The Initiate heard his master’s voice as he sat, and he wasn’t sure if it was in his mind or his master was somewhere near by, hidden by the blackness of night. The snow had been steadily falling for days, covering him in a frigid sheet of white, and it was all he could do to keep from being consumed by the cold entirely. Occasionally, his body would convulse violently, spasming the excess snow off, only to have it replaced a few minutes later.
“Just as the cold is the absence of heat, so too is the Path the absence of suffering. Only in its presence can we truly find the warmth of peace.” The words resounded through him, bolstering his diminishing resolve. The Initiate’s focus wandered throughout his body, scanning, from the numbness of his bare skin, to the slight trembling of his muscles, desperate to get warm, before it settled on his lower half where there was nothing. Not the normal aching numbness of the frost but the dead nerved, black-skinned nothingness of frostbite. Fear fed him images of his legs, forever frozen in the lotus, never regaining their ability to run, let alone walk.
The Initiate wanted to so badly to open his eyes, to break his “meditation,” to see how bad the damage truly was. He wanted to gaze upon his cold-poisoned flesh and weep, but he couldn’t. Early into his trial, before the snow had started to fall, the wind had bitten into flesh mercilessly, causing his eyes to water and then freeze shut.
“The thoughtless man fears the dark, so too does the thoughtful man fear the Light. It is through the acceptance, not the conquering, of this fear that we are made both empty and whole.” The weariness of starvation had set in, his already exhausted body had begun to lose what little fight it had left. As hunger gripped his throat, acid bubbled up from his stomach through blue lips, his goose-bumped flesh tightened around his ribs. He was dying, even with his now sluggish mind, he understood that.
He couldn’t figure out why his master, his teacher, would do this to him. Why would he ask something that would almost certainly end in death. Where was the lesson there? And even if there was one, how could the Initiate learn it, if he could no longer think, or feel? It was impossible for him to empathize with a man who would strip his students down to their skin then ordered them to sit indefinitely in the snow while a blizzard raged around him. The thought was made harder by the knowledge that his master had himself almost been consumed by a similar blizzard when he was a young man.
It was his anxiety more than anything, that spurred the inevitable realization.
The Initiate then visualized his master, and the few he called disciples. He remembered their long, sleeveless white robes and matching white gloves and socks. He could see their milky, snow blinded eyes and red wind burned faces . It wasn’t difficult to imagine that the white of their cloth hid blackened destroyed limbs. It made sense in way, that a man who had found faith out in the hungry cold, would put those he most favored through the same conditions, in hopes they too would find peace. It was in that moment the Initiate truly understood his teacher and the men that helped him build a temple in the middle of a tundra.
Then, just like that, it all faded away. The Initiate no longer felt the burn of the snow on his flesh or weariness of exhaustion in his bones, the only thing left was the calm. His skin was still numb so he couldn’t feel the muscles in his face contorting into a smile but he knew it was there, it was the same smile his master was always wearing. It was a smile of a man at peace.
He couldn’t hear the footsteps but he knew he soon would.