We have the Japanese to thank for the idea of misogi. It’s a purifying ritual usually involving making a pilgrimage to a freezing cold waterfall. In the west we have adapted the concept of misogi to mean doing one hard thing, once a year. If you do it right, according to Jesse Itzler, it will have an impact on the other 364 days of the year.”
In his book The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Healthy, Happy Self, Michael Easter explains the two rules of misogi. The first is to try something where you have at best a 50/50 chance of success. The second is, don’t die.
Writer Charles Bethea wrote in an article for the New Yorker, “a misogi is a physical trial that you don’t practice or prepare for (no marathons), you don’t perform before a crowd (no CrossFit-style competitions), and you don’t brag about or pay to enter (no Tough Mudders). Thinking outside the box is important, too.”
The question is why? Why misogi in the first place? According to Michael Easter, modern comforts and conveniences are directly linked to some of society’s biggest problems. They include obesity, chronic disease, depression, and a lack of meaning or purpose in life.
For Michael, the experience of facing hunger, solitude, brutal cold, and extreme weather in the Arctic pushed him beyond what he perceived to be his physical limits. These powerful experiences improved his physical and mental wellbeing. His life perspective changed. “I was harder to ruffle, more grateful, and found that stress just didn’t have the impact it once did.”
His experience makes sense. According to Dr. Marcus Elliot, as our species evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, we had to take on difficult tasks just to survive. With each challenge, we as a species learn what’s possible, what our potential is.
Today, we can often live without these kinds of challenges. Most of us no longer hunt or forage for food. We have a comfortable home and people who love us. That’s great, but our potential has shrunk to a very small space, and we have no idea what is beyond the edges of our potential. Dr. Elliot believes that we are missing something important in our lives that is innate and gets triggered when we go out and do really hard things. Misogi takes us to the edge of our human potential.
That human potential encompasses not only the physical, but the mental and spiritual as well. The question for many who engage in misogi is what are you willing to put yourself through to be a better human?
This idea of a physical challenge, ideally in nature, is not unique to the Japanese. Other cultures have rites of passage that are similar in nature. These include the Aboriginal walkabouts, the Maasai lion hunts, and the Vanuatu Land Diving ritual.
While the extreme nature of many misogi examples might not be of interest to you, remember that the experience is meant to be inward facing. You aren’t meant to publicize what you are doing, nor are you meant to measure your experience by anyone else’s standards.
One Hard Thing
Perhaps we all could stand to shake things up and go outside our comfort zone a bit. All it takes is one hard thing. Remember Michael Easter’s words, “The moments where I’d crossed what I thought was my edge but somehow found myself persisting were powerful.”
Remember, to cross your edge, you need to make your health a priority. There’s a 100 Year Lifestyle provider near you ready to help you meet any and all challenges you decide to take on!