Bathing: Seeking An Inner Retreat

“Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and

humble, and precious, and pure.” —Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

Canticle of the Sun circa 1225

Our body is composed of more than 60% water and resonates with the planet earth, which contains 70% oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, ice, and snow. Our ancient forefathers had no idea of biological evolution but had a clue from the collective experiences, as many legends and traditions have mentioned water as the source of creation.

We may or may not be aware of it, but we spend a lot of time in an inner retreat. Whenever we want to recharge ourselves, reinforce, and immerse our bodies and minds, we take our refuge in water. Water is basic to both physical and spiritual life and is the life force behind nature. American Indians believed that breath, water, and wind connected all conscious and living things.

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Many traditions utilize water, generally infused with oils, plants, and salts, as a token of sanctity and revival. Communal bathing across the world helps to bond and relax. The Turks regard bathing as a semi-religious custom where body purification goes side by side with soul purification.

Pushkin, a Russian writer, and master of Russian culture explained the banya, or sauna, as the “second mother” of a Russian. “He goes to his second mother for rejuvenation, warmth, and a bath. She restores him to a state of glowing health.”

Fast forward to current times, and you hear those busy with the daily grind speaking fondly of managing time for a shower or bath. Now, seaside spas have become trendy for those desiring a chunk of relaxation and rest. Talk to a surfer, a fisherman, or a sailor why they are so passionate about what they do, and see the way they give you a mystical and blissful smile.

Bathing is not limited to only finding time out and cleaning our bodies. As we dive into the water, we are involved in an old tradition – if we make a mindful decision to do it. In present times, it is difficult to find spare time, but when it is made available, we understand its worth.

Bathing has been motivated by natural agents – plants, minerals, and water, and the old healing methods of bathing. A bath involves different ways of dipping ourselves in nature, of discovering a retreat within, titillating our senses, and returning back to our bodies.

Here are some of the meanings that a bath has when you use it as your promise towards your well-being and also as a medium of spiritual rejuvenation.

Baths As A Spiritual Practice

Kumbh Mela: The festival is marked by a ritual dip in the waters. In 2013, 120 million pilgrims attended the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad

Religious and spiritual practices around the world use bathing and submersion in water as a ritual aspect. It is a component of spiritual practice that resonates with every population regardless of cultures and faiths.

Christian traditions call for baptism in different forms, and in several churches, water becomes holy after a blessing. A follower of Christianity professes their faith by bathing in “holy water” which symbolizes purity and spiritual rebirth. In Judaism, the ritual bath mikvah is designed to attain ritual purity and is the Jewish rite of purification. Islam believes in the ablution known as wudu, which is practiced before every prayer.

Water is a force that purifies according to Ayurveda, and the Hindu tradition associates bathing not only with the cleansing of the body but also the mind and the soul. This is the idea behind millions of Hindus from different parts of India taking a holy dip in the River Ganga during the Kumbh Mela. There lies a profound belief that the water of the river turns into nectar and anyone taking a dip erases their sin. The River Ganges is worshipped as a goddess, Ganga, who purges sins and delivers liberation from the life and death cycle.

Buddhism too embodies the calmness of water by performing water offerings at Buddhist shrines. In the Shinto ritual, shrine visitors need to first purify and cleanse themselves by washing the hands and face in a custom called temizu. Plants, mud, smoke, and water are used in sacred baths in Peru and Haiti. Floral baths are also practiced in the traditions of Amazon where it is believed that the spirits of the plants connect them with the higher energy. In the Yoruba custom of west Africa, Oshun, the river goddess is worshipped as the savior and sustainer of humanity. Her worshippers perform rituals to her in freshwater.

All over the world, water is symbolic of rejuvenation, purity, and the innate secrets of the spirit. An indication that whatever our differences are on the basis of social, political, or religious grounds, we all have originated from the sacred and pure waters of the earth, with a wish to transcend every day and reach the Divine.

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Baths Meant For Expressing Gratitude

Water gained sanctity partially due to its scarcity for many centuries. The recurrence of monsoon and drought, the inundation of rivers, and its recession have created a rhythm that exists to this day. Humans can go without food for a while, but without water to drink, we won’t survive three days.

Many people still do not have access to safe, unpolluted water for drinking and bathing, and for some across the world carrying water to reach the place where it is required to cook, wash and drink consumes a huge amount of time in their daily lives. This work is undertaken by laborious women and in many regions of the globe, there can be no assurance that the water is pure and toxin-free. Even in this modern age, polluted water still makes children sick.

Perhaps, if we had exposure to clean and hygienic water, and not had to carry it for a long stretch, we would have taken it for granted. So, we should never forget how fortunate we are. Clean, pure, quickly available water, and the fortune to bathe without any apprehension, is indeed a blessing, and at the same time should also be a global right. Maybe an aspect to bear in mind the next time we fill our bathtub. Try CBD bath bombs.

The Bath As A Community

Whether it is the spa culture of Budapest, the Japanese Onsen, the Scandinavian sauna, the historic bath is known as Friedrichsbad in Germany, or the Russian banya and the popular communal baths of Turkey, the bath is a destination point and the place to reach with other people.

Culturally, you may not be familiar with communal bathing, and if there are spas or public baths that serve immigrant groups within your region, they should be paid attention, and need to be comfortable for newcomers. At times, an enjoyable bath only needs great company. But think of a bath as a personal moment with yourself- not essentially a flight from day to day life, but something more than that which is a time to focus on yourself and be compassionate towards yourself.

A retreat to the source or the womb, even for a short time, and a recall that we live in the tide of history and the symbolical waters across the globe – all interlinked, flowing rather than collapsing. Humans have emerged revitalized, renewed, and prepared to carry out our daily water hauling and transporting, maybe with the kindling of creation within us, as people all over have done always. After all, water is the driving force of nature, is life, and we are small particles of it, to move forward.


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