On this, my 41st birthday, I am renewing my resolution to continually push myself beyond my known limits. I aim to test my mental and physical boundaries. To fully embrace this commitment to my daily personal revolution, I went swimming inthe Pacific ocean this morning. This challenge allowed me to use my physical body to overcome a long-held fear while also pushing exploring what I am capable of doing.
Birdy and I celebrated my birthday with our kids in Ocean Shores, WA this weekend. Weather for this time of year is typically rainy and unpleasant. The wind was whipping at a pretty good clip. The sunny view of the beautiful beach landscape from the big window of our warm, dry condo belied the blustery, bitter cold outside.
The temperature outside was around 35 degrees – the water wasn’t much warmer. Gusting winds were relentless. Only the heartiest of souls were out and about this blustery morning (all of them dressed in winter parkas, gloves and hats).
As part of my personal revolution, I have developed a voracious appetite for reading books and blogs and listening to podcasts. My favorite is The Art of Charm. One of the most compelling episodes featured “The Ice Man”, Wim Hof. This guy is the epitome of mind over matter; he does crazy challenges that involved exposure to extreme cold.
Along this vein, I have learned from my push-up challenges that you can unlock the power to heal parts of your thinking using your body. I am coming to discover that when you repair your thinking, you can better prepare yourself to push your body even further.
I made the decision to go swimming Saturday night. In so doing, I began the acceptance process: This is happening and I will be made stronger by it. My aim is to be mindful of my senses, but to allow those thoughts to blow on past you (much like the howling wind was blowing leaves around). Do not lose focus of the goal and do not waver in your determination to accomplish it.
I woke up ready this morning. I stripped down to my skivvies and ran the ½ mile to the shore. The cold on my bare skin was invigorating. My legs were soon sprinting faster than my heart. My bare feet were light and sure.
Splashing in the puddles along the way was a soft introduction to what was to follow. Darting along the bushy path, I was shielded from much of the wind. Approaching the open ocean, a wall of wind greeting me like a slap in the face.
The tide was 200 yards out and I sprinted head long into the wind as fast as my feet could fly. With each footfall I was splashing into deeper and colder water. When I finally got my first wave, the water hit me just above my waste. I gasped in an involuntary breath.
Without hesitation, I dove into the teeth of the next wave. The cold hit my head with the force of sledgehammer smashing my skull. The first 2 seconds underwater felt like I was being crushed in a vice. The feeling on my skin was bathing in jellyfish. Popping out of the water and taking a breath was perhaps the most liberated I have ever felt in my life.
I swam for about 2 minutes and decided that I had had my fill. Dunking underwater had given me a crippling headache. My eyes were burning. When I closed them, it was the same effect as when you close your eyes while looking directly at the sun. My body was cold, but I was not shivering.
Running back to the trail, I felt more alive than I had ever felt before in my life. In that moment, every fiber in my body was engaged. I had the keenest sense of what it is to be truly alive. I could’ve run a marathon at this point. My feet were floating above ground. I was energized.
The cold was no longer in my thoughts by the time I reached my towel. In fact, I ran back to the condo without even bothering to dry off or put my clothes on. My thoughts wandered back to an unpleasant experience I had as a young man.
At 20 years old, I found myself walking alone in the wee hours of the morning on a deserted highway in the middle of a blizzard in rural Nebraska. Exhausted, delirious and on the verge of hypothermia, I sat down in a snow bank and waiting for what I assumed was going to be the end of my story. As chance would have it, someone discovered me and took me in from the cold.
A warm blanket of euphoria envelops me as I write this post only an hour after taking the plunge. Completing this challenge represents more than just conquering the elements – it is a triumph over a fear that has haunted me for years. It is further proof that there is nothing that can stop me from anything but myself.