One of my favorite personal sanctuary spaces is our local hot springs. If you’ve never been to Harbin, one of the draws, at least for me, is the temperature of the hot pool. They keep it between 112 – 115, which is quite hot for a soaking pool.
I’m often amused by the reactions of people the first time they attempt to get into the water. Yes, it’s HOT. But once you get past that initial shock and, yes, a little bit of pain… the resulting deep relaxation is SOOO worth it!
On a recent trip, after a blissful night sleeping out underneath the stars, I got to the pools early… before anyone else was there. And without the moderating effect of any other human bodies, the water in the hot pool was as hot as I’ve ever felt it, painfully so the first time I got in.
One of the reasons I love going to Harbin is because I quite often have an experience that seems to touch on the transcendent. I’m sure there is some scientific explanation, based on the intense extremes of temperature that I’m subjecting my body to as I go from hot to cold. But it’s nice to imagine that these moments are some kind of Mystical Awakening.
I usually feel the experience approaching after about three rounds of hot-cold. It begins as a tingle in my head and a heightened awareness of the beating of my heart. At that point I go and sit on one of the meditation benches near the cold plunge. I’m never sure if it will happen, but if I am in the right mind-set and sufficiently open to the experience, it begins.
At first it is a gentle feeling as if my body is being pushed back and down, almost as if I’m on an amusement park ride picking up speed. Soon there comes a point when I have to consciously decide if I want to go with the experience or cut it off.
As the “ride” picks up speed it becomes distinctly uncomfortable. No, that’s not the right way to describe it. It becomes intense enough that if I allow my mind to jump in it will definitely shut off the experience. You know that “whoa” feeling that lasts for a second when you’re driving and you go over a big bump. Take that feeling and multiply it by about 100 and imagine it not stopping. That’s the way it feels at the transition point, the point where I have to choose.
The first few times this feeling came, I was not able to get past that transition point. It was too uncomfortable, too intensely unknown for my mind to let go.
But after about perhaps three or four visits during which the experience began, I was able to get out of the way and let the ride take over. And since then it’s just been getting more and more interesting!
When I am successful at getting through that moment of choice, the discomfort passes and the ride speeds up even more. And then it gets really fun! It’s like I’m just falling backwards… where to, I have no idea. But it definitely does not matter.
I keep thinking that there may be some destination I’m supposed to arrive at or some information or insight that I’m supposed to get. But so far, that hasn’t happened.
And soon enough the “ride” starts to slow down and I find myself sitting on the bench with a feeling of true joy and peace. Sometimes I can’t help but break out in a big smile, the feeling is so delicious.
It usually takes me a while to get up. My body feels heavy, as if it’s weighted down to the bench. When I do get up, I’m definitely a bit wobbly on my feet. Holding onto the railings as I walk down the steps is a must.
There’s a part of me that really wants to know what this is experience is. My mind wants to label it and categorize it, understand it and know what to do with it.
But the wiser part of me knows to just let it be, to just enjoy it and be grateful for the experience.