My trip to the Esalen Institute was supposed to be a simple retreat, but it turned into a grand journey of contrast, highs and lows of the mind, discovery, and transfomative revelation of which I was not in the least expecting. The irony of it all, is that I actually only spent about one and a half days at Esalen with Dr. Sheldrake while the entire trip took five days.
Esalen work shops begin at 8:30 pm on Fridays. This allowed me to drive up on Friday after dropping my kids off at school. I figured I would get there at around the check in time of 2:00 pm. The institute is about a five hour drive for me.
Well, about half way there my truck started making this strange noise. It was growing louder as the the drive proceeded. Finally, exactly as I entered the town of Hollister CA, it began this horrid god awful grinding noise. The truck was also lurching.
CRAP!!!!!! I'm going to have to stop! There is nothing but bad news in these kinds of noises. I managed to turn into Save Mart shopping center. My mind was churning with plans at this point.
---get it in a shop, rent a car, and make the workshop.----
After a couple of moments on my phone I discovered there was a place right across the street. The manager there was, Jesus, Pronounced Hesus. He checked the car in and called enterprise rent a car. They had no cars, and they are the only rental car in the this small town. No matter what scenarios we could come up with, it seemed that there was no way for me to get a car. I found one in the next town over, but they would not rent to me because I do not use credit cards, and to use my debit card I would have to live in the town. UGGGGGG!!!!!!
Finally I found a U-haul and was a able to rent a van. Finally back on the road, I was able to make it to Esalen without my truck. Oh yeah, it got a lot of strange looks at Eselan. The young guy at the guard station thought I was delivering something.
The Esalen Institute
The Esalen Institute sits along the Big Sur Coast in California on the edge of the Ventana Wilderness. Its about an hour south of Monteray. It is in some of the most beautiful coastal country in the world.
Im not really a picture person, so I only took this one of the gardens, but the property reminds me of a Tibetan village. The mountains around it swirl with mist, and at any given time someone is meditating, cuddling with a lover, playing a guitar, or practicing tai chi or chi gong on the large lawn. Shangra la with an artsy twist with coastal worn wooden buildings is the image that comes to mind. The life there is enormous, and the spirits of the plants are overwhelming. I will post a YouTube of someone else's trip.
There was no fuss checking in, and I still had an hour to walk around a bit. I went down to investigate the hot springs, then back up to the gardens. They have a huge permaculture garden. I was immediately drawn to it. I have been trying to get a large garden going at some point, and the this was the prime example of what I myself want to create. Tons of vegetables and leafy greens everywhere. I was enthralled. I almost lost track of time and missed the orientation.
After the Orientation, they fed us dinner. There is a large room that they feed their guests wonderful organic food buffet style. It reminds me a bit of a ski lodge. The also have a small bar open for a few hours. Yes I had a couple of beers.
I did see Rupart Sheldrake walking around, but I did not want to bug him. I would have plenty of time in the workshop.
What can I say? The guy is one of my heroes. You could not meet a more graceful, humorous, and fun guy to spend the evening with.
We were in this room sitting on large comfortable pillows. The discussion was about the subject of his new book “Science Set Free.”
I have not read the book yet, but we discussed the dogmas of science point by point. Dr. Sheldrake also had many interesting anecdotes. Ill post a link to one of his lectures where he talks about all of this.
The interesting thing, is that every point was like he was in my head. These are things that have been swirling in my mind and I have been arguing about with others for a long time. Seriously I could have written this book albeit without near his sophistication level. Dr. Sheldrake challenges the core of dogmatic science. He is so good at it, I love to hear him speak.
Later on that evening, I went to the hot springs. Spent some time in meditation in the springs. It was dark and steamy. The springs have a distinct mineral smell to them. I could feel the healing influence on my skin. It was a little strange to be nude, but there was only another woman meditating in the other bath.
I have started compassion meditations, and it went well. Almost to well. I nearly slipped into an altered state. I felt a twinge of vibrations, then I backed out. Probably not a good idea sitting in water. For a brief second I caught the canine features of a fox.
I dried myself, as a young woman undressed right next to me. That was very awkward for me. I had figured some old guys might be there this late, but to see a woman in her twentys completely okay with undressing right there with me 11:30 at night was completely foreign for me. It reminded me for a brief second of my first interaction with the garden goddess.
On my walk back. There he is running down the path. The Fox. He stopped in the middle of the path and stared at me. I whispered to it “so there you are.”
Then it strikes me. I'm standing on this path etched into a seaside cliff in the this serene place, the arm of the Galaxy is huge and dominant in the sky stretching perpendicular until it dips into the ocean on a perfectly calm and clear night. Magic is here with me. How fortunate I am to share this moment with that little fox. Someone on top of the hill begins their descent and the fox darts passed me. I watch the milky way a little more. I have seen it this clear in the mountains before, but with the back drop of the ocean, it is the most majestic natural scene I have ever seen. I cant believe how pronounced it is. It is very bright. It is even reflected in the ocean forming a dual image. Simply incredible.
I spend some time with some other people having wine by the fire pit. Interesting and diverse people. Some old some young. I am a bit introverted in new social situations, and it takes a while for me to warm up. I'm not used to other dominant personalities. In my life, 98% of the time I am either daddy or Mr. The boisterous antics of one scottsman is particularly entertaining, but I already know I will not have a whole lot in common with them. Most of them are old money intellectuals types. As a kid I would have called them rich kids. They all come from expensive Universities. One guy is talking about his thesis. They are passing around i pads with pictures of the their travels and burning man. I just don't have a lot in common with them. I am in the trenches with people and life, and they just live a different one is all. That is what is great about Esalen. There are people that are from every walk of life.
Not long after, I went to my hammock tent tied up in the wilderness area behind Esalen. They don't let anyone camp on the grounds for good reasons, but with my hammock tent I can sleep on the side of a mountain. I slept on a very steep hill above a creek.
I had a dream that night that I met Dr. Sheldrake and the group of people that we had down on the rocky beech below the institute. He was pointing at the ocean and wanted me to show him something. I did not know what it was.
When I woke up, I went down to the lodge. They have a yoga class going, but I rather meditate on a rock over looking the ocean. Not long after I ate there, then the second part of the workshop began. More awesome discussion with Sheldrake. I cant get enough.
There was a break for lunch, so I decided to check on my truck, so I call Jesus. He said it would be done by five. The drive is only two hours away. Where the shop is not such a good area, so I dont want them to finish it and leave it over night outside. I decide to miss part of the workshop to get my truck.
I happen to catch Sheldrake having lunch, So I tell him about the problem and that ill be back. That is when he invites me to site with him at dinner and discuss my OBES and other things.
Awesome! I'm going to have dinner with Rupart Sheldrake!!!
I drive back to Hollister and turn in the U haul van. When I get there I have to wait several hours before they finish. Long story short. When they thought they were done, they were not. There was something massively wrong with the differential. It had to be replaced.
It was the end of the day, I am in a foreign town with no car. My workshop and dinner with Sheldrake was busted. I felt sick to my stomach.
Hollister is not a bad town, but its not necessarily the best area either. Its an agricultural town with a large population of second and third generation migrant workers. I know these towns have heavy gang influences, but at Hollister seems to have at least in part avoided the major plights of Stockton or Salinas.
Nevertheless. I'm a martial arts instructor, I teach people to be aware, and prepared. I have a bugout system in my tool box, with everything i need for being stranded. Its a great source of comfort that I can simply disappear if I need to.
I walked around a bit. But there is nothing for me to do in this town. No close by wooded areas, no streams, no lakes, nothing. Not even a bowling ally. Its like a desert that is not supposed to be a desert.
Bars, a coffee shop, and a movie theater. Its dry, and I can tell the pesticides have infiltrated the area. The weeds and plants don't look right. Its the exact opposite of Eselan. I call a cab, to the farthest motel on the edge of town. I barricade myself in with my i phone and netflix.
Im feeling increasingly bad at this point. Missing the rest of the workshop and an opportunity to have dinner with Shedrake has just crushed me. I cant explain it. I honestly felt like just crying.
At this point in time on netflix I run across a documentary called “Happy”. I watch it. Its about how we cultivate happiness through life, meditation, community, and food. This brings me out of the dark place
I had sunk myself to. I realize, that I get to choose how I view my circumstances. I just came from Eselan. Just 24 hours ago I was bathing in hot springs with in one of the most beautiful places in the world amongst naked women. Here I am in a town amongst homeless, and economically depressed people, and me with plenty of money to get by on and plenty of knowledge and experience to stay safe am feeling crushed because I cant go hang with the “rich kids” at Eselan, talk with a famous personality, and hang in the hot springs and meditate.
I then thank the great spirit profusely for this lesson in humility, and fall asleep not long after, actually feeling quite silly for how crushed I was. The irony of the whole thing is that part of going to Esalan was to work on my compassion meditation.
The next day is Sunday. The shop is closed. While Sheldrake is finishing his lecture, I am in mediation in this wonderful garden created by the manager of the motel. He is a soft spoken Asian man, that has an obvious love for gardening. He was kind to me and did not charge me some deposits because he realized I was not at the motel for the “normal” reasons he sees.
He has created this Oasis of palmagranit trees, palms, and other fruits and ornamentals. Surrounded by industrial buildings, a highway, and plowed and smelly agricultural fields. It really seems like an island. I find it ironic that I found this place as opposed to the other more ceedy places in town. I had tried the best western, but they had no vacancy.
Afterwords I return to my room to watch another netflix documentary; “Food Matters” Wow!!
I'm starting to see how this is all tying in. The permaculture gardens at Esalen. The destroyed landscape around Hollister. The connections with food and happiness and illness. Im literally just up the street form the local agricultural air port. I can hear the crop dussters fly by on their poison air raids.
I did not want to stay in my motel room all day, so I make my way to a local coffee shop. Wow!!! another Oasis! Mars Hill in Hollister. A large open space filled with comfortable sofas, game tables, free wifi, and plenty of outlets for laptops and I phones. Sticking with my new and budding organic life style, I order organic green tea. I ask the cashier if anyone will have a problem with me crashing here all day watching netflix. She says “absolutely not”.
As I popp on the head phones, my attention strays and I start people watching. Im not sure if there is a school around or what exactly is happening, but there is a large group of disabled people at the coffee shop. Again I am humbled by my stuck up behavior with the whole situation. Living in the suburbs and nice community has changed my perspectives. I grew up in places like this and much worse. What has happened to me? My negative attitude toward this town was completely unwarranted.
Then to solidify my thoughts, a young man sits down right in front of me and begins reading to a severely disabled man. Again, the humility being brought down upon me is heavy and the self reflection I must Endure injurious. Compassionate meditation is nice...but its nothing compared to compassionate action. Without the action the meditation is meaningless and self indulgent.
I snap this picture secretly, so that I will never forget.
To add insult to injury, when he is done and passing me, he notices my back pack, and realizes I must be traveling. He then asks about it. Obviously worried that I might need help. I briefly tell him about my car, and that I'm stranded. (Which is not entirely the truth. At any moment in time I can rent a van or call on friends and family to come and get me. I only live about four hours away. I just don't see the point in wasting all that gas driving back and forth.). He offers his assistance anyway. I tell him that its alright. Then the conversation turns to my toed shoes. They are great for light hiking, maneuverability and keeping your foot structure healthy. They are perfect for me because I have spent a life time in martial arts, and have grown to not like shoes. They cost about $110. Expensive shoes for a young man 10 years my junior. He says he wants a pair but they are to expensive. Then he goes about his business.
I end up watching another netflix documentary; “Far Sick and Nearly Dead”
My god...., I thought I was healthy and compassionate. But I am doing everything wrong. I have to change. So many teachers on this trip. Ironically it wasn't Sheldrake. I love the man, and he is still my hero, but I already think like him. Hollister was my teacher, the gardens at Eselan, the little fox, netflix, the little old Asian gardener, a young man in a coffee shop, and a few others storys im leaving out so this does not end up being a book.
Esalen is a wonderful shinning example of growth, sustainability, beauty and human potential. Its a goal. Its a Shangrala. I suspect, I will be spending a lot of time there in the future. I want to completely absorb their permaculture techniques and apply them, but If yo want to see a shinning example of humanity you have to sit in depressed town in a coffee shop for two days. If you are lucky you will see a person who does not have a Masters or PHD, does not meditate, does not have money, and is not a seeker of spiritually because this person already lives it.
I spent the next two days wondering that little town, meditating in that garden and hanging at that coffee shop bathing in humility. It was not the healing waters of the hot-springs that cleansed me. It was a little slow town in central California amongst every problem the world has ever seen.
When I picked up my truck and drove away, I waved at the manager in the shop, and said “Thank you Jesus” (Hesus). The irony of the words did not escape me even for a moment.