Last night, I had a Baltic cure for fear. It was a hole broken in the ice of Helsinki harbour in Finland. The water was 0.6C – as cold as water can get without turning to ice – with mini icebergs floating in it. I went in. Twice.
The obvious question is what on Earth would you do that for? The second obvious question is why would you do it again? OK, the first one first: I was visiting Löyly – a public sauna designed out of solid wood and glass by Avanto Architects.
It’s an amazing communal space with a traditional smoke sauna opening directly onto a path into the Baltic. No, I couldn’t believe it either. When the waif-like receptionist said she always went for a dip, I knew backing out would be hard.
One ominous effect of age is that you notice how fear accumulates. It’s not a single event sensation. The more you live, the more you have a tendency to store up fear and so get better at it.
I notice this in many circumstances – flying, leaving my child at his nursery, bungee jumping – and I certainly noticed it when the Löyly Sauna informed me about the Baltic plunge hole.
Breaking it down
What I discovered while at the Löyly Sauna was that the process of fear accumulation can be put into reverse. I initially got far too hot in the smoke sauna. This obviously helps. I then went and dipped a leg into the Baltic.
It was only a leg. I was alone, staring out into the Baltic night and the black water below me, icebergs jostling. No one would hear my screams. No one would see me sink. Can a 40-year-old body handle such extremes? Etc. Etc.
The revelation of an ice bath
When I finally went in, with the help of camaraderie, it was a shock, but not in the obvious way. It was fun. My skin tingled when I came out. I bounced for the sheer joy of bouncing. Most miraculously, fear evaporated.
Maybe this is the elixir of life: the evaporation of fear through action? Once I’d done it, the only thing left to do was get hot again in the smoke sauna and… go back for another immersion in the hole in the ice.