Bathing: Finding a Retreat Within

“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee

In large part, you already are. The human body comprises over 60% water, echoing the surface area of our earth, which is 70% rivers, lakes and oceans. Our most ancient ancestors didn’t know the history of biological evolution, which shows that life originated in the salty, mineral-rich primeval seas – but they might have had an inkling written in the collective unconscious, since so many legends, from ancient Sumeria to the Iroquois Nation, describe all creation emerging from water. The cosmic womb from which everything we know is born.

Whether we’re aware of it consciously or not, we spend a lot of time trying to get back. When we need to replenish ourselves, rebuild, and drop in with our bodies and minds, we retreat to water. Countless traditions use water, often infused with plants, oils, and salts, as a symbol of purification and renewal. People across the globe bathe communally to relax and bond. New parents talk longingly of having time for a bath or shower. Ask a surfer or a sailor why they love what they do, and you’re likely to see only a mysterious, inward smile.

Bathing isn’t only a matter of taking a break and getting our bodies clean. When we immerse ourselves in water, we’re participating in a practice unfathomably old – if we make the conscious, joyful decision to do so. In this day and age, it can be hard to find the time. But when we do, we feel its value.

That’s why we have a big announcement coming, inspired by water, plants and minerals, and the ancient healing tradition of bathing. Another way of immersing ourselves with nature, of finding retreat within, tickling our senses, and coming back into our bodies. Here are some examples of what we’ve had at heart.

Baths in Spirit.

Religious and spiritual traditions the world over use bathing and immersion in water as a ritual component. It’s an element of spiritual practice that seems to resonate with all people – a reminder of common humanity, distributed across a population of billions, despite different cultures and creeds. 

Christian traditions require baptism in various forms, and in many churches a blessing renders water holy. In Judaism, the mikvah is a bath used to achieve ritual purity, and in Islam, the ablution called wuḍūʾ is performed before every prayer. Hindu devotees travel great distances to the River Ganges to pay homage to their gods and ancestors, and the Ganges itself is venerated as a goddess, Gaṅgā, who cleanses sins and facilitates liberation from the cycle of life and death. In the Shinto tradition, visitors to shrines must first purify themselves by washing the face and hands in a rite called temizu. Sacred baths in Haiti and Peru utilize each of the elements with water, plants, smoke, and mud. And in the Yoruba tradition of west Africa, the river goddess Oshun is revered as the protector and nurturer of humanity. Her devotees perform rituals to her in or near bodies of fresh water.

There are countless more. Worldwide, water is associated with purity, rejuvenation, and the deep mysteries of the spirit. A reminder that despite our social, religious and political conflicts, we’re all born of the sacred waters of our earth, with a desire to transcend the everyday and touch the Divine.

Baths for gratitude.

Water may have achieved sacred significance partly because, for many millennia, it was terribly scarce. The cycles of monsoon and drought, rivers flooding and receding, established a rhythm for ancient peoples that continues to this day. Humans can go without food for weeks, but after three days without water to drink, we die.

For many people around the world, collecting and carrying water where it’s needed to drink, wash, and cook with still takes hours and hours of people’s daily lives. This task often falls to hardworking women, and in too many parts of the globe – including in the so-called “first world” – there’s no guarantee that water will be clean and free of toxins. And even in this advanced age, contaminated water still sickens many, especially children.

If we have access to clean, safe water for drinking and bathing, on demand, with no need to carry it for miles, and no fear that it will make us sick, it’s easy to take it for granted. But it’s important to remember that we’re exceptionally lucky – and in the historical grand scheme of things, extremely rare. Clean, fresh, easily-available water, and the ability to bathe without fear, is a blessing, and should be a universal right. Perhaps something to keep in mind the next time we fill the tub.

The bath as destination.

From the Scandinavian sauna to the Russian banya to the famous communal baths of Turkey to the Japanese onsen, and many more examples worldwide, the bath is a place to go and the place to be – frequently with other people. Culturally, communal bathing may not be something familiar to you – though if there are public baths or spas that cater to immigrant communities in your area, they’re often worth a look, and friendly to newcomers. Sometimes all a good bath needs to become a great bath is good company!

And intimate baths with a lover are of course a feature of romantic visions for many. But consider that a bath can also represent essential intimate time with ourselves – not necessarily an escape from daily life, or not only that, but a time to be truly present and kind to the self. A return to the womb, no matter how brief, and a reminder that we exist in the currents of history and the metaphorical waters of the world – all connected, flowing instead of crashing. We emerge replenished, rejuvenated, and ready to resume our daily water-carrying, perhaps with a new small spark of Creation in us, as people everywhere have done for all time. Water is life, and we’re a little piece of it, to carry forward.

And very soon, we’ll humbly invite you to close the door, take a deep breath, and relax into the ancient healing powers of salt, herbs – and water.





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