May 10, 2023

Cold Plunging: Marbles Lost or Spirit Gained?

“Why exactly are you doing this?”

This question has come from three of the people in my world I cherish.

My beloveds are referring to my recent decision to lay my body in freezing river water every morning, despite mounds of snow and rude sub-zero temperatures.

Each one asks with the same inflexion, their tone rising at the end. Not dissimilar to how you would ask, “Why exactly are you poking yourself in the eye with that sharp stick?” They approach cautiously, giving me the benefit of the doubt, trying to reach the level-headed person they know and love, despite every cell in their body saying, “It’s official. She’s lost her marbles.”

Cold plunging benefits range from boosting immunity to increasing baseline dopamine levels and decreasing brown fat. And as with anything, however, there are risks such as heart muscle damage, and of course, hypothermia. Duh.

I recently was firmly in the “against” camp. My stance was not based on research or peer-reviewed article examination. I simply thought it was a mix of lunacy, stupidity, and self-flagellation. Until 21 days ago, my aversion to cold water was as airtight as my aversion to the former orange-tinted President of the United States.

I cannot tell my worried loved ones exactly why I began cold plunging. I’m not given to being trendy or following the crowd. Perhaps it was a January that threatened to swallow me whole and spit my bones. Maybe it is the purgatory of perimenopause. And it could very well be that unique spice mix of stupidity and masochism. However, standing firmly at the edge of my one-month commitment to dip daily, toque in place, towels and tea in hand, I know why I continue to walk to the river daily and lay myself down.

Reclamation through surrender. The creek is asking me to give up to regain.

This morning as I stood watching Mother River flow, a deep amber ribbon, the child that was me arose; her yellow hair mussed, face smudged. She was not fearless. That is an impossibility. However, she was bold, bordering on feral, especially when it came to her relationship with Mamma Nature.

Her trust was intrinsic. Instinctual. Cold, muddy rivers were a playground, their mucky bottoms sucking at her feet as she waded in before letting the current sweep her away in complete trust like a fallen branch, only popping up when the river flattened, and she found mucky bottom once again.

This morning, I asked her to tiptoe with me into the clear amber stream, smooth stones underfoot, a bit civilized for her taste. It struck me then—shocked me as much as the 2-degree water biting into my skin—I am regaining a piece of myself that had gone to sleep, lulled by all the cautious adulting. The safety nets. The grownup padding. The continuous grip of the scarcity stories.

The mussy-haired girl grinned up at me as she squatted next to a layer cake log iced with moss and snow. Unfazed by the chill of the water.

She reminds me that Lesson 122 in the Course in Miracles encourages clearing the mind of all dead thoughts—those being fears, anxieties, grudges, judgments, limitations—anything that is not Love. And as I lay my 52-year-old body into the river, the scabs of dead thoughts are peeled away, and I am reunited with that bold child who does not know to choose anything other than Love.

As the cold kisses my bones and caresses my brain stem, I am drawn into a moment in which the boldness, the instincts, the trust, the clarity, and finally, the spaciousness of surrender are restored. This one-minute thirty-second expanse is when I am most tender—unconditional with myself.

This is enough to keep me returning. Trusting the bold child who knows only Love.

This is everything. This is the why, my beloveds.


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