A Mystical Evening

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The goose hissed at me as I stepped out of my car, turning its head before its body and focusing. It hissed again when I closed the car door, and the other geese behind it turned as well. Then it took tentative steps toward me, spreading its wings out menacingly and sauntering forward, giving off a sound like a clown squeezing the rubber horn on his lapel.

“Whoa, whoa, okay,” I muttered as I stepped quickly away, and the geese slowed their paces, backing off. I remembered a childhood story of a kid getting bit by a goose he’d been taunting at the park, and I certainly didn’t need that experience in my life.

I looked briefly around the property of Mystic Hot Springs, on the edges of tiny Monroe, Utah. I’d never been to this section of the state before, though I have been spending more time in central and southern Utah lately during my work on the documentary. Over in this little corner were towns with names like Elsinore and Koosharem, the very definitions of small-town America, the kinds of places where one has to drive to the “city”, a population center of more than 5000 people, to get groceries and gas.

Mystic was pretty in its way. Driving in, there had been a series of run-down cabins, uninhabitable, followed by a section of RVs, a small campground, then a long row of old busses that had been converted into hotel rooms of a sort. There were several buildings scattered throughout the property and, on one side, pens for goats, alpacas, and chickens, if I remember the signs correctly. Off to the right of my car was a trail heading upward, where different pools had been arranged to collect the hot springs water. To my left was the main office, where I was to register for my room for the night. I entered, after stepping over a few peacocks.

The ad for this place on Airbnb, and in local searches, used the word ‘hippie’ multiple times, a word that the few people who lived here clearly owned. The main room of the office extended off of the owner’s homes, as I could see the kitchen off to the side and doors marking private residence entrances, but the room itself was piled with ‘hippie’ merchandise, like crystals, specially blessed bags of salt, and hand-woven scarves. Signs all over the desk advertised that members of the staff could be secured for hypnotherapy sessions, table massages, couples massages, or chair massages.

A kind woman in a flowy blouse checked me in and described the property. She took payment and told me I’d be sleeping in one of the busses, all of which had been converted to camping rooms, with a community bathroom just feed away with showers and running water. She literally called it “the Grateful Dead Hippie Bus”, and told me “You’ll be staying in the white one. It’s the Ripple Bus but it isn’t labelled. It’s the one next to the blue bus.” Shortly afterward, she offered me a chair massage, and, I mean, how could I turn that down.

For 15 minutes, I sat in a chair while she worked on my shoulders, neck, and upper and lower back. She made casual small talk about growing up as a non-Mormon in Utah and moving around the state before finding a home here. She mentioned some of the quirkier corners of the Utah wilderness, like a pond where many Mormons had died seeking a buried treasure, and the Devil’s Slide rocks near where she grew up. She had surprisingly strong hands and it felt good to let the tension go for a few minutes. January had been a busy month. She informed me that the band, the Free Peoples, would be putting on a private concert that very night in this very room, and invited me to come back at 9 pm. I heartily agreed.

I left the lodge and pulled a protein bar out of my pocket, looking around. Making sure the path was clear of geese, I walked up the short hill to the hot springs, reading the signs warning against public nudity and alcohol. A few collected pools of hot spring water were on the lower edges, and slightly higher up were bathtubs (literally bathtubs) that had been placed to collect the water for a more… unique hot springs experience. There were several different bathtubs in various groupings around the hillside. A couple sat squished together in one while three women occupied three in a row on the other side. I pictured old Western movies, where the cowboy enters the brothel and sits in the hot tub in the middle of the room while the women bustle about. I walked up a bit farther to see the hot springs themselves, trickling down the hill, and I dipped my finger in it, feeling the warmth right from the earth itself. Then one of the three women cackled and began animatedly speaking.

(Warning: graphic language follows)

“Okay, so then, I’m squeezing right, but I’m not sure he’s really into it, and I’m wondering if this guy has ever even had a hand job before, he’s just there in his truck like just looking off in the distance, like he’s, like, watching something boring on TV, but I really like him, so I, like, keep going. I’m squeezing, I’m stroking, I’m pumping, and then all of the sudden, he just, like cums but, like the tiniest bit, like you could barely tell. And he never made a sound! Like not a sound! His facial expression didn’t even change! He just, like, pulls his pants up and we, like, go to the movies. But, you guys, I really, really like him!”

I made my way back down the hillside as the women continued laughing. Still wary of geese, I grabbed my bag and walked over the Hippie Bus I’d be staying in. I entered ‘the white one’ and realized there was no key and no way to lock the door. All of the many windows in the interior of the bus had been covered by hanging blankets and shawls, and I could slide a chain lock on the bus door when I was inside, but I couldn’t lock it from the outside when I left. It was surprisingly quaint in the interior, with a queen size bed against one side piled with blankets and pillows, one the blankets being electric; yellow lights were strewn around the top edges of the room; there were a few chairs, a lamp, and a small table with a game of dominos on it. A hanging side read ‘Take only Memories, Leave only Footprints.” It was cold inside, but I switched on the small space heater and kicked off my shoes, planning on reading my book on Truman Capote for a while.

Hours later, I took myself back out into the cold and walked up the hill to one of the empty pools. It was dark outside now. One pool over, an elderly couple embraced in a shadowy corner, and I could still hear the women giggling up on the hillside. It was too dark to read, so I sat alone with my thoughts. I looked up over the brown mountain ranges to a gorgeous full moon with a wisp of cloud over it, a perfect Halloween moon in January. It was stunning. The water was perfect, not too hot or cold, and I found an edge to lean into, where I could be alone with my thoughts for a time.

I learned a few years ago that I love traveling solo. When I don’t do it, I start to get uncomfortable, itchy in my own skin, and I need short getaways like this to recharge myself. I’ve discovered that I quite like my company and can go most anywhere, trying local food, seeing community theater, sampling live music, and entering storefront museums. But whenever I travel, there is usually at least one evening for a few hours where all of my demons claw their way to the surface. For just a bit, I feel pathetic. Dissatisfied. Frustrated. Furious. I grieve my past, I mourn my lost opportunities, I rage at my hardships. I hone in on unmet goals, inconsistencies in my love life, financial burdens, or family hardships. I’ve honed the ability to feel those feelings, to let them be part of me for a bit, to give voice to them. They are part of me. They are important. I need fear, anger, sadness, guilt, grief, and pain to be part of my ongoing narrative. And then, once I feel them, I release them, into gratitude and happiness. I remember the positive and wonderful things in my life. I looked up at the moon and smiled about the happy moments during my day: the phone call from my 9-year old to tell me he missed me, the morning hug from my boyfriend, the delivery of a copy of my book to an excited friend, singing sings while driving south, and a long sit-down conversation with a sheriff about my documentary. I thought of the good people in my life, the ones who show up and who mean what they say. I swished my hands around in the water and released myself into this moment, on this hillside, and everything was okay.

Another hour later, I entered the main office again, and found a five-man band playing on the stage set up on the side. They were… good. There were drums, guitars, and a saxophone, and two of the men took turns singing. They were incredible, a nice new-age electric bluegrass tone to their music. They finished a song about ‘the best 25 dollars they ever spent’, then turned to the room and said ‘thank you, thank you very much’, and I realized I was the only person there. I looked around and realized they were recording the performance. I sank back into a chair, as I wasn’t sure they had even noticed me there, and kept listening. During a break between songs, one of the band members yelled out, “oh come on, who was that?” and the other laughed back “Sorry man, I held it as long as I could!”

I took a picture of the band and sent it to my friend Meg, explaining the circumstances. She sent back an image of the animatronic band from Chuck E. Cheese, and I realized that the Free Peoples were basically in the same formation, and I laughed out loud. Suddenly, a small Chihuahua in a sweater jumped into my lap and began licking me, and I looked over to see the woman from the chair massage standing off to the side. Shortly after that, the three women from the hot springs, the girls who’d been cackling about the hand job, entered the room, still dripping wet from the hot springs, and they stood right in front of me, dancing. After one more song, a few more Chihuahua licks, and a bit too much of the wet bathing suit bottoms wiggling in front of me, I decided my weirdness level had reached its max, and I retired for the evening.

In my bed in my bus. I texted the boyfriend good night, and he messaged back that he had mentioned the hippie bus to a friend, and she’d responded “ooh, tell Chad to take disinfectant spray. They have so much hippie sex in those things.”

“I have a weird life,” I said out loud as I clicked off the light, then I went to sleep with a smile on my face.

Tantric

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“No! You’ll make me laugh!”

Cole gave me a look of impatience. “It’s a room full of strangers! It would be awkward to do it with anyone else.”

I sighed and looked around the room at the people there. Several dozen people stood, gazing around the room for a potential partner. Most of them were couples all ready, and mostly heterosexual ones at that. This was actually a very cool crowd of people, sort of an older group of hippies. Older women with flame-red hair and fur-lined boots, horn-rim glasses and purple scarves, tassels on coats and sequins on gloves.

I’m always looking for new adventures in town, and my best friend Cole is generally willing to accompany me. Amateur comedy nights, independent film screenings, live musicians. And tonight, a mutual friend was hosting an education event called the 7 Secrets of Spiritual Sex. And I thought, why not?

In preparation for the evening, I looked up a bit about Tantric sex, something I’ve heard of many times but never looked into. The word Tantric itself is beautiful, Sanskrit word meaning ‘woven together.’ The concept is rather simple, the idea of using methods of connecting to a partner, unifying and sharing on a deeper level.

We had just listened to a surprisingly entertaining evening, spent discussing deeper emotional connections, full body orgasms, and the prolonging of pleasure for both men and women, topics that had been addressed in a mature, fun, and professional way. The crowd had been all smiles and insight, mature learners on a topic that would have made me blush five years ago. (It took me until my  mid-30s to realize that sex is actually quite fun).

And now, at the close of the evening, we had been asked to find a partner to face and maintain eye contact with for several minutes, forming a spiritual connection and bond while hands were held. I know Cole, and how easily he makes me laugh, and I knew this was a terrible idea.

“Cole, it would seriously be easier with a stranger.”

“No, please, come on. You’re the only person I know here.”

I sighed and nodded my consent. I looked over to see a cute older couple join hands and face each other. Another woman, who had revealed she was a “famous porn star” (“Hi, I’m a famous porn star,” she had said. “I want out of the industry because there is no emotional connection anymore.”) partnered with a woman next to her. An older couple of gay men joined hands nearby. I felt safe in this room, all these different kinds of people just accepting of one another.

The evening had started with some sort of tuning fork cleansing, vibrations moved around the body. A woman had been seated within three circles of individuals joining hands, then we had all directed “blue energy” toward her struggling thyroid. A woman had prayed in Hawaiian and the energy in the room had been intense. (It had strangely reminded me of my experiences in the Mormon temple, the ritual and joined energy of strangers). We had even practiced an intense body breathing exercise that left my heart pounding like I had just run a mile, just before a sustained meditation.

Now we were instructed to hold our hands out in front of us, left palm facing up and right palm facing down, and then to touch palms with our partner. We were told to focus our attention to the left eye of the person in front of us (easier to make eye contact with one eye than both, especially for a sustained period). And then the music had begun.

Flutes and trills and bells in the song, mixed with my eyeballs locked on Cole’s, had me fighting off laughter even before the woman began to sing. The song, Divine Lover by Leraine Horstmanshoff, is absolutely lovely, but my adolescent 12 year old brain kicked in, the one that used to laugh in fourth grade whenever the teacher would say ‘do it’ or the ‘plug it in, plug it in’ commercials would come on.

The woman sings the phrase Divine Lover over and over and my face contorts up, cheekbones rising, nostrils flaring, lips pursing, as I fight off laughter. She sings of nectar and breezes and trees and a guttural laugh escapes my throat. And when I start laughing, Cole starts laughing, and the energy feeds and every time I try to stop laughing he starts, and every time he tries to stop, I start. The song goes on and on and we have six full minutes of silent giggles, all nose breath and furrowed foreheads, and when it finally, blissfully ends, I’m exhausted.

I look around the room and see all the couples hugging, tears streaming down faces, muttering about how special that was, how wonderful the energy felt, and I elbow Cole. “I told you! I told you that was a bad idea!”

We shake a few hands, offer a few hugs, and step out into the cold January air. A friend texts me: How was the symposium?

I think briefly and laugh as I respond.

Tantric.