Taking a hot bath is like returning to the womb. I thought this as I lay in hot eucalyptus-scented water, my ears below the water line, the baselines of random songs pumping through the water, with my heart as rhythm guitar.
The songs were playing on iTunes from my computer in the next room, an easy way to time myself, I thought. My skin was dry and itchy — stress-related, The Gryphon suggested — so I was soaking in a hot bath with some bath salts, especially designed, the label said, for relaxation. It said to soak for 20 minutes, so I figured about five or six songs.
At times, it seems that iTunes reads my mood, tuning its electrons into my psyche's molecules and pulling out songs that serve as perfect accompaniment for what I'm doing. (Or maybe it's simply the human tendency to seek meaning in the world around us.)
After a couple female punk tunes, which I felt characterized the little girl in me, who had rebelled at this time-out, preferring to page through my stack of Entertainment Weekly magazines, to catch up on celebrity gossip, my electronic guru hit me with a long jazz number. I took some deep breaths and got mellow.
I'd spent the afternoon talking to a good friend who's going through personal troubles, meeting for lunch at a creperie in Media, where our waiter had an uncanny habit of popping up just as one of us was saying something terribly embarrassing. Although, when we parted, I felt I'd made a difference simply by listening, I'd brought my friend's worries home with me.
That was partly the cause, I decided as Outkast offered up some complicated rhythms, for my skin sensitivity, along with three other possible causes.
One, I'd had a total of five or six cups of coffee that day: two at breakfast, two at the creperie (or perhaps three, as the waiter kept topping it off, reminding me of the scene in Coffee and Cigarettes where the woman complains that a waiter refilled her coffee just after she'd gotten the blend of cream and sugar right), and one at dinner. I know from my days as a pizza delivery driver that excessive amounts of caffeine produce itchy, super-sensitive skin.
The second possible reason: this dry wintry air. I often joke that I'm part amphibian and that I ought to keep a bowl on water in my room to hop into so I can moisturize. These days, I'm beginning to wonder if I really ought to.
The last possible reason: the fact that, earlier in the day, I'd used a moisturizer by Oil of Olay that was strongly scented. Considering that the areas that itched — my shoulders, my legs, my forearms, were the very areas where I'd applied the moisturizer — this seemed fairly likely. Probably, it was a combination of factors.
On a regular basis, one of another of my senses becomes super-sensitive. One day, it might be taste. Another, smell. Yet another, hearing. And now, touch. Perhaps I should be worried, I thought. Maybe I have some rare neurological disorder. Or brain cancer. Doesn't that cause strange sensory experiences? Except that this has been going on for at least 10 years, and surely, by now, more signs would have developed...
My inner punk girl was rebelling, I realized, coming up with distractions to prevent me from relaxing. Taking a deep breath, I sunk down in the water again.
I have a Kripali Yoga tape which I do every week or so, and my favorite part is the very end where, after a meditative session, the instructor tells you to move however you want. "Your body knows what to do," he says. And each week, my moves are different, as I do a sort of slow-motion dance, my movements arising from a deep, inner imperative.
So I listened to that inner voice, submerging when I felt the need, raising an arm or a leg to feel the cool air breeze over my skin. "Your body knows what to do," my inner yoga voice told me, and I found my mind skidding away to universal ponderings as the Who sang "I Can See for Miles."
One revelation, though amusingly minor, was how our senses are linked. For example, I swear that I can hear better when I'm wearing my glasses. I thought, in the bath, that perhaps it's related to the fact that we first gain full use of those senses simultaneously. Emerging from the dark, muted enclave of the womb, we are thrust into a bright, loud world. No wonder we cry.
I sat, leaning against the cool side of the tub, my legs in eucalyptus brew as my hair dripped onto my back. Though the water had been warm, the droplets felt cool, and I concentrated on the sensation of the rivulets running down my back. Too often, I thought, we forget to pay attention to the small sensations that make life beautiful.
Thinking about my friend, I remembered a piece of advice I'd shared: find your inner strength, be good to yourself, and you'll find healing. A yogic light popped into my brain. Physician, heal thyself, I whispered and smiled.
Then, because it felt right, I sat erect, crossed my legs and placed my hands loosely on my knees, a seated yoga meditation pose. Simultaneously, Polyphonic Spree began singing, "Follow the day and reach for the sun!" I felt that inner bliss, that meditative light, spread through my limbs, through the top of my skull, connecting with the universe.
As I sunk back down into the bath for one last soak, Joe Cocker sang "Have a little faith in me."
"I will," I said, and smiled. "I will."
Your body knows what to do.