March 20, 2020
To be sure, early 2020 will go down as one of the most fascinating times of our modern era. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected us globally, creating significant life-altering changes. On March 16 Esalen General Manager and CEO Terence Gilbey made a public announcement that while there is no current case of COVID-19 at Esalen, Esalen will remain closed to the public for four weeks. Following six San Francisco Bay Area counties that have issued similar orders, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a state-wide shelter at home on March 19th.
Esalen may be temporarily closed to the public but the spirit of Esalen remains intact. In fact, that spirit, which first came to light back in 1962 when co-founders Michael Murphy and Dick Price founded Esalen, can be implemented wherever we are. During challenging times, we can invite Esalen into our homes and smaller communities. The following guideposts show us how.
1. Unplug and Pause
Esalen’s tranquil Big Sur location has been ideal for intrepid souls looking to take time away from their “busy” lives. Breathtaking ocean views and the absence of cell service are the perfect ingredients to create a memorable time to reflect. Taking that cue, we can use this unique time to practice something similar right where we are. Close the laptop. Set the smartphone aside. Become more mindful of news and social media consumption. Find a comfortable place to sit and become present with yourself. By doing so, we invite ourselves to explore our inner world—something seminarians often experience at Esalen workshops. When we pause, we can reflect.
2. Notice Your Breath
Buddha once said: “Never underestimate the healing power of a long, deep breath.” But Buddha wasn’t alone. For centuries wisdom teachers near and far have guided us to pay attention to our breath. Here at Esalen, numerous faculty have shown us the benefits of doing just that for nearly six decades in various workshop settings. When we focus on our breath, especially during challenging times, we create an opportunity to still the “thinking” mind and become aware of what is occurring within us. Are we anxious? Curious? Tired? What’s happening inside of us? What would happen if we took five to 10 minutes to just notice how we are breathing? What would we become aware of? Who’s game? Turn your attention to your breath right now.
3. Make the Best With the Healthiest Food Options Available
For decades, Esalen’s Farm & Garden staff has been valiant stewards of precious land. They have tended the soil and offered bounties of fresh organic vegetables to the kitchen crew who then create nourishing meals for seminarians. The Farm & Garden staff set a divine example for when we become conscious of what we eat and nourish our bodies with healthy food—organic fruits and vegetables and unprocessed food—we stimulate our body, its immune system and fine-tune it for optimal health. Esalen’s Juice Bar has also shown us how potent fresh juices and juicing can be for us—from a fresh vitamin-rich apple-beet juice to many others that include everything from celery, carrots and oranges to fresh kale and so much more. Embrace your healthiest food options and ... grab a few napkins.
4. Experience Yourself in Nature
The Santa Lucia Mountains and the glorious Pacific Ocean have long been stellar backdrops at Esalen. In Big Sur, we are surrounded by nature. During COVID-19, people have been instructed to implement social distancing, however we can still go for a walk and experience nature. By spending time in nature, whether it just be walking through your neighborhood or a park or simply resting in a tranquil outdoor setting such as our own backyard, we invite the lusciousness of the outside world in. Free from electronic devices or the workspace cubicle, we can experience beauty around us and also within us. We can pay more attention to nature itself—the wind, the sky, the sunlight, the plants, the birds, even the insects. And in doing so, we become more aware of the fabric of life all around us. We become aware that we are an integral part of that fabric.
5. Incorporate a Movement Practice
Esalen was vital in introducing yoga and unique dance experiences such as Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms® to the West so many decades ago. What’s that one true thing that really gets your inner jets roaring? Yoga, dance, Tai Chi, Qi-gong? While many fitness studios are temporarily unavailable to us at the moment, there are a number of online movement and fitness classes on YouTube and even subscription services such as Netflix that offer them. Or, we can be adventurous. Why not put on some music and create our own kind of movement and fitness regime—something new that can emerge during this unique time. When we move, we flow. When we flow, we grow—even in the midst of challenging circumstances.
6. Connect and Engage with Your Community
Social distancing does not equate to emotional distancing. One of the most unique things about Esalen is interacting with the community, whether it be in a workshop setting, during a meal in the Lodge, on a walk through the gardens with others or during serendipitous moments that bring us together. Conversations are sparked. Ideas are born. Connections are made. These interactions are valuable and can have a positive impact on us. This is even more vital now. Where is your tribe? How do you engage with your community, whether it be health and wellness-related, civic, creative or otherwise? One of the plusses of technology during times of crisis is that it has the ability to unite us and spare us from complete isolation. This is when we should take advantage of technology and reach out to others, whether it be via social media wellness groups, FaceTime calls, Zoom meetings, and even Esalen’s social media pages, where we post regularly. We can all stay connected and remain connected as we see our way through.
7. Stay Curious About Your Own Potential
Our human potential is beyond extraordinary. When we remain committed to exploring it, we discover new facets of ourselves that have always been there, waiting to blossom. But how do we stay dedicated to that unraveling? Curiosity. Interest. Inquiry. Whenever we dwell in those areas, our inner world has the ability to truly reveal itself to us. This can be most beneficial during challenging times when we are asked to step into our fullest potential. One wisdom teacher quipped: “We are but a vibrant kaleidoscope filled with many colors and stunning beauty. All we have to do is keep turning the dial and notice what appears.”