I know a cyberpal who is going though some serious renovating: personal, physical AND home-improvement-ological (she's removating and lookng for a new roof!). Part of her regimen includes giving up hot showers. Now let me say, for the record, that in the course of 20something years working for Uncle Sugar I've taken my share of cold showers. Panama? Honduras? The Sinai? Yeah, baby..! Bring on the good cold stuff. But New England? Oregon?
Brrrr. Not so much.
I remember having a conversation about something like this with the old Japanese sensei at my kendo school.
He was doing a drill with me where he made simple cuts at my head. I was supposed to parry them and immediately cut back at him; the purpose of the drill was to learn to riposte without thinking, to respond immediately to an attack with a stronger attack.
But I hadn't understood the instruction - I wasn't completing the parry and as a result was allowing him to hit me on the head. He was this tiny, wizend Japanese, probably 90 pounds dripping wet, but he'd been fighting with a shinai since Hirohito was a stripling and his arms and wrists were like steel springs. He snapped the tip of the shinai like a cracking whip; it stung every time it hit and he hit every time. Finally he lowered the tip of his sword and just looked at me.
"Why do you not defend against the men cut?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.
I was puzzled: "Sensei, I thought we were not supposed to."
"Suffering you will get without trying," the master said to me sternly, "to make yourself suffer without need is to waste the lessons that suffering will teach you."
I get the deal about stressing the body to improve the body and mind. But cold showers sound so...hair-shirt. Brrrr!And yet...for all that my sensei expected me to protect myself from avoidable pain, the kenjutsu tradition is that the students practice until they drop and the sensei gets to whale the tar out of them with a bokken (wooden sword) when they screw up. Or not: some of the great kenjutsu training stories involves the sensei sneaking around and whacking the students at random just to get him all cat-like and quick. Remember, this is zen we're talking about. The nutshell of a good koan is that it makes absolutely no sense...until it does.
So do you find that self-imposed "suffering" - fasts, physical strain like yoga or types of training, minor deprivations like forgoing meat, sugar or taking a cold shower instead of a hot one - helps to focus the mind and tauten the body in the way that, say, great suffering and tragedy can bring about a sort of enlightenment? In what ways? What's your experience?
I'm genuinely curious. What do you all think?