What I learned from a week in Esalen, Big Sur, CA

Esalen is a place on the edge. About 10 miles south of Big Sur, on the Highway 1, it lies right above the ocean with beautiful nature and scenery. It was founded in the 1960s by two bright Harvard and Stanford drop outs who felt there must be another way of learning and teaching. Aldous Huxley, Abraham Maslow, Joseph Campbell et al. were part of the early thought leaders; the place went through some deep psychedelic periods and is today a meeting place for teachers and students on consciousness, nature, healing and community.

I attended a workshop led by Bill Plotkin (author of Soulcraft and the Wild Mind) on ‘Romancing the World’. And I also took advantage of other Esalen classics like the beautiful hot springs (the flyer suggesting ‘swimming suits’ optional), early morning yoga, dance and movement sessions all nurturing body, mind and soul.

This week made a deep impression on me; Carolina noticed some softer traits after my return back home, so I felt that I should share some learnings with you:

  • It takes some time to get into the mood and rhythm of such a place and format.
    Even though I liked the program and its content I was triggered by some behaviors of one of the facilitators; and for about two days my inner voice was criticizing and judging. It was only starting the third day that I was able to fully appreciate all the gifts of this workshop week.
  • Beautiful nature and an inspiring setting have a positive impact on us.
    The setting is spectacular, exuberant nature, blowing whales swimming by the coast. By allowing myself to focus on the sensing (instead of my usual thinking), I eventually started to feel the beauty of nature and to ‘romance the world'
  • Early morning yoga gives way to a better day.
    We did our sun salutations with the sun coming up behind the hills; the movement and the breath gave me energy and peace; it somehow opened me up for the day
  • Over decades I had told myself and others that I didn’t like to dance (until I found out that I was afraid of poor performance). I found out that I actually enjoy the move to music as soon as the performance mind set and judgment gets out of the way. A couple of days in Esalen and some music sessions allowed me to find pleasure and relaxation in dance and movement to music. Eventually it was me asking the facilitator to start with a bit of movement prior to the workshop sessions.
  • Connection with others is deeper and more honest in a no status/no titles environment.
    I met a lot of interesting people and we engaged in deep personal topics without having an idea of what these people were doing at home, what their status or title or wealth might be. And each one had something interesting to offer and to learn about.
  • Speaking out your truth will trigger some response from the universe.
    The group had daily ‘council’ session where everybody was invited to share his/her truth. Spelling out my truth triggered interesting responses from other participants, both immediately or later during the stay. Holding back your concerns/questions prevents others (the universe) from helping you
  • Supportive dialogue takes you deeper and further.
    Imagine when all participants come without judgment, nobody with guards and harness. Instead, you openly and constructively discuss the issue at hand. How much more can come out of such a dialogue compared to the one when we always are on the watch from where the next attack might come?
  • All of the above is a lot of common sense; but unfortunately it is not common practice in our daily lives, and less so in our business lives. We are blessed with senses and feelings that can so beautifully complement our thinking if we activate them. And we are blessed with body and soul that can so beautifully complement our busy mind if only we cultivate and care for them.
  • And finally let me close on judgment: judgment is often toxic and stands in the way of sensing, feeling, connecting, and being in the present moment. Therefore, I formulated a farewell to judgment which I read during a council session. And I got beautiful responses in the following days, some very specific from other participants, some completely unexpected and surprising, and some from the universe…

Judgment – a farewell

You have been my life long companion
you helped me put things in order
you made me earn respect and climb the ladder of success
you helped me sharpen my assessment
and take some good decisions.

But as I grew older
I started to see your shadow side;
wanting to be right comes with the risk of being alone.
Rather than on the ‘likes’ you tend to focus on the ‘dislikes’
you put emphasis on what is missing
you foster separation where communion would take us further.

I am grateful for your thinking and your companionship.
Now it’s time to part ways
I will court the feelings now,
and as we know they don’t go well with judgment.

I want to become like nature:
raw, authentic, whole and curious.
I want to see and feel the beauty in every being, every rock and tree,
and hopefully in every human being
including you and me.

Give yourself the gift of workshops and experiences that address body, mind and soul. Strengthen and use your senses, listen to your feelings and intuition. Your personal journey takes time and effort; and yet it comes with beautiful insights and connections. In particular with yourself.

Sincerely yours,