My ritual there was always the same.
First, immersion in the warm pool. Coming back into the body. Stretching limbs while thinking warmth and expansion. Pressing my back against the blue tiles and the concrete side of the pool, noticing with soft awareness the other bodies around me. Becoming present to the day, whether sunny or rainy; the sky, whether blue or gray. Saying hello to the fig tree whose generous branches spread overhead. Taking in the dramatic flower arrangement always placed carefully as if on an altar at the head of the pool. Listening to the trickling of the water into and out of the pool.
Then climbing the four stone steps past the sign requesting SILENCE and entering the shelter holding the small hot pool, affectionately known as the crab pit. Clinging to the sculptured metal railing while easing down oh-so-slowly into the scalding water, then swiftly pressing toward an edge or corner to get out of the way of all the other bodies. Turning the focus inward to dreams and visions while gazing out the wooden window frame at tree branches and hillside. Observing the array of objects on the altar, always a candle burning. Listening to the music of the waters.
Finally being able to stand it no longer and climbing out and up some more stone steps to the cold plunge. Entering swiftly, immersing up to the shoulders, holding still until the urge to scream and flee had passed. Ahhhhh. Finding steadiness and calm, observing the colorful flowers in the concrete vase styled as a goddess’s head, visualizing my body and heart being swept clean as the aquamarine waters flowed through. Someone would always come up the stairs and grab the branch of the fig tree with the wind chimes on it, making more music.
And then the best part, emerging pink-skinned and open from the cold plunge and taking a seat on the bench in front of the white ceramic statue of Kuan Yin at the base of the fig tree. The Tree at the Center of the World, I called it. Kuan Yin with her welcoming hand would receive all the secrets of my heart. And of many other hearts, to be sure. Stones, photos, feathers, pieces of jewelry placed on the altar whispered hopes and wishes and griefs. The day Princess Diana died, someone placed photos of Diana and Mother Teresa on the altar.
The AP photo in the Sacramento Bee is captioned, “A swimming pool at Harbin Hot Springs is filled with debris from the Valley fire, which destroyed the clothing-optional resort near Middletown.” Describing Harbin as a “clothing-optional resort” is like describing the Mona Lisa as “a painting of a woman with a half-smile.” So much is lost in the description. Harbin was a place on earth where humans had created Eden, where creativity and embodiment and beauty ruled, where other creatures were part of the community. These memories still nourish me as I sift through the ashes in my imagination.
I remember one spring day looking up at the tiny chartreuse leaves emerging from the Tree at the Center of the World and realizing with a start that they looked like praying hands. This is my prayer: That the fires of every kind kindled by climate change burn to zero everything unworkable in the human psyche. That the Heart Consciousness Church accomplish a resurrection and steward the lands of Harbin Hot Springs for another forty years and then another four hundred, ushering in the era when beauty will prevail on earth.