Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Peace, Mud, & Happiness


Last week for my birthday, my good friend, Alex, took me out for a weekend in Calistoga, California.

Let me begin by saying I'm not one to relax. Call me Type A. Call me a Capricorn. Whatever you call me, relaxing comes about as easy as sleep for me (I'm either an insomniac or someone whose genetics anticipated artificial lighting).

The last time I remember relaxing was about eight years ago. I had been invited to a friend's wedding in Italy and I was held captive for six hours on the beach. After about two hours of nervous fretting, I finally gave in and welcomed the Mediterranean way of life and dug my toes into the Sardinian sand.

It was nice. Not necessarily the "have nothing to do" kind of nice but more the "can't do anything so might as well surrender" kind of nice.

Back to last weekend in Calistoga: I was again held hostage by tranquility. I'm in the midst of upgrading all my shop listings but had done enough that I could reasonably take a break (and needed one), and my friend made sure I did. The people at Indian Springs, too.

I sipped chilled cucumber and lemon water (okay, one of the world's most refreshing and simple drinks!). I swam in a geyser fed mineral water pool the temperature of a warm bath (I started doing laps and then remembered, "Oh yeah, I'm here to relax," and started floating about on an inflatable raft).

And then it was time: my first mud bath.

It's nothing like what you see on TV or the movies. It's sticky, slimy, gooey, and more; there are bits of things in it (it's made from volcanic ash). You don't quite sink in it (an attendant will bury you after you get into the raised cement tub) but you don't quite float, either (it's like being suspended in Jell-O). It's very, very warm (the mud is made with geyser water). I can totally see how people die in quicksand.

Anyway, I had to sit in it for ten minutes. Ten minutes! No magazines, no audiobooks, no sketchbook, no music...I didn't panic (I know how to meditate. Yeah, what a surprise), I just let the mud envelope me and focused on my breath. I'd recommend a mud bath for almost anyone.

The treatment was followed by a shower (give up on getting all the mud out of your nooks and crannies, that's what you do later in the bathtub soak), a soak, a steam, and then, my friend who is a prince among princes (a real mensch), had a massage scheduled for me. One of the best I've ever had (I'm trained in massage, too, so I know of what I speak)! Go Esalen!

Afterwards, we went to dinner at a nice but unpretentious restaurant. Yum. Delicious. I still dream about what we had for dinner (I ate off of his plate, too, I couldn't resist). All Seasons Bistro on the main strip: if you can go, please do!

The next day on our way back, we tooled up and down the coast, visiting small towns like Mendocino. Idyllic and I imagine what Maine's coastal villages look like. Bleak and grey due to the storms that are still blowing through this area, but I love that. There's a big part of my heart that's reserved for lonely beauty.

With all the peaceful feelings coursing through me, it made me think about happiness, and the various ways we achieve it and cheat ourselves of it. Growing older yet another year, I have come to at least one not-so-secret secret to happiness that I'd like to share with all of you:

Accept human nature.

I have to thank my friend April for preparing my head for this kind of realization (she's responsible for the Serenity card set in my Little Beauties Collection and for whom I painted "Reawakened"). Watching Firefly and listening to Joss Whedon talk about people--and how he tells stories about flawed characters--also helped.

It's not that I don't understand people's basic motivations--it's that I had trouble accepting them. Why lie when you can tell the truth? Why cheat when you can remain faithful? Life is about choices to me, and responsibility; I live honorably and for a long time, I expected other people to do so, too. If they didn't, well, I'd get mad or they were doodie heads or both.

How many times have we gotten angry at a rude driver? Thought something racist, sexist, or homophobic? How many times have we thought ourselves better than someone else because we'd never do what they did?

Accepting human nature is by no means condoning certain behaviors. It's just knowing that it happens and not getting worked up about it. As the brilliant writer Alan Moore once said about his former publisher and why he wasn't angry about how they treated him, "Once you find out you've been standing knee-deep in shit, you don't jump up and down on it to punish it. You step out, clean yourself off, and move on."

That's a philosophy I can live by, and that I humbly offer you as a key to happiness.

And you didn't even have to be held hostage or dunked in mud to get it (although it would have been fun if you had)!

My gratitude to Alex and to all who have contributed (whether I liked it or not) to my peace and happiness.

Be well,

I.
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