When I found myself on the 101 with my dog riding shotgun, the clouds were reminiscent of thousands of well groomed sheep lining up in orderly fashion. It was the day of my 40th birthday and I decided to do something different than the usual ‘dinner with friends’. To some, a six hour drive to Big Sur is abominable, to me it was a piece of heaven where I could listen to my favorite tunes dislocating my thoughts through the sounds of Nick Cave and Blur.
I have never been to Esalen but have heard that it was a utopian healing community nestled into the cliffs of Big Sur, overlooking the mass of the Pacific Ocean. To me the name Esalen was always analogous to a place where free spirits roamed around in togas and moccasins, where time stopped and your gender didn’t matter. I signed up to a Spirit Medicine workshop a few weeks prior and my drive affirmed that I was on the right path.
First, red-tailed hawks circled my car for hours. The moment I hit the 1 Freeway, a band of vultures nosedived so close to my windshield, I swear I locked eyes with one of them. As the road narrowed and the severe cliffs plunged into the Pacific, above me a bald eagle appeared, one of the few that are left in Big Sur. I was ecstatic as I turned left onto the road leading to Esalen, prepared for my toga wearing family.
From what I saw, there were no togas, no flowers in the hair or laurel wreaths; just people wearing their ‘people clothes’. The location is a delicate balance between the dramatic coastline, ancient pine trees and a giant grassy lawn with a flower and vegetable garden close by. I must have looked lost, as a wondering spirit offered his time to guide me around the property. Mike, a sweet man with eyes of lavender fields showed me to the hot springs where clothing was optional and from what I saw, it looked like nobody opted to wear any. During orientation we were given the guidelines of the ‘Esalen life’ : clean up after yourself in the kitchen- not a problem, conserve water by only using one towel throughout your stay –not a problem, take short showers- not a problem, clothing optional –slight problem.
During my evening shamanic workshop we discussed the four spirit animals: eagle, hummingbird, snake, jaguar. Alberto Villoldo, our presenter and master shaman had asked us to summon one of the spirit animals before bedtime and see if it will show in our dream. With that seemingly easy homework I headed for the hot springs cradling a monumental dilemma. ‘To wear it or not’ - my swimsuit that was.
By the time I got to the baths it was past midnight. As I looked down from the cliffs, I saw a glistening assembly of naked bodies with the almost full moon shamelessly caressing them. I put on my two-piece and headed to the thermal pools. After receiving a few disapproving and doubtful looks, I changed strategy, and removed the last bit of fabric that separated me from the night sky. Naked as I was, I walked through the pathway leading to the sulfur-rich waters and submerged like a shy canoness. Across from me was a young man stretched out, holding onto the railing like Jesus on the cross. With his head tilted back, muscles thumping and caressed by the moonlight he was the first man I saw without clothes in many months. Basking in the moonlight, he would occasionally turn and catch the corner of my eye, while flexing his trapezius to the point where- I swear- I could see the individual muscle fibers underneath his skin. He was offering himself to me with words unspoken. It would have been so easy to reach across and pull him into me, instead I simply appreciated the soul trapped in his human form. After about half an hour of him attempting the mating dance, he gave up and exited the sulfur water then stood poolside for about a minute holding my gaze. I turned away with a smile and instead kept to myself and to the ocean. With my bare chest I fixed my eyes at the black sky filled with thousands of stars, the spirits of the Universe. As I searched for my two favorite constellations, Ursa Minor and Cancer, more bodies arrived . During my orientation I learned that the Burning Man LeadershipAppreciation summit coincided with my workshop. The ‘Burners’ were loud in a place that was visibly marked with a sign saying “SILENCE”. Their pseudo intellectual conversation made me ponder retiring to my living quarters. I yearned to lose myself in space rather than fill the night air with words.
For a while I stared at the Pacific with my heart melting into the waves of the Great Water. That night my dog and I slept like children in the grand room dozing off to the sound of the ocean.
When the morning a came I was in slight despair for none of the spirit animals showed themselves in my dream. That sentiment was short-lived as when I opened my door a hummingbird opted to flutter his tiny wings right in front of my face. I smiled then set out for my morning walk to witness the finest of nature with monarch butterflies and Steller’s jays marking my path. My morning workshop was an intense two-hour scientific brainstorm followed by a shamanic ceremony honoring the sacred feminine lead by Marcela Lobos an ageless, stunning, pure heart. She never used the word “goddess”, perhaps she knew that the sound of it would make me run for the hills. During my break, I headed back to my room just to find a delicate whipsnake sunning on my deck . She swiftly slipped away as I chuckled at the fact that the spirit animals were showing themselves at broad daylight not in my dreams. I only had the jaguar left to encounter on my journey, though Big Sur offered poor prospects for its sighting.
At the hot springs that night I encountered a middle-aged couple who were at Esalen to rekindle their romance. Our blubber ended when the couple inviting me into their room for some homebrewed kombucha. I declined their invitation for a threesome politely and relocated my naked body to another pool where I was the only resident. That’s when I noticed a giant halo around the moon reminiscent of the eye of the night sky. Enthralled by the sight and excited about a new chapter in my life, I felt enormously empowered to be single and celibate, gifted with moments like these, gifted with my family, my dogs, my independence, my health and the grace that life is.
My last day was spent learning everything about how to reach the infinite and not follow linear time, I learned some things about soul retrieval and how to reset the spirit and brain. My mind has been blown over and over again by the giant that Alberto, my teacher is. During my last lunch at the lodge, I noticed a gentle pressure against my ankle. When I looked down, I saw a spotted tabby asking for my time. Albeit not a jaguar, her markings were analogous the her giant South American cousin’s, thus my ‘spirit animal’ sighting was concluded. What did this all mean? Perhaps nothing, but more likely it is the fact that I am in alignment with what I am supposed to be doing, that is to help restore balance on Mother Earth, to help heal the spirits, to help you reunite with your soul, to help you see the invisible just like the shamans have been doing for thousands of years.
Although at Esalen I didn’t get my ‘toga sighting’ or find my life partner or become a spiritual guru (or spirit thief) I saw many things invisible to the human eye, I also marveled at the gifts of nature and rejoiced in the presence of all the other seekers.
55000 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA, 93920