The sauna in Scandinavia has always been a place where arms have been forbidden, and where people meet in peace to cleanse themselves. This cleansing has not only to do with getting rid of the dirt in our skin, but also with unclogging those channels that connect us to the universe. According to Finnish folklore, the steam that rises from the sauna element, the löyly, symbolizes that connection between each individual and all matter, as well as I suppose even anti-matter. It is a needed reminder not just of the idea that we are all bound together, but also that there are things that bind us, shape us, that can be as elusive as the steam unless we take the time to experience them and to discuss them.
Recently, while watching the löyly rising in a wood-fired sauna in the Stockholm archipelago, another connection became unclogged. I began speaking with the Finn sitting next to me about the legacy of the second World War in Finland. As the water sizzled on the stones and each drop began its ascent, he related the story of many families in Finland, where, for a very long time, there has been a silence about the alcoholism that gripped many men that survived the horrific experiences of the war, and the way this has trickled down in those families and hurt them. In Finland today, people have still not come to grips with the impact of this alcoholism which has lingered in many families in varying forms.
While this may not sound like a relaxing conversation for the sauna, as the steam that connected us rose, I could understand why this conversation was happening here. This chat strengthened a theory that has been gaining strength for me for quite some time, which is that perhaps in the rise of fascism and the far right in Europe what we are seeing is not just a reaction to more recent waves of immigration, economic crisis and youth unemployment, but in fact a consequence of the deafening silence experienced in families throughout Europe for almost seventy years. It is a point of irony that in the unit of our society in which we are supposed to be closest to others, we have experienced the greatest silence about the past. Ironically too, families seem to tend toward this silence for self-preservation and survival, when in fact the guilt and anger that is frequently transmitted by it is nothing but destructive.
Family members must speak to one another to face the past together for the sake of peace, and just perhaps we should be taking more saunas.