Why diving into a cold ocean is a lesson in stoicism

Why diving into a cold ocean is a lesson in stoicism

What started out as a fun idea about kickstarting the new year has in the meantime become a yearly tradition. Though the Dutch have been eagerly running into cold water on the first of January for at least 50 years, it was just 5 years ago I made my first attempt.

At first glance, there is nothing fun about voluntarily entering water approximately 7 degrees Celcius. Especially when the air temperature is even colder than that. However, since it is a shared experience with close friends, it is not all bad. Furthermore, it does provide a feeling of starting the year off good by facing the fear of the cold water. Because that is essentially where the challenge lies. Every year the closer we get to New Year’s Day the haunting thought of going into the icy water of the North Sea, the more the thought looms in the back of my mind.

Waking up January first, though the alcohol of the night before seems to still be functioning as a sedative, my heart rate is up. The dread sets in while thinking about the task at hand. All reasons for NOT doing the dive are flashing in my mind. The hours leading up to the dive seem like purgatory, but before I know it, I’m standing on a windy, rainy beach, wearing nothing more than swimshorts.

A quick countdown commences before we start sprinting towards the dark green tides. Within moments the water receives our bodies and surrounds us with its freezing embrace. After being submerged the task is done. While being wrapped in a towel back on the beach, the only thing I could think was: that was easy, let’s do this again next year!

And how is this not analogous with nearly every obstacle in life? How often do we get worked up by some challenge for days, only to later think back on the challenge thinking: was this the confrontation I so feared?? Then why does it make sense to comply with these feelings and to let yourself become weary by this mental burden. Though you cannot exert control over external factors such as the water temperature, you can control how you feel about the ordeal. Or like Marcus Aurelius has affirmed: ‘Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been’.

So why make something twice as difficult by letting the hamster in your head run its wheel?


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