Broke, Cold and Sour. Welcome to 2019.


2019 started with a bang. That bang was the sound of my foot smashing against a wall as I tripped over the end of the bed on Christmas morning while meditating. I had clearly mastered the art of not being spatially attached at that moment, breaking my small toe metatarsal as a reminder of the impermanence of everything, including intact bones. As I fell onto the bed, I had the clearest moment of realisation that I needed to begin 2019 very slowly.

As a dedicated meditator and yogi, I took that wisdom on board. I needed to slow down, not charge into a new year but instead enter thoughtfully, making haste slowly. Wearing a moonboot was a continual visual and actual reminder of staying low and slow, going within, being grateful for my usual health and mobility. I saw this enforced period of immobility and leg elevation as a chance to do more meditation, an idea that was amplified by meditation app Insight Timer doing some perfectly timed promotion of their new annual course fees.

Readers of my journal will know of my love for Insight Timer, both as a Good Hustle tech start-up, and as the tool that got me into, and has kept me in a committed meditation practice. I love the business and its ethos and so making a purchase of an annual membership to all the meditation courses I could take seemed the least I could do to keep that business growing and sustainable.

The first course I saw listed was a 30 day meditation challenge that promised resilience and mental growth. As I was entering the year where I helmed my own edtech startup for the first time as a CEO and was tasked with capital raising, scaling up, finding global markets and a host of other activities that I knew weren’t even on the GPS of my comfort zone, growth and resilience were priorities. I clicked on BEGIN, and in classic me fashion didn’t get to the fine print about the actual challenge…until I began.

I detest being cold. Like a LOT. The 30 day challenge I had signed up to was run by Wim Hof, aka The Ice Man. Now there should have been a clue for me there, but I just assumed he was from a Nordic country. The challenge involved increasingly long cold showers, accompanied by deep intense breathing to awaken and supercharge your vascular system, leading to myriad physical and mental health outcomes.

As I listened to Day One of the challenge my first thought was why don’t I pay closer attention before I say yes to things. But my second thought was that I follow my gut, and if I wanted to be challenged and grow, surely doing something like this was my way to a growth mindset. I got up out of cozy bed land, and stepped into an icy shower. It was unpleasant as it sounds, but left me feeling excellent afterwards, like diving into a cold ocean and coming out breathless but refreshed.

And after 30 consistent days of practice it’s over. I’m done.

Every day I’ve deep breathed until I nearly hyperventilated, then stepped into a cold shower, increasing the length daily ending up with a total of 3 minutes. I won’t lie to you, i‘ve loved it, and looked forward to it. The commentary by Wim Hof on the relationship between cardio vascular physiology and mind was fascinating, and the relationship between spirituality and science he has established through the research projects he’s been involved in is fascinating and taking us closer to a place where we can quantify the mind/body connections. 30 days is enough to get that neural pathway rippled. I’m going to keep on going, also to see how my resilience goes when we hit winter, I may have a very different position on cold showering and meditation by then.

In the spirit of slowness and meditation, I also spontaneously decided to teach myself how to bake sourdough. I have a lot of barriers to baking as I’m not fond of rules or measurements, and have always felt constrained by the many steps to creating the starter from airborne yeast, keeping it alive, and then coaxing it into a loaf.

Maybe because I was embracing slow, maybe because I loved watching my buddies post their weekend baking online, and maybe just because, at the same time I started my 30 day ice bath challenge, I began my first sourdough starter. Baking using natural yeast is a lot like meditation. It requires practice, and a faith that it will get better, even when it seems to be getting crazier. You can’t hurry sourdough. If you want to smash a samich in an hour, this isn’t the game for you. If you want to smash a samich in 24 hours, you have plenty of time to plan your filling to coincide with a hot crackling amber hued loaf to be emerging from your oven.

Much like cold showering meditation, I was taken by surprise at how much the process of baking sourdough has captivated me. All the detail, the different steps, it requires discipline and consistency, and the desire to fail and to learn constantly, with a set of variables that are sometimes, often, out of your control. It’s not boring or restrictive, it’s a set of principles by which if followed, you can create and replicate reaching for greatness, but it just might take a lifetime.

Creating a loaf of bread has a magic to it, and especially if you are gifting that loaf to someone you love, it has even more resonance. Each turn of the bowl to knead the bread is a mantra, a repetition of the loving intention for this dough, harbouring all its bacterial community to become one, to be a sum of parts greater than any individual ingredient.

My moonboot is now caked in flour, my foot break is largely healed, another couple of weeks to go slow. I’ve begun the year challenging everything held righteously in my perception basket, and realising that it was all just a swag of poorly written fiction that needed a good edit and a new perspective.

Growing an edtech start-up to be a global company is no less daunting. Raising capital from strangers on the strength of a hypothesis that I am using their money to test is no less nausea inducing. Self-doubt is still a cocky little shit throwing shade from the peanut gallery. But inside my mind is a knowing that everything can be tried, everything can be achieved, it will play out in a way I don’t need to know, but I have to begin, and when it goes to shit, I can rise strong, and keep recreating what the narrative of perseverance and success look like, day to day, moment to moment, shower to shower, loaf to loaf.

Polly McGee