I remember hearing about Esalen when I was little, usually mentioned by hippies and in the same sentence as the word “gestalt.” I associated that word—gestalt—with my sister bringing back new ideas from her days in Haight-Ashbury, ideas my mother then adopted, which eventually led to mysterious bouts of anger and tears, followed by a few precious days of peacefulness. At that point, Esalen held no interest for me. And in fact, I think I was against it in general, even though I had no idea what “it” was.
And then I didn’t hear anything for many, many years.
Suddenly, I started to hear about Esalen again—mostly about the beautiful, natural hot springs right on the ocean, which made me curious. It was an intellectual curiosity driven by the sense that for many reasons, some of them business related, I should probably check it out. Then I found myself in California on a business trip, which seemed like a good time to finally see what Esalen was all about. Besides, January in California seemed a bit nicer than January in Pennsylvania (and I was right about that!). So I signed up for a workshop.
While in California the week before my workshop, everyone I happened to mention Esalen to got a blissful look on his or her face, followed by a comment along the lines of “Oh, yeah, it’s magical there.” And after seeing it for myself, I can tell you that yes, indeed, it is magical there.
In parched California, Esalen is an oasis of organic abundance. Giant monarchs and hummingbirds feed from a glorious bounty of beauty. Seals, whales, dolphins, and furry creatures abound. Think of an enchanted summer camp with absolutely no cell service.
I’m not going to share what workshop I took—except that it was not gestalt or the workshop I overheard one woman tell another she was attending: “How to Find Your G-spot” (“You need to bring your own mirror,” she confided). It’s that kind of place. Including the fact that all the baths are clothing optional. I mean, you can wear a swimsuit, but really, why would you? Fortunately, none of the mostly naked people were looking for their G-spots at the baths; they were simply enjoying the healing waters with what is probably the most incredible Big Sur view of the Pacific you could ever enjoy.
At Esalen, there are people of all ages, all sizes, and all economic levels. You can sleep on the floor in your own sleeping bag in a conference room; you can share a room with a roommate; or, like me, you can get a little cottage right on the cliff with a claw-foot bathtub out on the deck. But it’s definitely not a spa, although it’s probably trained more masseuses for spas than any other place in the world.
Esalen is a place unto itself—a place of transformation, healing, and magic. A place where you shouldn’t be surprised to run into old friends, meet new ones, or just experience the synchronicity that the best of the universe provides. It’s a place to go to find a part of yourself that you really needed to find. A place to eat delicious, healthy food—cafeteria style (not all vegetarian either!)—and feel completely nourished.
Go if you can. Really. And don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t be afraid to walk naked into the healing waters of Esalen. You won’t find the answers to everything, but you’ll find enough clues to get you to where you need to go next.