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River Misogi

posted Jan 3, 2018, 8:19 AM by Jonathan Poppele   [ updated Jan 9, 2018, 9:36 AM ]
One morning each January, I lead a group of students from the Center for Mind-Body Oneness to a spot along the Mississippi River in St. Paul where the current keeps the water open all year round. We strip down to our swim suits, do a few warm-up exercises, then wade into the water together. The water is close to freezing—chunks of ice float by us in the river. The air even colder—perhaps 15° F. Then with a shout, we dip our whole bodies down into the frigid water. The experience is shockingly intense. Our minds react with the urge to jump back up. To get out of the water. But instead of jumping up we wait, just a few moments, for our minds to settle. Then we calmly stand back up. We repeat this exercise a couple more times, then wade to shore, towel off, and head back to our dojo for more training.

The purpose of this special training not to “tough it out” or learn how to “take it.” We are not creating adversity for its own sake and we do not see virtue in suffering. Instead, we are practicing remaining calm when our mind and body react to an intense experience. We are learning to not be slaves to the twitches in our own minds. Because of this, gritting our teeth or toughing out the experience is actually counter-productive. Doing so trains us to resist and fight with our experience. Here we practice the opposite. We practice surrender to the intensity of the experience. We practice dropping our resistance and feeling the natural movements of our mind and body. As we do, the waves in our mind—the initial reactions to the intense feeling of cold—naturally settle. Then we stand up. Not because we have to, but because we choose to.

Practicing this sincerely, even one time, is a transformative experience. It will help you be less reactive and more resilient in the face of challenges. It will develop your capacity to remain calm and bring forth your best in the face of adversity. It will teach you how to relax when you experience intense sensations or emotions so your reactions do not drive your behavior and, as a result, dictate the course of your life.