Success coach Brian Tracy wrote a book called “Eat That Frog” advocating that you tackle an undesirable challenge first thing in the morning. That way everything afterwards will seem easier.
While Tracy was generally advocating jumping headfirst into a business related task, others have taken the metaphor to mean overcoming barriers of any kind by diving in rather than avoiding them.
There are a number of other metaphors for demonstrating grit, guts, courage, or personal fortitude.
For those familiar with Japanese martial arts and the samurai traditions, you may have heard the phrase: The spine is the sword of the body.
Keeping your back straight and spine erect has a direct impact on your ability to project power during combat. This is why the martial arts place so much emphasis on “kamae” or posture. Proper skeletal alignment also has mental-emotional implications.
Some call it a cybernetic loop. By straightening your spine and keeping your eyes level you can improve your alertness, energy level, and overall mood. This, of course, is essential to maintaining physical readiness and situational awareness.
However, many features of modern, sedentary life lead us toward slouching and other forms of bad posture.
This leads me back to consciously and deliberately putting some sharp steel in the spine first thing in the morning. And I do it while facing a challenge I’m inclined to shy away from.
You see, I’ve always been a fan of hot showers…and totally averse to cold showers.
In fact, I hate cold showers. Still do.
However, for some reason the Japanese traditions have an affinity for standing under waterfalls in the mountains.
The Yamabushi, mountain warrior seekers, Shugendo, path of trial and practice, and esoteric Buddhist schools all regularly spend time chanting under an icy waterfall. The university training course for Shingon monks on Mount Koya is famous for annually filming bald headed initiates at the first of the year chanting while submerged to the neck with ice and snow all around.
The founder of Aikido, as well as my own teacher, routinely stood under the waterfall of Atago Mountain in Iwama as a form of purification (misogi).
With that in mind, it was inevitable that I would have to take up the practice. I’m glad I did.
After receiving direct instruction from Shingon Mikkyo practitioners and dragging some aikido buddies along for a few times up the mountain, I knew this was something I had to do every day.
Except trekking out to the mountains every day is not an option while looking for “work-life balance”.
Samurai sword practitioner, John Maki Evans, writes that he was advised by his sensei to spend increasing amounts of time each day squatting under a cold shower while chanting mantra as preparation for instruction in the inner secrets of his art at a mountain retreat.
Like most people, I don’t have increasing amounts of time each day to devote to this practice but it is worth it to make the last minute of my morning shower a test of my mettle.
After rinsing off from the regular shower activities, I turn the temperature down to the deep blue and get ready for the morning “fun”.
As the water turns from hot to cold I sense that my natural reaction is to tense up and hunch over. It’s part of the challenge to deliberately relax the muscles and let the water run down my back as I straighten up.
Staying with it requires deep breathing and I automatically go into repeating aloud my personal mantra three times as I sway from middle to left shoulder, and then right, before putting the water directly overhead.
It’s invigorating! It also gives you a great reason to begin wiping the cold droplets from your skin once turning the spigot off. Shake it off and excite the body.
It used to be, and sometimes still is, a real challenge to overcome that mental resistance to spinning the dial. I could just as easily turn the water off and reach for a towel.
Yet, the warrior’s path is one of overcoming mental inertia and the mind that wants to keep you safe and small. The warrior faces challenges rather than shrinking away from them, always seeking to enlarge their domain.
One thing that has really helped with sticking to the practice is visualization, which is also a big part of the esoteric traditions. See yourself as larger than life, endowed with the qualities of a heroic character.
Kurikara is the dragon sword of wisdom that cuts through delusion. Surrounded by purifying flames, visualizing Kurikara helps remove whatever obstacles block the path of progress.
Visualizing the Kurikara blade taking the place of my spine as the icy water runs down my back is an empowerment tool that sets the day on a path of positive momentum.
Looking for a practice to help get you out of a rut, the familiar, the stagnant?
It may sound simple, but adding a cold minute to the end of your shower can change your glide path (all without needing to climb a mountain).
Taking the image of the Kurikara dragon blade can help motivate you.
Check it out and maybe get your own here.
P.S: You can even download a high quality PDF of Kurikara to print out or just put on your computer desktop as part of your morning contemplation. There is power in appreciating these qualities. Putting some steel in your spine will help you face the challenges of the day. Check it out here.