We recently took an outing to the beautiful Breitenbush hot springs resort, and like most hot springs in Oregon, it is clothing optional. Breitenbush is an intentionally sacred and honoring space, deep in the woods of the Cascade mountains. Many people stay on for retreats and workshops, and it is also available for day use. Most people opt for no clothing in the pools.
We began our first-time adventure at the silent pool, one of the hottest ones. There was one other person there when we arrived, a woman with very short hair. I can tell you straight away that her hair wasn’t the only thing I noticed. I will just own it up front that I looked at every person’s anatomy as they got into the pools. I did. I was curious! I was sort of like a dog sniffing butts at the dog park… to see who they are, to gather all the info possible in that first encounter. I gave each of them a thorough visual once over (from behind my sunglasses), after which my curiosity was satisfied and I drifted on. Bodies are so varied and so similar at the same time. I suppose doctors are well aware of this. The sameness in the differences was by far the most striking thing to me.
So there we were at the pool, joining in, stripping down our clothes, stepping gingerly into the water. Another woman came, this one with dreadlocks. Others trickled in and out…a couple, an elderly gentleman. By now I had fully given myself to the experience of the amazing water. As I sat immersed in the pool, I tuned my awareness to the powerful love pouring up from the earth. “Let me heal you,” the great Mother said. I gratefully received. Tears rolled gently down my cheeks as my body softened and released. I felt so safe. So loved. So seen and so present. Sitting naked with strangers.
You see, I came here with no small amount of trepidation. We knew Breitenbush would be full of birthday suits, and for me this brought up a lot of content in my system. As a survivor of sexual assault, statutory rape, and other painful and confusing body experiences as a young child, I didn’t find the prospect of undressing in front of strangers safe or appealing. In an effort to encourage me, my husband would say, “But you have such a beautiful body!” as if that might make me feel better about baring all. Contrary to his intention, his words had nearly the opposite effect because I’ve perceived being “attractive” as part of the liability. I’ve woven this idea into my belief system via the road of my experiences. But as I see the words I just wrote, I know it isn’t true, that “being attractive is a liability.” People don’t rape someone because they look a certain way. All shapes, sizes, ages and appearances of women are raped. Rape is an act of violence and power over, not of attraction. But try telling that to my body, which had taken on the “it’s vulnerable to be attractive” belief. And, since the idea of going to clothing optional hot springs brought all of this up in my system, I chose whole-heartedly to go! I also knew I could wear a swimsuit if I wanted, but then I would miss my opportunity. If there is a constriction in me, a place that isn’t resolved or healed or aligned in love, I now go right toward it. “Never waste a good trigger,” a friend of mine says. I wasn’t always this way. I was a conflict avoider, a pain avoider, for years. But now I know that right on the other side of all of that pain and resistance is freedom, so I dove in. I dove into my fear and my vulnerability just as I sank into those pools of healing water, right there in the “people soup” as one woman put it, with all of the other bodies and experiences and beliefs bobbing around.
And here is what I found. It is easier to see and be seen than to not see and not be seen. For me, when everyone was naked, there was much less suspicion and wariness. Finally, finally it was normal to just be in our simplest form. This awareness was affirmed when people came into the pools wearing swimsuits. Their covering added a level of separation to the experience, which was fine, because that’s what they chose. And then at lunch, where we were all clothed, I noticed the separation even more. You know that thing when someone is looking at you, and you don’t see them, but suddenly your head turns to look right at them? That happened in the dining area, when my head was pulled around to look at a person behind me. He was staring at me, and my first thought regarding the attention was suspicion. Who are you? What do you want? Why are you looking at me? I didn’t remember him from the pools. In that moment I realized that his clothes contributed not only to my sense of separation but also gave rise to a reflexive response that hidden things could be dangerous.
Interestingly, when I ran into the woman with the dreads again, now clothed, she didn’t recognize us. I began talking with her, and she said, “Oh, was that you guys up there?” I guess when we were naked we looked pretty much like everyone else. Or maybe she wasn’t as much of a dog-sniffer as I was, or maybe when we’re bare we lack the distinguishing factors we often use to define a person: the color of their shirt or the type of shoes they sport or the kind of bag they carry. All of those things about appearance that separate us one from another.
The entire excursion was an act of moving toward and into my own internal constriction in order to give it space to return to freedom and love. This head-on approach takes courage and a deep desire for healing. But it also can be the quickest way. The thing is, once you move toward constriction and triggers rather than away, you wonder why you ever avoided them, since life is so much easier and freer on the other side. And more fun! To be clear, I wouldn’t say that softening into constriction means negating your guidance and knowing of “no” to an experience or situation. There is a difference between our well-honed sense of genuine danger or threat, and our awareness that we are simply scared inside from our own pain. This is the constriction I’m talking about. When we are ready to unravel that, we can choose safe and honoring ways to unlock the density, and free it back into love. Then we come back home into ourselves, and what a sweet homecoming it is! We do this by being present with our pain rather than running away, because what the pain is asking for is us. Our full presence heals everything. That’s the work I do with my clients, and the work I do with myself. Because I love me, and I love you. I love freedom and I love love that much. And every single one of us is worth it.
Christine Elder is a Transformational Life Coach and Sound Illumination Guide. Find her at ChristiEl.net