She was a wild woman, who headed into the hills behind her house in a long skirt and bare feet to gather mushrooms and herbs: oat straw, rosemary, sage, burdock, dandelion, purslane, mullein . . . and so many more, which she ate or from which she made tinctures and teas. I liked her. She was a down to earth free spirit. During the weekend we spent with her, we indulged in awakening our senses in ways heretofore foreign to us. She took us down to the creek near her house and told us the mud had healing qualities. We all stripped nude in the warm summer day, away from the judging eyes of civilized folk and covered our entire bodies and faces and hair in mud. It was strangely freeing, being covered in mud–as if we were entirely behind a mask. We frolicked like children or wood nymphs on the banks of that creek. I recall Jake, who is normally terribly finicky about sticky things, had a big grin on his face and said “Mariah, you look beautiful!”
~excerpt from More
September 14, 2014
With a moment’s hesitation—self-conscious that I wasn’t 35 or even 45 anymore—I stepped out of my sarong, not so much as a Fig leaf covering me. I moved through the grounds toward the warm pool and felt myself inexplicably relaxing. Despite my nakedness, I realized I didn’t feel exposed and judged so much as protected and accepted. I took metaphorical comfort in the fact there was in fact, an enormous Fig tree offering all of us present its modest protection. The majestic Fig tree reigned supreme over the grounds with extensive branches hanging over the warm pool, shading the people taking shelter under it and framing the sign that requested participants to refrain from conversation and sexual activity.
I had arrived at Harbin Hot Springs—a clothing optional resort extraordinaire not far from Napa Valley. I had first learned about Harbin almost twenty years earlier during the Love and Ecstasy training that spurred the journey depicted in More. As I shed my inhibitions that year and risked vulnerability, I discovered a connection to an innocent part of myself, a playful, light-hearted, and accepting part, and while I would not consider myself a “nudist,” I found at Harbin I was comfortable participating in the buff. The energy of the people I met was sweet, without aggressive overtones and uncomfortable overtures: just people gathering in meditative silence, collectively enjoying the sensation of warm water against their skin. Years have passed since I was last there, yet I found the heart of Harbin had not changed and it enlivened that same light-hearted spirit within me.
I stepped into the large warm pool, which at 4 ½ feet deep came up to my neck and at a temperature of 95 to 98 (essentially body temperature) enveloped me like a womb. There were probably twenty or more other people in the pool. As in all the times I had been here, it was a mixed group: singles, couples—both same sex and not—black, white, brown, and ranging in age from 20 to 80. All resting quietly, reverently, in the warm water under the arms of the giant Fig tree.
I relaxed and silently took in my surroundings. At one end, a middle-aged gay couple held hands, and along the long edge a young tattooed and pierced woman lay horizontal atop the water, feet resting on a bar for support. In the center, a sixty-something woman cradled her partner in the center of the pool using the practice of Watsu—a form of aquatic bodywork used for deep relaxation. It was impossible not to notice the compassion and love reflecting off her face as she gently moved his body in sweeping arcs through the water. Jake offered to do a Watsu session on me. As he supported and floated me in the warm water, I could not keep the joy from spreading across my face, such was the delight.
Scores of naked people came and went quietly: up and down the stairs to the warm pool, or into the sanctuary of the hot pool (114 degrees) and then on up to the cold plunge (65 degrees)—alternating between the two is a heavenly experience, by the way. I appreciated that no one looked like the cover of a check-out stand magazine. Breasts and bottoms, bellies and genitals of every conceivable shape and size were represented. Nobody was “perfect” by some coveted Hollywood ideal and yet each was undeniably beautiful and perfectly unique. Sitting in the protected warmth surrounded by a diverse sampling of humanity, it was easy to turn attention away from the chatter of years of conditioned judgment and comparison and instead just to be. Still. Warm. Loved. Accepted. Beautiful exactly as I am.
Perhaps experiencing oneself and others—even Life itself—as Beautiful, I mused, depends not so much on a particular set of attributes, per se, but rather on a state of Naked Reverence. For it seems, in that “au natural” state of being, without the covering of conditioning, Beauty like Truth—can’t help but shine through, irrespective of size, shape, color, or particular leanings—not even, as we discovered during Love and Ecstasy Training, if caked in mud.
Postscript: On our recent drive up the west coast, in addition to Harbin Hot Springs, we sought out several other clothing optional hot springs resorts, including Orr Hot Springs outside of Ukiah, CA and Breitenbush, outside of Salem, OR. These are each delightful resorts with their own particular flavor to discover. We appreciated that both of these included hot tubs reserved for quiet soaking and reflection contributing to a similar experience of “Naked Reverence.”