Wednesday, July 31, 2019

From Pain to Equilibrium: Hardcore Heat

You may recall this post from last year. I've dwelt on this moment of peaceful interaction with my body on so many occasions, there's a veritable shrine to it in my mind... It took a while to parse out the components, but on (ceaseless) reflection, it occurred to me that the one novel feature I'd added into my life last summer - and entirely accidentally - was a sauna.

Did I mention that they comped me the water spa at the Germain Charlevoix (formerly named La Ferme, though the ownership has not changed)? I'm ever grateful that they did, not cuz it was a 250 dollar value (per person) and I do love being comped, but because there's no universe in which I'd have purchased it.

That's not cuz I'm cheap (though I am very frugal about some things - shipping anyone?). It's because the idea of sitting in water with other people (or even by myself) totally creeps me out. No children are allowed in the spa - or there's no way I'd ever have gone, free or no. Also, it's a silent space (something I freakin' love). And it has one of the most spectacular views I've ever seen.

I tried it out for the view and the opp to knit on a chaise. I mean, it's practically freezing in northern Quebec in August (vague hyperbole). So that's how it happened. I was sitting there in a bathing suit with a stiff 18C breeze and I didn't want to stop looking at sheep and alpacas. And there was no one else there (I went early to avoid others, even silent others). And somehow, I put my toe in the hot water, which turned into my leg and then my ass and then I swam over to the centre seating. It was fucking delicious.

I stayed until I freaked myself out. There was no universe in which I was going to the cold pools. And hell would freeze over before I'd go into a steam room. Which left one option to try (other than a green smoothie): the sauna.

To clarify, this sauna was a radiant heat version (aka "traditional"). It uses (a whack of) electricity to heat up a bunch of rocks in a custom built wood room. It was approximately 1000 degrees. OK, I don't know what the actual temp was but it seemed like I was turning into a roast as I sat there. Mercifully I was also alone in this room. I struggled with my mind - was I actually cooking?? - and I left after 5 minutes. Then I went back 3 more times that day. For 5 minutes max, each time. And then 3 times each of the next days.

Scott said: You sure do like the sauna. I responded: No I really don't. I just find it very strange and vaguely compelling. Like it's too hot for germs to survive. We left the hotel few days later, on the train (described in the post linked to above) and then I had the awesome walk around QC. And then the next day we went home.

At some point, over the following couple of months, as I descended into the most challenging time in my life (ok, let's just cut the crap and call it a nightmare), I occasionally turned my mind to the gorgeous Charlevoix countryside and the spa pools and the sauna. As I sat, numb and practically endlessly in front of a fireplace I own, for the first time - under multiple blankets plus heating pads plus tea - it started to occur to me that the sauna heat might have been germane to my momentary vacay pain-free euphoria.

When I had energy (ha!), I would research saunas, at which point I determined that the far-infrared kind were my jam (were I ever to purchase one) because of the way it conserves energy (in the scheme of things) and the therapeutic lower temps. I tried to find them in TO, to give a few brands a go, but every option I could find was far away (ok, 15 minutes by Uber but I was practically homebound) and, all in, would cost me 100 bucks a shot. I really didn't feel that was sustainable. OK, technically that's a lie.

I was so consumed by horrific anxiety brought on by dysregulation of my central nervous system - constantly tachychardic, frozen with pain, vomiting routinely from intractable nausea, exhausted in a way I cannot describe. Truth is, it took more wherewithal than I had to get to a spa 15 minutes away. Not even when my friends offered to take me. The idea of interaction was beyond my capacity at that time.

Cut to 7 months later, warm weather and increased capacity. I knew I had to get my ass to the sauna to see what it would be like. I googled again, to see if I could find a closer option and, to my great shock, I found one - private! - at a yoga studio near my house. It's one of the few studios I'll visit. I know the owner. She's quality. The place is clean. Um - this sauna had been there all along. I just hadn't found it. Moreover, the sessions are 30 min (not 60) - a timeline which suits me better - and the cost is outrageously reasonable.

I can see this post is going to go on indefinitely if I get into my next batch of details but let me leave you (vaguely) hanging with the assurance that I'll write the rest of this narrative asap and that, if you are a person managing chronic pain, you may be interested to hear the punchline...

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

One Year On...

We recently had our first year renoversary - the date on which we returned to our improved home from the rental where we lived for 18 months. In case it warrants articulation: the work is not "complete" - though I now understand that completion is just a continuum. I imagine that interior work will be finished within a year, though it doesn't pay to speculate. If you take one thing from this post it's that it doesn't pay to speculate - that attachment is the root of all suffering. Who would have imagined that renos come with a free side of Buddhism??

Unquestionably, we're getting there. If you came over for dinner, you'd think it was almost done because, frankly, one can stop at any time and we're the only ones I know who've ever gone this far. See: Continuum.

The word recreation is one I often consider. I love what it connotes, especially when you put a hyphen between the first and second syllables. The notion of shaping my environment (environmental plasticity) has never been more appealing as I manage systemic health challenges, transition back to the lifestyle of the child-free and become ever more aware of the temporality that binds us all (the gift of age). Inasmuch as everything is metaphor for something, this house is the metaphor for my Self. For years, it was close - beauty dimmed by darkness and decay. But I found my voice - or should I say my vision. I exercised every facet of my free will to affect profound change. Now it is haven in chaos. Something rebuilt for strength and longevity. A space of artful introversion. Uncluttered and encroachingly serene. And goddamn sexy.

We have a new rule in this house. We're not talking about the reno-past. Note: we often break the rule and catch ourselves but it's our yoga. In the words of Scott, talking about it is like pulling a scab off a third-degree burn. When your body is critically injured, you do everything to heal it because, if you don't, it may lead to serious repercussions. What do you do when your consciousness is injured? Do you run from the awareness? Do you entrench in it?

I can't run, but I won't linger. Every day, I pay attention to the merciful beauty around me - the floor boards that actually shine from the reflection of light streaming into the vertical windows, the shards that glint off the brick wall. Green subtones in the greige walls reflect nature and the sky, in every weather. When I see what we've saved, what we've loved, what we've gained, what we've released, how we've collaborated in the most natural fashion - I am tremendously gratified.

But enough philosophizing.

Here's what I said I was going for back in 2017:
  • Cleanness - I need a space to be actually clean-seeming but also visually undistracting.
  • Colour - I like neutrals and wood tones but they usually don't cohere without deeper or brighter colours, IMO.
  • Warmth - Cuz Canada...
  • Architectural Intrigue
  • Practicality - Show me some kind of ingenious, attractive space-saver any day...
  • Elegance
  • Light
Well - I didn't waver, though I couldn't begin to remember what I'd said (though I remember I'd said something) and it took me 10 minutes of looking through previous posts to find the details. I might as well have just said - and yeah, I know this makes me sound SO basic - I want to live in a boutique hotel / spa:
  • The kind you find in urban Europe that is so chic and is so impossible to get into that you throw caution to the Visa card and stay there for two days cuz fuck moderation.
  • The kind in that restaurant-dense, boho neighbourhood that defies homogeneity in the spirit of staunch individuality.
  • The kind with the yoga studio that has all the best Iyengar props and an onsite teacher to whom you have unlimited access.
  • The kind with multiple terraces that overlook some sketch - but endlessly interesting - domains.
  • The kind that you take 37 photos of, per hour, because every surface is so appealing that you cannot stop yourself.
  • The kind with the heated bathroom floors and the sauna and the gorgeous grounds, set like a jewel in the most beautiful ring.
  • The kind that comes with the best espresso you've ever had and the warmest, sexiest fireplace to sit in front of as you drink it.
  • The kind with excellent towels and bedding and a ceramic essential oil diffuser to set up every space by scent.
  • The kind with an awesome in-house restaurant that produces profound meals from the simplest of natural ingredients, rounded out by confident service and capability.
  • The kind with the downstairs sitting space where you can read quietly, knit or engage with others at your own leisure.
  • The kind which, when you check out on the morning of the third day, you feel a pang of loss over, and the impulse to rebook immediately.
  • The kind with timeless architectural reminders that the past is in the present and the present drives toward the future (but can never leave the echoes of the past).
Reader - I've done this. And in the process I've gone from being stuck in the darkest recesses of myself to being nurtured by the strength that bounces, like radiant heat, from restoration (another word I like to put a hyphen in, for kicks).

Do I wish it hadn't been so difficult (to understate things entirely)? Oh, you have no idea. Do I wonder about potential long-term impacts across the board? Often. Do I sometimes look more at the imperfections than the big picture? Counterproductively, I admit that I do, but I'm learning to see the forest for the trees.

Everything is imperfect. Nothing even strives for perfection because the underlying premise - the intelligence of this universe - is that it's unachievable and one is maladaptive in its pursuit. The thing that remains unfinished is not wrong, it's in play. Another metaphor to add to the mix.

I intend to spend as many moments as I can in play - and to enjoy the big-picture beauty I've created.