“To plunge into cold water after the heat of reflection is putting the question into the realm of the instincts, where it ceases to be rigid and begins to flow, as if in the depths of the waters of the unconscious the answers reside.” (Marion Woodman)
Through sea, lake or river, this past year has seen many people in the UK responding to the call from cold wild waters, luring them to dive into their depths for the first time. I’ve noticed how this is particularly so for women in the autumnal years of their lives, myself included. There is growing evidence of the health benefits to mind and body for all people, especially for perimenopausal and menopausal women. I emerged from the cold sea with my friend Sally early this morning, with a renewed spring in my step, lightness in my heart, and clarity in my mind. As a warm-weather swimmer, I’m pretty late to the party, and these are not words I would have imagined myself saying even earlier this year, but here I am, and party I will!
Now back at my writing desk with a hot cup of tea in my hands, I’m mulling over the words of Marion Woodman. Her voice occupies that of a very wise crone in my inner landscape, one who has trodden the path before me so well that she’s worn through the soles of her shoes and walks barefoot on her well-calloused heels. In her book, Addicted to Perfection, she highlights the necessity of fully embodying our own physical body as part of our inner work and not getting lost simply in our heads. She uses the term enantiodromia from depth psychology, which Carl Jung borrowed from Heraclitus. It refers to the process by which “sooner or later everything runs into its opposite” (Jung). Enantiodromia facilitates a movement towards greater balance and equilibrium. The relevance of this word in relation to cold water swimming is how it plunges you out of a head-based way of being into a profoundly body-based way of being. Given so many of us can get stuck in our heads, cold water swimming allows us to get in touch with our instinctual body-based way of knowing and balance it with our rational mind.
By connecting with our instinctual body, we access our inner Feminine principle, which is often subjugated under our inner Masculine principle and requires reclaiming to restore equilibrium to our overall being. These aspects of the Self reside in everyone irrespective of gender. In rebalancing and reuniting these polarities within ourselves, we galvanise our life force energy, and creativity can once again flow from within us as we move into the next part of our day. It is often a particularly pertinent piece of work for women during the perimenopausal phase of life, when women are often drawn to reclaiming lost Feminine aspects of themselves. It therefore makes sense that cold water swimming holds a specific value for women during this time. For me, this can also happen when I’m running, when the focus of my attention shifts again from above to below my neck. I find some of my best ideas bubble up whilst striding through the country lanes near our home. You may relate to this experience when running, swimming, or any number of physical activities that you do.
I feel fortunate to live close to the sea here in beautiful Cornwall, and I intend on making the most of this opportunity. I’m not sure how far into the winter months I will manage to keep diving into the depths of the increasingly chilly water. Still, when I do, I’m aiming to take occasional questions with me in the hope of accessing greater clarity from the depths of my being.
Whatever your age or gender, wherever you live, I encourage you to explore the possibilities that may be waiting for you within the deep cold water of wild places if you can. You could take a question that you’re struggling with and see what answers may already live down within the inner wisdom of your physical being.