My feet stand pressed on the cold bathroom tiles. I look up towards the silver shower faucet, my gaze suspended in mid-air. As the mind wanders, like it always does, I pick up on an early memory.
I was young, perhaps two or three, drowning in a cold basin filled to the brim with hundreds of fish. It all happened suddenly. My memory years later is just as short-lived as the moment back then. It was a frigid afternoon — early winter most likely — and I remember mountains in the distance. My parents and their friends surrounded by pine trees. We were on a weekend getaway. Our lodge had a natural pool in the backyard that was left in its organic state, the water contaminated with green algae floating on the surface. I remember standing on the edge of the basin, counting all the different species I could see underneath the layers of moss. And then, the next second, I was with the fish, the green ripples marking the spot of my submergence. I slipped on the icy stone framing the water, my tiny body disappearing within moments.
That was the first time I faced death, although I was too young to even understand what death was. After all, I was just barely starting to figure out how to live.
My parents’ friend was close by and he immediately jumped in the water following the green waves. I remember everything felt calm; only realizing what happened when I felt my wet clothes freezing my body on the quick walk towards the house. I remember feeling paralyzing terror, but I also remember the quietness of it all — there were no tears.
The memory pours uninvited and now I wonder why it surfaced.
After you take a cold shower, the world around you feels a little bit warmer.
Today, my building’s hot water is interrupted because of plumbing issues. I’ve been debating the entire morning if I should brave a cold shower. I’m not a fan of cold showers. I’m aware of their benefits, and I’ve experimented before (okay, with a finger), but I always thought, why kill something that brings simple joy by turning it into something uncomfortable, so I continued to enjoy my extra hot showers without a second thought. Until today, that is, because there’s no hot water.
It’s really not a big deal. I can simply choose to shower tomorrow. Or I can boil some water if I’m really feeling spoiled. As I grapple with the triviality of my dilemma — am I for real right now — I step into the shower.
I’m staring at the silver faucet, compartmentalizing my earlier memory, when I turn on the water. The two spotlights are dimly contouring my shadow, following my every move. I let the icy water flow slowly as I test its temperature with a finger. This will be freakin’ uncomfortable, I complain.
The water is now gushing out more forcefully. I remove my finger from underneath the jet and place my right foot instead. My skin feels like it’s closing in on me, my flesh is frozen.
I turn around and lean in with my shoulders towards the water. And then I just submerge. The shock cuts my breathing momentarily. I need to refocus on simply letting my breath return to normal. Slow and steady, I repeat in my mind.
Cold plunges are not a new phenomenon. In Roman times, it was common for public baths to have a frigidarium — a large, cold pool chamber. Just like in Nordic practices, Romans believed cold plunges were beneficial to one’s health. Veiled in between the mosaic tiles of the frigid baths, I imagine Romans mastering their breathing techniques, just as I am struggling to do millenniums later.
I step out and feel the warm air enveloping my naked body. I grab a towel. After you take a cold shower, I think, the world around you feels a little bit warmer.
I’d be lying if I said the experience felt pleasant. But, it also wasn’t too dreadful either. Minds tend to catastrophize. The thoughts we put in our heads are hard-wired patterns difficult to erase. They get triggered by irrational fears that dictate our actions and inactions. Our mind is our biggest obstacle, but at the same time, it’s also our biggest source of freedom. It’s all about unlearning that which doesn’t serve us anymore.
I look at my faucet through the water droplets aligned in formation on my glass panel. I think back at the Romans and realize how far we’ve come. I think how a simple concept of heating water, a basic emergence of two of our four elements — fire and water — led to an intimate relationship between modernity and our built environment. While lamenting the lack of hot water today, I focus on the moment of gratitude for the clean, fresh water appearing magically from the wall whenever my heart desires, at all other times. I think how water, and especially hot water, flowing through secret steel pipes is a luxury. One that we take for granted, every single day.
We don’t often know why we’re terrified of certain moments as they unfold before our very eyes, or why certain images pop into our mind — a childhood memory perhaps, rooted in a catastrophe — whenever we need to unwire the mind to do a very basic action that goes against its evolutionary patters of protection and safety.
However, when faced with moments that trigger our mind, at the most trivial of times, we ought to rip off the band-aid quickly, braving the moment before our mind lets our fears contain it. As only when we do, perhaps, we’ll discover how things are not always as tragic as they may initially seem. They may even lead us to better places than before. Because the world will always feel just a little bit warmer after a cold, uncomfortable shower.