In 2002, I spent 14 days locked in a concrete cell. I was put in nothing more than a thin cotton shirt, and a pair of shorts with holes in the seams. The cell they called “observation” for those deemed to ill-behaved to be out and about with the other girls. I was 16 years old. It was winter in Provo Canyon Utah. The room had 7 concrete walls and a steel door with a small window, in which one could be “observed” through. There was no toilet, no shower, trips to the bathroom were supervised, and showers I gained only when I was conscious enough to respond “yes” when the attendant came by. I was given high doses of sedatives, not because I was acting out, but because I didn’t understand the rules I had just been placed under. The first days in solitary before the drugs, I ran in place, did push ups, sit ups, spent parts of the day doing math in my head, reciting poetry, singing songs, which did not go over well with staff…
The room I was in had only one other window besides the one on the steel door. It was a drafty skylight on the ceiling, 20 feet above from where I sat on the cold hard concrete floor. When the drugs they gave me kicked in, I lost the will to run in place, do push ups, sit ups… all I could do was sit, and during that time, the temperature dropped drastically.
In my haze it was all I could do to sit and stare up at the ceiling, and watch the snow begin to fall on the skylight, fall and drift, fall and drift. My body violently shivered, my lips became chapped, then I noticed my toes, my fingers, begin to turn white, then blue, then purple. I took turns shoving my hands in my mouth in an attempt to keep the feeling in them, warm them any way I could.
It was then I realized, there was nothing I could do about this feeling of cold. My body ached from days of shivering.
And so I retreated to my mind. “What is cold?” I thought. “What is feeling?” I wondered. I took deep breathes, in an attempt to calm the shivering. I focused my mind on what it was that made me shiver, and set it aside. Then I focused on toes, my hands my body, and decided, that being cold was a decision, I had made in my mind. I embraced this notion, “yes, I understand body, this is a feeling, a warning system, and right now there is nothing I can do” I refocused my attention, to my breathing, to holding my body still, to ignoring the stinging pain that shot through me. I moved each toe, I gave each digit gentle massage, while controlling what I though about pain, what I knew about cold. Until suddenly I was just there. I was in a room with my body. Cold was a thought, this is not cold enough to kill me, so I need to push out this feeling, and attend to the needs of my extremities.
I did this until I fell asleep, deep in meditation sitting up against the wall. I learned that my mind is more powerful than my body, and that after a while if you can sit with yourself, find the power within, there is no such thing as cold, there is only you, there is only ever you.
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening –
Poem by Robert Frost
“Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”