Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bathtime Reflections...

"Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a warm bath and a glass of wine." ~ Saint Thomas Aquinas

There are few things in life that are more rejuvenating to me than a hot bath at the end of the day. The process of drawing the bath, choosing the aromatherapy scents for the evening, and just taking a moment to wind down can be incredibly therapeutic. I've learned that on days in which I'm particularly anxious or worried, a bath using Lavender, Jasmine or Rose oils can help me to fully relax, let go of the day's concerns and prepare for sleep. When I am overtired, and need a boost of energy, a bath containing Ginger, Peppermint or Lemon can leave me feeling refreshed, renewed and invigorated. During times that I have a cold or feel the aches of illness coming on, Eucalyptus, Hyssop and Basil have worked wonders. My time in the bath gives me those moments to reconnect body, mind and spirit. A warm bath can give one a sense of being reborn, and to step out of the tub with a renewed sense of purpose.

When my children were small, I remember bathtime having the same type of balancing effect on their personalities. Because I was blessed with two children barely two years apart, our home was a fairly chaotic one in the early years of their lives. They were precious playmates, building secret clubhouse forts with blankets and pillows. They were also adversaries, knocking over Lego creation masterpieces that the other sibling had built. They were the best of friends. They were the most bitter of foes. And yet, at the end of the day, no matter how angry my daughter might have been at having Barbie's pink VW Bug co-opted for a GI Joe battle, when the children got into the tub, began playing with boats and making 'potions' with bubbles and bowls, they were once again, peacefully united. I could always count on the fact that crying, hectic afternoons would morph into joyful, laughing evenings, thanks to bath time. The healing power of the warm bath became my safe haven, not only for my own use, but as a tired mother, who needed her children to find themselves refreshed.

Baths are far from a modern convenience. The healing power of warm water is universally accepted and lauded. Nearly every culture appreciated and cultivated the idea of bath time as being more than just a way to wash off the dirt. The Romans were masters of the bath. When we were in Italy, some of the most stunning examples of architecture we saw were those of the extraordinary Roman bath houses. These weren't place to pop in and out of for a quick cleaning. Rather, they were a social environment, as much as a healing one. The Romans created vast aqua duct and pipe systems to bring in fresh water, and heat it...decades before the modern, at home bathroom was ever conceived. Bath houses were places of commerce, places of connection, and places of time spent renewing oneself. There were bath houses for men, for women, for different social classes, and for different groups of people. But, all were treated to this vital, and positive, aspect of Roman life.

Is it any wonder that we, as human beings, find emerging from warm water to be an almost metaphysical experience? We emerge from the warm waters of our birth, and both history, mythology and religious traditions literally ooze warm water. The Greek goddess, Aphrodite, is said to have been born of the sea. In Judaism, a female convert must submerge in a Mikveh (a blessed, clean pool of water). For Orthodox Jews, women return to the Mikveh monthly as a symbol of cleanliness and renewal. Christians are 'born' by the water of baptism, as Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan. Muslims believe in the ritual cleansing with water, and that water is available at mosques before one may enter. Many Native American cultures used sweat lodges are a form of bath house, designed to purify the body from the inside out. The sweat lodge was a way to call forth visions, to remove all impure waters from the body, and was 'closed' by a dunk in a nearby river or lake.

For the majority of us, our evening ablutions have less to do with religion, and far more to do with unwinding. Our baths can help us feel refreshed after a day filled with activity. But, there is no reason to make our baths yet one more item to add to our "to do" list. By setting your intention for your bath to be a time of restoration, you can create your own personal sanctuary. In the fascinating film "What the bleep do we know?!", the writers suggest that our very words can change our realities, and our perspective. In one fascinating scene, a woman writes the words "Thank you" in the bottom of her bathtub. As she soaks, the woman is filled with a perspective of gratitude and well being. Whether or not our written or spoken words can physically change our state of mind, this exercise is an interesting object lesson. Our baths can, mentally and physically, improve our outlook, our health and, at the very least, our evening. Even if the manifestation of "thank you" is figurative, rather than literal, isn't it much nicer to focus our thoughts on gratitude for our lives, rather than the idiot who cut us off in rush hour traffic?

So, create your own reality by creating a special bath...fill it with warm water, a scent you can inhale with joy, and peaceful music. Author your own time of grace as you soak, and allow the craziness of your day to melt away. Even if you do not find yourself changed into a completely new being, perhaps just reconnecting with your calm inner being, can be change enough.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Graduation is only a concept. In real life every day you graduate. Graduation is a process that goes on until the last day of your life. If you can grasp that, you'll make a difference. ~Arie Pencovici

My nephew, Adam, is graduating from high school this month. Additionally, a large number of my own children's friends will also be switching their tassels from one side to the other. This is the first year that high school graduation is truly personal. Children I've known all their lives are taking the first big step into adulthood. Yes, we all attended Kindergarten graduation, middle school graduation and numerous movings on from Little League, from Cub Scouts and from Guppy level swim lessons. We have been present at Confirmations, First Holy Communions and Bar Mitvahs. The fact is, our children's lives have been filled with one ceremonial ending after another, and they've received dozens of certificates to prove they were the most improved Soccer Player at camp 5 years ago. To some children, high school graduation feels like just one more occasion to have one's name read, and most likely, mispronounced, at the end of a series of such events.

And yet, the high school graduation, in my own heart, loomed larger than even my college graduation. Why? Because it wasn't yet another award to stick on the shelves, or stiff piece of parchment to get stuffed into a rummage drawer. It was the first, after many, graduation that really signified something beyond my lanyard making ability. For the first time, I felt incredibly grown up, and yet, reflected on how much growing up I had left to do. For four years in high school, I couldn't wait to graduate. I did enjoy high school, but the world ahead loomed so enticing and so much more 'real' than school. High school, for so many young people, both in my day, and currently, seems like a time to prepare for the next step. All throughout high school students are just marking their classes (until they get to lunch and chat with their friends), in sports (until they make the varsity squad) and in life (until the 'real thing' begins). Students prepared for college, for travel or for the life beyond high school. High school itself felt as if we were in one big conveyor belt, in a giant machine, adding bits and pieces, tweaking parts of us here and there, until we were deposited at the end, with a diploma, plans for an amazing summer, and vague ideas about the Autumn ahead. High school seemed like the marinating time. Graduation felt as if we were popped out of our containers, properly seasoned, and ready to head off to the grill.

Ironically, with all the excitement and busy-ness leading up to baccalaureate, prom and graduation, I remember feeling a desire to just get the whole thing over with. I was ready to move on, take charge and step forward towards a vast new frontier. And still, as I sat with my classmates, I distinctly remember a moment of panic coming over me. Suddenly the reality of the marinade was sinking in, and I realized that this was not an ordinary day. From that moment forward, I would be considered a high school graduate, and truly, a young woman on my way to the rest of my life. Despite my angst of wanting to "grow up and get out", moving on from my days of childhood, I was immediately hit with a sense of melancholy as it dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea how to "be" the young adult that diploma, awaiting me at the podium, signified. As teenagers, we push and we hurry and we wrestle with the concept of being independent decision makers. But, at the end of the day, we may be able to speak passable French, have a fine understanding of Shakespeare and be able to discuss the mechanics, in Physics terms, of the solar system's orbit path. Yet, we haven't the vaguest idea of how to rent an apartment, cook a reasonable meal, pay our bills or have basic knowledge of a benefits plan. In short, we were marinated to perfection for a very small piece of the world we would eventully inhabit.

When I came across the Arie Pencovici quotation, regarding each and every day as a graduation, my eyes filled up with tears. Finally, I thought, a sentiment that I could relate to! I had long felt that, the older I grew, the more I wanted to know. And, the more knowledge I aquired, the more my curiousity was peaked. My mother has always used the expression of lifelong learning. When I was young, I wanted to roll my eyes and moan that, surely, it must end sometime! Now, happily in my 40's, I view every single day not only as a gift, but as an opportunity to learn something discover a subject I'd never tackled before, to open my mind to new concepts and to learn to be more tolerant and considerate of other people's opinions. I have come to see that every moment presents an opportunity for learning...and that learning may involve Shakespeare, or it may involve learning to listen, with an open heart, to a idea I'd never considered. It may involve reading a book in a genre that I don't normally choose, or allowing my teenagers freedom to make their suggestions heard and appreciated. One of the most wonderful aspects about graduating every day, is to find out even more about the world we live in. As teenagers, our view of the world is very narrow. We believe we know it all...and as adults, we come to find out how very little our vision allows in. The choice we can choose to make, as adults with fully formed cerebral cortexes, is how wide to expand our vision...or how narrow to allow it to remain.

As you attend Graduation ceremonies in the coming weeks, I urge you not to give too much advice to the young people in your lives. They'll be inundated with it. Every uncle, every teacher and every neighhbor is going to tell them "If I knew then, what I know now...". The most wonderful graduation message I received was from my unofficial godmother, Patricia. She invited me down the hill for tea, hugged me very tightly, presented me with a beautiful Bible, and said simply, "I'm always here if you need to talk." She didn't lecture me on the best way to tackle college in the fall. She didn't remind me of all the bits of advice she'd given me over the years. In a short time, the pearls of wisdom that flew over my head during my graduation month faded. I could barely remember what I wore to my prom, let alone what advice I'd received. But, I did remember Pat's invitation....and for the past 26 years I've taken her up on it more times than I can count. Because of this graduation blessing, I felt a huge weight lift of my shoulders...because I knew I didn't have to grow up all at once.

If your heart so leads, and a graduate is precious to you, let her have an open door, a big hug and a mug of tea...knowing that she's not expected to run the world quite yet.