My internal monologue during cold shower (or pain)

It’s almost strange to say that I am obsessed with the topic of pain. Well, no pain, no gain right? In fact, the ancient Stoics advise us to practice some forms of voluntary discomfort to strengthen our resilience to hardships in life. In the past year since I heard of this idea, I have tried sleeping on a bed without mattress, complete fasting for >30 hours on a train from Inner Mongolia, sleeping on the street like a homeless person and, taking cold showers.

Even I have been taking cold showers for quite some time now in different climates and seasons, I still struggle to make the decision on a daily basis. It’s just a pain in the ass to do that for 10 minutes when you are done with an exhausting day and ready to hit the bed.

I probably do not have a strong physical stamina, but I am proud of the mental techniques that I deploy to get through that. And I have arguably the oldest three schools of wisdoms to back me up in this game.

1. From Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor
“Remove the judgement and you have removed the thought ‘I am hurt’; remove the thought ‘I am hurt’ and the hurt itself is removed”

2. From the Buddha, also one of my key learnings from the meditation retreat in India
Everything is impermanent, so is the sensation of feeling cold in my body. I just have to observe and accept the reality as it is. I literally keep saying “anitya”, the Pali word for impermanence, in the first two minutes. I know that my body will get warm soon and I just have to wait for the changing physical phenomenon to happen.

3. From Mencius, the Chinese philosopher
“When Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first disciplines his mind with suffering, and his bones and sinews with toil. It exposes him to want and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens him, and supplies his shortcomings.” (this is the best English translation I could find)

For those who can read Chinese, I am sure you are familiar with the quote:孟子曰:「天將降大任於斯人也,必先苦其心志,勞其筋骨,餓其體膚,空乏其身,行拂亂其所為,所以動心忍性,增益其所不能。」

At this point, you must be laughing at my stupidity and perhaps pretentiousness. I take that. But I believe such exercise is very transferable and could prepare me to undergo any challenges in the future. Try it out. You can apply all the three ancient mental frameworks to situations of grief, depression, physical pains and self-doubt etc.

Remember, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” — Archilochus