Water + Benediction

Surrender. Our bodies feel water and surrender to it in a way that is almost archetypal: that feeling of stepping into a body of water gets us all on a cellular level, as though the amoeba that are at our ancestral root are still somewhere in there wiggling with joy at returning to state of one-ness with everything. There’s something so immensely healing about water, and how we let go and allow the greater world around us in when we’re floating in it. But, this is not something that we often do willingly or naturally. 

Most of the time in our lives, we push for things. We are in a hurry to get places, or to finish our to-do lists, and so we push ourselves forwards as quickly as possible, often with a running dialogue of everything we need to get done. There’s pressure there, and its immense, and it usually comes directly from us. What happens when we do this is that we extend outside ourselves: it’s a push forwards, a drive, an expansion. 

Receiving is different. It’s just as powerful in its own way but is something that we are I think instinctively afraid of. It’s scary because receiving makes us vulnerable (I mean you need to let down your defences when you accept something into yourself, right?) and its scary because there’s a moment of unknown there even if we don’t acknowledge it. I can explain further: say you want something to happen in life. The way we usually handle these intents we set is to push for it, plan for it, force it and make it happen however we can. This is one (excellent) way of getting things done. But there’s another way too. What if we set that intention and let it happen? That’s where the moment of fear steps in because you have to, in some way or another, trust both yourself, and the world around you. I know that for years I didn’t want to let go of the control button for fear that if I did the world around me would fall apart. But then, look at water. It’s the most passive, receptive substance on our planet, yet with that passive motive force, it can destroy continents and reduce giant cliffs to sand. That same passive force can be one of our guiding principles in life, especially during times of depletion or exhaustion. 

I think that when we’re in that receptive state, we’re much more inclined to accept nourishment from the world around us too. The interesting thing about nourishment is that it’s one part the nourishing substance and one part acceptance of said substance. Just like you can’t force love on something, you also can’t force it to accept nourishment— we have to drop our guards and let it in. To stop pushing and enter a receptive state. Have you ever been around a cat that didn’t want to be hugged? This happens a lot in my house: I’ll pick up my cat and wrap her up in my arms and legs and kiss her on the head repeatedly and, because she’s a sweet patient thing, she doesn’t claw my face off, she just gets this look on her face that says ‘I am enduring this but the second its over I’m outta here’. I think a lot of us are like that when it comes to receiving love and nourishment, too: it’s an uncomfortable act that we endure. But get us near the water and we open up, relax and let go. 

There’s a reason that so many rituals involve water: it’s one of the primal elements of our world, and it’s what makes up a good 75% of our bodies. Around it, we start to let go of what troubles us and relax into our surroundings. Numerous studies have been done on the stress reductive powers of forest bathing, but I’d venture a guess that the same is true of being around the water. Water sounds soothe us, gazing out at the sea or a lake is calming. In Los Angeles, the rain soothes like a benediction leaving the heavy air bright and clean and we, too emerge from the water changed, as if it has somehow swept away some of the heaviness that plagues us in our day to day lives. All around the world, the places where water runs wild are the places that are sacred, and still you find them where people enact the most sacred of rituals, be it cleansing, purification, or just spending time with others. 

Our skin is this giant receptive sensory organ, and anything applied to it gets absorbed into the body. When you step into a bath at the end of a long day, your entire being relaxes. Having herbs in the bath puts your body in direct contact with all that lovely plant matter when your body is at its most receptive; most likely to want to accept nourishment. Putting nourishing herbs into the bath is a way to deliver those herbal actions to a body that is open and receptive. Ashwagandha, milky oat, devil’s club, shatavari, aralia, nettles, horsetail, seaweeds, rose, solomon’s seal. These herbs that help us rebuild and restore, be it in our nervous systems, our energy levels, our muscles or our overall state of being, soaking in them lets us take them in, to open up to that solvent state and let it transform us. 

Water’s lesson isn’t in its individual parts but in how we expand to accept it all, and the same is true of life: the lesson of water is in letting go, accepting that we can’t control a single wave; in looking at the bigger picture and accepting it as it is. Our bodies are a part of that bigger picture, and to be in it, alive, breathing, feeling things, is a gift. When I get into a bath, instead of thinking about things, I let myself get bigger until I can feel how the water I’m in is connected to all the water in the world. From there I am no longer Rebecca, in Los Angeles, who has a long to-do list, but something bigger, older and wilder. I am the Pacific, the North sea and the Med. I am the Ganges, the Thames and the Clyde. I’m the rain on the desert and the rain on the west coast of Scotland all at the same time. I’m in me, and in you, the blood, sweat and lymph and the vapour on your exhale and mine too that drift up and become clouds. From there, the world is a series of bent chain molecules laid out in front of me and the very substance that gives us all life. All of that, inside a single molecule, contained in a tub with some plant matter in it.

Some herbal bath recipes

(this is an excerpt from a long list in my newsletter from this week. If you’re interested in signing up for it to receive lots of recipes and herbal information every weekend, you can do so here.)

Mineral bath: 

Note: this is a stinky bath. Just a warning. But man, it’s really good for you and is worth it. Maybe drop an essential oil blend into the tub before getting in, or just rinse off when you’re done. 

The mineral-rich herbs and seaweeds and salts provide such nourishing, restorative grounds for your body to replenish itself of base nutrients and trace minerals. 

1 cup bladderwrack seaweed

1 cup kelp

1 cup nettle leaf

1 cup horsetail

1 cup epsom salts

1 cup dead sea salts

Mix the herbs and salts together in a big bowl then store in an airtight jar. To prepare: simmer 1 cup of the bath blend in a stock pot full of water for an hour, then strain the mixture into the bath tub. Soak for as long as necessary. 

Root bath: 

I love this bath for when feeling a bit ungrounded and shaky. When I’ve been doing too much and extending outside myself for too long, feeling like I’m running out of reserves. Exhausted body states, fried nerves. A root bath is the way to go: think of how roots run deep into the earth and how that earth is so solid and stable. And think of how you feel when you’ve got nothing left to give, like if you could be wrapped up in something that solid and stable you might be able to draw nourishment from it just as a root would pull in nourishment from the earth, and that might help you become yourself again.

1 cup ashwagandha root

1 cup shatavari root

1 cup devil’s club root 

1 cup aralia root (if you can find it, if not, leave out)

1 cup oat straw 

Mix the herbs together in a big bowl then store in an airtight jar. To prepare, simmer 1 cup of the bath blend in a stock pot full of water for 1/2 hour, then strain the mixture into the bath tub. 

Sore muscle bath: 

A favourite of mine for sore joints and muscles. Be it from too much physical activity or regular old aches and pains, or from standing all day, or working in the garden, this is one of my favourite ways to ease the pain of a long hard day.

1 cup meadowsweet herb

1 cup kava kava root

1 cup telegraph weed (heterotheca spp.)*

1 cup snakeweed (gutierrezia spp.)* 

1 cup epsom salts

Mix the herbs together in a big bowl then store in an airtight jar. To prepare, simmer 1 cup of the bath blend in a stock pot full of water for 1/2 hour, then strain the mixture into the bath tub. 

*Some of these herbs are Southwest natives— if you don’t have access to them just leave them out, the bath will still work really nicely. 

Heart ache bath: 

For heartbreak and grief. This won’t cause the grief to go away, but it will do two things: one help you surrender to it— part of the reason that grief is so painful to us is that we don’t want to feel it so we push it away at the same time as we still feel it. To surrender to it, so that it can flow through you and be released. 

1 cup hawthorn leaves and flowers

1 cup rose petals 

1 cup devil’s club root

Boil a pot of water and then dump in the herbs. Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 20 minutes. Strain into the bath then add: 

2 droppers ocotillo tincture

1 dropper pedicularis tincture