If there were ever a place where you feel like you are up in the heavens, it has to be Big Sur. This region on the Central Coast of California is over the top in every way. It offers dramatic coastline and vistas. It can be fogged in making you feel as if you were living in the heavens. And it offers one of the most spiritual, peaceful places on earth: Esalen Institute.
Esalen is one of the major retreat centers in the U.S., (the others being Kripalu in The Berkshires, the Omega Institute in Upstate New York, and more recently The Chopra Center) where people go to take workshops, enjoy a break from the real world, work on themselves, learn, and go inside. It's truly a magnificent place in a magnificent setting, and unfortunately, with the heavy rains in California earlier this year, a bridge washout and mud slide forced Esalen to close for many months.
I was lucky enough to visit Esalen in June of 2016 and have a tour by one of its employees. While I was unable to stay there, this was an opportunity to check out a spiritual retreat destination that has been on my bucket list for many years — and where I planned to return this year. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans.
Esalen was everything I had expected, and more. While there was a lot of construction going on at the time — which is all completed by now — the essence of the place is pure soul. In fact, the founders say, “Esalen is the birthplace of the human potential movement. With the help of hundreds of workshop leaders drawn from many disciplines and with many practices, Esalen allows its visitors not just sanctuary from the urban hubbub, but an opportunity to push the envelopes of their own and society’s existing limits.”
People from all walks of life come here for an experience that just can’t be found on your phone. Seriously. This is the place where you leave your phone in your room and just be. Workshops center around everything from a weeklong writing camp with “Wild” author Cheryl Strayed, to yoga retreats, couples workshops, unleashing your power sessions, meditation, hiking and wilderness experiences, songwriting, gratitude retreats, and so much more.
In addition to your workshop schedule, you might make your way to the Art Barn, where, unless a class is being given, you can engage in all sorts of artistic pursuits any time of the day or night. The Barn has a variety of arts and craft supplies: paint, brushes, paper, drawing materials, collage materials, and a miscellany of craft materials and tools. Feel free to bring your own art supplies and enjoy! Spend some time by the pool. Enjoy a massage. Sample some of the homemade breads at the bread bar open nearly 24/7, and more.
Esalen is also known for its hot spring baths. A word of warning for the uninitiated though: bathing suits at the baths are entirely optional and most Esalen visitors opt to go nude (at least all were not wearing anything on the day I was there). So if you are shy and not inclined to take off your clothes, a strong recommendation is to stay away from the baths and outdoor massage areas.
According to the Esalen website, its Hot Springs are “heated by the molten core of the earth and laden with minerals, the waters of Esalen’s hot springs flow at a rate of 80 gallons per minute and emerge at a temperature of 119 degrees Fahrenheit. These waters possess deeply rejuvenating properties, and the Esalen baths are a place of refuge, reverence, healing, and contemplation.”
If you aren’t so moved to take an actual workshop — or just don’t find anything that suits your fancy — you can also participate in what Esalen calls its “A Time To Reflect” Workshops which are simply either Friday through Sunday or Sunday through Friday stays where you receive accommodations and meals as well as the access to the natural hot springs, daily movement and meditation classes, weekly evening programs, meals, and the 27-acres of spectacular grounds to explore. The “A Time To Reflect” workshops are available over certain limited off-season time periods.
For complete information, details on upcoming workshops, and pricing and availability, visit http://www.esalen.org.
Getting to Esalen is still a bit difficult as the main bridge is still under construction and expected to be completed in the fall. Their website gives complete information on how to get there and what to expect. But I don't doubt the experience is worth hiking in over the hills and through the woods.
All photos are courtesy of Esalen Institute.