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That Clinking, Clanking Sound

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That Clinking, Clanking Sound
- money and work -
 
It is one of the strengths of Esalen that it attracts people from many walks of life and from a surprisingly wide range of social groups. And while differences in income may not be very visible at the institute itself, they certainly impact the time of transition after leaving the place. There is the good news of those who are independently wealthy or who, at least, have solid savings. Tina writes, “I was lucky that my (respectively our) financial situation wasn’t too bad at all after having left the community. Neither one of us had to desperately and immediately look for a job to improve the financial situation.”

While Lilly shared much of Tina’s emotional experience – she, too, left with a partner, whom she had met at Esalen – it was a completely different story for her in terms of money, “Financially it was very, very stressful. After the dot.com businesses went down, the economy wasn't in favor for us. My husband had a difficult time finding jobs, and I had to work doing odds and ends. I became a massage therapist, a jewelry maker, a desktop publisher, and a coordinator for the Young Musicians Foundation Summer Camp Program. My husband taught yoga and worked with computers. We both have many skills, but I think we lacked confidence in marketing ourselves; we both hated promoting ourselves. None of the jobs were permanent. They were all temporary or contract-based. Sometimes our bank accounts looked really, really grim. The rent and daily expenses were really high in LA, so it was tough. But we did have great moments as well... never forget the positive!”

Solange from Brazil is now a student at the California Institute of Integral Studies and reports a similar experience. Formerly an entrepreneur in Rio de Janeiro, she had very little cash when she left Esalen and an old BMW, which she had bought for her time at the Big Sur coast. “The hardest part for me is to have to do some survival jobs, like retail sales and waitressing to pay the bills,” she writes from San Francisco.

From his own experience, Andy advises everybody who has savings to stash them securely away and not to touch them while they’re at Esalen. “I say that because I lived on an extended student salary and know that while it certainly can be done, I wasn’t willing to give up a lot of the little luxuries that my small savings and rather extensive credit ranking allowed me to enjoy. I went into town practically every week, and while I wasn’t exactly living like Diamond Jim Brady, I was bleeding off money every month, spending more than I was making. Because I’d been a Big Corporate Guy before, I had a credit line that could choke a horse, and because I’d always had confidence in my ability to make money, it didn’t bother me to go into debt.

I think those were some pretty big mistakes, (...) because they made the time after Esalen a lot tougher. So in a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I did,‘ I recommend that you try to live within the boundaries of your extended student salary, or at least close enough to it so that you aren’t setting yourself up for financial troubles in a world where (unlike Esalen) money does matter.“

After their time at Esalen, many people seem to strive for a new beginning, for a change of career, for a whole new way of life. Katrina decided not to work for a while because she was determined not to go back to the lifestyle she’d had before going to Esalen, “In retrospect that was a mistake for me because it meant that I had no structure to support my transition. I had found that the structures and routines of Esalen suited me well and ironically gave me a sense of freedom that helped my creativity to flourish. Without them I found it hard to motivate myself and I lost interest in my creative pursuits, such as my writing. I got lonely without a work community and also found it very difficult being back in London. I felt hemmed in by the concrete and aggressive, unforgiving environment, despite having plenty of friends in the city.”

Udo and Katrina had worked together in the Esalen garden and had been neighbors and friends out on the farm. When he read her emails at the time, learning of her decision not to return to work right away, he felt quite envious. Before coming to Esalen he had negotiated a deal with Southwest German Public Radio: they would keep open for him his position as a freelance editor and author. Returning to his old job had, of course, a major advantage – he was earning good money from day one. But it also proved to be the greatest challenge in his transition. “Dependable German that I am, I returned to my office the very day and even the very hour that my boss and I had agreed upon over a year ago. He gave me an intense, hurried briefing, which became too much for me to take in after about half an hour: budget cuts had hit in my absence, I was going to earn a few hundred Euros less from now on, and the work pressure had increased considerably. I deleted several hundred emails, which had accumulated in my year abroad, went through heaps of snail-mail – and, from the start, struggled with a bitter sense of failure. I had long grown tired of my ‘dream job’ as a radio journalist, of the long hours in front of a computer screen, of reporting everything second hand: other people’s opinions, ideas and initiatives, all this heady stuff. In my heart I was a gardener now; I cared about soil, plants and animals, the problems of public radio seemed a world away. I was forcing myself back into the same old routine, as if nothing had happened. I felt like a traitor who had forsaken his own visions.

During the first conference after my return, I lost myself in sadness and disorientation. I tried to tell my colleagues about my experiences this past year, but there was no spark in my words, and I felt that people weren’t really listening. Toward the end of the conference a secretary said, ‘I think Udo has had enough for today!’ I hated her for exposing my vulnerability – and, of course, she was right. It took months and a lot of patience and nerve before I found my place in radio again.”

Maiko writes from Kyoto that she, at least partially, does risk a new beginning, “I had worked as a DJ at a radio station before, but I quit that job so that I could stay at Esalen for three months. And after my return I realized that I don’t enjoy this kind of work anymore. I still had another job as a tour guide at my hometown’s castle and started to work there again only three days after my return. Same routine, same people I knew. It was nice that I had a workplace to return to, but I couldn’t stop thinking about changing my life. I know that being in the here and now is the best way to be, and I don’t think I was at the time.

I also had a third part-time job involving computer work, but it was impossible for me to continue after my Esalen experience. I really couldn’t stand sitting in front of a computer screen all day long, stuck in an air conditioned room. I didn’t even know if it was raining or if the sun was shining outside. I felt like my days passed without awakening. I longed for the feeling of deep satisfaction that I had felt when I worked at the Esalen garden, how life felt so abundant harvesting vegetables. So I quit the computer job and I think it was a good decision. But when I made that choice, I still had doubts on my mind. I thought, ‘Am I becoming a drop out? Am I being unrealistic?’ But a friend helped me. He said that being unrealistic means having dreams. Having dreams means being alive. I realized that I just needed to create my own reality. After Esalen, I know more clearly what makes me happy. So I can't deceive myself; I don't want to. I knew that I hadn’t really liked that computer job before. But I had not quit it until this time, because I needed to make a living and thought it was still bearable. I guess my values have changed.”

After having worked with children for twenty years, Sigrid felt an urgent longing to change her career when she came to Esalen. She had given up her job at a German private school without any alternative job offer. “I trusted in my flexibility and in the job market,” she writes. “I underestimated the professional dimension of my temporary ‘drop out,’ though. In the meantime, the economic effects of September 11 were also felt in Germany. The unemployment rate had risen, innovation had dropped, people were insecure, and less willing to risk a change of jobs. Security seemed to matter most, and there was a lack of job openings. I am now self-employed, doing all kinds of temporary jobs – from selling olives to giving Esalen massage – and I find myself in a similar situation to many Esalen staffers with their contract-based jobs and their uncertain future.”

Before coming to Esalen, Tobias had quit a high-income job in Zurich’s financial industry, “because it wasn’t what I wanted my life to be.” He, too, wanted to change his career and lifestyle completely after his return to Switzerland. “The first month back in Europe I stayed with friends. Because of my absence, I had lost my right to receive unemployment compensation, so I lived off my savings. I pretty much right away started my own business, rented a practice space to do Shiatsu. Friends of mine offered me teaching jobs. For the first year I had a monthly income of about 1000$ (which is not much for Switzerland). The following year I was a bit better off with about 1800$ a month. It was very hard at times, my quarters were comparable to how I lived as a student and going out to restaurants wasn’t an option.

After those two years I really pondered whether to give up and to try to go back into the business I had left years ago. I was afraid of not being able to support myself financially. It took a lot of sitting by myself and, counter-intuitively, it made total sense to me to use all my savings to fulfill an old dream that I had never allowed myself, even when I could have afforded it easily: I bought a German sports car. A week after that, I received my first big offer to do team development work in a big organization. This was rather unexpected. A former assistant of mine that works there had told the human resources department about me, and they did a trial workshop with me, which they liked. Since then things are going smoothly; the old lesson of going about what you feel you need to do without asking for a return.... and the lesson of letting go, of course.”

Like Tobias, Andy, too, had been a “big corporate guy” and had grown tired of it. Right in the healing waters of the Esalen hot tubs he fell upon a new business idea. He wanted to be an author and write texts that are both educational and entertaining. This would make him independent of corporate life - and would bring challenges that he had not foreseen. “The business I wanted to start was going to be a one-man operation. That wasn’t necessarily a fatal flaw in the plan, but I failed to take into account that I would be leaving a place where I’d received so much love and attention, where it was so easy to find someone to listen, or where it was so easy to find someone who needed a listener, and I’d almost always drawn great happiness from both of those roles. What I didn’t realize at the time, and what became obvious only afterwards, was that I was going to need to find some kind of social support, be it a cluster of friends or a formalized group, because in a lot of ways I was like a puppy who was totally joyous surrounded by his fellow puppies and mom, and here I was deciding to abandon that warm, comfortable environment for something dramatically different.

One of the biggest mistakes I made was miscalculating how long it was going to take me to convince the world that I had a product worth paying for, and the financial pressure the delay put on me added to my depression. Not only did I choose to go into business for myself, I chose to live alone. (...) In retrospect, I think life would have been much easier if I had taken some kind of part-time job where I was around a group of people. This would have:

1. Ensured people contact on the job
2. Probably would have led to help build a network of friends away from the job
3. Helped with finances
4. The time that this sort of job would have demanded might well have slowed down my writing efforts, but the rather deep depression I went into after leaving Esalen slowed down my writing efforts, too.

If you’re lucky enough for money not to be an issue (at least right away), choosing to do some kind of regular volunteer work might help in many of the same ways.”

community – September 27, 2006 – 10:35am