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The Warmth of Cold

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Photo by Robert Mitchell

Everyday this winter, I placed my body in the brittle brine of the Atlantic ocean. Everyday, regardless of weather, tide or mood, I brought my bones to the frozen sea. Ironically, these past seven months of daily “dipping” shine bright as some of the warmest of all of my days.

“But why do you do it” a befuddled woman once asked as we slogged, smiling, up the beach in soggy bathing suits, peak blizzard. “And how do you do it, isn’t it cold!?”

“Its powerful medicine” I bellowed through the wall of snowflakes, “it has helped me walk again, after dealing with crippling Lyme disease.”

“It’s fun!” My husband cackled, "It is good for your brain and your body!” another dipper offered, “You just take your time and remember to breathe, you can do it too!”

“Oh, wow! Huh. well, good for you guys,” she rumbled, “I don’t think I could ever do it, though, just looking at you makes me shiver, you all are crazy!”

She then quickly disappeared behind the waving flurry of her mitten and the foggy car door, watching as the group of us shuffled joyfully into our cars, laughing and shrieking as the gray sky fell, frozen flake by frozen flake into the cove.

Photo by Robert Mitchell

Now, let me be clear. I was just like this woman less than a year ago, bundled and bewildered by the thought of winter swimming. Not only was I utterly confused and horrified by this idea, I was also deeply afraid of the cold and resented the sluggish and dark months of winter in Maine. If it wasn’t for the gift of desperation, and the golden mesh of community, I would still be bundled to the brim and slogging through the darkest days of my life.

Perhaps, despair is an alchemizer, or at least an invitation to transform. For a year and a half, off and on, quiet flames and fangs strangled the soft tissue of my joints, hot talons gripped the circumference of my knees, toes, elbow and fingers. A creeping, barbed cement filled these tender junctures, an uncontrollable swelling that eventually left me bedridden. Following an intuition that the Fall ocean water would help with the pain, my husband Andrei carried my wheelchair down to the ocean and I dunked my limbs one by one into the blue-blackness.

Photo by Robert Mitchell

The relief was immediate, deliciously numbing, though fleeting. In an act of steady love, Andrei agreed to join me for 30 consecutive days, setting into motion a powerful series of synchronicities that brought about the creation of a regular dipping pack, together named “The Little Dippers.” We quickly connected with others who had been romancing the cold for years, and recruited friends to try it out for the first time. Together we shivered and belly laughed and howled and hollered. We cared for each other, our bodies, our brains, facing the deepest parts of ourselves while ablaze in icy sensation. Since that day in September, we haven’t stopped.

The cold is generous. But like anything, you must be willing to receive what it offers. It is a fiercely potent feeling agent, kicking off a sensory cascade. The cold shows us, in vivid color, just how much choice and power we possess and how discomfort is not danger.

Seven months of cold water dipping every day has molted me down closer to my essence. There is a watery etching that happens with every dip. Every icy glance skyward something lets loose, something shakes awake somehow. I now realize that I can come to the water with something and leave without it. This drawing quality, a pulling out of my body things that I could not reach, is the perfect companion to any healing journey, and frankly, we are all healing from something.

The cold filled in my edges, like a liquid blue cocking along my warped frame. Silken sensation. A hard feeling that leaves a rippling wake of tenderness somehow. A corrosive yet gentle burn, an elective affliction, steeping ourselves like breathing tea leaves, bringing us to an internal boil.

Photo by Robert Mitchell

The intensity that brings life up from the earth in Spring, stringy green things climbing skyward - it is that same intensity that strikes a silvery chord within our frozen bellies. We are touching the live wire of existence, maybe, or maybe are are touching nothing at all, the center of the basin, the void where only energy lives. I don’t think I will ever fully understand the powers possessed by the cold, but I know that I have been forever changed by its electrifying touch and the wake of warmth and connection is has set into motion.

Photo by Robert Mitchell

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Sep 09, 2023

I haven't dipped in the winter but I have gone swimming at Grimes Cove from June to November. This year my left foot swelled up. I first stood in th ecold water in June for about twenty minutes and that helped it but when I actually went swimming and involved my entire body that really helpe it. Currently the problem is gone. I actually like a little tinge of coldness in the water, Warm water is so bland! But I also love the way the water was yesterday on a foggy day in September- warm without being bland. Something about foggy days, perhaps the equilibrium between air and water makes the water feel so luxurious.


Such a cool story. There seems to be a ton of research and momentum towards ice baths, cold showers and of course, the frigid ocean. Happy to hear you have found relief, thrive on!

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