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Keeping It All Alive


Keeping It All Alive
– making the changes last –

Powerful experiences tend to leave a mark on people’s memories for a long time afterwards. Solange writes about her time at Esalen two years after leaving, “There is not one day that I don’t have a flashback and see one of the faces or remember certain moments.“ And Anna, who left three years ago, writes from Brussels, “I still cry in the office every now and then, still think of Esalen - about a dozen times every day.“

Udo confesses that, from the looks of his apartment in Stuttgart, he must be president of the Esalen Nostalgia Association, European branch, “The hallway, living room, and bathroom are adorned with photographs of Esalen scenery and Esalen friends. The rubber duckie that holds my soap bar is imported from South Coast. My bookshelf holds an Esalen altar with a painting of the garden, shimmering abalone pieces, and other little reminders. On my balcony I grow some of the plants that I used to tend at Esalen. The secret code of the locks of my file case is the postal code of Big Sur. And the password for my computer – well, let’s stop here...“

Remembering the good times and the bad times is one thing, though. Keeping the experience alive, finding ways to integrate it into the life at home, is a different story. Janet feels that she does that job “very poorly” in her new surroundings in Switzerland. “I had a little Feldenkrais eye-exercise that I was doing at Esalen, and I remember thinking that it only took 15 minutes a day and how easy it was to do that and how people complain that they can never find the time. Well, now that I am back in the real world, I can't seem to find the time either.  Oi!“

For Lilly it has been hard to keep the touch points of Esalen alive after leaving, since the world out there is not the community she became accustomed to. “Fred and I constantly had to and still have to remind ourselves what our values are in life and how we want to live together as a family. We are in constant search for inspiration. We do our best to do the daily ‘weather report’ which my husband is better at than I am. Also we keep reminding ourselves about gratitude. We really try to appreciate the challenges/experiences we encounter and simply learn from them.”

Maiko started to write a journal - to keep her experience alive and “just to bring it out. I learned that when I want to express my feelings, I don’t need to make sense (it was such a silly preconception to limit myself in that way). Esalen helped me to learn that I’m doing things for myself, not for others.”

Three years after leaving Big Sur, Anna feels she is still in transition. Her vivid memories help her to root what she learned at Esalen in her everyday life. “When I walk through the Belgian rain and wind, I imagine I am soaking in the hot tubs, then my body relives the feeling. Or I imagine I am walking along Highway One. Recall the smell of sage, eucalyptus, pine, the ocean. The memories give me strength. The memory of John Soper for example and of how he would just sit still and listen and let things be; the determination to spread the spirit; the certainty that there is no good luck and bad luck, that things are just the way they have to be for my learning process; dancing at rave parties; and further: Buddhism, Taoism, and British Comedy on TV . Sometimes it’s easy to slide away in self-pity, but I more and more manage to put that aside. Above all, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to live there. Basically I am a lucky bitch compared to the majority of the world population. So I consider it as my task to spread the Esalen spirit. And I feel I fairly well able to do that.”

In her mid-forties, Brazilian Solange is now a student again in San Francisco. She tries to stay connected to the people she became close to while at Esalen and immerses herself “in the psychology world of likeminded people. That is why I chose to study at the California Institute of Integral Studies out of all other schools and live in the Bay area where lots of Ex-Esalenites are.“

Sigrid, too, enjoys a network of former Esalenites, which formed in Switzerland, Austria, and Southwest Germany over the last years. “We meet in small, often multinational groups, and the occasional visits with other ex-workscholars, exchanging the latest news, like in a family.” In her hometown of Freiburg, near the foothills of the Black Forest, Sigrid is also part of a network of friends, which, she writes, “is comparable in intensity and intimacy to encounters at Esalen. We support each other in reflecting our routines and in trying out new ways.”

The multitude of memorabilia in his apartment helps Udo keep his memories vivid. “Far more important to me is the Yoga practice I started ever since I came back from my first visit to the institute in 2000. It helps me to accept the ups and downs of my life, to bend with the flow of things. I am also rereading the roughly one yard of books from the Esalen bookstore, which I mailed home: on Buddhism, love, sexuality, nonviolent communication, and several other meaty topics. A good friend and mentor I met at Esalen told me that, day after day, he commits to his ‘revolution of one.’ I guess I stay committed to the same, through the trials of my transition.”
Back in Denmark, Marie keeps her Esalen experience alive firstly through practicing massage. “I work part time as a body worker and have recently started up my own little practice, where I offer Esalen Massage. Every time I practice, memories from my time at Esalen pop up! Of course I have experienced much more during my time in California, but that was less concrete and those experiences are harder to keep alive in my mind. Although I feel all of my California experiences in me as an expanded horizon, this is something I am still working on: to compile what I have learned and to integrate it into my personal and professional life.”

community – September 27, 2006 – 10:35am