Becoming Superhuman: Lake Constance
“And forget not that the Earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Khalil Gibran
I just arrived this morning in Europe from Shanghai, having breakfast in Paris and then arriving in Zurich by 9am. And by 11am I had arrived at Lake Constance, my inaugural visit. I was really excited to experience this lake in the heart of Europe, bordering Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein.
I’m here to speak at an event hosted by Zeppelin University, which is aiming to launch a rather interesting digital course with a track in futurology. So I intend to give some thoughts about the future, futures skills and also explain why I think a liberal arts college should be able to make a contribution to the field.
But that’s all tomorrow.
After dong a little work, I decided to run 10 km or so and then enter the lake. This year I’ve managed to swim in the Korean mountains when the air temperature was -10C, Essaouira in Morocco, the San Francisco Bay a number of times and in Santa Monica and Malibu, where I swam with 3 whales. I would have jumped in in many other locations, what put me off wasn’t the temperature as much as the water cleanliness.
I’ve been doing this for a few years now. I used to participate in triathlons but then it was all about performance. But before I explain my personal attraction to ice cold water or any natural water, I should highlight the health benefits. You can read about some of the benefits here on Wim Hof’s website (more about him below). It improves your circulation, bolsters your immune system, is known to alleviate depression, improve mental health and reduce inflammation amongst other things!
Now I am drawn to the water for other reasons. I always felt deeply refreshed when I went into natural rivers, lakes or oceans. But now it has become an almost spiritual yearning. In recent years, I’ve been spending a lot more time back in the British Isles. Part of this was natural after my younger sister passed away, which was a wake up call that I’d been away for so long. But part of it was a desire to reconnect to my ancestral land.
When I had my mid-life crisis 1.0 and I was looking for meaning and purpose when I was totally lost, I discovered Zen. This was the available technology that was laid at my feet as I was in East Asia at the time. That there was an ancient tradition which had figured out the human mind was a revelation. It has helped me tremendously and still does.
But on my travels I also ended up meeting many indigenous elders (even shaman) from around the world. These people were incredible close to nature and often more human than us Westerners – more compassionate and more in tune with themselves. I eventually started wondering about western indigeneity. Surely we also belonged to the land, as Chief Seattle once said? I started spending more and more time on my land, and intuitively felt guided to run through the woods bare-footed, jump into wild water and sit around in the sun next to wild animals. There was something primordial about all of this, and deeply comforting.
Once I was in the library at Schumacher College in Dartington and a book fell off the shelf about the legends of Merlin. It said that many Westerners couldn’t find a deep psycho-spiritual path in their homeland, so they went to the East and learnt from Indian Gurus, Himalayan Masters, Zen Masters or to South America to meet Shaman. But the indigenous wisdom of the British Isles was the Way of the Druids, the Way of Merlin. What I found out was that – like other indigenous peoples – our ancestors were incredibly close to the land. And would do practices involving natural water.
I was so inspired I took a good few weeks off to wander around the British Isles with a backpack visiting ancient places where druids might have lived and practiced. I had so many insights I have a journal full of notes which I really want to turn into a book one day.
A Modern ‘Druid’ – The Ice Shaman
Very recently I listened to some videos by the Dutchman, Wim Hof, about his approach to the cold, and cold water in particular. He is quite an incredible individual, famous for swimming under ice water and breaking world records and running up Everest in just shorts. What he emphasises – and I know from my own experience – is that ANYONE can cultivate this ability. In fact, I believe cold natural water (any natural water in fact) helps restore our bodies to its normal state energetically. It has certainly helped me bolster the impact of my qi gong. I also know that with the power of the mind we can do incredible feats. It been many years since I was a triathlete, but at 44 I am regaining my confidence to push myself beyond interesting new limits. In fact, my approach is different. There is less an inner struggle, much more an absolutely knowing that I can do certain things and not get sick.
Anyway, watch this video its quiet inspiring. I am really happy I found it after I’d been doing this for a couple of years.
Perhaps not all of that is to ‘be tried at home’ immediately and without guidance. But even starting off with cold showers can have huge mind-body benefits.
I think it’s really important to have a clear mind, and vitalised body, when pursuing creative discussions about anything, especially the future. And I am very grateful for Zeppelin University for hosting us. We are here to have a deep dialogue about the importance of the liberal arts in thinking about the future. I can’t think of a better place to do this!