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My Esalen: A Conversation with Vaishali Chadha

September 2017

Do you remember the moment you experienced Esalen for the first time? We’ll be sharing occasional stories from our greater Esalen family on their journey to Esalen and how they bring Esalen into the world. Vaishali Chadha is a transformational coach, inspired in part by her work at Esalen.

eNews: What first drew you to Esalen?

Vaishali: I heard about Esalen from a friend, Dr. Karan Singh, the former Indian Ambassador to the United States and a friend of Michael Murphy. Dr. Singh is recognized as one of India's outstanding thinkers on Hinduism. When I traveled to India and visited Dr. Singh, he encouraged me to visit a unique place called Esalen.

Fortunately, Esalen is in Big Sur, close to where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2008 when I first went to Esalen, I was a mom of two young kids, exhausted and in need of a break. I had reached a point when I wanted something to deepen my experience with life. I registered for a personal retreat and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I fell in love with the place and took in its healing energy, it was an amazing experience. I found myself feeling peaceful and tranquil and my exhaustion melted away. I couldn’t believe this hidden gem was in California.

eNews: Tell us about your first workshop experience at Esalen.

Vaishali: It was a Gestalt workshop led by Christine Price. I love the spaciousness of the venue and the nourishing way she taught the workshop. I was so inspired by my first workshop that I wanted to learn more about myself. This class started me on a journey of finding my life's calling. I'm now a transformational coach. I continue to incorporate in my coaching practice what I learn at Esalen.

eNews: In what ways has Esalen impacted your life personally?

Vaishali: I fundamentally believe in doing inner work because the more we get to know ourselves and learn how we can get in our own way, the more we are able to free ourselves and thus make better choices.

When I’m at Esalen, I give myself permission to really open up, trust the process and surrender. You walk into this beautiful place that is so welcoming and spacious that you can’t help but let go of your concerns and start unwinding. Esalen has supported me in my own transformational process. I’ve learned new concepts and have met people that have changed me. That’s what I find special at Esalen, the reassurance that I’m on the right path. As others come to me in my role as a coach I can support them as Esalen supports me.

Esalen is a gift from the universe.

eNews: Please share a favorite Esalen story.

Vaishali: When I first found myself in this amazing place, I wanted to enjoy the famous Esalen massage. To my surprise, however, I learned that clothing is optional. I felt shy given my traditional Indian ways and was torn about what to do. Looking around, nobody seemed to care, so why do I? It must have been the negative ions of the ocean and the magnificent view, I courageously said to myself, “What the hell go for it!” and joined the others who seemed at ease in their own bodies. At Esalen, it’s so easy to surrender beliefs that no longer serve you. Now I’m hooked and enjoy the hot springs and massage every time I visit Esalen.

eNews: You’ve created a business called Adventures for My Soul. Can you tell us a little about it?

Vaishali: I’ve had clients come up to me and would like to travel with me to India. I have a second home in Pondicherry, India. As it so happens, I learned at Esalen’s 50th anniversary celebration of Michael Murphy’s connection there. I was touched that he was inspired by Aurobindo’s ashram in Pondicherry and then came back and started Esalen.

I have a desire to take people on spiritual tourism. My current tour is Varanasi to Pondicherry, Spirituality throughout the Ages. Perhaps one day we will take people from Esalen to Pondicherry and come full circle! My kids are almost grown and I see a time when I’ll become more involved with Esalen and Pondicherry. That is my heart’s desire and I want to follow my heart.

eNews: One of your inspirations is Joseph Campbell, who was a frequent visitor to Esalen. How have his writings influenced you?

Vaishali: His work has helped me better understand my ancient Indian culture and how to combine it with my modern western life in the US.

I’m in the process of writing a book, Road to Pondicherry. It’s my journey as an Indian woman and all the beliefs – the should’s and shoudnt’s– that have been part of my life. I’m very proud of the Indian foundation that I was born into and the freedom of expression that I was taught growing up in the US. I hope to help other people find out how they can embrace the wisdom of their culture and let go of beliefs that no longer serve them.

eNews: Why is it important for those who’ve been impacted by Esalen to support the Friends of Esalen fund? What would you say to someone considering supporting Esalen?

Vaishali: Once I learned of Esalen’s history, I was so honored to help this unique institution survive, prosper, and continue to help others. The analogy I use is that Esalen is like planting seeds. Students train then leave Esalen and go into the world and spread more seeds. So when you help one student, that person may go on to help 10 or 100 others.

eNews: Where would you like to see Esalen 10 years from now? 25 years from now? What role do you see it having in shaping the next generation of seminarians?

Vaishali: When asking this question, what’s coming up for me is that in a time when our culture wants to reinvent, fix and/or make things even better, I think Esalen is perfect the way it is. I see Esalen as one tiny institute by the ocean near a sleepy town and yet has been helping so many people around the world for generations. There are so many threads of the human potential movement that starts from Esalen.

Below: Photo by Theodore Kyriakos

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