by Claudia Dudley, Oct 3, 2010
The feel and look of mud pies in the summer, in Colorado. Cool and wet, thick, with the sweet smell of damp clay I'd later experience as a novice potter. Sitting on the ground in shorts and sleeveless shirt, maybe five years old. Pure happiness, because these wet pies were perfect for the hands to form. You had to make sure there were no dry spots. And made well, they looked exactly like thick, shiny, irresistible chocolate. They had to be not too thin or too thick--about 3/4 inch thick was just right. They could be enjoyed and imagined about only as long as they stayed wet in that hot sun. Which wasn't long. Mud pies-and a kind of confident satisfaction that making them brought about. And after making them, the soft cool life in the hands. A kind of tingling...
Hot Tub/Cold Tub
I walk into the Kabuki Baths in San Francisco, low-lit and with music in the background, hoping for a return to myself. First I step into the large hot tub. It is irresistible as a beginning and a "home" in this process. The immediate physical relaxation is a shock, though the mind is not yet quiet. The shock is to suddenly be nourished, utterly embraced by this warm water. (Six billion other poor souls, I think, are not so nourished at this moment.) Is this the intimation of heaven? This state, even beyond physical well-being, in which personal worries and mental churnings begin abating? In which something bigger than myself, yet a part of me, arises?
The other women are naked too, beautiful as much for their silence (and the rule of silence prevails here) as for their bodies. And bodies are all, without exception, unexpectedly beautiful here.
So I begin. The hot tub begins to allow for release. Release, release and more release. The steam room and sauna are a part of this too-and all, with the exception of the steam room mechanism, in silence, music. I return to the hot tub several times during these two hours.
When I first started coming here, dramatic insights inevitably appeared to me in the hot tub. Now help comes to me there more gently, in intimations, subtle turns of state suggesting new directions.
But it is the cold tub that is really full of mystery.
It sits in the middle of the room, mostly unvisited. It is very, very cold-small and still. Women put their feet into it, sometimes go in up to their waists, shiver, gasp, and quickly step out. Yet the cold tub holds real magic. I enter it with my hands held over my lower back, suspecting that the kidneys detest sudden cold. As my lower body adapts, I let go and go under to my shoulders. And stay there. That's the point. Through at least the count of 15. The body begins to adapt by that time (though my hands and feet still protest) and something extraordinary happens with the mind.
Suddenly, I can really hear whatever music is in the background. If I want or need to concentrate on something or someone, I can, and without distraction. The strong physical sensation and how it changes, leads, to my surprise, to a new capacity for mental concentration. It's so seldom, ordinarily, that I can stay with an unpleasant sensation long enough for it to become its opposite. But I do here. Because when I get out of the cold tub, it's as though I've been touched and blessed and brought to well being in every part of myself. Even the sublime comfort of the hot tub cannot compare.
Writing in May
Now that the early morning overcast has lifted, this day's warmth, the scents of new growth everywhere, the jasmine on the fence, irises, the wet ground, fresh grass, are almost too much. Too much to take in; so overwhelming to some unknown body in myself that they almost literally make my heart hurt. I wonder how I can ever digest this; the food is too rich.
Then I sit in front of this paper, trying to relate this, thinking there's no way written words can possibly vibrate as the body does when touched by vibrating Nature in May. But what there is at times during the process of writing--it's happening now--is a kind of hovering, a silence as the words emerge. This can happen because luckily, it takes more time to write these words than to speak them. It is during this time, this hovering, the almost leisurely space of time needed for words to flow into ink, that something extraordinary can happen. I can dwell in the true energetic echo of impressions as I write about them-allowing them go on working in me, in this stolen, sacred hovering, this waiting.
Then the words are something alive, really breathing. Maybe they even become a kind of holograph of the meadow, the trees, path, creek-which needs the writer for its full processing. I realize that this is why I write: for this truly alchemical process.