Our local banker plans to continue his tradition of a winter plunge into Vermont’s Lake Champlain. He’s participating in an annual Penguin Plunge fundraiser for the Special Olympics. It’s a good cause, for sure, but, what’s more, he reports the experience of the ephemerally shocking and painful cold as “fun”.
His news arrives at the same time as Rebecca Mead’s account in The New Yorker of her own cold-water swimming and the trend that led her to it.
What’s caught my attention is that side by side with the trending of this hyper-stimulating activity is the buzz around the dopamine fast. Dopamine fasting is an attempt at hypo-stimulation. The goal is to avoid activating our arousal neurostimulus. Cameron Sepah rides the trend on this one with a clear description of how to avoid and break conditioned response -- a consequence of out-of-control arousal.
A contradiction? I think not.
Our human condition is that of being an awesomely complex system in a constant balancing act to achieve homeostasis: a steady state of water, nutrients, temperature, and other conditions -- some still unimaginable -- necessary for life.
At the same time, that balance is never achieved. All of our systems are in oscillation. One thing or another is in arousal while another activates inhibition -- and back again.
Our climate- and light-controlled homes, offices, and conveyances inhibit our neuromuscular selves, while our devices keep our neurocognitive selves in hyperarousal. We’re stuck off balance.
Embrace the oscillation displayed in this latest wisdom of the crowd. Step away from the screen. Jump in some cold water.
And later, move toward homeostasis. Put on some jazz and draw a warm bath.
For the jazz, may I recommend Thelonious Monk. Climbing and falling. Arousal and inhibition.