Cold showers and economicsBy Jason Shenk
Troubling news — economic turmoil, rising unemployment, increasing anxiety — has stirred me recently to recall how I came to embrace cold showers. For me the peculiar joy of a cold shower has come to illustrate the value of looking anew at unsettling situations.
About six years ago, my parents and I stayed with friends whose home demonstrates their commitment to mindful use of the Earth’s resources. Besides the wood stove for heat and composting toilet, they have a simple bathtub for bathing.
When I was getting ready for the day I approached the single-faucet bathtub with some trepidation. In place of my usual hot shower, I knelt in the tub, soaping and rinsing with alarmingly cold water. But by the time I finished, I was surprised at how alert I felt, keenly aware of my body and my surroundings.
Usually, my hot showers serve a soothing function, almost putting me back to sleep. But this small change in my routine had left me alert, invigorated and energized for the day. I soon returned to my normal hot showers, but the memory stuck.
Then a few years later, a college friend mentioned that she loved long, hot showers — and made up for the water and energy used by not showering as often. The values implicit in her description aligned with how I had been understanding resource use: often comfortable and enjoyable but not ethically responsible.
My original unthinking practice of long, hot showers achieved comfort and cleanliness, but ignored the overuse of water and energy for heat. I now realize that cold showers still get me clean — as well as offering an alertness, connection to my body and satisfaction of more responsible living that hot showers can’t match.
My new perspective doesn’t mean that hot showers have become inherently wrong, but it has broadened the possibilities for what showering could be.
The cold-shower story has taken on a larger resonance for me as this dynamic — the way aligning our practices with our values can reap unforeseen joys and richness — has shown up in more facets of my life.
n I enjoy traveling, but as I seek to save fossil fuels I’m also coming to a deeper appreciation of the joys of staying home. I can learn from many subcultures within biking distance, and I treasure building place-based relationships over time.
n As someone whose identity places me mostly as part of historically oppressing groups, ignorance can seem to be bliss. Learning and feeling the depths of injustice is painful. But the comfort of aloofness can’t compare to the fullness of rich, complex and colorful relationships I’ve known through anti-oppression work.
In various choices like these, I’ve found joy in stepping out in faith — and seeing what happens. (I still have trouble with cold showers in winter, but can turn off the water to soap and shampoo. And in the house where I live we enjoy sharing conservation tips with one another.)
In the coming economic times, some of our accustomed comforts might not be an option. Or maybe not our highest priority. All people have the right to be safe and cared for. But luxury, affluence and homogeneity pale in comparison with relationships of ingenuity, resourcefulness and solidarity when it comes to achieving deep well-being and wholeness.
May the coming economic situation draw us out of our complacency and into more faithful, creative and fulfilling ways to live.
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