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No Paradise, After All


 No Paradise, After All
- doubting the institute -

The longer – and further – some of us were away from Esalen, the more our minds tended to rose-tint our memories; until the lively, sometimes confusing, always challenging and inspiring center of the Human Potential Movement seemed like a Shangri-La, like a Paradise Lost. Being out of touch with the down-to-earth reality of the institute has sometimes made it more difficult to commit to the here and now back home. And an overdose of nostalgia has made it more painful to turn our backs on Esalen, a place many of us love so dearly, when we finally had to. A good, healthy measure of doubt seems to have helped some of us to grow new roots elsewhere. That’s why we would like to start this brochure not with an appraisal of the beauties of the place and its people – you will find a good amount of that on the following pages - but with some of the doubts we had while there.

Tina writes from her new home in England, “I experienced myself as very frustrated being in a committed relationship at Esalen; the lack of privacy and the seemingly missing opportunities to find some time off together really got to me in the end.” After having been at Esalen for about eight months, Janet, who now lives in Geneva, started “to have a lot of angst about what am I doing, wasting my time navel gazing in this bizarre hippie commune in the middle of nowhere. At the same time, I knew I had come to Esalen as I was not fully happy in my life and wanted to ‘fix’ something and was not sure if that something was ‘fixed’ after eight months, or if I stayed for the rest of my time as an extended student it would get ‘fixed,’ or even if it was ‘fixable.’”

Anna from Brussels, Belgium, found several things irritating during the last of her altogether four stays at Esalen, “Too many rules. Too mainstream. Too conservative. Too unfriendly. Too many politics. Too much attitude. At least, that was the way I perceived it. I was aware that it was just my perception. And that it might have been wrong. But I took it as a final confirmation that my time there was over.”

During his last four months as a tentscholar in the Garden and Farm, Udo went through “massive waves of doubt.” “In the first half of my stay I had taken several excellent, heart- and mind-opening seminars, and then, for the entire remainder of my time, I found the program quite boring. So what the hell was I doing here, with nothing left to learn? On top of that, several of my closest Esalen friends had already left. I felt abandoned and was sick and tired of the transient nature of the place: the many goodbyes, the ever-repeating changeover Sundays, and the new crews in the Garden every four weeks. Also, I thought it unfair that extended students received a monthly allowance and an ES-gift for their efforts, while us tentscholars, who worked no less hard, had to pay for the privilege of digging our hands into the Esalen soil – the difference amounting to a total of some 500 dollars per month. When the second of my tourist visas was running low on days, I wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort and the money to try and get an extension. I am glad that I did, though! With a six-week visa-extension in hand I was able to watch the gardening year, which had been a major source of joy for me, come to a natural close. I remember one day in late fall, walking back to my sweet little cabin out on the farm and seeing what we called Ocean Field all harvested and tilled and sown with the cover crop for winter. My favorite gardening fork was stuck idly in a corner of the field with a sprinkler right next to it, its hose rolled up neatly, waiting to be taken into the shed for storage until next spring. Then I clearly felt that my time at Esalen had reached a good end and that it was, indeed, time to go.”

community – November 20, 2006 – 7:08am