Harbin Hot Springs. My soul-home. My screen saver. My compass. My place of healing and refuge. My recurring dream. My holy land. When I arrive, the first thing I do is go to the water spout at the cold plunge and sprinkle water over my head – 7 times – one for each chakra. Then I drink, deeply. I get naked as fast as I possibly can and jump into the swimming pool so I can float on my back and look up at the tall Poplar trees. They are a talisman for me, reminding me to stand strongly rooted in the earth, reach for the sky, and bend gracefully to the breezes that blow. I’m home.
At 25 I was a naive, wide-eyed girl who had just realized my life-long dream of moving to California. It was the Summer of 1990 and a friend brought me up to Harbin. It was love at first sight. And I’ve been going ever since.
I’ve spent half of my life here. I’ve gone in all seasons. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve shivering in the warm pool as it snowed, pulling Tarot cards for the coming year. I’ve camped in the Fall, listening to the acorns, pop like gunshots, as they drop from the mighty oaks and explode on the tent platform. I’ve slept under the summer sky, counting shooting stars, and holed up in hotel rooms listening to the Spring rain.
I’m naked and exposed at Harbin, literally and figuratively. Anything that has been “living” inside of me surfaces. I’ve encountered the Wounded Masculine and the Divine Feminine, I’ve met the Priest and the Whore. All inside of me. Harbin is a portal place, a sacred chakra spot, and in my experience, Harbin provides me with every opportunity to heal whatever is needing to come up. 7 years ago, I was on beta blockers for severe arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and I was depressed that I needed to be on medication. I hiked up to the tea house with 2 friends and prayed for the “shield to be removed that protected my heart.” I walked back down to the pools and never took another beta blocker again. True story.
In his yoga classes, Peter would refer to the waters of Harbin as mother’s milk and if the pools are Harbin’s breasts, then the waterfall slit in the rocks, along the sacred path, hidden in a tangle of fig roots, is Harbin’s yoni. A place I’ve brought my most raw and unedited prayers to. I’ve come to Harbin at my most tender and broken, taking refuge in the waters. I’ve showed up in my fullest expression of joyful, playful ME. Harbin has received me in all ways, always.
I’ve been a starving student, escaping the San Francisco fog. I’ve been a single woman, a married woman, a young mother. I’ve shared laughter and popcorn in the Harbin kitchen. I’ve knitted on the sun deck, beaded in the Blue Room cafe, I’ve journaled in my tent. Toned in the meadow, I’ve sang, danced, prayed, chanted, sat, meditated, laughed, cried. I brought my children there and camped (which they hated.) I went to the meadow and sat inside a circle I made of my grandparents’ ash, thanking them for their love. Comforted that they will be part of this sacred land.
I can’t count the list of people I’ve gone up to Harbin with – old friends, new friends, women’s groups, boyfriends, husbands. I’ve met poets, artists and strangers that feel like family at Harbin. I’ve had the deepest conversations with people and never seen them again. I’ve gone up by myself and been lonely, I’ve gone with friends and been lonely. I’ve been there alone and felt such contenment and peace, knowing that death could knock on my door and I would rise up gladly and leave immediately – my soul complete and filled with the natural beauty of Harbin’s land.
This year, for my 50th birthday, friends who know and love me gave me money to use at Harbin and I bought a life-time membership. I finally felt ready for commitment (smile.) I got up to Harbin 3 times this year – once for my annual Spring trip with women friends, once for a HAI workshop and R&R and lastly, in July, for some one-on-one time with Barbara, a soul sister who has been coming to Harbin longer than I have and we share a deep and profound love of Harbin as well as laugh our heads off when we’re there.
This past weekend, Harbin was burned in a fire. The text I received on Saturday said it all: “Sis, Harbin is gone.” Pictures of the landscape stand my hair on end. My heart hurts. This fire did not happen to me, I know that. My heart goes out to all the beings (plant, animal, human) that are affected by this major event. And still, I mourn the loss of my temple home. Harbin reconnected me with my past. She is showing me my future. And she taught me to identify, appreciate and require presence.
I know how the sun looks dappling through the giant fig leaves, it is in my cellular memory how the candles flicker in the hot pool, I have sat in the garden lulled by the buzz of the bees in the apple blossoms as I watch dew evaporate off of a blade of grass. My body knows the feeling of the plaster temple floor warming my back. I can close my eyes and hear the night frogs croaking down by the bridge. I can smell the honeysuckle that rings the gazebo. This land, this place is in my DNA. I don’t know what will happen to Harbin, if it will be rebuilt or not. But I can say that if it does get rebuilt, I will care for the land lovingly, with the tenderest of touches, as if I was tending to a beloved hospice patient. I will bathe her body and swathe her in the softest of cloths. I will whisper my gratitude and joy to her, to be able to give back even a portion of what she has given to me. I will thank her for giving me my lover. And I will kiss her softly. Everywhere.