thomas m wilson

Esalen – Part One

January 31st, 2008



No, it hasn’t been that dramatic a crash. But I’m going to be honest about my experiences here, and you’ll see that it isn’t all flowing smoothly.
Esalen is a kind of retreat centre, which offers week long courses in yoga, meditation, photography, amongst other things. There are about three hundred people on this cliff-side property on the steep sides of Big Sur, central coast California. Some of the people are staff, and some of the staff are ‘work-study scholars’, that is people who pay less money to live and study here for a longer period, as well as who work for some of their week. I am one of these people. I’m staying on the main property, quite close to the lodge (the dining hall) which is the centre of activity here. I’m sharing a room with a Korean guy, an English guy, and a very young American guy. They are all nice, low key people. However the English guy is on the bunk bed below me and he snores and even with ear plugs it disrupts my sleep. Hopefully tonight the white noise machine somebody left in the room will help. However not having a private space to retreat to from all the people – and the experience of being at Esalen is of being thrown into a sea of talking heads – gets me down a bit.


In the dining hall one eats at a buffet, and the food here is so various and gourmet in a very healthy sense that I am eating the best meals I’ve ever eaten.


Here is the kitchen. This is where I work six hours a day, five days a week. I am washing dishes or pots or chopping vegetables or taking salads out to the salad bar in the dining hall. I work quickly to alleviate the monotony of the jobs, and today I had the pleasure of having my iPod played on the stereo as the chef for the day didn’t have any music on him. What with work during the day and the two and a half hours of classes in the evenings I’m finding myself feeling overly controlled by outside forces (what with the additional factor of not having a private space of my own to retreat to after work or class).

But I want to give a balanced view of my experience here, so now it is time to turn to some of the positives of being at Esalen. At Esalen thermal hot springs are channeled into hot bathes which are perched on the edge of the cliffs. I generally try and have two trips down the hill each day to soak in the tubs. With sore muscles from scrubbing pots or running around the kitchen, it is just what one’s body needs.


I have yet to actually take my camera into the tubs – people are generally naked so they might not appreciate it if I did – but here is where I stand on the stones above the freezing cold Pacific ocean and have a hot shower before entering the baths.


Yesterday I had a rare moment of solitude in the bathes before lunch, and as I rolled around in the water I watched an otter rolling around in the much colder water below me on his back. A pleasing analogue in recreation between me and the ocean swimmer. Lying in the hot tubs is clearly one of the best things about this place.

I have to go to bed now as I’m exhausted, but I’ll continue this blog about Esalen tomorrow.