A Shrinking Manhood
The effect of cold showers on men: finding muscles you never knew you had
I have just endured ninety days without a hot shower or bath, which means cold showers from 17th January to 17th April - some of the coldest weeks in England.
My first cold shower was quite an event - I'd been building up to it for several days - readying myself for the launch of Exodus90 with five other idiots who signed up with me.
It was just as bad, and worse, than I'd imagined.
I'd asked a question in preparation - "how cold?" - and the answer came back - "so you are gasping". I did as asked, and to show willing, I stayed in longer than needed to clean and rinse off (which when panicking, is possible in about 68 seconds). That first shower, I made it to 4 minutes.
Many things happen to you in a cold shower. First of all you gasp and then your whole body tenses - your neck and head go stiff, and you wonder if you'll have a heart attack. Then you grab the soap, trying to calm down and breathe slowly - but you can't stop gasping and wondering what the point is. You manage to compose yourself and channel your willpower toward getting soap into your hair and over your body - you try and remember to clean everything, but it is hard because you're in a rush. You are now at the point of no return - you cannot climb out head to toe in bubbles - so you submerge again in the icy flow, gasping, panting, limbs flailing around your body trying to get rid of the last soap suds you now realise come off much slower in cold water.
Stepping out, you feel instantly warm and even smile and laugh at yourself before remembering this is the first of ninety days. Drying off takes longer because the cold water seems to stick to skin like oil. Despite all this, you feel more alive, more healthy. And best of all, no steam on the mirror.
You finish drying, and for the first time glance down between your legs and gasp, not from the cold water itself, but from the effects of it. Something very important has retreated from its position and you wonder and hope this is reversible. It does take a while, but I can tell you now, it is.
What is the point in all this?
I would never have signed up if it weren't for a Facebook advert enticing me into a new kind of challenge.
Turning the corner into 2022, I was exhausted. Facebook plugs about challenges, courses, and all manner of find-your-freedom keys to success were wearing me down. Every single person appeared to have the answer to my problem - my happiness. If I just clicked the link, downloaded the free worksheet, signed up for the webinar, and followed the 12 simple steps, I would forge my way to financial freedom and happiness. Exhausting. And untrue.
Enter Exodus90 - a courageously-orange-branded spiritual programme calling modern men to freedom, purity and familial success. This looked different, so I clicked.
"Cold Showers, Holy Hours" - that was some good branding...
And they really meant it!
It turned out, Exodus90 was asking me to set aside an hour every day to do their 'readings' and then enter into silent prayer, followed by a cold shower.
In addition, this path to freedom, based on the historical account of the Jews' own exodus, would require me to meet with five other men for an hour every week. One of these men I must contact every day with a 'report' of my day. I also must give up any snacking between meals, sweet drinks, desserts and puddings, movies, televised sport, all unecessary use of devices and computers. I must fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, and exercise hard, at least three times a week.
There was no promise of financial freedom or business growth, and for all this, I would pay $10/month for the privelege. Yet... it caught my attention! The promise of freedom - true freedom - from small addictions, comforts, individualism, self-reliance and pride, was irresistable.
In our first fraternity meeting (Zoom, of course) we introduced ourselves - some hadn't met before - talked about our hopes and fears, paired off with our 'anchor' person and miraculously found a weekly hour-long slot everyone could commit to for the next twelve weeks.
The whole thing was so unlikely: six friends, from different contexts of my life, all whom I admired and valued greatly, suddenly available for a ninety day programme with an insane level of committment? I was so shocked by the level of buy-in, I came off that first Zoom call wondering whether Exodus90 was some kind of evangelistic cult-sucking scheme and we were already under its spell.
It didn't take me long to realise, if I wanted, I could switch off the app, delete my subscription, back out, go home and no one would care.
Top tip - that is a good sign it is not a cult.
In Exodus90, cold showers are the tip of a very deep iceberg, albeit a sharp and unpleasant one. The thunderous body lurking beneath the water is the invitation to relinquish control - a challenge facing many if not all men.
I don't need to do this!
Except you might, especially if you are desperately convinced you don't.
For me, this summary from the Exodus90 'Field Guide' stayed in the forefront of my mind throughout the ninety days:
Nearly all Exodus Men have admitted, after reading this list [of disciplines], to thinking about how they will modify it. They want to take control. But if being “in control” has not led you to freedom before, what makes you think it will help you now?
It made me wonder, what would it be like to walk along a path that was not of my own making? Would there be other benefits from this kind of submission?
If you choose to follow all the disciplines except the cold showers, you are certainly doing something—but you are not doing Exodus 90. If you choose to embrace all the ascetic disciplines but you decide not to read the reflections, again you are doing something—but you are not doing Exodus 90.
Letting go of control is a deep and soul-searching operation for a man and it requires an enormous amount of self-control.
The body of the iceberg, for me, was facing the daily choice to submit to the disciplines in their entirety. Whilst I was good at controlling my circumstances, my outward appearance, and even those around me, I discovered I couldn't fully control myself. That's a fricking big iceberg.
You will not learn true freedom until you are willing to follow a path that isn’t of your own making.
Can I actually abstain from this list of unneccesary things for 90 days?
Can I make a pre-meditated choice to have a cold shower, over and over again?
I create hours of time for all sorts of things, can I do the same for prayer?
The unveiling of the answers to these questions and the reasons behind them, was one of the greatest gifts of doing Exodus90, which I hope to share in the future.
Meet our fraternity:
John, a married, well-travelled, multi-talented drummer and musician
Alan, a father of three, American immigrant, ex-alcoholic, author, and ministry school leader
Dan - father of four, guitar teacher and entrepenuer
James, father of three, ex-military, artist and archer
Jonny, a father of eight, farm worker turned business owner / social entrepreneur
Me, father of eight, youth pastor and writer.
In our first month we arranged to meet in person for half a day. We walked for an hour, jumped in the sea, cooked lunch over a fire and prayed.
I thought our resilience to cold water would have improved after several weeks of cold showers, but the sea was colder.
We stripped off (to trunks) and loped down the beach to fairly mild surf. The need to remove shoes coupled with shingle underfoot before getting deep enough to swim, made for a stumbling, staggering, giggling entry into the sea. Six brave men... being watched by half a dozen couples sat with their picnics watching from the comfort of their cars.
Some extreme swimmers were also watching. But we only realised that once we'd staggered out the surf, this time delirious, and back over the rocks to our towels. It was humble pie all round.
Could it be that modern culture has emasculated rather than empowered men?
'Manhood' has focussed on rights, privileges and personal identity rather than responsibility, leadership, sacrifice. Unlimited access to - insert your vice - is seen as true freedom.
A full commitment to Exodus90 has the potential to show you how weak you are, and then how strong you are. Weak because the floppy cultural norms didn't require you to rise up, to sacrifice, to eliminate for the sake of others, so those muscles whilst present were invisibly small. Using them hurts, especially to start with, but it also feels good, even from day one.
And then, strong.
As those tender muscle fibres start to break, heal, and grow, day by day, week by week, you become stronger and realise you love something you'd almost never heard of. It feels good but you never thought it would because all your life, especially if you are a Millenial, or Gen-Z, using these muscles may have been sold to you as tame, square, and a denial of what must be, 'your true self'.
That, friends, is a lie.
There is no question that I have found more freedom these last three months than I can remember in my whole life.
Whilst one muscle may shrink in a cold shower, others grow.
In fact, a whole group of muscles are waiting to grow big enough to fight against the real threat of a false manhood, one which says earn more, do less, please yourself.
READ - "On Being A Father of Eight"