Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Solar, Stand, Solstice

I've been running a social experiment on myself with relation to my personal tolerance threshold regarding physical discomfort.  I'm not precisely certain from where this urge was born.  Perhaps it was an effort to assuage my overly-developed liberal guilt regarding creature comforts or a need to prove my own toughness to myself or even to get a sense of my struggle concerning pride and greed over practicality and health.  Regardless, as the notoriously steamy and sticky St. Louis summer wears on, I am sure to learn more about my core workings -- one way or the other.

To explain, when I was searching for my latest car, following the totaling of my former vehicle in January of this year, I determined that I wanted to purchase something uber reliable and as new as possible in consideration of my budget.  I settled on an '08 Hyundai with 30,000 miles on it and a 100,000 mile, ten-year warranty.  Everything on my car is manual -- from the steering to the transmission to the very windows.  Experience has taught me that I will ultimately pay more over the life of the car for the replacement of these often fragile and expensive items (ie the motors in automatic windows) than to simply choose hardy manual options.  In so doing, I also purchased a vehicle without air conditioning.  *cue the ominous, foreboding music*

Now before you go off half-cocked and dismiss me as a raving, potentially dangerous, lunatic to voluntarily invest in a vehicle such as this when I live in a river city known for its unlivable, humid summer (sometimes spring, sometimes fall) climate, I must reassure you that it wasn't that I didn't want air conditioning, it just wasn't available on the base model that I bought.  Still, that is hardly a reasonable explanation for most St. Louisans.  When I've told people with a wry grin that my very nice looking, newish car indeed does not have air conditioning, they've looked at me with disbelief bordering on pity.  "Jen seemed like such a level-headed girl; clearly, we've woefully misjudged her."  My own mother finds me suspect.  I could hardly get her into my car for a test drive in February, for goodness sake, when she learned of its undesirable state.  It was as though she didn't want to get too attached (to me or the car).  I believe, on some level, she felt she had failed me as a parent upon learning of this shameful debacle.

Admittedly, since I've owned this car, much deep, penetrating thought has been devoted to the routes that offer the optimum protection from the sun and the least opportunity for extended stops at traffic lights (as these are the times that a lack of breeze most pointedly leads to high internal body temperatures).  Today, I was meditating on this issue while stopped at a red signal on tar-black pavement with the unforgiving, afternoon sun beating down upon me.  The interior of my car could not convincingly be described as sweltering, nevertheless, I began to wonder if I should be concerned about safety issues such as heat stroke or even fainting spells, given the anticipated rising St. Louis temperatures in coming months. 

Interestingly, I've noticed already that my body has grown rather accustomed to the lack of an external coolant.  In fact, when my sister was riding with me recently, she felt her own arm and then mine and marveled to herself that my skin was still cool to the touch given the extreme heat in my car.  Since that time, I've begun to wonder if I might develop some sort of super-human ability to cool myself.  If maybe we're all just a little soft from too many creature comforts like air conditioning.  If this experience will somehow tap into a deeper evolutionary imperative by my driving around in my own personal sauna. 

In my current situation, I often think seriously of photons.  These elementary particles of energy that have traveled immense distances from the sun's core to my vulnerable, yet adaptable skin.  That visible light is the primary manifestation of solar fusion on earth.  That this is our main source of energy, what leads to photosynthesis, what drives the majority of flora and fauna on our planet, and yet what could very well be the untimely death of me.

When I am stopped in traffic on the aforementioned shadeless blacktop, I begin to slip into another mode of consciousness.  My heartbeat seems to slow, my breath becomes shallow, and my mind expands.  At these times, I'm reminded of my yoga classes from summers past when our instructor would purposefully conduct class in the heat.  She felt that it brought us closer to being.  That it moved us into deeper contact with the seasons that we would otherwise not fully experience, given our modern lifestyles.  That it taught us where our limits truly extended.  It is in this pioneering spirit that I continue with my mad social experiment.
Unwilling to be in shade of any
kind, wild pinks, flowers of everlasting summer
covet even the
sky of the sixth month 
-F. Teika
Om shanti.