The week the water heater went bye-bye…
One day in the fall (yes, this has been waiting to be written since then) the water heater in our apartment went caput. I made fun of my partner Crystal for being annoyed and afraid of the cold water. ‘Tough on the outside me’ was like “oh this isn’t a big deal, our landlady will get it fixed in a few days”. And she did. But, a big lesson was learned. Or, rather re-learned. Since then forgotten and remembered several times over and over again. What can I say? I’m a human. Sometimes we learn slowly. And we forget things that would make our lives a whole lot simpler.
Here it is. So as much as I thought I was brave when learning of the impending cold showers, when the time came to shower, I avoided it. Listen, I am not one to shower everyday but by day 3 it was a must. Crystal was already gone to work this day so I was able to avoid being afraid in front of her. Somewhere inside of me I guess I still felt it necessary to hide my truth and not be vulnerable. This time disguised as laziness and lack of hygiene.
I turned on the shower as I normally do before I stepped into it. Oddly enough it didn’t get warm. I had wished that maybe by some miracle it would work for me BECAUSE I AM SPECIAL. I stepped into the shower and slowly crept underneath what felt like a freezing cold waterfall. So many things went through my mind as if I was being tortured. And I was feeling so many feelings. Fear. Guilt. Shame. Vulnerability. Anger. I thought about all the people who have to take cold showers, all the people who can’t shower, all the people who don’t have access to running water, drinking water etc., etc. I felt like an asshole for being upset when I am so lucky to be able to shower at all.
My back was tense. My neck was tense. I was barely breathing. Just fast, shallow breaths when I did allow myself to breathe. I was up in my head completely. Trying everything I could to avoid feeling. To dissociate from the shower. THIS DRAMA WAS ALL BECAUSE OF A COLD SHOWER. I was nowhere near earth in those first several moments.
Then suddenly a wave of calm came over me. A whole slew of clear, wise thoughts. It was as if they poured out from the shower faucet into my mind. It said very clearly: Breathe. Relax. Be here now. There is nothing you can do in this moment that’s going to change the fact that you need to have a shower and the only water you have access to is bone chillingly cold. You will survive.
In that moment everything shifted. I just allowed it to be what it was. A cold shower. I breathed. I stood up straight. I came back to earth. I was there with the effing freezing cold water. And what happened next was.. I smiled. I laughed. I laughed at the voice in my head that was so afraid. So tortured. And in that instant the voice was quiet. And there was clarity of mind. Peace in my heart. It didn’t matter that the water was cold. I was able to finish up my shower as usual. I even took time to shave my legs and you can’t do that quickly if you want to leave without the bathtub looking like a murder scene.
The aha that found me in that shower was nothing short of miraculous. You see, awareness of our present moment, and how are thoughts and feelings shape every second, is a miracle. In any moment we have the opportunity to come back to earth, land in our heart and ask what is going on. Tune in to the voice. Laugh at it (this is a kind laugh.. not a HAHA YOU’RE A LOSER laugh). It’s compassion. It’s kindness. It’s surrendering to the present moment. When you’re able to bring yourself fully back to what is right in front of you, the answers are always right there.
I actually enjoyed that shower and felt more alive in those quick 7 minutes than I have in many showers before that and all the ones since. But I like to use it as reminder to myself, that our thoughts are most often the cause of our suffering. And it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with suffering. Like I said before. It’s part of the human condition. It’s why we’re here, to learn kindness and compassion so we can navigate the here and now with a little more peace and a little more freedom.
There is a great passage from Pema Chödrön’s book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times that I think really cuts to the heart of any situation (way more difficult than a cold shower) and the suffering that may ensue and how we can transcend the moment, wake up and be here now without trying to solve anything.
“We can use a difficult situation to encourage ourselves to take a leap, to step out into that ambiguity. This teaching applies to even the most horrendous situations life can dish out. Jean-Paul Sartre said that there are two ways to go to the gas chamber, free or not free. This is our choice in every moment. Do we relate to our circumstances with bitterness or with openness?”