I just finished my 2021 polar bear swim. The tradition for me started 15 or 20 years ago. The first couple of years were hit or miss whether or not I would do it. I let things get in the way. My memory on the subject is such that I recall they were pretty lame excuses at first. It was too cold. I was too tired. Too hungover. They were all bad excuses, but the swim had not crossed into the realm of meaningful to me at that point.

I couldn’t tell you when it did make the mental leap to holding a place in my life where I would be disappointed if I didn’t do it. It was maybe 10 years ago, give or take. I can confidently say that it has been in the last two years that the experience has become spiritual for me. I no longer seek the circus that is a public polar bear swim such as the one that happens in downtown Vancouver. It has become personal. I have shared it with others, and I will always welcome those that are close to me to join me in the experience. But it is now something that holds deep meaning for me. I do not exclude the idea of going back to a group polar bear swim, it simply isn’t the draw for me anymore like the first time I went.

This year sealed that notion for me. I went into it more hopeful than I have in the past. I am far more in tune with what I am seeking to let go, and what seeds I am watering for growth in the future. The metaphor for this year is that I am not dipping a toe into the waters of change, I am going into it with the full intention of fully immersing myself in the waters. I know it is going to be uncomfortable. But when I am done, I am going to be better for it.

The ocean was angry this year. High winds had churned it into a froth and I had to make sure all of my clothes and towels were weighed down so they didn’t blow away. It felt an appropriate environment to close out 2020. It was symbolic of a turbulent year. I faced it head on, immersed myself in the good and the bad and came out of the water smiling. I am learning the meaning of symbols in my life – things that hold meaning to me. I have had the bad habit over the course of my life to ignore things that hold meaning to me. I have allowed outside influences to stop me from embracing symbols of meaning in my life. Be that people, ideas, insecurity, excuses, hangovers…whatever. 

I’m, slowly, learning this lesson. 

This year’s symbolic gesture was growing a beard. A Decembeard, if you will. I started growing it during the sadness and loss of a relationship.The vortex of which pulled in many other dark feelings but kicked off a spiritual awakening I’ve never before experienced. 

Basically, depression made it too difficult to lift my hands to shave. Some time passed and I realized I had crossed the threshold between scruff and full on beard and I, embracing my inner Elsa, let it grow. 

As I was driving back home from the beach, however, it was clear that it was time for the beard to go. The beard was, quite simply, not Me. This point was reinforced by the fact that I made a New Year’s Eve dinner for my son and I consisting of bbq ribs. I had never before experienced the flavours of dinner revisiting me like I experienced while donning a beard. BBQ sauce and beards don’t get along. There’s no polite way of putting this…it’s fucking disgusting. I honestly don’t know how men willingly tolerate that shit.

Enter symbols. All of that said, I do think it quite possible that I will grow a Decembeard again next year. The idea of growing the beard and shaving it on New Year’s Day holds some merit (if nothing else it holds BBQ sauce). I think it has legs to grow into a staple of my annual symbolic lexicon. It could die somewhere in June of this year as well. Time will tell. Either way, I am glad for the experience. 

Happy New Year!

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