Esalen

Photo Essay

By Sean Prophet

Calligraphy by Chungliang Al-Huang

My friend Arthur and I went to Esalen for a weekend seminar on Feng Shui. I had heard for many years about Esalen's beauty and great spirit. Since this was not Arthur's first visit, he had already experienced this for himself. The approach to Esalen is along California's historic Highway 1, past Morro Bay and Hearst Castle. The drive is spectacular and becomes more so the closer you get to Big Sur. The final hour or so is enough to leave you gasping for air, as new vistas continually exceed the beauty of the last.

Esalen comes up so quickly on this road that we almost missed the turn. From the moment of turning off the main road and hastily lowering the volume of the stereo, we entered a retreat experience. The surroundings, the people, the food, and the history of the place all tell your soul you are somewhere special.

The experience began with a trip to Esalen's famous mineral baths. Entering the baths, we shed clothes and cares to commune with nature and fellow students. The views overlooking the Pacific are stunning and that combined with the sulfurous soothing waters is enough to make anyone forget the most nagging of worries and concerns.

Soon after the baths, a one hour and fifteen minute massage in a canvas-roofed octagonal yurt removed the last remaining external stresses. I was completely separated from the world in mind, body, and spirit. Light rain and soft music enhanced the delicate strokes of the massage therapist. It left me in a state that I would describe as blissful, serene, and receptive.

After checking into the cabin, we ventured to the cafeteria for an exquisite vegetarian meal. No culinary ideologues here, just choices. You could eat vegan if you wanted to. But plenty of turkey leftovers (from Thanksgiving) were available, and beer, wine, and dessert were all served. At 8 p.m. the first evening, class began. Though billed as a Feng Shui class, it became clear that the instructor, Chungliang Al-Huang, had much more in mind. Over the next several days, he guided us through at least a dozen different Tai Ji exercises, we expressed free-form movements to music, and experienced a wealth of his philosophy developed from his upbringing in China and decades of travel and study throughout the world. He also autographed books for students.

The course was excellent. Combined with languorous walks on the grounds, stimulating and interesting conversation with new friends, and several more trips to the baths, it rounded out a weekend that I won't soon forget. If you are in need of a spiritual recharge, or just an attitude adjustment, beg, borrow, or steal the money and get yourself to Esalen.

One word to the wise: If you are heading to Esalen north via highway 1, fill your tank before you leave Morro Bay. Otherwise gas on the last leg of the trip is about $3.75 a gallon. Go figure.

Vegetable Garden with Sculpture of woman
Meditation Room
Inside the Meditation Room
Arthur Klein & Sean Prophet
Highway 1 in Background
Our Cabins
The Art House
Cafeteria & Huxley Room
Chungliang Al-Huang Teaches Class
Aldous Huxley portrait in Huxley Room

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