By James Fowler
Contact with the stressful outside world is forbidden. Cell phones must be surrendered upon registration. Anyone caught with a prohibited device is quietly but firmly escorted from the premises. Guests liken the place to a monastery, or a correctional facility that actually corrects.
To assist detachment from the 24-hour cycle, guests are taught to approach the day’s headlines as they would old news, or to see themselves as visitors to a foreign country, in it but not of it. Home is elsewhere.
The futility of worry is emphasized. If/then thinking should replace it. If dreaded x does happen, then y might be done in response. Guests list their anxieties on one page, then contingent plans to address them on another. The first page is burned to ash. Then, since only thirty percent or so of fears materialize, most of the second page is torched.
With no television, radio, or books, there are few distractions from the business of re-centering on the biome’s respiratory cycle. Located in Sun Valley, Nevada, a semi-arid zone, the Institute features gardens of colorful succulents in pea-gravel beds, helpful companions as guests learn to breathe with their surroundings. Thin streams trickle through the beds, soothing, symbolic.
Before this stage, however, de-stressing must occur. Various treatments are available.
The anxiety peel, though it sounds depilatory, does not involve sticky strips or caustic chemicals. Rather, it gently removes layers of worry through sensory laving. Indigenous flutes speak of the earth’s deep healing powers. Teenaged children aspiring only to become online celebrities blend into the encompassing aroma of sandalwood. Eagle feathers open vistas beyond the common grind. It seems possible, just possible, that all manner of things shall be well after all.
The Institute does not go in for crystal nonsense or astrological claptrap. It does, however, serve endorphin shakes, cytokine bars, and oxytocin tapas.
In Human-Bloom class, guests wear leotards across the color spectrum and form group designs under the guidance of an award-winning choreographer. Like a choir director who can coax impressive choral effects from average singers, she works wonders with all body types. “Remember always you are part of a larger pattern,” she instructs.
For those in need of more dire unburdening, there is the cryogenic soak, simulating the effects of a near-death experience. Guests report floating out of themselves, looking down on the exquisite human-bloom shapes, and being met by their best friend from childhood, who has brought along their favorite pet. Upon returning, they shed cold tears of joy.
Nesh-Nesh the baby elephant is a formally trained massage therapist, able to work out the hardest knots from necks, shoulders, and backs. Further, she can squeeze all the toxic air from obstructed lungs without collapsing them. Guests find her a worthy successor to Lola the rolfing bear.
Hardcore neurotics must place a dollar token in the worry jar every time they are caught fretting. The money goes toward treats for Nesh-Nesh.
Trails among ponderosa pine and scrub on the ridges flanking the valley seem more remote than they are. Warm breezes do that soughing thing through the branches as vestiges of tension waft off strolling bodies in nearly visible wisps.
After several nights guests marvel how sound and unbroken their sleep is. Have their bladders been disciplined by the prebiotic/probiotic regimen? Or has a neural purge been effected, so that their formerly troubled brains no longer feel compelled to wake them for a 3 a.m. chat?
“Not just a day spa,” the Institute declares, “but a path to a new day.” During advanced Into-the-Blue sessions, participants learn how to clear-sky their un-clouding minds.
At departure each guest receives a palm-sized river stone that fits snugly in a pocket and can be rubbed at the first sign of agitation. Its power is simply natural. The river is everywhere.
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James Fowler teaches literature at the University of Central Arkansas. He is author of the poetry collection The Pain Trader (Golden Antelope Press, 2020). His literary essays have appeared in ANQ, Children’s Literature, POMPA, and The Classical Outlook; his personal essays in Southern Cultures, Cadillac Cicatrix, Quirk, and Under the Sun; his short fiction in such journals as Red Planet Magazine, Rathalla Review, the Southern Review, Chiron Review, and Elder Mountain; and his poems in such publications as The Poetry of Capital, Futures Trading Magazine, Transference, Fleas on the Dog, Aji Magazine, Evening Street Review, Dash, and Cave Region Review.