Recently, feeling the need for a retreat, I headed up into the mountains north of the Bay Area to a resort known as Harbin Hot Springs.
I’m a big fan of the healing powers of Harbin’s waters. I’ve retreated there plenty.
Harbin has been a healing spot/resort/spa since the 1800s and a sacred spot for Native Americans before that. However, in its current incarnation as an increasingly complete and comfortable resort, it still shows the influence of the “drug-addled hippies” who renovated the place in the 1970s. This is not my description, but that of one of Harbin’s staff members (yet another story!).
I guess one of the notable things about Harbin is that it’s clothing optional, which is a nice way of saying that 99.9 percent of the guests are naked in the spa area. While I initially found this discomforting, the novelty wore off after my first visit to the pools. Since then I’ve found Harbin to be a place of incredible peace and spirituality. I suppose it sounds corny, but I’ve even found it to be a place of transformation.
So, on this recent Sunday night, my friend and I were soaking in the warm pool, along with quite a few other people. (It’s big, like a swimming pool). The pool is a designated silent area and everyone was quiet and serene, semi-floating in the neck-deep water, and steaming away in bliss.
Right in the middle of the pool was a guy about 55 or 60. He showed no sign of hippiness, in fact he was wearing his big steel watch in the pool. He may have even been wearing his black dress socks under the water somewhere. Straightest-looking guy in the pool, he was talking and laughing to himself (quietly, but still…), and acting out all kinds of motions and dancing around in the water.
Every now and then he would stop and fold his hands and nod his head as if he was accepting applause. You could see him mouthing words.
In short, he was really tripping.
I thought he was on acid, my friend thought he was practicing a martial art.
He wasn’t bothering anyone, but regardless, we steered clear of him.
Then later we were in the heart-shaped pool, a shallower warm pool a little distance away. It was now dark out, and suddenly the guy lumbered out of the shadows, still flailing his arms and talking to himself. He was doing lots of quiet giggling. Even though I’m used to seeing the unusual at Harbin, he was creeping me out. We were alone in the Heart Pool, talking quietly. I was afraid he would get in and try to strike up some interaction with us. But instead he walked over to the true swimming pool (completely unheated and 60 degrees), out of our line of sight, and dove in. We heard him get out, laughing and splashing, and then suddenly – in the reverent silence of the mountain evening – he burst into joyous song.
And this is what he sang:
“We go together like
rama lama lama
ke ding a de dinga a dong
remembered for ever like
shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yipitty boom de boom”
“Chang chang chang-it-ty chang
That’s the way it should be
Wha oooh yeah!”
Yep. Into the quiet of the valley, voice sailing out above all the silent hot springs soakers, this heavy-set, middle-aged naked dude was belting out “Grease”.
This should be proof enough of the transformative powers of Harbin.