Back in March, just in time for the world to turn weird, I returned home after living and working in my home-town for 3 months of the winter. My first winter in years living in a finished and sealed up house at my Granny’s (talk about extra cozy and spoiled!)…. 

Living in Boston was a reverse culture shock back into “normal life” where the heat kicks on with a turn of a dial instead of a light of a fire. It was unusually easy to withdraw from the elements of nature ever-changing outdoors. I found myself walking to places that I normally would have driven to expose myself to what I had become so accustomed to. Living on our land in Central Portugal we live so closely with the rhythms of the river, the seasons, and nature… Especially the first years when we were living in an army tent with a wood burner inside.

On my return, we started a bit of a morning ritual inspired by a friend who was staying with us at the time. Our friend was immersing himself in the river every morning at the river beach which sits at the bottom of our land. Rory joined first, and then I joined too.

Springtime is when the river is at its coldest because of the snow melting off the Serra da Estrela mountains. The frosty melt flows into the Seia River and travels down stream until it reaches Cara Creek Eco Lodge and a few more meters ends at the Mondego River.

It was high. We had had a very wet winter. The rainiest in decades, which led to some unfortunate flood damage for us… But we won’t get too into that… What we’ll get into is the power and fierceness that we were facing each morning getting into her freezing flow. 

There’s this dialogue I’d go through, and still do. “Is this good for me, really?” “Ashley, you’ll feel amazing afterwards.” “Maybe I’ll skip this morning, or do it later when the air is a bit warmer.” “Is the sun up over the hill yet?” “Will meditating beforehand help or make it harder?”… 

And yet once I’m down beside the river there is now an urge to get in and be still. Letting it flow past me and what feels like right through me. It’s a meditation in and of itself! Thoughts stop and there’s only my body and my breath and the river. The more I can slow by breath and soften into the cold water, the more amazing I feel both during and afterwards. A similar-ish benefit I’ve felt from my yoga practice for years and years. But this is a different rush I can’t quite explain – although I know all you Wim Hof cold exposure people know what I mean.

I often think of what one of my favorite Yin Yoga teachers, Sarah Powers speaks of — “Softening into where it’s hard”. And once I start my day with a river dip and can soften into being with that, I know that I can soften into other challenging things that may arise through the day. Physically, mentally, emotionally, situationally… Soften. Because isn’t everything so much easier if we can learn to soften into it?

It’s December 1st. My intention is to keep this ritual and this challenge going each morning, even as we come into winter here at Cara Creek Eco Lodge. And it makes me wonder… What other challenges can I face with a sense of softening?

It’ll be a different winter this year spending it in our sealed up AND centrally heated home. Yes, we still light a fire in our large wood oven which connects to a hot water tank and then heats up our radiators and our hot water… It’s lush!

Wishing you all a happy winter season from us river dwellers and dippers at Cara Creek Eco Lodge.