Lessons From The Sauna

"It is reasonable to regard the world, as a forum for action, as a “place” – a place made up of the familiar, and the unfamiliar, in eternal juxtaposition. … Thus the exploratory capacity of the brain “builds” the world of the familiar (of the known), from the world of the unfamiliar (the unknown).

When the world remains known and familiar – that is, when our beliefs maintain their validity – our emotions remain under control. When the world suddenly transforms itself into something new, however, our emotions are dysregulated, in keeping with the relative novelty of that transformation, and we are forced to retreat, or to explore once again." Pg. 37-38

The Sauna

We strip down to show ourselves, keeping few clothes on at all. I walk from the locker room to the little glass covered Oasis. I have to pass by the pool and the jacuzzi. Some pretty girls sit perched with postures as ugly as their attitudes. I glide over water covered, white tile floors with my black flip flops gripping for life. I enter the sauna, a world apart from the normal.

Only a few people sit in the room, much warmer than usual. One gentleman with long black Latin styled hair listens to music with bosa Nova beats. Another guy is perched in the corner with music even louder, blaring into his headphones. He mouths lyrics just as angrily as the music sounds. Faint whispers of an Eminemesque vocal floats across the barren space from his corner.

Only one other lady sits in the sauna, silent, completely absorbed into her phone. No headphones on her, but she is not here.

A few more people float in and out as time passes. There is a couple that keeps to themselves, along with a few other older folks.

One guy talks on the phone, loud and boisterous. All I want is quiet, common courtesy. I sit in silence and say nothing. I fear his response, as I read his body language. So, in my mind, I ask, why do I deserve it to be quiet any more than he deserves to talk? How was his upbringing?

I think to myself; parents represent society. They teach us the rules, the value systems. This structure helps us to interpret the world. To learn to transform chaos to order. Without these tools, everything is a threat. We fear everything when it is us against the world. We become the ultra-aggressive, lone wolf. There is no sense of community only the neurotic, self-centered “I.” I place this judgement upon the guy on the phone, based on the action that he has shown.

“Fear is not conditioned; security is unlearned, in the presence of particular things (“stimuli”) or contexts, as a consequence of violation of explicit or implicit presupposition. Classical behavioral psychology is wrong – in the same manner, our folk presumptions are wrong: fear is not secondary, not learned – security is secondary, learned. Everything not explored is tainted, a priori, with apprehension. Anything or situation that undermines the foundations of the familiar and secure is, therefore, to be feared.121” Pg. 56

As I sit there on an island my own, I long to make a connection. First I want to talk, to say "hi," to see how their day is going. Whom I talk to it matters less. Although I must confess, I would not be upset to speak to a cute girl in a pretty dress. I sit here and wonder if I'm worthy. Is there something broken in me? I so quickly default to the neurotic worry. The second a plan doesn't go my way, the voice says "see, I told you so."

The guy with the loud music in the corner is now fully identified with the demonic voice. He is going hard with the hate-filled rap. Acting it out in full, like he is on a stage, and getting paid to act out his rage.

An adorable girl comes to sit; she is so innocent and fit. Everything is in order. The top is matching, all the way down to the shoes and headphones. My mind, of course, goes to the extreme. Giving me all of the excuses for why I should not say “hi.”

The guy in the corner gets up and talks with a heavy lisp. What sort of life does he lead? After all, it was a girl who asked him if he was wrapping up his workout as he stood. He said, “no, halfway done” as he exited the room.

The cute girl is now talking on the phone, speaking about an outfit. "No, it's plaid.", "It's either going with that, or I don't...those are not out yet.", "Oh, those are cute." Reality sets in, appearance matters most. As we sit here in the sauna, we can hide little. Almost like the primal birth, laid naked before the eyes of judgment. The eyes befall us all.

The guy in the corner returns, still fully dressed in black. He is me, ten years younger. So bitter and angry about how the world has spited him. The world has done us wrong. If only we were born differently. Then we could be like the confident guy, whom another said to him "you look like the transporter. The ladies must love it," and he said, "yes, yes they do." Several minutes later he walked out with the most attractive woman in the place, wearing a smile on his face.

It's a primal battleground. Genetics are laid bare. Nothing to cover, nowhere to hide. Only the genuinely confident survive.

The sauna is the land of adventure; it is a quest. It weeds out the weak and leaves the best. The mentally strong can bear it long. They get the reward for delayed gratification. The distribution is not normal, but it does have a hump. Too mentally strong, and you’ll pass out. Go to the extreme, and you’ll be sure to make a scene. It's the Pareto Distribution, the mother of them all. Go too far, and you're bound to fall.

Any journey pursued too far, and we find ourselves alone. At the edge of humanity is chaos. Therein chaos is new knowledge. Treading on the brink, being careful not to sink is the only free way to think.

“It is where the unpredictable emerges that the possibility for all new and useful information exists. It is during the process of exploration of the unpredictable or unexpected that all knowledge and wisdom is generated, all boundaries of adaptive competence extended, all foreign territory explored, mapped and mastered. The eternally extant domain of the unknown therefore constitutes the matrix from which all conditional knowledge emerges.” Pg. 49

The sauna allows us to push ourselves there. It is a chamber to face our fears. Physically laid bare, we must move forward, mentally with no one there. The mind begs us to quit. We must push forward, not give a ...

We should be thankful that we can push our bodies. We should be grateful that we can feel the unease and the discomfort. Those are the generative forces of the universe. Without them, there is no flow, no place to go.

The sauna is a precipice. A tool. A place we can push ourselves voluntarily to see of what we are made. How far can we go, how far can you go? In the end, what do we have to show?

The Return

As I walk out of the sauna, there she is, in the jacuzzi. The cute girl from earlier, glued to her phone, in her zone, not here or now. Like I am as well. Stuck to my phone, not here or now. As I walk by, I am heralding the ultimate in hypocritical, virtue signaling nature. I can't help it. She can't help it. I'm attracted to her. She doesn't even know me, nor should she. I'm glued to my phone, and she is hers.

“No functioning society or individual can avoid rendering moral judgment, regardless of what might be said or imagined about the necessity of such judgment. Action presupposes valuation, or its implicit or “unconscious” equivalent. To act is literally to manifest preference about one set of possibilities, contrasted to an infinite set of alternatives. If we will live, we must act. Acting, we value. Lacking omniscience, painfully, we must make decisions, in the absence of sufficient information. It is, traditionally  speaking, our knowledge of good and evil, our moral sensibility, that allows us this ability. It is our mythological conventions, operating implicitly or explicitly, that guide our choices.” Pg. 21

As my thoughts wander, so does my gate, back to the locker room do I skate. I sit in the locker room alone, with the phone in hand, left alone with my demand.

Some days I’m mentally stronger, other days, the time between conversation dwells longer. It’s all situational of course, as we cannot will or force. Saying to myself, stay calm, stay the course. It all ebbs and flows, the balance between chaos and order, the dance between fear and excitement.

The sauna teaches us well. It is a space for facing the physically uncomfortable. It is a space for creating callouses on our minds. When we face adversity it is the only time that we can experience the generative forces of ingenuity. It is when we push ourselves into the fire repeatedly both in the physical and mental realm that we can form and harden our minds to overcome the challenges of life.

All challenges stem from the appearance of chaos. Childhoods, new and oblivious people all represent some of the myriad forms that chaos can take. It is when we realize that there is an underlying unity in all things, that we can rest in the present moment. That is to say, chaos implies order, and likewise, order implies chaos. It is only when we voluntarily expose ourselves to chaos, that we can surmount such challenges. We must push ourselves to face these fears that the sauna can bring us to bear.

“... despite our great storehouse of culture, despite the wisdom bequeathed to us by our ancestors, we are still fundamentally ignorant, and will remain so, no matter how much we learn. The domain of the unknown surrounds us, like an ocean surrounds an island. We can increase the area of the island, but we never take away much from the sea.” Pg. 49

All quotes adapted from: J. B. Peterson, “Maps of Meaning,” in Maps of Meaning, pp. 19–502.