Today, day six, marked the completion of my transformation and also the beginning of a long road ahead. Last night I went to bed early big only slept 3 hours. I woke up to an emotional dream and then lay in bed awake in bed for 30 minutes anxious to get back to sleep to prepare for the big day ahead. I could not sleep so I trusted myself and went downstairs and allowed myself the space to process. All kinds of emotions and memories were pouring out of me. I looked in the mirror and cried harder than I’ve cried in a long time. I felt the pain of loved ones lost, self-doubt, and self-destructiveness. I then wrote down my feelings and after 3 hours of writing I finally went to bed. I didn’t sleep but I just lay there listening to the snoring of my 5 roommates and then tuned them out with earbuds.
I was supposed to wake up at 7:30 and join a small group to go back to the waterfall and submerge to start the day but I was so tired and anxious about the day ahead that I skipped it. I was afraid that it would take up too much energy for the big hike.. I regretted this all day. I wanted to go back to the water with only shorts on and submerge myself again and relax and enjoy it free from the anxiety of having to do so, and I wanted to walk back with no clothes on to truly deal with the cold and own my own feelings and truly master my fears. But sadly I did not, I decided that everything happens for a reason and I would just have to continue my training back home in the US where the struggles of daily life make it hard to do so. I let go of the guilt for not going and prepared for what was to come.
Now for the main event! The grand finale in classic Wim Hof form. The final challenge was to hike the highest and steepest mountain in Poland with nothing but shorts on just like before. The challenge was that this hike was a lot steeper and colder. This was only 10km as opposed to the 13km hike earlier in the week but this trail was VERY vertical and had no actual walking path. We would have to trudge through the snow and make our own path. When we got there it turned out to be a ski mountain and we started off at the base lodge by the bunny slope with gawking families and children taking pictures of us as we began our ascent with practically no clothes on.
It was about 20 degrees out and cold as hell. As we got into the vertical slopes Wim was surprised that the mountain had just been pounded with a ton of snow the night before so every step people were falling and sinking into the ground up to waist deep in snow. It was far more intense than even he anticipated and he kept checking in with the group to see if we were all ok. We were all transformed and ready to face our fears and we all cheered out positively to move forward with every check in. We trudged step by step up the mountain and it was amazing! My hands were not cold (relatively speaking of course, at least I could move them this time), and I was completely in my meditative breathing state for at least half of the hike which was a huge improvement from the last hike. Its difficult to sustain complete mental focus but I am learning and making steady progress.
I knew I was controlling by blood flow because I could feel my fingers and it was way colder out than the first hike. I was focused. When we finally reached the summit, the last 200 meters had a wind blowing so hard that Wim decided to stop us. He said that the risk for hypothermia was too high so we turned around. Normally we would put our clothes on to hike down but since we missed the summit by just 200 meters we were all so fired up that we kept our clothes off and literally ran down. Dennis started the trend and we all followed like a heard of angry elephants. He was literally rolling and sliding down the face of an un-groomed slope with drifts of snow that were upwards of 5-6 feet deep. He blasted through the snow in a fit of fury covered in snow and ice and laughing and euphoric, it was an amazing sight!
Dennis is one of my closest compadres here and he is very strong and motivated. His words kept me going a few times over the course of the trip and this reckless display of pure disregard for the cold was so bad ass and inspiring that I too started running down and literally skiing down the mountain with my hiking boots! I was jumping through several feet of snow at a gnarly vertical on a European double black diamond slope in my board shorts, my feet were wet and it was painful as all hell but I knew I would be fine, we were all laughing and screaming and completely free and fully present in the moment.
It was in this moment that something triggered in me and I knew that I had overcome so much of my fear about constrictions and frostbite, on the run down Dennis pointed at my legs and said “Haj, you were so worried about your toes now look at your legs, they’re completely yellow! Sure enough when I looked down they were. Under normal circumstances this would make me scared and freak out but instead I started laughing hysterically. Why? Because fuck you that’s why! I was I control and I could feel it! (“Fuck you” is not directed to “you” as the reader, it is rather a crass snapshot of how I felt about all restrictions in that moment) I was pushing the physical limits of my body and it was beautiful. Some people were bright red, others literally had purple limbs and others also yellow…
It reminded me of Wim’s commend about the orchestra of colors and how we make music with it and it made me laugh because I finally got it. This was human evolution; we were waking up out evolutionary genetic consciousness that has kept our race alive long before North Face jackets were ever invented. When we made it to the bottom the “after drop” kicked in and we were all shivering like babies waiting for the bus but morale was still high. (After drop is when your body responds to extreme cold after the stimulus of the cold itself) Once we all got on the bus back home, Wim started gesturing like a conductor and mocking the sounds of the shivers orchestrating our symphony of chattering teeth and we all laughed out loud, it was amazing. The sun was now shining and then he announced that Yaap had proposed to Elsa (The gal who puked her guts out and nearly quit on day 1) and she accepted. We all reveled in the love of such a beautiful partnership. Life was good
Wim invited us to come to hike Kilimanjaro with him in September. He and a group of trainees just broke the world record for the hike in just 31 hours for a group (they did it in shorts of course which had nothing to do with the record) and their bodies were tracked by a bunch of scientists trying to understand how they were all able of increasing their red blood cell count just by focused breathing. Wim is able to teach in days what I believe will ultimately change the world. I want to go to hike Kilimanjaro in September and break the old record! A few compadres from the group all want to do the same and the cool thing is that these are not a bunch of young extremists looking for a thrill, rather most are 40 somethings who are all professionals and leaders in their communities and most also have multiple children. Don’t get me wrong there were some younger people too but the makeup of the group regardless of age generally consisted of motivated people excited about life. Wim helps to foster and stoke the fire of that excitement.
When we got back, one of my yoga instructor friend Elanor from the UK showed me a bunch of great poses and as my “main man” (as he calls me) Leon from Holland and I were waiting for Wim’s son Ehnam to start the fire downstairs to heat up the water tank for a hot shower to warm up. After some yoga I wanted to warm up the rest of my body while waiting for the shower so I suggested that we do a workout. Dennis walked in the room and said, “ok Haj I make a deal with you. You come to the waterfall with me and we walk there with no clothes and I come workout after with you to warm-up.” I laughed and said that I was still freezing from the hike. He then said “stop thinking and let’s go!” Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Here was my chance for redemption. Not for the redemption of my ego, but rather of my spirit’s desire to master my fears. The last thing in the world that I wanted to do in that moment was follow the most hardcore extreme guy in the group back to the waterfall… I was the American with the yellow toes, how the hell could I? But of course I said “lets do it!” and went.
As we walked the path to get there I was already shivering. Wim even said that once you start shivering it’s really difficult to stop so you have to breath and use the technique prior to the shiver setting in. I mentioned to Dennis that I was shivering and he said “then breath more” and laughed. So I did, I breathed and focused and I could feel the blood circulating to the extremities that needed it, it could literally channel my blood flow just by breathing and thinking it. My shivering slowed and then I relaxed my shoulders and let the cold in and practiced a moment of acceptance and then it was all good. I was still nervous while walking into the water but I did so anyway while noting that my feet were not nearly as cold as normal. When my feet and legs went into the water it didn’t feel that bad, which of course made me feel sooooo good!
I walked into the deepest part of the pond and stood there and just practiced my breathing. Then I did 20 power breathes and just submerged myself again completely underwater and just enjoyed it. When I came out of the water I had a huge grin on my face because I had just found was I was looking for. I had mastered my fears and I successfully practiced acceptance and also controlled my body from the inside. Dennis was of course practically doing laps in the pond. He took a while to get out and suggested I leave without him to walk back as the journey back is the worst part because you’re freezing cold and wet. Unlike two days ago we had no dry clothes this time around. But I said no way, I patiently waited for him, simply said “no worries bro, I’ll live.” And I continued breathing. I have him a huge hug and expressed my gratitude that he pushed me to do this.
We jogged back to the house and then went into the attic to workout. Normally only a hot shower can get rid of my yellow feet from constructed veins but after all the training I was getting better and I was able to power through it! We did a kick ass workout and felt amazing. I then took a hot shower (being with a cold one of course) and then went into the sauna and had to finish with a complete cold shower just for good measure. (Cold showers here are literally ice cold). The big bells were now ringing which meant it was time for meditation and I went upstairs a changed man forever!
(Dennis playfully doing squats with Wim’s old-school Navy diver’s helmet)
In today’s meditation, Wim is now trying to show us how to break free of the neo-cortex and achieve the blissful state without breathing. He says it just takes practice. I started with power breathing because I knew I wasn’t there yet, and after two rounds of constricting the breath (starting with squeezing thence glutes, then contracting the stomach then ribs then throat then pushing through the crown of the head, holding, and then letting go). After the exhale I was able to immodestly go to the blissful space where my body was tingling and I could feel energy surging throughout my arms and legs. It felt blissful and good. After the meditation Wim have a speech and we all have hugs to every single person. I normally find these sorts of things silly but I felt so much love after my experience and after the meditation that it felt amazing. As opposed to oppressing my sadness for leaving tomorrow I embraced it. I had many emotions flowing through me on this cathartic day and I did my best to just experience them with genuine internal honesty. I was incredibly grateful for being able to experience this journey here. I was proud of myself because rather than acting like the standard stoic Haj and blunting some of my own emotions I gave myself permission to feel it all openly and I gave lots of hugs and expressed how I felt deeply connected with everyone. There was no awkwardness. I did not judge myself. It felt natural, relaxed and good.
We are now prepping for a huge BBQ party with music and drinks and while I know that I will come back a changed man, I also know that my next challenge is to practice the techniques and master them in the most difficult environment ever: home.