The Stoics have a lot to teach us in this modern world of ours. I’m a great fan.
One of the practices of Stoicism is to take something you find pleasurable, and imagine yourself losing it forever, so that you can “rehearse” for the time when you might actually lose it. Another version is to actually do without that pleasurable thing for a period. The idea is that when you come back to reality and think about the thing you actually still have, or when you end your period of “doing without”, you will appreciate the pleasurable thing so much more.
So… In comes Michael Harper with his own little version of this aspect of Stoicism. A week or two ago, I decided that in the morning, instead of washing my face and hair in hot water, I’d use only cold. OK, OK, I know, not exactly on a par with going without food or shelter or a loved one, but anyway…
Well, it was grim to begin with, it really was. Being November when I started, the cold water actually was starting to get REALLY cold, and believe me, when it trickled into my ears and onto my very eardrums first thing in the morning I certainly knew about it! But I persisted, and actually after few days, it became a habit; just another part of my routine; and I didn’t really think about it much.
Roll forward a couple of weeks and I decided yesterday to return to using hot water to wash my hair and face. Well, it was just amazing. What happiness! What BLISS! Feeling my head bask in the delicious warmth of that hot, steamy water flowing through my hair and over my ears.
So as an experiment, it worked. I appreciated that hot water more than I ever have in my whole life, truly. And as you may know, appreciation is one of the foundation blocks that underpins happiness. If you can appreciate even the apparently small things in life – hot water, the cheeky sparrow singing in your gutter, the laughter of a child – then you’re definitely onto a winner.