Peter Schroth, Trees, Tall Pine III
“…and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”
— Walt Whitman
Growing up just outside Washington, DC resulted in my childhood having it’s fair share of visits to historical sites, such as Civil War battlefields, like Gettysburg.
If you’ve ever been to a memorial site, especially one where great loss actually took place, you know that you can feel it. What you’re standing on at these places is sacred ground and each has a powerful energetic fingerprint. Perhaps you’ve felt it while visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, Auschwitz in Poland, or The Killing Fields Museum in Cambodia.
Sadly the world is full of sites where atrocities took place and left an imprint, physical or energetic.
In my early twenties as I was emerging victorious from my own battle with anorexia the only way I could relate to my body was as this sacred ground. While not visible to the eye, my body felt like modern day Gettysburg battlefield.
This flesh—my flesh—was where a war had been fought and won.
And what this meant to me was that anything less than sacred awe was not good enough.
In the years since then I have encountered in my life and in the lives of those I work with serious trauma. Childhood abuse. Sexual assault. Mental illness. Loss of parents and children. Battles with cancer. Amputation.
And it doesn’t take catastrophic incidents like these to leave trauma. Life is traumatic.
Life is traumatic and our bodies bare the brunt of it. They are our sensory input tool and they are where we experience (or repress) emotion. Our bodies are the tools or fight or flight…or freeze. Our bodies are the recipient of heinous cultural norms. Our bodies, depending on where we live in the world, aren’t even always considered our own.
Life is also miraculous. The ways in which our body heals, allows for connection, creates new life, and enables our lives is marvelous.
All this is to say: feel the sacred ground you are living in.
Feel that you are sacred in every cell of your body.
Stand in awe of not just what has happened on your ‘land’ but on what you have survived and created.
Consider reverence as a new template for how you inhabit this flesh of yours.
Like Whitman says, your “flesh shall be a great poem”.
My mom is a bath taker. I think the bathtub became her place of refuge when my sister and I were young. She even mastered the art of reading a book while bathing without getting the book wet. I always marveled at this. She likes her baths extra hot. I marvel at this too.
She used Avon Skin So Soft bath oil and that scent is forever linked to her in my mind. It left her skin silky and the tub slick with oil such that we had to be careful not to slip.
I wasn’t ever much of a bath taker until last year when I was hit with six months of tonsillitis (and a tonsillectomy). In that time of great discomfort nothing soothed me like being submerged in hot water.
In that time, where I’d take maybe two or three baths a day, I fell in love with this ritual.
In speaking to my landlady one day she told me that if you’re going to have rental property and you want female tenants that you’d better have a bathtub.
When I lived with roommates I never took baths as the communal shower never felt private, even when I was alone in it–or clean enough, even when I scrubbed it.
In my current home I have a peach bath tub surrounded by pink tiles from the 50’s. In my boyfriends place there is a newer white tub that gets professionally cleaned once a month. Neither allow for much neck support in a reclined position, but they’re big enough and deep enough.
My advice for bathing:
Before you get in, shut the door to the bathroom so the steam is captured. Lay out a fluffy, clean towel (a bath sheet if you have one) where you can reach it and put a bath mat down. Light a candle. Using a cup or recycled yogurt container, rinse out the tub. It need not be hotel-perfect, just free of stray hairs and such.
Plug the drain and begin the fill. Always a touch hotter than is comfortable. It will cool. Add any bath oil, salts, or bubbles that you like. Or nothing at all. Water is enough.
Turn the lights out and get in.
Pull the shower curtain closed if you can and let the water run until it’s just high enough to cover your ears, but not your face when you lay supine. Lay back. Listen to your own heart beat.
Notice how you no longer know what ‘cold to the bone’ even means.
Stay there. Release any urge to get out and be productive.
Receive. Soak. Shut the world out.
You might find yourself craving a mother. A mother to wrap you up in that towel after you’ve stayed in long enough. A mother to comb out your hair and prepare some warm milk. A mother to perch on the edge of the tub and listen as your uncertainties get washed away. You can be this mother.
Never get out before your fingers have turned to wrinkled prunes.
Never restrict yourself to bathing only after sundown or in winter.
On occasion listen to music or watch a movie simultaneously.
It’s quiet delightful to recline in extra hot water on a lazy brisk afternoon and watch whatever it is that makes you giggle.
Exfoliate. With scrub or pumice, let go of what’s old and dead.
Shave your legs only ever for yourself.
Make a point to come here often, especially when you are tired, contemplative, questioning, fried, chilled, afraid, melancholy, or dirty.
Most importantly though: never live anywhere without a bathtub. That would be like losing god’s phone number.