As a respite to the maddening distractions and over-stimulation of our times, people often seek out “authentic” experiences. There is often an understated desire to eschew technology and the associated flotsam that pollutes our memories of a simpler time. We laugh when we try to remember when phones were attached to the wall and being accessible meant you checked your answering machine only once a day. Life was slower and I don’t think there is anyone over 40 who can’t appreciate that. As far as traditions go, not much can beat the sauna, which has a 2000-plus year history.
Often, clients come to me seeking some sort of authentic experience—often tied to some childhood sauna at a summer lake-house or a weekly family ritual. They don’t want just an ordinary gym or hotel sauna; they want something deeper and more profound, something central to this notion of life slowing down. I imagine Sauna as a slow moving cinematic experience that is the complete antithesis to Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi film about life out of balance. In the sauna, the heat should melt not only the bodily stress of the day but also the sense of time itself. To be authentic, the experience should not follow a prescribed formula but be should simply be what naturally evolves in a Zen-like way of intentional non-intention.
What evolves naturally depends upon the built environment. Like cathedrals, which were designed to encourage spirituality, I build my saunas to encourage contemplation. It’s not just the temperature of the room, but the details that your hand or eye will settle on. The arched roof, view out the window and selected grain of the boards provide visual distraction so your mind can settle into the experience while your body adjusts to the heat. The surfaces, sounds and smells of the sauna are meant to awaken your senses.
When I am in the sauna I think about this, but I also try to think about nothing! I simply do what comes naturally- sweat, pour water on the rocks, cool down, look at the night sky, repeat, and then wash up. There is no magical order to the ritual, no rules to adhere to; the point is to create your own. I cannot create for my clients an authentic experience, but I can provide the catalyst in the form of a little magical space.