Cold, dark water and mastery
I woke up half an hour before I wanted to get up. Like many early risers I don't have to set an alarm so I get to wake up slowly under the warmth of the doona. This morning I could hear the faint sound of the ocean surf, a little breeze in the trees near our bedroom window, but not too much. Good. The water has been between 9° and 11° this last week. As I lay in my cosy bed, I started to look forward to stripping off and jumping in.
I arrived at 19W about 10 minutes before first light. As I often do, I wandered down the short track to 'have a look', something my board riding friends have taught me to do - always. As I took the above snap, I met a few early shift icebergers who had already been in and out. These lockdown days we are staggered out over the hour before sunrise. "'Morning Col. You won't need fins (ie, there's not much surf), and there is lots of thick seaweed (unusual for RAAFs Beach)".
Hmmm. Doesn't sound that pleasant.
A lot of people say, "I could never do that." If it was about pleasurable recreation I wouldn't either.
Being regularly in the ocean, whatever the temperature, whatever the conditions is a holistic practice. It is about choosing to understand the natural environment by being in it. It is about allowing my body to be part of, not seperate from. It is about feeling with my body, not thinking about in my head.
The emotional, psychological and physical benefits of a physical practice, are of course not limited to cold water swimming or body surfing. I also like riding, running and sometimes just a walk or some 'old man yoga' set me up for the day. But there really is something special about the resetting and boost of a pre-dawn splash followed by the love and banter of the post-ocean coffee.
Early on in our young family's life, when my regular income was low, I had a job cleaning supermarket floors to help make ends meet. My friend owned the cleaning company that had the contract to clean the floors of Franklins Supermarkets in metro Melbourne (for those who remember). He told me that while it was normally a two person job, if I worked hard and did it on my own he'd pay me double. So for a few years I would rise very early and 'work out by cleaning'. I loved driving home when most people were still having breakfast knowing I'd already earned a few dollars and got some exercise. I would not have felt the same if I had done the same thing in the middle of the day.
There is that same sense when I stand at the station waiting for the train, taking in the rhythms and culture of the morning commute. I try really hard not to schedule Melbourne commitments that prevent an unrushed morning session; a time before sunrise where I can spend time in a practice that connects me with myself, the natural environment and others. What is it about the period leading up to sunrise? If you've never come across it before, check out the brahamamuhurtha when you finish reading this.
Despite all this going on about cold, dark water, in my experience nothing - not even 'iceberging' - is 'the secret' to a healthy life, in the way we often want it to be. Peace, hope and joy are inner world things. No amount of things ticked off a bucket list, no new job, no new partner, no overseas holiday, no new car, new boots, or new anything, will ever deliver the satisfaction we crave. But when a physical activity is a doorway to connection with our inner world, a mechanism that facilitates humble reflection and self awareness, it becomes a practice, a practice that has the potential to be transformational.
Find something that works for you: and get on it people and practice it. And practice it. And practice it. Over time you might even sniff mastery, and with mastery comes freedom. Yeee haaa.