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“And...? How Was It?”


“And...? How Was It?”
– sharing the experience –

For a year or so, friends, family, and colleagues at home might have received no more than a postcard, a letter or an email every now and then. On our return, many might be curious, longing to hear what life is like on the remote island of Big Sur. And, of course, it could benefit friends – and Esalen – to do a bit of advertising for the institute! So wouldn’t it be good to openly share one’s heart, to paint a true and colorful image of how it has been? “No, it wouldn’t,” writes Anna from Brussels, and she first learned that from a friend of hers. “Anneke was a Dutch nurse who’d been living in California for over 30 years and been going to Esalen for as many years. She told me, ‘Keep in mind, when you’re back home, don’t try to explain to the people there what it’s like here and what you’ve experienced. They won’t understand. Don’t try to convince them. They will think you’re crazy. Don’t talk about it, because you would damage the sacredness of your experiences.’ That advice was very right. In my enthusiasm I’ve failed to apply it, though, numerous times.”

Maiko-San came to a similar conclusion after she returned to her hometown Kyoto, Japan. Her coworkers knew that she had spent three months in California. “They asked me, ‘How was your journey?’ I found it very difficult, though, to talk about what I had experienced at Esalen. First of all, I needed to translate my experiences into my native tongue. Some feelings I was never really able to express authentically in Japanese. And it was only partly a language problem. I felt that I didn’t really want to talk about my stories. So I didn’t. I needed to digest my experiences at Esalen by myself. I think people could see the differences even without me explaining. My friends said to me that I looked better and happier and brighter than before. But honestly, I felt so disconnected the first months after my return. I was confused, really confused. And I guess I still looked better than before.”

Tobias found it very difficult to connect with the folks back home in Switzerland as intensely and as intimately as is considered normal in the realms of Esalen, “People often seemed overwhelmed and it happened more than once that my behavior was misinterpreted, something that never really happened during my time at Esalen. As a backlash of this experience, I tended to isolate myself from others. I was lucky that I had a network of people that did stick with me, even at times when I just wanted to leave Switzerland and go back to California, ‘where people are more open’ etc. etc. - away from all this.

It must have been hard for my friends to sit with somebody that just didn’t want to be where he was. Well, with the help of those who are close to me, I learned to use my emotional capabilities more aptly, allowing me to build relationships and to distinguish between emotional experience and reality again.”

Andy went into business for himself, and he had enough trouble trying to impose ‘Esalenspeak’ on those around him in his personal world; he writes, “I can’t imagine the pitfalls of trying to incorporate Esalen principles into a company that already has a fairly well established corporate culture. I also can’t imagine simply abandoning principles that have worked for you here just because you join a big company.”

At the risk of making this chapter a bit confusing, Udo reports mostly positive experiences with sharing his Esalen adventures. He found that his family and friends were genuinely interested and very understanding and supportive. On top of that he writes, “Having sat in hundreds of weather report circles, witnessing the benefits of authenticity and an open heart, I decided to write a half-hour program for German Public Radio about my (first) time at Esalen in 2000. It was a tough piece of work. I had to feel my way into territory usually considered shaky among journalists. I developed a new, personal style, a kind of ‘public honesty’ to fit the media. And I had to prevent the danger of boring the audience by merely navel-gazing. In the end, the piece turned out beautifully. It brought me the most honest and open feedback from listeners of all my sixteen years at public radio. I am now experimenting with what I call ‘involved journalism.’ I admit that there are risks in putting personal stories on air, that it is a delicate balance between holding back and exposing too much. But I find it worth the effort, and I think the media can use a strong dose of openesss and honesty, as can society as a whole.”

community – September 27, 2006 – 10:35am