I’ve been taking a morning hot bath every morning now since arthritis came knocking at my door. The original reason was to get my joints in the mood for early morning yoga(1). It works well, but I’ve found an unexpected and valuable bonus.
The morning soak instigates nearly unavoidable inspiration! Sometimes I deliberately ‘shut the gates‘ in the hope of cognitive stillness. However, that can often have just the opposite effect, i.e., existence and nothing [movement and stillness] give birth to one another. Still, what rushes in never disappoints.
I imagine taking a hot bath first thing in the morning is a rare practice, which accounts for its ‘secret’ effect. John Cleese’s creativity talk ties into this in a charming way; these creativity promoting factors he talks about are present in the morning bath experience. For example:
(1) You are taking a relaxing hot bath soon after spending hours sleeping. This allows the eternal moment of sleep to blend with the awake mind.
(2) You are not doing anything but soaking; not soaping (2), not washing, not shaving, nothing—just being.
(3) You are setting aside a time and space for an essential moment, like a daily prayer or meditation, except that there is no cognitive or physical requirement other than simply soaking.
This morning offered a typical example of the process. A friend was over last night who is ‘obsessed’ with an offshoot of the Paleolithic diet (3). Just thinking the word “obsession” launched me into musing about it. Why do we get obsessed? Thought immediately began rummaging through memories, science, experience, human history, stumbling to find the best hypothesis it could. If it finds one, I have to quickly write it down or is vanishes. You see, it is not the hypotheses that have value; they fall as rain drops on the window of my mind. No, the discovery process is what fascinates me. I love to follow curiosities scent. Ironically, that feels like it could be an ‘obsession’. Is it?
I see curiosity as resulting from peering into the unknown. In other animals, the experience just is what it is—raw curiosity with a dash of fear and anticipation. In we thinking animals, this experience evokes: What? Why? Where? How? Therefore, it looks to me like human obsessions are pursued to quiet down curiosity by giving us something tangible and secure upon which to focus. Our penchant for obsession is therapeutic for it gives us something ‘known’ to hold so self-awareness doesn’t fall into oblivion. Buddha sheds light on this in his Second Truth where he points out how ….the illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things. Obsession is fundamentally a cognitive “cleaving to things”, which further enhances the illusion of self.
Curiosity vs. “the illusion of self”
I’ve been noticing how my curiosity seems to be increasing. This is odd for I hear the opposite is supposed to be true, i.e., kids have the most curiosity and this declines as we age. In youth, we clamor to know what is going on. As we age, we accumulate more knowledge to “cleave to”, which gives us a more secure sense of self, illusion and all. We think we know.
As we continue to age, we become more emotionally secure compared to our emotionally insecure youthful phase of life. We begin to reach a point where greater emotional security mellows the anxieties that drove us to our particular obsessions. This is not uniquely human; such mellowing with age occurs in all animals. With less need to “cleave to” something in particular, we’re able to look deeper. This is certainly what seems to be happening to me. I am peering into the unknown more and more. As my need for a particular answer fades — raw curiosity increases. So, my experience doesn’t match the dictum: curiosity declines with age. I don’t think I’m unique either; for me, the dictum expresses an incomplete worldview arising from the middle age blind spot.
Loosen your mind glue
Inspiration and obsession are connected, to be sure. Inspiration is why we are at the pinnacle of the food chain. The human mind can’t help but gaze into the void, which causes fear and need to rise. Voila! Inspiration, creativity, discovery follow in their wake naturally. Obsession soon stifles this, and we often end up shooting ourselves in the foot — ‘too much of a good thing’, as they say. Soaking in the hot bath helps open the cognitive gates. So, go soak yourself whenever you find yourself stuck, dead-ended, plateaued, or at your wits end. A morning soak can loosen the obsessive glue that binds your mind.
(1) Doing yoga first thing really starts out the day right, I find. Of course, doing yoga first thing in the morning is a little challenging even without the arthritis. The hot bath would probably be helpful for anyone wishing to start out the day ‘right’.
(2) Over the last 50 years, I haven’t used soap but a handful of times. It is unnecessary unless I get really greasy-dirty. Mind you, I’ve always taken a bath every day — and now two a day — and use a bristly brush to mimic brushing up against bushes in the wild. Hair is another matter. I soap my hair, when it is there (I cut it off once a year). I guess that wouldn’t be an issue if I lived completely ‘wild’. Interestingly, soap on the body actually does more dermatological harm than good, killing off the good bacteria and such.
(3) As it happens, I worked this dietary issue out 40 years ago when I compared what we eat with what the great apes eat. In looking at all the research I could find about the other apes, and picturing our species back a few hundred thousand years ago, the diet we evolved to eat was obviously not the one we had been munching on for the last 10,000 years (since the agricultural revolution.) See Omega-3 and Vitamin D.