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  • Joseph Polack


The shock of suddenly following into Vikings footsteps by jumping naked into an icy forest lake remained in my memory for years. And I wasn’t alone. I shared this old Viking tradition of natural cold bathing with my fellow students. It happened during my first winter in a Swedish coastal town of Göteborg. After an initial shock, that left my submerged body almost numb, I recovered quickly enough to swim for a few more minutes. Then our multiethnic group of dozen naked female and male students ran back to a wood-fired sauna at our university lodge. Thirty minutes later we rushed through the snow to take another plunge into the hole carved in the ice. And back to sauna again. It was a magic-like sensation: My body had never ever before felt so alive, and my mind, so clear and stress-free. Yet, I still didn’t know then that learning the traditional Viking swimming in a subzero environment was going to remain with me for the next few decades.

Whenever later I was suffering pain or stress, and didn’t have access to a doctor or modern medications, even a short dip into cold water had always brought me a magical relief and sense of wellness. My frequent headaches and joints-inflammations were gone. And I hardly ever suffered from a common cold or an influenza.

Being a field anthropologist, I have to undertake frequent risks of crossing our culturally and politically divided world. Gradually my notebook and a film camera were replaced by a tiny smart phone.

Sometimes  within a single year I was fortunate to live together with aboriginal people in such faraway places as Lapland, Greenland, and Hokkaido. And it was from these distant cultures that I have learned the ancient wisdom: a sudden switch to cold weather could bring us both health and death. It all depends on our continuing ability to learn from the surrounding us nature.

Adjusting and protecting our lives during the unexpected climate-changes may require from us a different way of thinking.

Perhaps developing more and more sophisticated technologies in our isolated laboratories isn't the only way to secure our survival in a time of crisis? Perhaps, we may need to link some of our future technologies with the ancient crosscultural wisdom of our ancestors who used to benefit from swimming in natural environment?

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14 may 2022

Being born in a hot and humid climate, I have no experience of submerging myself in icy water, but I can imagine the exhilaration that lies beyond the cold. Folk remedies handed down from generation to generation are not to be trifled with. I miss the days when I carried my camera and notebook, the days I sent a postcard to who I care.

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