consciously aware that even when one thinks they do not have control, that they do. You have control over how you feel about everything. No one has power over the weather, or any external forces for that matter, but one does have the power to control their internal judgements of thoughts.

My hands were cold, but I could chose to focus on cold hands or not, and even beyond the physicality of my freezing palms, I could choose whether this was a positive or negative feeling.
Conscious, non-judgemental observance and acceptance of thought is the first step to mind control.

Now I know this. And now cold hands or warm hands, we can catch that fish. Dad, you brilliant sconnie lunatic- grab your pole! 
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