Consenting to the Cold

Yesterday, watching dozens of bundled children careen down the sledding hill toward the creek, I had a pure Minnesota Moment. Big, heavy flakes filled the air; the kids were exuberant, flying over the jump, then trudging back up through deep powder; every so often some fat tire bikers passed by over the frozen creek bed; I felt how fortunate we all were to have hefty snowsuits, parents included, and wool socks and the fortitude to be glorying outdoors.

Eleven degrees and a snowstorm seem balmy only after a stretch of truly hard cold. In the past two weeks Minneapolis has had five school release days; when frostbite sets in after ten minutes and an inch of sheer ice on the roads delays buses over an hour, canceling school is the only option. We’ve been cooped up. Parents try to juggle work and childcare, kids climb the walls, and all of us long for routine. No wonder we’re willing to slide face-first at high speeds into the freezing snow. At least we can!

Minnesota winters are an exercise of consent. If you live where the weather’s always balmy, you never have to practice waking up in the morning and accepting that circumstances beyond your control have utterly altered your plans. Of course accidents and illnesses and death offer everyone this opportunity—life throws curve balls; that’s just how it goes. But Minnesota cold is a collective curve ball. We trundle through it together.

What’s hardest about not carrying on as usual is having our agenda interrupted and being helpless to do anything about it. Much as we might want the kids to go to school, they aren’t. Much as we might want our meeting to happen, it won’t. Our will is thwarted. As a result we have three choices: We can be miserable and rail against circumstances; we can go limp with resignation and feel victimized by our circumstances; or we can consent. Consent accepts what is with agency. Thomas Keating says “the chief act of the will is not effort but consent.” This is a wildly challenging notion, I think. The most powerful, willful action springs from acceptance.

In Minnesotan terms, we take the “bad” weather and make the best of it. On the drive home from sledding, the golf course parking lot was packed with more cars than I’ve ever seen there—all the skiers out for the first good conditions of the season. And I promise you, every one of them was joyful.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


Winter is a great time to write!  Join me for Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions on Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.  I’m especially excited to talk with memoirist Diane Wilson on March 8th.  We’ll discuss her book Spirit Car, share thoughts on writing our ancestors’ stories in relation to our own, and offer writing exercises to practice this work.  Please join us!

Also upcoming:

April 12: Parts in the Whole: Form

May 10: Childhood, Revisited

June 14: Community and Revision

2 thoughts on “Consenting to the Cold”

  1. In 12-Step circles you often hear “acceptance is the key.” And yesterday I listened to Eckart Tolle explain about being stuck in the mud: you can yell and cry that you are stuck in the mud but it won’t change being stuck. However, if you look around and say, “Gee, I’m stuck,” you have accepted the situation, which then frees you to create a solution. Great post. Thanks!

    1. Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

      Thanks, Baxter! The snow struggles continue here. We’re definitely stuck and the only thing that CAN change is our attitude. Looking forward to working with you!

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