Cold showers and the culture of comfort


Almost every morning, after showering but before stepping out to dry myself, I do something which lasts for a few minutes and which leaves me breathless, groaning, and if no one is home, grunting loudly.


It’s obvious, isn’t it?


I turn the hot water off completely and aim the arctic cold spray directly at my shivering body. It’s a manic exercise in self-abuse and I’m addicted to it. In the summer months, it’s uncomfortable but not entirely unpleasant. During the winter (such as 5:25 this morning when the thermometer read):

it can be a grueling experience. Yet, like a madman, I welcome the feeling.


Oh, yeah, that’s another thing. I shut the wall heater gas pilot off about a year after I moved into this place, and even in Los Angeles, it’s not unusual for the overnight temps to fall below 55 during the winter. That’s where blankets come in handy. Lots of ’em. And sweats, and sweatshirts…and socks.


I originally planned a “cold shower” post until I read this over on Half Sigma and realized my cold fetish is not confined to the shower. And perhaps indicative of a larger social phenomena.


Half Sigma links a NY Times article which follows the frigid exploits of several people who have chosen to live in non-heated dwellings, which is decidedly uncomfortable for just about anybody reading in January, especially those living in the Northern latitudes or upper elevations.


The subjects cited by the Times each had their own reason for living without artificial heat. Primarily made up of artsy, environmental types, the practice was predictably ridiculed on Half Sigma as a sheepish march into icy oblivion. They ascribed such notions to “Gaiast” thinking. Gaiaism as they refer to it is the worship of Mother Earth, a harsh version of environmentalism and typically the antithesis to much of the grounded, statistical and utilitarian theme of Half Sigma.


In fact, Half Sigma refers to this unheated lifestyle as “really weird” and one of the commenters states, “people who would prefer to be cold possess an almost perfect convergence of personality traits that epitomize the gaian mindset…”


I’m not familiar enough with the Half Sigmian model to understand, in this case, if the source of skepticism is owing to the belief itself, or to its practitioners. I suspect it is a combination of both, and I fully sympathize and agree with their leeriness of the latter.


Every now and then an intriguing idea surfaces, a concept which deserves further critical examination. Unfortunately, the idea falls into the hands of some urban Bohemian types who run with it blindly and parade it around like an absurd affectation as only they are capable of.


In fact, nearly all the Times’ subjects inhabited overpriced urban lofts and involved themselves in the Arts to one degree or another. The person with perhaps the least pretentions was


…Janet Smith, an engineer and landscape designer living in nearby Ridgway, Colo…inhabits a one-room rubble-stone house built in 1894, one of three buildings she bought in 2001 for $149,000. Poetically lovely, they are also impossible to fill with heat, presenting Ms. Smith with a living choice she has embraced with gusto, throwing open windows and doors year-round, and using her own body as a solar panel when the sun shines.


“The best thing about living in a non-isothermal house” — isothermal means “constant in temperature” — “is that you’re able to walk from indoors to out of doors all the time,” she said. “What limits us is only our fear of the cold.”


Interesting point.
Our fear of the cold.
That’s exactly what it’s all about.
Fear of physical sensations.
Same as hunger. People are terrified of hunger. Hunger serves its purpose and does not require satiation each and every instance it’s experienced. Same with cold. Cold is a sign that possibly deadly environmental conditions exist, but more often than not, in the context of our modern world, it’s merely a sign that it’s…cold. A natural sensation that does not require extensive action on our part. The same goes for hunger. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s rarely deadly when you have a McDonalds on every corner.


I’m a cold freak. I love the cold. I welcome the cold, for I feel it strengthens and it toughens the body and the mind. Unfortuantely cold has become something, like hunger, that must be extinguished the instant we experience it.


Sometimes I’ll walk around on a very cold day in a short-sleeved shirt and invariably I will be asked, “Aren’t you cold?”


That’s a dumb question. Of course I am. Can’t you see the goosebumps? Hell yeah, it’s cold. The difference being I can accept the fact that I’m cold. I don’t allow myself to be troubled by the sensation or view it as a something that needs to be “fixed.” It’s 53 degrees, yeah, that sucks, but I won’t freeze to death.


Embrace the physical sensation as only that. A sensation. Discomfort is natural and it’s up to our cognitive senses to determine whether or not our life is in danger. If we determined it is, then we should proceed to deal with the discomfort if possible.


I have found that ending each shower with a few minutes freezing my ass off under a cold spray actually lifts my spirits each morning. The state lasts most of the day, it’s a wonderful jolt of endorphines. It may very well be psychological. In the time that I’ve done this I have only caught one minor cold and had no other physical problems owing to this “weird practice.”


Cold and hunger are but just a few of the many primal physical reactions we experience as a result of environmental cues. We’ve structured a scientifically marvelous world of technology which gradually succeeds in its increasing ability to insulate us from such elements. In the process we have become weakened as an Earthly species. Exposing ourselves to such stimuli, thoughtfully and carefully, in a controlled manner, can only serve to expand our physical and mental durability in this culture of comfort.