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The heart of the matter

From far and wide, lakes, rivers, oceans, pools and ponds are attracting swimmers. The idea of immersion in cold water, outside, with a small group of trusted companions is calling to more and more people. Even – or perhaps especially – in winter. This was not always the case. At every lake, river or open water area there are signs: Do not enter! Danger! Deep-water!

What I feel is taking place in these now frequented open-water swimming spots is not just a connection to the environment but also to each other – and to oneself. And within this, a process that involves a reconnection to feeling. Not to thinking or to knowing. Not to being clever or to being correct. These highly valued social demands are in question. 

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.

The computer age has given rise to an immergence of data, logical reason and formulated sequences. However, the community element and co-regulatory life we evolved from does not favour the sequestered lifestyle of the computer age. Being detached from social groups causes social isolation and reduces the chances of developing long-term relationships. Cold water swimming is the very antithesis of this. We swim in the safety of groups; we come to learn to trust with openness and compassion. 

Something I have realised about the cold-water mornings, is that we share the developing understanding of how to feel; of gaining sensory awareness of ourselves and of others. The innermost landscapes of interoception starts by navigating the emotional, physical and psychological aspects of our lives.

The brain is the higher function and reason. Steeped in Aristotelian logic, we walk by knowing, not by feeling and sensing. We are praised for exams results and not for the connections within ourselves and with the world.

I think therefore I am.  Rene Descartes 

But perhaps it’s a huge mistake to think the body exists just to transport the brain around. 

My heart is the most powerful source of electromagnetic energy in my body. This electrical activity is 60 times greater than the brain. This field can be detected anywhere on the bodies surface, measured by an ECG electrocardiogram. In addition, the magnetic-field produced by the heart is more than 100 times greater in strength than the field produced by the brain. This can be, and has been, recorded all the way around the body and measured up to three feet away in all directions. 

It is reported that a direct relationship between the heart-rhythm patterns and the magnetic field radiated by the heart gives vital information about a person’s emotional state. This is encoded in the heart’s magnetic field and is communicated throughout the body and into the external environment.

Autopoiesis is a state of self-regulation and creation. Referring to a system that is capable of maintaining and reproducing itself. In the cold water, we are learning to co-regulate our bio-physiological states. Learning to understand the boundary of our vulnerability. The world that we live in is focused on removing threats. However, feeling safe is more than just the removal of threats. Can you feel safe enough to give up control to another person? Or feel safe in an environment like a cold fast-flowing river in winter? Clearly, the river is dangerous and threatens anyone in it. Learning to feel – your heart, your nervous response, your trust in yourself and fellow swimmers – this creates the feeling of safety – but the threats are not removed. We connect to each other in the face of danger and with this connection, we feel alive and so, together, we live more bravely.

Since time began, social groups have been part of a healthy life, with deep connections lasting from childhood to old age. The heartfelt compassion and humble openness is a life beyond defensive and reactional narratives. The bounds of the body hold the keys to safety and to openness; not the thinking, but the feeling.

Swimming in groups, facing winter challenges, humbles all-comers. It unites us in a way beyond words and thoughts; it unites us by feeling. Even in the depth of winter, in vulnerable conditions, united by the pulse of our hearts and supported by the will to feel and not to know. Thus, is born the magic of life in others and in oneself. As a baby to a mother, as the outstretched arms of a lover, as family groups and friends together. How powerful it is to feel safe in the arms of another.

To all winter swimmers in these times, my heart connects to you. Even though we are separated, let’s make a deal: keep it safe and learn to feel. 


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