Photo: Thinkstock
I fill my bathtub with bubbles, just like Doris Day in Pillow Talk. I light a zillion cream-colored candles, just like Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born. I play soothing music over high-quality headphones, just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. But why stop there? I place thin discs of fresh cucumber over exhausted eyes just like Maggie Smith in Gosford Park. And in no time at all, I let my mind begin to wander, just like Jessica Lange right before they institutionalized her in Frances. The water is warm, the lights are low, the music is enchanting, and here is what I'm thinking: How did my medicine cabinet get chipped? What exactly is a loofah and why in God's name do I own two of them? Have I only been in here three minutes? What time is tomorrow's ideas meeting? How does a woman live more than 40 years without having one idea for tomorrow's ideas meeting? My life is ridiculous. I need a new bath mat. Is that my doorbell? Is that my phone? Why is there war? How do I get candle wax off the side of my tub? Have I only been in here three minutes and 26 seconds? Shouldn't my fingers be pruney by now? I hate my clothes. I hate my hair. I hate my towels. I hate my ability to eat more than one hamburger in a sitting. What if I never come up with another idea and I lose my job and I'm forced to live on the street without a place to recharge my electric toothbrush and my eyes go bad and I can't see that single white hair growing out of my chin and I start scaring little kids who refer to me as Old Bloody Gums Kogan and I die alone clutching my two unused loofahs and how the hell can I have only been in here for three minutes and 57 frigging seconds???

All my life, people have been urging me to relax. They put a hand on my knee to steady my shaking leg. They take me to the cockpit and introduce me to the pilot. They make me skip the nightly news and the daily paper. They offer glasses of merlot, cups of chamomile, sticks of gum, prescriptions for Ativan. They tell me about the wonders of yoga, the miracles of meditation, and a top-notch shrink in Murray Hill. It makes me very, very tense.

An intervention is staged—friends invite me to five days at a spa, and before I can protest that I'm much too busy, I find myself on the vacation I didn't think I could afford to take. Arizona is crazy beautiful. The air is perfumed with rosemary and purple sage, the mesas are dusted with pale cocoa earth, and at sunset the sky turns to mother-of-pearl. There's prickly-pear marmalade and men in white Stetsons, grand canyons and lonesome doves. My elusive search for serenity has brought me to Miraval, a spa that seems to want nothing more than to see me unwind. Rumor has it that another spa in the area searches your luggage for hidden Pringles and peanut butter cups. Miraval asks only that you be aware of what you're eating and make a point of savoring it. They believe in living mindfully, that people who are getting all the tender loving care they need will want to be good to themselves, and they provide the trainers, nutritionists, therapists, and aestheticians to help. The relaxation techniques that felt like a tedious waste of time in Manhattan feel like manna from heaven in Tucson. I am massaged with hot stones, pedicured with hibiscus, exfoliated with sea salt, anointed with oils, sunshined, sauna'd, steamed, stretched, peeled, lotioned, lathered, conditioned, polished, fed, and massaged some more. I nap, swim, read, chat, stroll, breathe deeply, sip mango iced tea, and nap some more. I avoid cell phones, e-mails, faxes, traffic jams, the frantic ticking of my biological clock, and any form of media in which I'm likely to encounter a warning from John Ashcroft. My neck slowly reappears as my shoulders slide down, my jaw unclenches, my lower back unknots, my fingers stop curling into fists, my chakras get unblocked, my chi gets released, my mood gets lifted. I become a wet fettuccine noodle in a white terry cloth robe. Nothing can faze me. The sky is falling? You don't say. The world is hurtling out of control? Praise the Lord and pass the sunblock. I develop an involuntary smile that borders on the idiotic. I don't want to leave.
There's a pretty decent chance that I won't be coming home to a large, cheerful staff waiting to unblock my chakras and release my pent-up chi. Nor will there be a chef preparing insanely delicious low-calorie desserts. So the question is this: How much bubble wrap must I be encased in to maintain this newfound tranquillity?

After one month back in the big city, I believe I have the answer: All the bubble wrap and mango tea in the world won't make the chi flow after I receive a few jolts of the same stress that caused me to flee in the first place. But if Miraval has taught me anything, it's that I have the power to help myself feel better, and if I can't completely eradicate stress, I can at least get to a place where missing a green light doesn't make me homicidal. I toss my Chinese take-out menus (hailed as one of the largest collections in North America) and invest in a copy of Conscious Cuisine: A Harmony of Flavors for a Life in Balance, by Cary Neff, Miraval's brilliant executive chef. I cook and freeze on Saturdays and come home to healthy meals all week long. I promise to treat myself to one massage a month and an occasional facial to boot. I return to the little things that used to make me happy, like swimming and walks in Central Park. I learn to unplug my phone for 20 minutes or so every night and curl up with a good book. I buy the new Tom Waits CD and play it in place of the latest in reality television. I meet old friends for Sunday brunch. I swear never to let a year go by without building in some sort of vacation. And every now and then—after a particularly harrowing day—I settle into a warm, relaxing (four-minute) bubble bath.

More From Lisa Kogan


Next Story