Opening Up at Esalen Institute

What do you do when you’re feeling ungrateful? Journal? Therapy? Exercise? Complain? Whenever I’m stuck in the martyr role, my best solution is to get out of town and into nature. Esalen Institute is by far the coolest place to gain some perspective on life. Hundreds of years old redwood trees overlook untouched coastlines and natural hot springs?! It’s the most magical, mystical, drop-dead gorgeous place located in Big Sur, CA.

Esalen is a relaxing retreat, an educational institute (the kind we like), and a space for personal transformation. The experience is self-guided, with opportunities to sign up for programs, workshops, and work-study to enjoy this special space. Started in the 1960s, Esalen remains true to the free-spirited, peace-loving, organic-food-growing nature of its roots. The spiritual seekers of the world gravitate here to learn, heal, grow, and rejuvenate.

Some call it a hippie nudist cult (ok—there might nude bathing), but Esalen offers more than 500 incredible workshops and retreats a year. Think: yoga, meditation, gospel choir, massage, healing arts. Poppy & Seed attended The Fear Cure workshop led by Lissa Rankin. We learned to use our fear to find courage and face what holds us back in life. Not to mention, the entire workshop was held in a yurt by the sea. We meditated, had dance parties, cried, sang, learned and grew. The workshop opened me up to my biggest fears and how to deal with them rather than avoid them. Read Lissa’s book, “The Fear Cure,” and let it change your life.

When doing intense personal work, a lot of emotions come up—tears flood the fields of Esalen, but so does joy. I’m reminded of a quote from one of my all-time favorite books, “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” It’s yin and yang, good and bad, the sweet wouldn’t be as sweet without the sour. We couldn’t be truly grateful if we didn’t know what being truly ungrateful was like.

Esalen is the perfect place to deal with our resistance: to our feelings, to our healings, to our wounds. It opens us up and lets the soothing begin. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, yes it can be painful, but you’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world—so why not dive in? It’s a sacred space. So often when we resist and deny the flow of life, things don’t run smoothly, and going here clears our mind. We’re all guilty of being annoyed by the nuances of everyday life and Esalen forces us to step back and soak in all the beauty that surrounds us.

Everyone at Esalen is on their own self-healing journey. There’s time to rest, relax, enjoy the peacefulness (aka no cell service, no internet). Three meals fresh from their organic garden are dished out daily cafeteria-style—nothing extravagant, just plain good. Esalen is like summer camp for adults. The 24-hour toast bar is our favorite hang out: help yourself any time to some homemade Big Sur bread and just sit and enjoy a cup of tea (someone will most likely be strumming their guitar in the Lodge).

Ocean waves crash directly below as you float in the hot springs. Most people are naked, which I resisted at first, feeling exposed, but I worked through it to face a fear—being naked in front of strangers. It’s symbolic of Esalen in a way, just putting yourself out there for all to see. These rejuvenating waters come directly from the molten core of the earth and are bursting with minerals for extreme healing. Fresh water streams flow through into the ocean = pure magic.

Esalen feeds the soul, offering deep meaningful insight. It forces us to face what we are resisting and denying all while filling us with gratitude that such a place exists. Esalen is the duality of life, gratitude and denial are felt here and these two feelings are meant to go hand in hand. While eating breakfast outside overlooking the cliffs, I saw a whale spout. Esalen’s beauty humbles and reminds us that we are human, such a small speck on the large scale of this life we live.

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