The Ganzfeld effect is a sensory deprivation-type of feeling that occurs when a user is exposed to a certain type of stimulus. James Turrell, the California-based contemporary artist, often seeks to replicate this phenomenon through his light and space installations. These ‘light fields’ are meant to replicate the feeling that deep sea divers can experience, where they cannot tell where the bottom and the surface of the water is, or pilots flying above the sea cannot tell where the water ends and the where the sky begins. These immersive experiences can have a hallucinogenic effect; indeed I have visited many of Turrell’s installations and each time I have witnessed friends being brought to tears, others experiencing intense fear, others felt an incredible sense of peace. Each experience has been different and each time, I felt like the artist was distorting reality and although I couldn’t quite place what was going on around me, I felt oddly connected to each of the pieces.
I experienced something similar although more ethereal when I visited a New Agey spa in Merida, Yucatán. I booked this time for myself to ‘cleanse my soul’ and relax my body. The spa itself was nothing fancy, it was a backyard in someone’s home that had been adapted with two little tubs meant for soaking and one larger pool that had a pyramid structure over it and a large quartz hanging in the middle. In the middle of the yard was an enormous tree that Felipe, the spa owner, informed me was over 1,000 years old and encouraged me to hug in order to ground myself. And hug the tree I did!
I was to spend 30 minutes each in the two warmer tubs and then another 30 minutes in the large icy pyramid pool. Suddenly the thought of doing nothing, just sitting in water, contemplating life, made me wonder what possessed me to book such a session. My anxiety was quickly assuaged the minute I stepped into the first tub, which was built out of clay and thus had a very earthy vibe to it. Felipe had placed a floral concoction into the hot water and offered me some fresh ginger tea in a jicara cup (a jicara is a container made of the Mexican calabash fruit, and vaguely resembles a gourd with its filling carved out). At that moment, drinking out of a cup straight from nature, surrounded by the large tree and literally hanging out in what was essentially a hole in the ground, I felt like a forest fairy! I had never felt so connected to the earth in my life! The second tub had cooler water and some citrus tossed into it. This time I felt like I was discharging nutrients for the earth to absorb. It was a delicious feeling.
I bring up nature’s hot tubs to share that by the time I stepped into the ice pool, I was not feeling entirely like myself; I was in a very relaxed state of mind but also feeling very open and trusting, which would serve me well for the last and final experience of the evening. By the time I entered the cold pool, it had begun to get dark outside and Felipe turned on some neon blue and purple lights to guide my way into the pool. As soon as I stepped into the water, the ice cold rushed through my blood and sent shivers down my spine. For a second, I didn’t think that I would be able to fully submerge myself into the water but Felipe recommended I take my time and slowly dip in. As I slowly slid in and took a seat on a ledge along the side of the pool, I realized that because it was dark I couldn’t see the depth of the pool. Ordinarily that would’ve scared me but for some reason that day I found it oddly calming. I sat there in silence, without moving a muscle, until the water became crystal clear like glass and perfectly reflected the clouds above me. The water suddenly didn’t feel so cold and I could just as well have been flying above with the clouds as I was floating in the water. I extended my arms to my sides and stretched out my feet until I couldn’t see the ends and if it weren’t that my limbs were connected to my body, I would’ve thought they had disappeared into the water. Suddenly I felt like the water and I were one and the same; I didn’t know where my body ended and the water began.
After sharing this experience with several friends, they likened it to an out-of-body experience but I feel like it was even more than that. That day I had never felt so connected to the earth and to its elements. And I had never felt that sense of peace in a body of water. I think on that day a portal opened in me that made me receptive to water and helped me learn to love, appreciate and care for this natural resource because it felt like an extension of myself. It was a life-changing experience that I still carry with me today, that informs my relationship to Mother Earth and propels me to be a good steward so that future generations can also experience this magic.