Monday, August 18, 2008

Air: Oneness in Living, Harbin Hot Springs and Community

'Oneness in Living' has emerged in multiple ways at Harbin since Ishvara bought the land in 1972. For one, Ishvara, the founder of Harbin Hot Springs, has written a book by that title. Also, 'oneness in living' emerges in and from the pools, that, in my experience, seems to happen naturally, and without effort - it's in the air, as it were. And, 'oneness in living' is a far-reaching vision for Harbin that gives rise to its unique fabric of life, with roots in counterculture.

In the context of thinking about oneness, individuals here - Harbin residents - have agency, of course - the ability to choose how to contribute to Harbin and what to do in their own time - in conjunction with receiving compensation for the work they do in keeping this hot springs' retreat center going, within the culture of Harbin, and, of course, because they have chosen to live here. This milieu has emerged organically, not without conflict, but around the pools, and has been significantly shaped by people who have been here the longest. Residents share and absorb this vision of oneness in unique ways. Ishvara, Bob Hartley, has been lived at Harbin at least 8 years longer than anyone else. Ishvara’s vision of people harmonizing with Harbin, its culture, and other people who live here, has developed in unique and unfolding ways.

'Oneness in living' also occurs at Harbin, especially vis-a-vis the pools and clothing-optionalness, as 'merging.' People merge together intimately, very readily and freely. Perhaps this sexuality is an expression of a tendency toward a kind of natural oneness. In the context of American society today, these kinds of openness and ease – also expressions of oneness, perhaps – are unusual. Harbin workshops - Watsu, water dance, HAI, Tantra, massage, etc. - that is, what Harbin teaches, are also expressions of 'oneness in living.'

Culturally vis-a-vis 'oneness,' in my observations of Harbin, people see their ‘mental stuff’ here, and come to face it, in interesting and sometimes affirmative, and at other times unsettling, ways. I’m curious about how a culture can give rise to this, and how ethnographic methods can interpret this. In my interest in writing an ethnography about Harbin, I was wondering what stuff of my own I would see, and of others’ stuff. One prevailing mode of cultural understanding here at Harbin is the New Age or spiritual understanding “I am that” or “I see things from your perspective” – a kind of monism or oneness expressed in the fabric of a New Age, hippie or alternative culture. This can lead here to a playing down of critical thinking, and instead to a being in the present, which can dis-affirm active engagement with ideas about what happens here and now or in the outside word, for example. Harbin also seems quite sophisticated; Ishvara has a subtle mind, as do many people here, and many interesting people from all over visit here, both from the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as internationally, and have done so for decades. Ishvara and Harbin have also responded to many unique situations vis-à-vis the ‘outside world.’ And in my experience, Harbin as field site at the end of road in relatively rural Lake County, California, does shape a kind of inside-outside way of seeing the world, because Harbin is a unique culture. So Harbin’s empathic culture, rooted in a New Age understanding of “I am that,” hippie-mindedness, and, to a degree, in intimacy and receptivity (I lived here for 4 ½ months in the first half of 2005) can (and often may seem to) create a culture where people see their own stuff, and in the context of oneness in living.

When oneness and the present - now - come together, Harbin can give rise to extraordinary experiences. Experience now.

~ Into the pools . . .

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