Imagine that you are standing on the shore of a big, beautiful lake, with a deep blue sky overhead and long gentle waves of blue-green water lapping at your feet. You take a deep breath and get ready to plunge into the lake.
Oh, and that lake is Lake Erie, and you’re standing on a beach just west of Cleveland, and it’s high noon on the first day of the new year. The air temperature is twenty-five degrees, the wind is gusting to twenty-five miles per hour, and at thirty-eight degrees that lake water will feel comparatively tropical.
You are wearing nothing but a swimsuit, a thin piece of nylon; it’s all you’ve got to stave off the elements and frostbite. It just doesn’t seem sufficient. All this begs the question: you’re not really going to jump into that water, are you?
Well, yes, you are. There’s only one way to become a member of the Polar Bear Club. You run into that icy water and immerse yourself, and you do it on the first day of the year, and as soon as you complete that task, and assuming you survive afterwards, you too are a PBC member.
Some people do this sort of thing on the spur of the moment. Myself, I drove past a large crowd at Huntington Beach in Bay Village on January 1, 2012, and I wondered why they had gathered. When I found out that the Cleveland Triathlon Club inducts new members into the PBC on the first day of each New Year, I resolved that I would join the PBC on the first day of 2013. And, after 365 days of anticipating that day when I would join the crazies in the Polar Bear Club, I did it!
While the pre-plunge adrenaline rush was off the charts, the post-plunge walk back to the shore was even better. It provided exhilarating feelings of being alive, awake and aware! The feelings of alive and awake are a given. The feeling of aware was a welcome surprise. Anthony de Mello describes it best in Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality: “Most people are asleep. They need to wake up, open up their eyes, see what is real, both inside and outside of themselves. The greatest human gift is to be aware, to be in touch with oneself, one’s body, mind, feelings, thoughts, sensations.”
The plunge provided awareness like I have never before experienced. Colors around me were crisper and clearer. I heard the conversations of hundreds of fellow PBC plungers all around me simultaneously, as if they were all speaking directly to me. Perhaps most surprising was the feeling of my body regaining heat—tiny needles of white heat, an infinite number of them, jabbing at every exposed patch of skin. Was this what it felt like to be microwaved, I wondered.
I felt aware—completely, and for the first time in my life. I was Living Consciously– present, understanding relationship and with perspective. Tony de Mello might have laughed at me for jumping in a cold lake, and he might not have chosen to plunge himself, but he certainly would have appreciated the awareness I gained that morning on the shore of Lake Erie.