“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer." Camus
A couple of years ago I discovered my own invincible summer. As Camus explains, life is about polarity, there are always opposites. We cannot see the darkness without light. We will not know happiness until we have experienced sadness. We know pain only because of it's absence in our lives.
Whilst Camus writes about the inevitability of the tug and tensions of life, who wouldn't rather take the good stuff and leave the bad. Who'd love to take the pleasure without the pain, the happiness without the heartbreak, or the joy without the misery.
We know deep down there is no life without polarity. Life unfolds before us in so many ways, some joyful and some painfully sad. Some moments make us want to laugh out loud and others feel like they are constricting so tightly around our ribs, that we shall die.
It is so easy to want only those experiences that make us feel good. However, we cannot live a good life without acepting both worlds.
So literally in the midst of winter 13 December in all of my despair as I plunged into the freezing grey Irish Sea, I discovered a strength I didn't know I had - a force inside of me began to push right back." It began as panic across my whole body and then mind. I tried desperately to take a breath, but the sea would not let me. My friend Elliot was already submerged and his manly murmerings were soon drowned by my life curdling screams. It was so cold.
As Katherine May describes in her book Wintering "Our work is not to defeat the natural forces of sadness, death, the dark. Our journey is to learn to live with them." That day, the Irish sea helped to draw out my true nature - to be resilient and to feel calm when in the eye of a fiere storm. It taught me that I can live with all of the shittiness of life and still laugh my tits off!
A passer by took the video of our cold water experience, he honestly couldn't believe his eyes and his ears given my potty mouth.
Most of my life I have spent trying to escape the UK winter. I would head out to SE asia for 3-4 weeks, reluctantly returning to an even drearier January without Christmas to look forward to. Winter felt like a sad, harsh, dark and lonely place.
Learning to appreciate and actually welcome winter into my life has been once of the greatest reframes ever. Appreciating the beauty of a cyclical seasonal process rather than wanting to escape or wish for a sunny straight line is a revelation. I love the sun, but I love the winter too.
These days cold showers and ice tubs on the patio are commonplace (thank you Wim Hoff). So many of us are searching for meaning and aliveness in a world of comfort. So many of us are wanting to experience the (life) force inside of us that is pushing right back against the challenges of living but also the unbearable lightness of a consumerist and islolating culture.
It's the aliveness you feel when you hold your breath for as long as you can and then you are forced by "something stronger – something better, pushing right back” to take that breath and live.
Aside from the immediate benefits I've also learnt how cold water swimming has longer term health and specifically nervous system benefits. (there are also some severe and life threatening risks which I won't go into here, non-the-less they frequently occur in both beginners and seasoned swimmers.)
Cold water immersion:
Subjects the body to extreme stress and you have to dig deep to find a calm spot within, the mechanism for this is harnessing the breath. As we know breathwork is a practice and the more resistance we offer the breath the more we can build resilience into out nervous system.
Can reduce fat within the body. This requires immersion for a significant period of time to the point where we begin to shake. It takes less time in moving water such as swiming in the sea or lake.
increases adrenaline after a period of time. We get that wonderful hit and everything feels a little more heightened and alive.
Tends to draw groups together. It's a leveller for people from all kinds of backgrounds coming together in a very naked and human way. This promotes connection, bonding and the release of oxytocin and makes us feel cosy and loved.
Puts us back into nature. Nature has a way of drawing out our Nature. We let go of who we think we should be and come back to who we truly are beneath the mask. This even if for a moment relaxed our nervous system. Once we have repeatedly experienced this it's hard to want to be any other way.
Is free or definitely not expensive.
Another cold and windy winter swim in the Irish sea.