#196: Sauna

Tea bag steeping in navy blue Michigan Humane Society mug. Next to it: sweet beet pie with fork on a round white plate.
West Village, Detroit, MI (Feb 2017)

I’ve been consistently journaling this week, and finding my writing energy again. One thing I’ve been doing for self-care is driving a half hour from my apartment to a Finnish-style sauna, run by a gentle dreadlocked man named Patrick. The private sauna rooms are on the smaller side – one- or two-persons max, wood paneled, with stones heated with gas. There are two smaller chambers that precede the sauna: first a changing room, then a tiled shower with a bench, which also serves as a place to cool down when you need a break.

Every hourlong sweat is a story in itself. The sauna has a prelude: I get water, towels, shed my clothes in the liminal space of the changing room, and skip the shower – go right into the sauna room. I adapt to the new environs, wait till my inside temperature matches the outside. Wait until the first beads of sweat get pulled to my skin’s surface. Then I shower, quickly, and go back in. That’s when I pour the first cups of water on the stones.

My mind wanders to fend off the heat’s discomfort. But like on the meditation cushion, like on the mountain trail – hell, like every moment of my waking life when I’m really paying attention – I’ll break away from the thought once it’s resolved itself, once I’ve reached some sort of epiphany. That’s the signal to end the first sauna-act, to step into the shower, cool off, hydrate. I wait a few minutes before going back in.

There are two more acts, usually, each a little more intense than the previous. The last one is usually the quickest. Is both pre- and appended with a cold shower. After this final act I get dressed and go out into the lobby, and sit, and linger – the sauna-denouement. When I finally walk outside, the tree branches are more in focus, their buds sharply visible. I can see farther into the distance, too.

A part of me thinks it’d be interesting to write stories that mirror the sauna experience. Another part of me knows: I’m already doing it.