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Take That Leap, Then!


Take That Leap, Then!
– the moment of leaving –

There comes a time when your bulging suitcase or backpack looms in the corner of your room, when you’ve eaten your last Sunday brunch out on the lodge deck, when your arms – and heart - are hugged sore with all the goodbyes. Leaving Esalen, for most of us writing here, has been a truly big step, the crossing of a threshold and a deep emotional upheaval. Melanie writes from Saint Louis, Missouri, “The week before I left Esalen I was full of tears and activity. I couldn’t sit still. I had to do everything one more time. I arranged a sweat lodge ceremony with all of my closest friends to honor my transition. For a good-bye performance on my last night, I read entries from my journals in the solarium. The next day my little red Honda was stuffed as full as my emotions. I watched my lover at the bottom of the hill through the rear view mirror until the road curved, and I couldn’t see him anymore. I turned left at the top of the hill.

I was one of those leaving Esalen without a plan and without any money. Thank God my beautiful Virgo friend Amy worried enough to hook me up with a housesit for two friends who were leading the next workscholar month. So I drove up to Stinson Beach…”

Maiko from Kyoto, Japan also turned left at the top of the hill, heading straight for San Francisco International Airport, “I had visited the U.S. just to stay at Esalen. While I was there, I didn’t go any farther than Deetjen’s, so basically for my whole three months, I didn’t have any outside experiences. And then I returned to Japan directly, going back to a country with a language, a culture, and an environment far different from the United States.”

While leaving Esalen is quite a leap for Americans, who might actually live thousands of miles away from Big Sur, it is an even mightier leap for foreigners like Maiko – or Andrea. She had spent six years studying sports and film in the Los Angeles area before coming to Esalen. When she returned to Sao Paulo, Brazil - her hometown of eighteen million people - she felt clearly uprooted. “By leaving Esalen, I not only left paradise where I had spent one of the most incredible, unforgettable years of my life, but also I left California after seven years of intense soul searching and deep encounters with who I really am.”

Her fellow Brazilian, Solange, struggled to detach and at the same time thought up different strategies to live and work close to Esalen. “I didn’t pursue any of them, though. I think they were created out of fear to leave the mother womb. Instead I went to Brazil for two months and had intense coaching sessions on what my next pursuit and goal was going to be.”

Not everybody struggled with the moment of leaving, though. Lilly reports from her new temporary home in Japan that she didn’t feel as though the leap was a difficult step. “I always saw Esalen as a learning playground rather than a home and accepted from the start that I must leave when my time was up. I believe about half way through my contract, I started to think about what I needed to do when I was finished at Esalen. Having a plan during a calm part of my stay as an extended student helped a lot.”

Lilly also felt extremely blessed, “I met my husband at Esalen, and we were able to process most of our premarital differences in a very supportive community. We left together, so we always felt as though we brought our community with us, one way or another.

And personally, I was ready to leave Esalen and start my life outside, so, emotionally, I was settled and pretty calm. My husband and I also planned to travel right after our departure, so we were focussed on our travel plans for about three months before we left (plane tickets, storing our belongings, etc). We ended up going to Japan to visit my relatives; Thailand to study Thai massage; and India to study Yoga. We were out of the country for four months. We also planned to live in LA to further our studies in Yoga after our trip. It was rather exciting to plan out our future - scary but exciting. We dreamed about eating the foods we wanted and having privacy and going to places!!!!”

For Tina from Germany it was a similar story. Apart from the sadness of the many goodbyes, she felt a sense of relief when she drove up the hill for one last time. “I decided to leave Esalen two months earlier than my time as an extended student in the kitchen would have been up. Actually I was more or less forced to do so since my visa expired.

On the other hand I felt very ready to leave or at least get a break from the work routine and my daily life at the institute. So I was quite impatient to ‘get out into the world,’ even though the decision of leaving had happened suddenly. Looking back now, I didn’t really give myself time to properly say goodbye, not only to my friends, but also to the place. I just wanted to leave.

Part of this desire to escape might have been the fact that I had committed myself to a life-changing relationship to my extended student companion and neighbor; neither of us is a U.S. citizen, has a work permit, or a Green Card; the U.S. and Esalen Institute did not seem to hold any near future for us as a couple at this time. Based on this exciting new relationship and the new situation of being with a partner, life in the ‘real world’ seemed exciting, open, and inviting.

Looking back at this time of departure I can say that my inner emotional life was in turmoil even though I would have never admitted it; maybe I wasn’t even aware of it. Today I am quite impressed at how well I managed (unconsciously) to go with the flow, not being too overwhelmed of the unknown future, but rather focusing on the upcoming days only, not months or weeks.”

Deep down Udo clearly felt ready to go, much like Lilly and Tina – and it was still one of the biggest goodbyes of his life. “My last week felt, at least in parts, like a foreboding of the unavoidable changes to come, like my own little apocalypse. I’d had the incredible luck to live in one of the cabins out on the Farm, all by myself, a ten-minute-walk away from the lodge. But now it didn’t seem such a privilege anymore. The first heavy winter storm had hit, and I would wake up repeatedly with headaches in the middle of the night. Twenty-foot breakers were crashing into the base of the cliffs, some hundred feet below me, and the noise was deafening. Runoff from the fields collected in a creek that wound its way around my little, clammy, unheated cabin, seeping into the unstable cliffside. I felt that I was literally loosing the solid ground under my feet. To top it off I had a bout of flu during my last days and felt very vulnerable, low in energy, and generally in a state of overwhelm, as I lay in bed out there in this downpour, under four blankets.”

Of course, it wasn’t all dark for Udo, either. “There were lots of hugs, too, many wonderful goodbyes, heartwarming ‘last words’ and such a wealth of positive feedback about my time here that I felt truly blessed. And yet, when my last day came, it felt like a grave thing, as if fate would hold me firmly in its grip, uprooting me, like I did with countless radishes during morning harvest. Jürgen from the office drove me to the rental car pickup in Monterey in his rusty old Thunderbird. He is a dear old friend - and strangely, I did not find many words, except small talk and some judgemental gossip. I was like under a blanket of fog and barely managed to drive my rental car one-and-a-half hours to an Esalen friend, who welcomed me for the night. I felt confused, empty, and bare of emotions.

The next day a great sadness hit home; I was up at Point Reyes National Seashore, walking along a majestic beach, feeling my way into the life after Esalen. I scuffled along, head hung low, shoulders hunched forward, without any drive, without goals, like an old man. A close Esalen friend had given me a beautiful, shimmering piece of abalone shell as a farewell gift, and I was holding on to it like to dear life. And as I dragged my feet across the sand in grief and despair, a band of four sealions (my favorite animals) appeared in the surf, turning their slender heads toward me in playful curiosity. They escorted me down the entire length of the beach, keeping a steady, watchful eye on me. Thank you, guys!”

After his two years at Esalen, which he has more or less always described as “the best two years” of his life, Andy, too, struggled with the moment of leaving. “Even though there were ways I probably could have worked out to stay here longer, I was very excited about some plans I had for the future, and I also felt that if I stayed in paradise much longer, I might never be able to make myself leave ...and the day might come when I was asked to leave, when I felt unable to.

As a result, I left when my time was up, full of ideas and plans, went out into the world, and fell onto both my face and butt simultaneously, which, while probably an anatomical impossibility, does a fairly good job of describing what happened... at least for a while.”

There are countless ways of leaving Esalen. Anna from Brussels, Belgium tells of a rather unusual “way to go.” During her third time at the institute (in 1998-1999), Anna stayed for ten months, mainly as a “Zero,” covering for extended students. Then she was voted in as a gate guard. “By then, however, I’d started to hesitate about whether I wanted to stay. I’d come to Big Sur with the intention to stay forever. Loved Esalen like crazy. But as a result of the workshops I’d taken, I’d unexpectedly started to feel a desire to take up other studies, outside of Esalen. I prayed for a sign to make clear whether or not I should stay.

To make a long story short, the day my contract at the gate was supposed to start, I was arrested during a random ID control by the Border Patrol. On the Greyhound. At the bus stop in San Luis Obispo. For overstaying my visa waiver. Spent the night in the San Luis Obispo County Jail. Now that may sound terrible, but it wasn’t. My prayers for a sign had been answered, even though I’d never expected the Cosmic Forces to send a sign in the shape of a Border Patrol agent. But that’s the way it happened. So it wasn’t hard for me to leave Esalen, because I so strongly felt that I had to go.”

Her arrest had no “serious consequences,” Anna reports, she just had to leave the US and report to the American consul in Brussels. A few months later she was back in the States with a student visa, bound for UCLA. “The transition from Esalen to LA was extremely easy. For a girl from a Catholic small-town, Flanders, LA was at least as liberating, enriching, and fun an experience as Esalen. I had a blast. Thoroughly enjoyed my studies, too. Did not miss Esalen. In the summer of 2001, I spent three more months at Esalen. This time there were several things there that irritated me; that made it again easy to leave.
At the end of August 2001, I returned to Belgium. After three-and-a-half years of California, I felt so good, so gratefeful, so enriched by my whole California experience that I didn’t mind at all that I had to go back home.”

community – September 27, 2006 – 10:35am