It’s +10 Celsius outside
The sun is shining and the Pacific Ocean in the little bay I am looking at is calm and sparkly.
It’s surprising that I am standing on this beach at all, as I have been avoiding doing what I am about to do for weeks, no--months actually! The thought of voluntarily entering frigidly cold ocean water seems absolutely nonsensical!
Why am I doing this?
But here I am, on this calm, sunny, early spring morning. My husband’s huge, puffy, down-filled jacket lies on a log behind me, waiting to warm me up when I return. My travel cup is full of piping hot tea. I tuck my thermal leggings into the down jacket. I've brought a big beach towel, a warm toque. I’ve tried to be prepared, not really knowing what I’m going to need.
Will I need resuscitation, I wonder? How long before I feel warm again? And the recurring question – WHY am I doing this?!
In part, I’m here to support and bond with my friend who has been doing this crazy thing for several months now. I now refer to her as the Sea Goddess. She loves ocean dipping!
Partly, I’m here out of curiosity. What is all the hype about?
And partly, I’m here to ‘do a hard thing.’ Doing hard things bolsters my confidence in other areas of my life. It reminds me that, yes, I CAN!
So, voluntarily walking into ice cold water, controlling the urge to scream and run right back out is, I hope, good for me! As I stand at the edge of the Salish Sea, my friend the Sea Goddess, pulls out her cell phone and snaps a picture to (really) immortalize the moment.
It’s all about deciding. Deciding to show up at this tiny little beach. Deciding to take off the down jacket. And now, deciding to step into the water.
I start walking in.
Proudly, I do not scream.
Instead, I unabashedly swear a blue streak. This does absolutely nothing to make going deeper into the painfully cold water easier. Mid-thigh and I am acutely aware of the pain. This hurts…a lot!
Yup! And it doesn't get any easier!
When I comment on how much it hurts, the Sea Goddess confirms that yes, it hurts and, just in case I was wondering – it doesn’t get any easier or less painful, so I should just keep moving forward. One step at a time.
Water Temperature is 7 degrees above freezing
Alright then! Between muttered curses, I again wonder what in the world I am doing here?
But I keep stepping deeper and deeper into the 7-degree water (remember, freezing is at zero Celsius – ok actually, sea water freezes at a slightly lower temperature because of its salt content – so it freezes on average at around minus 2.6 Celsius – but you get the point...!)
There are a couple of naturally protected warm places in the body, especially the female body. Arm pits for example. And crotches. Both are especially sensitive to cold. I really notice this fact.
I also notice that the small of my back seems overly aware of the cold water lapping against it – and it is unhappy. Still, I press on. I keep moving forward and then, on the count of three, we both dunk down to our necks.
I turn and walk (proudly, I do not run) out of the water, knowing that I have just done a hard thing.
The Sea Goddess informs me that ‘We usually go in twice – the second time is so much easier!’ As I have believed her so far, and there’s been no need for resuscitation, I think, oh, for goodness sake, why not?!
So in I go again!
‘Easier’ is a relative term...
...like breaking a finger is easier than breaking an arm. But I do, surprisingly, swear a little less and stay submerged, neck deep, a minute or two longer than the first time.
This time I notice the exquisite clarity of the water, the bright colours of the underwater rocks, and the green kelpy plants surrounding me, 10 meters out from the water’s edge. I breathe slowly, deeply, totally focused on the cold and this amazing experience.
Once again, I’ve proved that I can do hard things!
There are no more surprises. We dry off and bundle up in our dry clothes and sit on logs on the beach. I am rejuvenated, energized and grateful. Grateful for the beautiful world we live in, for the connection I’ve just strengthened with my ocean dipping friends and for my body’s ability to rewarm.
I feel restored and very proud of myself!
I've done a hard thing – physically and mentally. As a result, my confidence is high, and my energy is primed. The benefits last all day. Even now, as I write, the benefit of my belief that I can do hard things is with me, reinforced each time that I visit the ocean.
Dunking or Dipping?
Since then, I have now ‘dunked’ or ‘dipped’ (I’m not sure, but I think the terminology refers to the grace with which you do it) dozens of times.
The ocean doesn’t feel as cold to me (in fact, it isn’t as cold now– the average ocean temperature in May in Victoria is closer to 10 degrees). I don’t feel pain when I first enter the watery cold anymore. And I am still getting the benefits – boosted confidence, a day of feeling rejuvenated and a burst of clean energy.
The ocean has become my ally. No longer is it just a majestic, beautiful, sometimes stormy backdrop to my life on the West Coast of Canada. The ocean is accessible to me. It has become my friend.
And, like the best kind of friend it reminds me of my amazing power: Yes, I CAN do hard things!