Return to Esalen

I will be returning for yoga teacher training next week. One way I assess my life path is through trips to Esalen. Each time I go, I reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m headed. It’s a long drive there so there’s lots of time to think.

Esalen is special in many ways. Many are drawn to the natural hot springs that perch over the cliffs. It’s an unusual blend of staggering beauty, serenity and human energy that comes from having a lot of naked people savoring sunshine and water together. The grounds are breathtaking. The structures are inspired. There’s much more. But what’s really special is what happens to your head and heart while your there. Not sure what causes this. Some people say Esalen is on a major energy vortex. Others say spirits inhabit the native lands. Whatever the source, Esalen shakes things up. Get ready for recalibration.

A few years ago, an experience there helped shape me. I had a severe allergic reaction. I still don’t know what triggered it. My eyes were so swollen I couldn’t see. My face puffed-up like the Pillsbury Doughboy. No, more like the Elephant Man. Scary. I wasn’t sure how deal with it. I felt uncomfortable and self conscious. The idea of recovering in my room hoping I would heal was tempting. But I knew it wouldn’t pass quickly and couldn’t rationalize hiding out. So I mustered the resolve to continue normal activities. When I showed up to my workshop, the group members didn’t cringe or comment. They were welcoming and loving. They simply accepted me as is. I was deeply touched. This experience helped me learn to not let self consciousness hold me back. I would have missed so much. I also learned the importance of focusing on inner beauty.

I’ll never forgot my first instructor there. He was a chubby fellow who wore interesting outfits and would spontaneously start playing a handmade pan flute during his presentations. I could never figure out what triggered the flute playing. Was it some sort of segue? A dramatic accent? I have no idea. But it was fascinating. He carried a lot of wisdom. I’ll never forgot how his eyes welled up when shared how much he loved his wife. My eyes welled up too but for a different reason. Thank goodness this most unusual man found love! I longed to meet her. And I did from afar a couple of years later when I received an email from her saying that she wanted her husband’s students to know he had recently died of cancer. My heart sank. His bright light in the world was gone.

This trip I will be studying yoga with a Jungian focus on the chakras. Most people don’t realize it but a lot of what is known about the chakra system comes from Carl Jung. Yes, the same guy who’s known for the “shadow self.” Jung gave seminars on the psychology of kundalini yoga after studying The Serpent Power which was the first western interpretation of two central vedic texts on tantra yoga. This should be interesting.

We live in a society that habitually keeps things light while shying away from matters of gravity; especially if it makes us uncomfortable in any way. Inevitably we reach the point a diminishing returns with this approach. If we blindly continue down this path, we do so to our own detriment, short changing our potential for growth and self actualization. Perhaps it’s path of least resistance but not one likely to lead to an authentic life. After all, how can you whole-heartedly understand who you are if there are sides to yourself you’re too afraid to explore? Life’s a mix. Levity and gravity. Light and dark. Joy and sorrow. So let’s try to access and integrate all parts of ourselves and see where it leads. From Esalen and beyond.

Emily Meyers

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