Updated: Dec 7, 2021
Bathtubs in Heaven
Is there anything more relaxing than slipping into the hot, fragrant enclosure of a bathtub? With stacks of fluffy towels nearby, a sponge in hand, a cup of tea on the tub ledge, and perhaps a lighted candle or two to further soothe the senses, I can lose myself in bliss. Layer after layer of tension, bothersome worries, and the dozens of daily duties that stack up, one by one, like a sink of dirty dishes, will all be handled with the steaming therapy of the bath. Lying in the tub everything is forgotten by the joy of the warm water outside uniting with the body’s essence of warm water inside until all is warmth and wetness and joy.
After a good soak I emerge a different person, not only cleaner, but calmer, slower, gentler, all the dishes shining, stacked, and reshelved for their next use.
Baths have always been important to me. Saturday was bath time in our home when I was growing up. Mom lined up the little ones and splashed them in the tub until they emerged pink and shining, wrapped in huge bright towels, wet, squeaky hair slicked down, smiles broad and bright. We older ones took our turns filling the tub, laying out the towels, choosing the bubbles and shampoo and soap, then soaking happily in spite of our siblings banging on the door for their turn!
Bathing time was drastically cut when I lived in a Catholic convent. Each nun was allowed to bathe once a week on the scheduled time. If one was ill with a cold, or anything more serious, one lost her bath that week. Fifteen minutes were allotted from the time we locked the cubical door, filled the tub, took off our veil, hair cap, white pleated collar, long black robe, long white nightgown and slippers, soaped up hair and body, scrubbed the tub clean, redressed in the evening habit and opened the door to the next eager bather. That was far too short, but none of us would consider for a moment the possibility of giving it up!
My years of living in Europe entailed bargains with landlords for bathtub use or taking my chances at the student union. Eventually I found temporary lodging in the large priest’s home in Nijmegen, Netherlands while on the housing list. I was not allowed to use the male bathing rooms, but once a week I could sneak through the connecting corridor to the nun’s house next door and luxuriate in the huge white bathroom, complete with richly appointed antique cabinets filled with soaps and perfumes and toweling cloths and holding a swimming-pool-size porcelain tub. It felt like heaven after a week of basin bathing and I lay in the hot water until my fingers and toes transformed themselves into little bunches of dried raisins hanging from my happy limbs.
Some years later when I moved into a large American yoga ashram, my teacher, knowing my demands for bathing, gave me one of the four private rooms that contained a tub. After long hours of work and study I would run there to soak away fatigue as well as confusion, get clean while pondering ancient teachings.
Sometimes my teacher, saint that he was, would allow me to fill a tub for him and pour in my perfumed bath salts or bubbles. The teacher in him would thank me warmly on his way into the bathing room; the ascetic in him would emerge five minutes later telling me it was wonderful!
My tiny apartment in Tokyo came complete with the traditional deep tub in which I sat for hours, up to my neck in hot water, filling the room with steam and the low sighs of my contentment. My home in London came complete with an Edwardian tub framed in rich mahogany in which I could float without touching the edge, so large and deep it was. My Minnesota home has a quaint foot Victorian tub in which I can lean back to read mystery books amidst the bubbles.
When my teacher told me to study in the East, I answered that I would go only if a bathtub was provided for me. He feigned shock at my demands and then promised me everything:
“We’ll carry a big bathtub from the United States on the plane with us just for you. No, even better, we’ll fly one in for you from Delhi.”
Of course, once I arrived at the Nepalese ashram after shuffling over the single log bridge and climbing the mountain pass up to the gate, there was no tub for me at all. There was only the daily morning chopping of ice in my bucket to get to the water beneath and pull one limb at a time out of my clothes for washing in the winter air, then hurrying to my teacher’s room to sit with him in front of a crackling fire.
One day he announced a special treat for me. The servants had scrounged for extra wood up in the mountains and after cooking big pots of water, they carried two steaming buckets into my room for a real bath! Afterwards, warm and contented, I thanked everyone for the gift.
“Tree,” my teacher informed me grandly, “for you heaven will be a huge bathtub!”
Of course he is right. How could it be otherwise? Spiritual growth is often analogized as a type of “cleansing.” We wash away error as we wash away expectation. We eliminate suffering as we cleanse away desire. Meditation itself is very much like slipping into the warm, fragrant waters of the cosmic bath. After our clothes of name and form and role in life are dropped off in a pile and the little rubber duck of our ego, squeaking its demands for acknowledgement and approval and aggrandizement well beyond its size is set on the bathtub ledge, only our essence—pure conscious bliss—mingles with the selfsame essence around us, uniting us again with past, present and future, joining inside and outside, dissolving false divisions of immanence and transcendence. The initial feeling of drowning is swallowed up in the total joy of being drowned. In those waters of meditation we merely are. We are that. And thus we become everything and nothing simultaneously. The waters around are the waters within. The divine is in both. The divine is the water.
And what emerges from the bath is the realization, however fleeting, that we are pure, blissful consciousness, even as we clothe ourselves again with a name and a form and a job and a set of relationships to do the work we came to do.
So as the summer heat wears you out, as the cool winds remind you that winter is near, as your work piles up threatening to add stress to an already full schedule, as disappointment or sadness or fatigue taps you on the shoulder, climb slowly and with a full heart into the steaming, welcoming waters of a hot bath and allow yourself to remember once again who you really are.
Today something unusual happened. Let’s go back a few weeks first. Yes Publishers received a letter asking us to place an ad in a new yoga magazine. It had a large circulation, so it was an ideal place to advertise. The problem was the cost. A one-sixth page ad cost $800.00! We discussed using all our advertising budget on a single ad and decided that being seen in this magazine might be a good idea.
So I made an ad for the book Swami Rama requested be written, the book Yoga International refused to take an ad for, the book Yoga Journal would not allow to be advertised in its pages, the book Hinduism Today refused to accept an ad for. This book is Walking with a Himalayan Master: An American’s Odyssey. Most of the space of the ad was used for a photo of the book. Beneath that was set the publisher’s phone and website, along with two recommendations.
Today the proof sheet, a printed page torn from the finished magazine, was sent to Yes Publishers. The ad was placed toward the front of the magazine, on a righthand page, set at the top, outside edge. It could not have been better placed. Unfortunately something very strange had happened in the copy room of the magazine. The ad was only a photo of the book cover. All the words were left off the ad.
Of course we phoned the magazine to voice our disappointment. The quarterly apologized profusely and told us that they were tearing up our check and would run the ad again in the next issue. We suggested that they hold the check for the next issue’s ad payment. “Oh no!” they insisted. “We will run the ad properly, but no payment is necessary. We’re sorry for the error. Please accept the next ad as a gift.”
Swami Jaidev and I looked at each other in surprise and then looked over at the photo of Swami Rama hanging on the wall. “Many thanks, Guruji! That is a wonderful gift you gave us.” Apparently he wants others to know of this book, and he’s helping with the advertising also.
We have now come to the end of this blog, Ma Devi: My Life's Journey. We are grateful she has left us with many stories to share, the majority which never have been published. We hope you have enjoyed her wisdom.