Beyond My Small Heart

photo by shf

The cliffside pool waited, empty of other bathers at this early morning hour when the doors had just opened to the soaking pools that offered mineral baths rich with iron, soda, lithia, and arsenic, each mineral naming a pool that ranged in temperature from 102 to 105 degrees. Snow carpeted my walk from our cozy shared abode at this sacred retreat spa in northern New Mexico that according to its website is a “celebrated refuge for rest and rejuvenation dating back to 5,500 BCE.” Here I was, back in the mystical landscape that had drawn me when I first saw it from a church bus window on my way from Oxford, Mississippi, to Glorieta, New Mexico, for a week of revival with other Southern Baptist teens way back in the summer of 1973. The world can look like this? I had asked myself. How much else don’t I know? As it turned out — plenty.

All these years later, I had gained the good sense to know when I needed something to look forward to, and four months before, when the plans to visit here were made, I needed a sense of future tense more than ever.

My Colorado friends had oriented me to the subdued-in-a-good-way Ojo Caliente bath culture the day before, so this morning, my initial jitters about how to blend in with the locals had vanished and left the sea inside calm — and receptive.

After walking the short distance from the women’s locker room to the communal waters, I arranged my towel and robe on the back of a lounge chair and lowered my feet onto the submerged steps in an unpopulated pool. My worries and fears, insecurities and doubts liquefied and rippled away as the warm watery envelope loosened the armor I had maintained for months to guard me from what I had been moving through and what had been moving through me. Change. Death. Loss. Repeat.

I heard it first. A constant spill of promise, arriving from an active spout splashing against the far rock wall. With the arms of a pilgrim in want of a cleansing, I pushed forward in soft reaches toward the streaming flow. A toasty torrent of spring water spilled over my crown and lashes and cheeks and wetted my hair as I succumbed to the shower of blessing. In slow bends, I led the water to my neck, my spine, then curled and bobbed all the way down to my tail bone. I must have looked like a fetus floating in amniotic fluid. And I felt like one, too. Release. Release. Release. I reversed the motion and unwound myself in an inching of time that allowed me to find the deep breath I hadn’t known I’d been missing. Then I sprung forward into the placid pool, redeemed.

The waters spoke of the strength that lives beyond the cage of my body. Beyond the smallness of what I alone can carry, beyond the limits of my fragile, fainting heart. The waters spoke of the locus of love, beyond that which can be contained. You are part of that, the waters assured me. Boundless love in all directions. And I soaked in the promise of such mercy and grace.

cornhusk and feather wreath at Ojo Caliente / photo by shf



writing with an open heart

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