A Lifetime of Transformation Born in Five Days
Esalen Team
September 1, 2018

Author, therapist, and yoga teacher Ira Israel often speaks of the transformative nature of mindfulness and yoga at his popular Esalen workshops. He recently shared an inspirational story of a struggling student who attended his workshop, Cultivating Meaning and Happiness through Mindfulness and Yoga, a year ago and returned this year to help him teach it. He shares this remarkable transformation in his own words...

A week prior to my Esalen workshop last year I received a call from a woman in Colorado. She informed me that her daughter was in a “bad way” — suffering from depression and anxiety and not having tools to navigate challenging circumstances. The woman thought that my Cultivating Meaning and Happiness through Mindfulness and Yoga would greatly help but unfortunately it was sold out.

The woman asked me if it was possible to figure out a way to get her daughter a place and I told her that I would call Esalen and inquire. I’m a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist — as well as a yoga and meditation teacher — so whenever people are sufficiently brave to utter those three magic words — I NEED HELP — I do whatever is in my power to help because everyone can use a leg up once in a while. People have been extraordinarily generous with me — like not amputating my mangled leg — and I’m committed to paying that generosity forward.

A bed magically appeared and young Sarah flew in to California to partake in our amazing group, which included the world-class musician Chris Brown and his entourage of highly-talented entourageans. A year prior, I had heard Chris’s song “Superior” on the sentry’s iPod as I passed by the famed Esalen gatehouse once manned by Hunter Thompson; I wrote down the song info, contacted Chris that evening, and invited him to play as part of my next workshop, Cultivating Meaning and Happiness through Mindfulness and Yoga.

This workshop is loosely based on How To Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re An Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening wherein I make the claim that authenticity is our best shot at happiness and proceed to break it down to attachment, atonement, attunement, presence, and congruence.

  • “Attachment” means being aware of our primary attachment dynamics (secure, insecure, etc.). Do we trust that the world is a safe place or are we inherently suspicious of others?
  • “Atonement” (or At Onement) means releasing our resentments about things we cannot change. As Lily Tomlin says, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope of having a better past.”
  • “Attunement” means being able to connect with others and make them feel heard. As I write in my book, “Mirror neurons do not fire via text message” and “One hug equals one million Facebook likes.”
  • “Presence” means having readily available tools like meditation and yoga that stop our minds from dragging us into the the no-longer existent past or the not-yet existent future.
  • “Congruence” means having our outer worlds match our inner worlds. As André Gide wrote, “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”

So young Sarah joined our group, was a committed student, and downloaded in five days all of the valuable philosophical and psychological wisdom and practices that I gleaned from my three graduate degrees and 30 years of seeking.

Cut to 11 months later when Sarah sends me this text message: “Ira, this is Sarah. I graduated from my yoga training over the weekend and am moving into apprenticeship. I wanted to express my deepest gratitude to you for being my teacher. For the experience I had at Esalen with you was the beginning of a journey that is transforming my life! Sending you so much love.”

I immediately called Sarah, congratulated her on completing her teaching training and asked, “Well, you know that means — don’t you?”

“What does it mean?” she countered.

“It means that you have to come teach with me at Esalen!”

There was silence, then a guffaw as she processed what I told her. Then I added, “We have to show people that transformation is possible and this is a perfect example. Will you please come teach with me at Esalen?”

Sarah graciously accepted and on September 16, 2018 our motley crew from last year — Chris Brown, Don Henry, Ginevra Cappiello, Jeff Gall and me along with Sarah — began another fun and enlightening week full of love, transformation and magic!

This is why I love Esalen! Come join us next year!

Ira Israel teaches Cultivating Meaning and Happiness through Mindfulness and Yoga at Esalen again February 24 - March 1, 2019.


Esalen Team