Kalinga’s showers were predominantly bucket-based, common for middle-class households in an outside of major Filipino cities. The city’s tap water flowed through the kitchen sink, the toilet, and a faucet located at knee-height in the shower room. The faucet, just like one found outside on American suburban homes, would quickly fill the multi-gallon bucket with – at best – lukewarm water; at worst, and mostly occurring in the lofty mountain village of Lubo, one would receive the chilly stream sourced from underneath the residents’ homes and farms.
The Philippine air was cool: at night one only needed a long-sleeve shirt, and day a light t-shirt. The showers may have been less of a stress if the morning picked up in temperatures more quickly; instead, an entirely apathetic breeze passed by as I entered the shower room with my bucket and towel, mentally bracing myself for the jolt of cold as I start with the top of my head, my face (I lean forward so the water won’t drip down and cool anything else), then down to my shins, closer to my privates, but always second-guessing the need to pour the bucket on my chest and tummy, which would jumpstart the beating of my heart and inevitably reach my nethers.
The act of showering via this method is defined by the thoughts of showering; I am undistracted by stray thoughts, and in other words, wholly distracted by showering as a process. The objective was to get in and out with as little trauma as possible.
Contrast this with the more distracted, passive act of the American shower, or in my case, the apartment-based shower (no water utility fees) with seemingly unlimited hot water – let alone the limitless water itself. Knowledgeable of this abundance (I have grown for two decades with America’s unending stream of warm water), the act of showering is modified. I am not seeking the end, but it’s prolongement; it is common to hear one say that the shower is the “one place” for tranquility. I can only agree by evaluating its functions: the nakedness, the wetness, the transition from “dirty” to “clean”; the American shower is ordained by its society as good but private, encouraged but hidden.
The American shower is to partake in an accepted pleasure.
And in its pleasure is one of thought. As the most typical configuration of shower schedule is to follow the morning’s waking up process (somehow the wetness, warmth, cleanliness is considered a way to activate one’s productivity during the day), the processing of dreams, stray thoughts, and tasks to be accomplished is initiated by the shower. The comforts of the shower not only encourages the pleasure of comfort but also a period of light processing before heading out the door. It should not be surprising that the term “Shower Thoughts” has been coined in the past few years as surprising ideas that stem from the idleness of the shower; mental associations unencumbered by external necessities may be explored to their logical conclusions. A feeling of accomplishment in mulling over minute details may be achieved; mental pleasure follows in its wake.
While I enjoy the prospects of the American shower, I cannot so much entertain its side effects of environmental unsustainability; the bucket showers accomplish their goal of the clean body, without the pleasure but also without wasted gallons. So my exploration of the American shower is to figure out its qualities, benefits and determine if they can be isolated beyond the shower; is it the water, in all its liminal symbology that allows one to come up with such creative processing? If not, then is there a way to achieve the meditative benefits of the shower without the water? Is there a modified form of reflexivity, understanding, awareness that we can employ in order to achieve a sustainable self-reflection?
For such a small part of our day, the shower defines so much of our culture, from sensuality, to cleanliness, health, privacy, aspirations, dreams, and spirituality. But it would be an important feat to decouple its benefits from the act itself, and be able to do the same acts anywhere, in any climate.