The bath brings about nearly unavoidable insights. Indeed, sometimes I deliberately Squeeze exchange, shut the gates, as chapter 52 puts it, in the hope of cognitive stillness. Yet, that often has the opposite effect, as chapter 2 describes Existence and nothing [movement and stillness] give birth to one another. No wonder life can be so tricky to figure out.
Taking a hot bath first thing in the morning is a culturally rare practice that comes with valuable benefits. John Cleese’s talk on creativity (google [John Cleese on Creativity]) speaks to this in a charming way. The creativity promoting factors he talks about are present in this morning bath experience. For example:
♦ 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.
♦ You are not doing anything but soaking; not soaping (2), not washing, not shaving, nothing—just being.
♦ 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 pondering it. Why do we get obsessed? Thought immediately began rummaging through memories, science, experience, human history, stumbling to find the best hypothesis it could. Even so, it isn’t 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 following curiosity’s scent. Ironically, that feels like it could be an obsession. Is it?
I suspect curiosity is a result of sensing the unknown. In other animals, this experience is limited to raw curiosity with a dash of fear and anticipation. In we thinking animals, this experience evokes cognitive tension, i.e., what? why? where? how? As a result, I assume we pursue an obsession to quiet down curiosity. An obsession offers the mind something tangible and secure upon which to focus. An obsession is therapeutic as it promises us something believable, or at least knowable, on which to hold so that self-awareness doesn’t fall into oblivion. Obsession is fundamentally a cognitive “cleaving to things”, which anchors the “illusion of self”. As Buddha notes in his Second Truth “… the illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things”. As you see, I’m defining obsession somewhat broadly.
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 presumably gives us a more secure sense of self. We think we know.
As we continue to age, we become more emotionally secure compared to our emotionally insecure youthful phase of life. We reach a point where greater emotional security mellows the anxieties that initially drove any particular obsession. 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. Therefore, my experience doesn’t match the dictum that curiosity declines with age. I don’t think I’m unique either. Indeed, this dictum expresses an incomplete worldview arising from the middle age experts.
Loosen your mind glue
Inspiration and obsession are connected, to be sure. Inspiration is why we are at the top of the food chain. Our mind’s eye can’t help but gaze into the void and this spawns fear and need. Voila! Curiosity, inspiration, and discovery naturally follow in their wake. However, obsession eventually stifles this… I assume that is the result of having too much of a good thing. Soaking in the hot bath can help reverse this a little. So, go soak yourself whenever you find yourself stuck and 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. 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 twice 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 all off once a year). I assume 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 out this dietary issue 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, p.98.)