thomas m wilson

Esalen and Big Sur

June 14th, 2007


The embrace of sea, land and air.

Last weekend I went south along the Californian coast to Big Sur, an area of steep cliffs that drop into the sea, where giant kelp groves sway, feisty otters bob about, and the odd condor swings down out of the sky. Esalen is a retreat centre which offers week long courses in yoga, massage, meditation and the like. Aldous Huxley spent some time here many years ago. The place sits on the edge of the American continent, with steep hills behind it and the constant white crumbling waves sloshing over the rocks in the ocean in front. Hot springs come up through the rocks here, and Monterey cypress – that tree with the philosophical and wizened bend in its boughs – grow. I sat on a table outside of the dining area and watched the backs of the swells roll into the bay to my left. You can understand how this place is conducive to transformation of a kind, and why it would attract a utopian mind like Huxley’s.


Most of the food served – I had the best carrot cake of my life here – is grown on site.


The lawn rolls to the edge of the cliff and then…


This is the meditation room. The thermal baths are pretty great for the spirt as well.

While I was in Big Sur I stayed with a family who live up a canyon called Palo Colorado (tall red colour in Spanish, reflecting the tall redwood trees which line the canyon’s floor). One evening we had buffalo for dinner. In the same way that eating kangaroo in Australia amounts to conservation through sustainable use, eating buffalo in the US is something which aids that species ultimate renewal. That night I slept in a large yurt amongst the live oaks of the hillside. Next to me sat the gaunt skull of a buffalo, complete with pointing horns. Buffalo’s famously are supposed to charge oncoming storms rather than run away from them. I could say that I awoke full of buffalo courage in my yurt on the hill, but that would be a lie. I didn’t. I did however find a drum lying in the yurt which turned out to have the skin of a buffalo on it. I hit it and put it up to my ear and easily imagined the hooves of the big bison thumping into the earth of the prairie.