Serenity Now


Penelope Laurence


© Copyright 2018 by Penelope Laurence


Photo of Spa Eastman.

We all know the type. Those of a particularly hysterical nature whose friends regularly murmur to each other “that one’s got premature heart attack written all over her.” I know this person very well because most of the time it’s me. And I’ve done all the things the experts say to do; the breathing, the yoga, and more calming visualisation exercises than you can poke a chakra stick at, and not much changed.

This is why I was more than a little sceptical when a friend suggested I spend a weekend at Spa Eastman (895 chemin des Diligences, Eastman), just a few hours east of Montreal nestled in Québec’s Eastern Townships. A place where, according to their literature, I was to “learn how to regain my feeling of well-being and to get back in touch with my inner self”. Apparently this magic would be achieved through numerous therapeutic treatments, guided walks, whole foods and the odd pre-dinner mineralizing seaweed decoction. “And what’s the miracle cure?” I asked. My friend told me Spa Eastman didn’t have one. I was shocked there existed a spa that didn’t claim the unique possession of some rare sea element or deep earth mineral. But apparently all Spa Eastman claims is the promise of coming out the other end de-stressed. I was intrigued, to say the least, at how they’d manage it.

My journey to relaxation began with a leisurely stroll around the 315 acre grounds. Through picture postcard scenery on trails that ambled past rivers, ponds and trees far older than my stress addled bones. Apart from the odd bird chirping, brook bubbling and a soft wind through the foliage, all was quiet. It was just the kind of place a person could scream while meeting their unfortunate end and no-one would hear, I thought.

Thankfully I didn’t and instead arrived safely at my room. Out the front I noted were 2 props seemingly right out of an Amy Grant music video. A swing was artfully hung from a decades old tree and across from it was a peaceful wishing well – both just perfect for all that wistful looking off into the distance I was surely soon to be doing.

To get to this stress-free state my friend informed me I needed to make a change. Or more specifically to get changed. At Spa Eastman spending the whole day in one’s complimentary robe is simply de rigueur. Normal occasions in the real world you wouldn’t be caught dead in such round the house attire are suddenly not just acceptable but expected – Happy hour at the lodge? Make sure you’ve got your terrycloth. Formal dinner in the public dining room? Hope you’re in your house coat. Going for a country stroll? Best don the dressing gown. This behaviour is so apparent that early on I’m certain I noticed numerous looks and whispers about my clearly uptight jeans and t-shirt combo. If the pursuit of serenity wouldn’t get me to acquiesce, thankfully a bit of peer pressure would do the job.

Once dressed appropriately it was time for the first real step on the road to inner peace. This was through the process of pressotherapy, a treatment I’d never before heard of but one recommended by the spa. According to the brochure “you will slip on inflatable boots, activated by a pneumatic compressor… The purpose is to stimulate blood and lymph circulation from the feet, naturally draining the toxins in your system.” Who knew anything therapeutic could be achieved by the aid of a pneumatic compressor? I didn’t and in fact coming out the other end I’m still not entirely convinced. For while I’ll never forget the unique sensation of air filling up the large boots (when I say ‘unique’ I mean the painful-pressure-that-steadily-builds-till-the-point-you-are-certain-your-leg-is-going-to-burst kind of ‘unique’), I don’t recall noticing any reduced pain or swelling in my legs let alone a revitalisation of my lymphatic system. Though during moments of lesser leg squelching agony I do recall the whimsical idea of attempting to re-enact the moonwalk in my new footwear. Perhaps this bouncy creative freedom was just a tiny spark in the beginning of my inner glow.

Possibly light-headed from all the pneumatic squishing, I decided to continue on the recommended spa day program and hit the pool. The room itself was warm and inviting as I padded down to the clear water. Oddly though as I launched myself in, the water that enveloped me was less so. After about a minute and a half of smiling forcedly to my friend and trying to convince us both that sub zero temperatures were both comfortable and relaxing, I spied a small door to something called a hammam - my escape.

Like an upset Italian mother the steam slapped me squarely in the face on opening the door. Oddly though it also relaxed my muscles and warmed me to the core. I lost myself in a white cloud and sat down on the first place I could find, quietly hoping it wouldn’t be a naked person’s lap. I breathed in the hot, cleansing air and much like a vegetable being steamed, I softened a little. While I am aware the idea behind any sauna-like structure is to steam, then cool and repeat, I was far too cosy in the hammam to move.

Fortunately before I became pure liquid I was tempted out of the hammam with the promise of imbibing some. It was an extra happy hour at Spa Eastman when I discovered there were not just foliage filled teas and seaweed decoctions but actually some cold hard liquor. Sure it was organic wine, but alcohol just the same. So between people pretending hairy weed tea and raw broccoli florets were exactly what they wanted I sat, bearing a striking resemblance to a freshly cooked lobster, on the cooling balcony with a wine in my hand. And I found myself just staring into middle distance, vaguely smiling at Mt Orford.

Spa Eastman employs a team of kinesiologists, fitness instructors, orthotherapists, naturopaths and somatotherapists all to help their guests cope with stress. I myself have generally employed a six pack or two, unrestricted cable TV and a family size bag of chips for the same ends. Which is why I was horrified to learn that to achieve inner calmness these professionals believe in minimising the distractions of the modern world. There are no TVs in the rooms, no internet, phones and no stereos, just lots of healthy food and don’t forget, bags of serenity. This caused my friend and I quite a quandary when, after a day filled with relaxation we were wide awake and ready for some night-time entertainment. Looking around our Spartan room I started to wonder if this weekend was not quite as it first appeared. Perhaps I was actually in rehab. While I couldn’t think of anything I was addicted to, it was all starting to add up. The only thing I couldn’t work out, was if this were rehab, where was Lamar Odom?

Most likely from boredom I fell asleep. The next day on waking, I had the strangest sensation all over my body – could it be I was, refreshed? I donned my robe for breakfast and the littlest things I found delighted me; the birds were singing a sweet song in the nearby trees, on my walk to the dining room I passed chefs picking raspberries in the garden, and at the buffet there was more fresh fruit than a Carmen Miranda headdress.

I went in for my massage and rather than the harsh prodding action I’ve experienced in former rubdowns, it was truly as if given by the hands of an angel. To top it off the masseuse’s name was even Gabriel.

After this, walking through the reception area I found myself oddly drawn to a seminar called “If your hair were talking, what would it say?”, and signing up for an afternoon class of something called Chi Kung. How had this happened? Perhaps all their peaceful smiling had eventually worn me down. More likely the staff had entered my room in the night and injected into me the personality of the Dalai Lama. Oddly I didn’t care. For whatever the secret behind Spa Eastman, it works.

Penelope Laurence was born in Australia but moved to Canada in 2006 after falling in love with the country on a ski trip.
Penelope has worked as a TV script editor and writer, including for the Australian Logie Award winning series "H2O: Just Add Water".  Her TV work has travelled the globe, being translated into French and German, among other languages. In addition to her work in television, Penelope is an experienced travel and food journalist with articles appearing in Lonely Planet and newspapers such as The Australian, The Age and The Toronto Star. Her short fiction has been published in the American anthology Just Like A Girl; A Manifesta and the British anthology, Hysteria1. Currently she lives in Montreal, Canada with her whippet, Keating.

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