The cold showers got to me this week. It’s mid-February, so freezing water coming out of the tap is to be expected. Let me tell you, the water is really, really cold right now. However, this week was almost unbearable in a way that taking cold showers had never been unbearable before. Something else was going on.
I started ending my hot showers with cold showers in the fall of 2016. I heard an interview with Wim Hof, who is known as the Iceman. Almost immediately, I found huge benefits. The cold water invigorated me, although my favorite part was the tingling aliveness I felt AFTER turning off the cold water.
Most mornings require at least a few seconds of negotiation with my brain before I turn the faucet from warm to cold:
- “You’ve done this for the last few days. We can make today a cheat day.”
- “The water is going to be extra cold today. You sure you want to do this?”
- “You are about to go outside. You can count that for your cold exposure today.”
Fortunately, I typically see this mind chatter for what it is and turn the faucet anyway. My stance is this: I would rather be super uncomfortable in this cold water than to live with not showing up for myself today.
That was all well and good until last week. The first day I noticed a problem just as the freezing water was initially hitting my head. My practice is to breathe slowly and normally, while I relax my feet. On this day, I seemed to have no control over my breath or any of my muscles. I gasped and shuddered for a few seconds before regaining my composure. It took everything I had to stay in the cold for my usual 30-45 seconds.
On the second day, my mind chatter was louder than usual, and I really wanted to bail on the cold shower. This time, the messages were things like:
- “You could give yourself a heart attack.
- You might get hypothermia.
- You could die!”
Hmmm. Since I’ve been doing this for several years – and have even done several ice baths – I was able to override the nonsense of my survival mode. But why was it becoming so much more uncomfortable? When the water hit the top of my head, it was as bad or worse as the day before.
I started getting an idea of the root of the problem on day 3. After a few minutes of negotiation with my brain yet again, I paid attention to the context. In this case, the context wasn’t in my direct environment, but in my consciousness. Lots of my family lives in Texas, where people were literally freezing in their homes. I was born and raised in Texas. While I live in North Carolina, I will always be a Texan. This was more than a news story for me. We were texting and talking daily about houses dropping into the 30’s, slush coming out of the faucet and swimming pools frozen solid. This was real and this was personal.
Because of this context, I was especially grateful for my warm shower as I pictured the inescapable cold gripping the entire state of Texas. It could have been me.
Just as the Texas event was beginning, previous podcast guest Ann Herrmann Nehdi posted this on Instagram:
Copyright Ann Herrmann Nehdi – Used with Permission
I saw this post in my Instagram news feed a few days later. It arrived serendipitously on Day 3 of my miserable cold shower experience. Ann’s picture and comment gave me just the nudge I needed to develop a theory about why something previously mastered had suddenly slipped out of reach. Context is usually an external thing; in this case, the context was internal. My inner picture of the cold was clearer than the reality of the warm house awaiting me at the end of my shower.
I had let the cold in.
I was taking things personally.
Taking things personally is a totally natural and human thing to do. We experience the world through the lens of our prior history, our values and what matters most to us. And that’s the rub. When things get personal, we lose perspective. We forget that a hurtful comment doesn’t mean that the commenter is questioning our identity. Even if they are attempting to question our identity, the choice to take offense is ours. We can also choose to work on our own inner fire.
Where are you letting things get to you? Where have you left important questions about yourself untended? Where are you letting the water in?
By the way, Day 4 was much better!