The other day, an adventurous friend of mine sent me a picture of himself immersed in slurry of icy water. The photo was taken on a rooftop, on a cloudy winter day, with empty ice bags scattered around the metal tub. His eyes were closed and he looked serene, as if in deep meditation.
If you took a photo of me in such a scenario, my facial expression would be a little different – more of a blend of shock and torment. Having a strong aversion to cold water, I’d need a tremendous incentive to voluntarily get into an ice bath. But as I stared at his picture for a while, I felt unease, fascination, and admiration.
It reminded me of my own work in pain management. When a cold stimulus passes a certain threshold, it becomes “noxious cold,” which is interpreted by the brain as pain. Figuring out how to stay comfortable in a tub of ice water is fairly similar to the task of managing severe pain without drugs, which is exactly what I endeavor to teach people.
The arrival of my friend’s picture was a bit of a coincidence as I was recently challenging myself in cold water also. Admittedly, the comparison is laughable, since my version of “challenge” was swimming in a cenote fed by an underground river in the Belizean jungle. The water temperature was probably around 60 degrees, but cold is subjective, and to me, it was pretty uncomfortable. My daughter was already splashing around and demanding that I join her, so I decided to put my “equalization” technique to the test.
I set a foot in the water and felt the skin over my whole body tighten up. I was immediately aware of the inequality – the conflict – between my body and the water. And my reaction to this conflict was physical and psychological resistance, which only intensified the situation. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’ve experienced firsthand how unhelpful resistance is.
So, my first step was to stop resisting. And to prove to myself that I wasn’t resisting, I dove completely underwater. Instantly, the experience of conflict between my body and the water was magnified tremendously. I put my attention on my skin – the “frontier” of the conflict – and began to equalize the internal with the external.
As I told myself, “Equalize. Equalize. Equalize,” I imagined that the temperature difference between the interior and exterior of my body was getting smaller and smaller. The interior and exterior were coming together to meet each other, to harmonize. I actively let go of my resistance over and over, softening and relaxing that frontier. Dissolving the conflict.
Normally, I would have been shivering, teeth chattering, skin covered in goosebumps for at least a minute and perhaps for as long as I stayed in the water. But this time I was at ease within about fifteen seconds and I swam contentedly for about an hour. I had a few moments when I felt uncomfortably cold again, but this resolved when I brought my attention back to equalizing the temperature differential once more.
I’ll write more about this process next week, but in the meantime, I encourage you to try it in the simple way that I’ve presented it here. When you experience physical discomfort or outright pain, first, stop resisting. Second, visualize the painful place in your body in the context of the experience surrounding it, and intend to equalize the experience inside the pain with that outside the pain. You can also utilize this technique with a psychological or emotional issue by bringing the issue to mind and then allowing yourself to experience it in your body – there’s always a physical expression to every psychological conflict.
Imagine a fish tank with a removable panel dividing it into two sides. On one side the water is dyed blue; on the other it’s clear. If you shift the panel it becomes porous, and the two waters mix, resulting in an even color. See if you can apply this image to your inner experience, allowing for an equalization between a restricted part of yourself and your greater self, or between yourself and the world around you. See what happens.
Dr. Peter Borten
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about equalization and many, many, many more techniques for resolving physical and emotional pain, check out my new online course, Live Pain Free.