On Friday afternoon I visited a beach near our home to swim with a group of women who have fallen in love with cold water plunging. We call ourselves “The Mermaids” and the group, birthed by my pod pal, Libby, and her friend Arianna (a passionate “Garden Coach,”), has started meeting (and growing in numbers) every week. Women of all shapes and sizes, ages and backgrounds, come together like wild and wicked gals to face their fears and bask in the glow of sisterhood.
Our late-day gathering was windy but filled with abundant sunshine. As I burrowed my toes into the sand searching for warmth, I watched a pod of seals off in the distance having their own adventures. The cool breeze conjured memories of the early days when I faced a freezing cold ocean and questioned my sanity. On this day those old feelings were shared by others. As the women gathered at the shoreline, I listened as a couple who had never done this before, talked about their own fear and apprehension.
Deciding to do something physically challenging like jumping into cold water can conjure primordial panic. It’s as though you’re under the spell of an intoxicating cocktail mixed with fear, excitement, and sheer exhilaration. If you don’t manage your mind, you’ll be tempted to run. But, if you gently steer your thoughts towards the fun of it all, you wind up feeling an electrifying sense of aliveness.
I love that feeling of aliveness.
As we stood around introducing ourselves to each other, those of us who had been plunging for a while encouraged the new Mermaids to do whatever they needed to do to take care of themselves. We offered a little advice…
You can jump in the water and run right out.
You can enter slowly and silently or scream at the top of your lungs.
You can go up to your ankles or dive in all the way.
You can even decide to stay onshore and watch.
But that last suggestion will be hard. Really hard. Because the joy you’ll feel radiating from the water will be nearly impossible to resist.
It’s such a pleasure to watch a woman challenge herself to do something she couldn’t imagine herself doing just a few minutes earlier. And it’s quite something to hear her being encouraged to do so by other women – many of whom are strangers.
As we swam together in the autumn sun, I felt enormously grateful and moved by the experience. What is it that makes these gatherings so special, I wondered?
Facing fear with others, especially when the fear feels so close to the bone, connects us to our shared humanity. And the vulnerable emotions that rise to the surface force the masks to drop. As the women enter the water, even as they show up at the beach, they leave their roles – the “cloak of personality” behind and allow their true selves to be seen and heard. This is what I’m most moved by – the truth and intimacy of it all.
To consciously age means to welcome the opportunity to slowly and deliberately dismantle everything you thought you needed to be in order to show up as who you really are. And at the beach, this is what happens. Authentic communion. True support. A kind of sisterhood that can move mountains.
As a matter of fact, I secretly think of that every time I plunge. These women may not know it yet, but I suspect Life has plans… big plans.