Esalen Big Sur

It’s hard to believe I’ve been living on the California coast for eighteen years. Even harder to believe that in that time, I’d never visited Esalen. Esalen is a holistic retreat and educational institute. In its nascent years in the 60’s, beings like Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, The Beatles, yogis and intellectual hippies gathered there. I’ve heard about it, passed by it, but never stopped. Until last month.

Getting tired of hearing myself talking to myself, I search online for silent retreats. Something else finds me. A workshop hosted by Esalen entitled, “Chakras and Embodied Writing” pops up – taught by a woman with a PhD in Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals, and a male author and professor of creative writing at UC Berkeley. I enroll.

Upon arrival, I fall in love. The gods live here.

Perched on the ocean’s edge, the energy is palpable – invigoratingly serene. The mountainous backdrop pulses with gentle, powerful vibrations. The raw beauty and location on ancestral grounds of the Esselen Indians, creates a sacred space and one welcome to transformation.

There are multiple workshops/seminars/retreats happening in any given week. My workshop combines meditation with writing. Eastern philosophy teaches ‘mindfulness’ yet during our meditations, we tap into ‘mindlessness’, with the intention of revisiting that state to creatively write anew.

Esalen is also known for its natural hot springs. There’s no devices or photography allowed in that area to encourage all-gender, inhibition-free, nude bathing. I am at ease walking around butt (buck?) naked. (Joanna remembers this from college days;) There is no ogling or wanton looks. It is Unabashed Freedom! Open twenty-four hours to guests, many make the trek downhill to the baths after dark. The stars are indefinably glorious; they cover the entire sky. The Milky Way steals the show.

Cell service is limited and there’s no wifi during mealtimes – to maintain a communal, engaging atmosphere. Every person I encounter is open-minded, intelligent, a seeker – with riveting stories. I adore intellectual hippies. Only a few days together and we’ve become a tribe. I even remember some names.

Marcia from Minneapolis urges me to get a massage. She’s been coming to Esalen for twenty years and said the experience is phenomenal. To elaborate, she shares a tidbit: The previous year she encouraged a woman from the UK, Natalie, to experience an Esalen massage, which she did. Afterwards, Marcia asked Natalie for her thoughts. With her brilliant British accent she replied, “Bloody hell, Marcia. It was just shy of a fuck!” If I return, I’m booking a massage.

“Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” – Auntie Mame

On the last morning, a Soul Movement class is offered in a light-filled room with high ceilings and a natural wood floor. Before the dance, we sit in a large circle. Our guide sits next to me and begins to read a poem by John O’ Donahue from his book, “To Bless the Space Between Us.” Without warning, tears launch a sneak attack to stream steadily down my face, while my lips quiver. I can’t seem to stop. Thankfully, she ends with a comment that gets us all to giggling. We stand to move, to dance, to inner and outer rhythms. As I sway, a kind soul approaches unexpectedly, “Do you want a hug?” I don’t think I need one but I gracefully accept. Onelove and Gratitude in action.

Victoria from Argentina/San Diego draws on the easel after final class

Before departure, classmates share that the week fostered transformation. Mary from LA adds, “Every moment can be transformative. Drinking my water is transforming.” She takes a sip. I think of all the cells that are transformed and nourished by being hydrated. She’s right on.

Connectedness. That’s what I held from the week. With Nature. With Others.

I’m currently reading a book I bought there by Alan Watts, entitled, “Out of Your Mind”.

In the first chapter he writes: “You are not something separate from nature. You are an aspect or a symptom of nature…If there was a big bang at the beginning of time, you are not something that is the result of that explosion at the end of the process. You are the process. You are the big bang. You are the original force of the universe manifesting as whoever you are in the moment. You’re actually the primordial energy of the universe that’s still in process. We are not separate — we define each other. We and our environment and all of us together are interdependent systems…

The problem is we’re not taught to feel that way. The myths underlying our culture and common sense have not taught us to feel identical with the universe. And that’s why we feel alien to it…but we quite urgently need to feel that we are the eternal universe, each one of us. Otherwise, we’re going to keep going crazy, keep destroying the planet and collectively commit suicide courtesy of nuclear bombs. And that will be that. But maybe there will be life somewhere else in the galaxy. Maybe they’ll find a better game.”

“Sit beside a mountain stream, see her waters rise, listen to the pretty sound of music as she flies Find me in a field of grass, Mother Nature’s son, swaying daisies sing a lazy song beneath the sun”

-The Beatles

“We Gotta Live Together
I Am No Better And Neither Are You
We’re All The Same Whatever We Do
You Love Me You Hate Me
You Know Me And Then
Still Can’t Figure Out The Scene I’m In

Different Strokes For Different Folks
And So On And So On And
Scooby Dooby Dooby
Ooh Sha Sha
I Am Everyday People” – Sly and the Family Stone


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