Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Zen of Sauna

I have just returned from my workout that includes the most peaceful time of my week: sitting in the sauna, deep in the heat of the night in a relatively dark room with one or two others as quiet as I am.

Oh, that’s right. That’s my dream sauna experience. Tonight, for example, I was subject to yet another gulper. These are the guys who feel compelled to drink incessantly, gulping some liquid down, taking deep breaths, gasping for air just prior to – did I use this word already? - gulping their liquids and then exhaling loudly. Five, maybe six seconds later, just when they are on the verge of death from the sauna’s dry, hot air, they begin again. They do not notice my involuntary, incessant twitching.

Where have I heard this before? Ah, yes, in the movie theatre where the trough-of-popcorners gasp and wheeze and smack their mouths, not having eaten for at least 25 minutes, performing the seemingly impossible task of shoveling a large handful into their mouths before they could possibly have swallowed the previous one while I, silly person, actually try to hear the dialogue. (This is driving me not only to thoughts of criminal action but to the decision only to see foreign films with subtitles.) While I’m still digressing, consider with me the thought of a Corn-Smackers-and-Drink-Gulpers section as far as possible in the theatre from the I’m-Just-Here-for-the-Movie section.

But, back to the sauna. There was also the guy who was listening to “music” (I just know that, somewhere, both Beethoven and the Beatles were sobbing) on whatever it was he owned: an iPod, iPhone, iNoise, Boom Box. Even with his earphones, discordant sounds were blasting into the room, almost – but, sadly, not quite --drowning out the guy taking the 666th slug of his liquid near my other ear. Way too near. The twitching continued.

Isn’t the idea of the sauna not to sit there, rapidly and massively (and, of course, noisily) over-replenishing the liquids we pay to have drained out of us? I so, so wished for him the bus ride I took from Kano to Maiduguri, Nigeria, many years ago, where the heat and the lack of potable water almost made me hallucinate and give in to the repeated offerings of kind strangers to drink from their bottles of water that would have done me in. Instead, I dashed into each petrol station and downed as many Cokes as I could at our short stops, realizing the sugary drink would make me thirsty, but also knowing I had to consume some boiled-and-filtered, water-based liquid to keep the insides of my mouth from bursting into flames. If anyone on the bus said, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat,” I didn’t hear him. I was inside, swallowing my third bottle of Coke in one…..gulp.

Oh, yes. Again, the sauna. I forgot to mention the guy who was reading a magazine. I might have forgiven him if it had been the New Yorker, but it was People with big teeth, big hair, big headlines, necessitating the way-too-bright light that I hadn’t even known was there. Had he not been so intellectually involved, he would have seen me twitch.

So, drink-gulper, too-loose-earphoner, and the purple-prose-people-reader.

Some nights, I am there alone or with those who understand the point of a sauna: Quiet. Dark. Quiet. Dark.

Is it permissible to yearn for moments of Zen? Or do they have to come to you, uninvited, dark, and quiet?