Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Back in the Day with LaVerne McLeod: "I think I scared the whole damn room!"

When I was fourteen, schools had to be integrated. We started going to this high school with the white kids in the ninth grade. Some teachers clearly did not want us there. They ignored us, and so I had to ignore myself. I started pretending that I was invisible. I dropped into a state of silence. It deprived me of being a real teenager. In college, I joined every African-American club that there was. I wore this big Afro. In 1971, I graduated from college. I taught junior high school for a while, then I felt a little restless, so I went back and got a master's degree in counseling education.  

While I was working on my master's thesis, my supervisor pulled out a book called Joy by William Schutz.

I started reading it, and I went, What are these encounter groups? It was at this place called Esalen. I bravely searched and wrote to the institute, and they sent me a catalog. I sat on that catalog for two years. 

When I finally flew out to California, I got picked up by an airport bus. Coming down the coast, I saw such beauty. I said, “Oh my God, I'm seeking this. I'm seeking a place where there's water, where there are trees, where there are mountains.”

When I came down the hill, it was just magic. People from different countries: Argentina, Brazil, all over Europe. Many of them spoke different languages. At times, I was the only black woman on this property, but I never put myself in a position where I felt bad because my skin was brown. I was still in diversity city, and I really loved that.

It took me a second to adjust to the volleyball games. About two or three times a week, there was a volleyball game that took place on the oval. All the males were nude. And I was like, Wow! They’re just …  flopping around. Then I realized, Oh, they're just being themselves. They are just playing a game without clothes. 

That was the Esalen spirit of freedom. But I had to guard myself when my mother, a Southern-bred Christian woman, came to visit. I was very cautious. At lunch, a friend of mine had just finished working in the garden and the girl took her top off at the table. My mother stopped eating her salad. 

I said, “Why'd you stop eating?”

“What is wrong with that girl? Is she mental?” my mother asked.

“She's just warm because it's a hot day,” I told her.

 “I wish she would put her blouse back on,” said my mother.

“Just ignore it, mother. She's okay. I guarantee she's in her right mind.”

I never did take that workshop with Will Schutz, but I soon took a Gestalt workshop led by Beverly Silverman and the late Julian Silverman. Thank goodness I took that course. I just let go of all kinds of discriminatory injustices that had come towards me as a child, as well as things that had happened in our community. I did a lot of screaming, kicking, crying, and all that stuff. I got to go down really deep into a lot of hurt and pain and upset. And boy, I was processing like a maniac. But I needed to get that purged. I think I scared the whole damn room. 

I didn't even know that I was feeling that anger and that pain. Julian and Beverly were brilliant in what they did. Very brilliant.

There was one person in that group who stuck with me. He wouldn't let me out of his sight. He was comforting me, and it was amazing. “Let's go to the baths, let's soak this out,” he said. “We're going to eat together.” He did that for two or three days. I said, I'm okay. I'm okay. But he wanted to be sure that I had support.

My next workshop was with Gabrielle Roth. Her gift was her love and compassion. She helped us to connect with our love and compassion. She had kind of an entourage, and some of them just had horrible, horrific experiences in their lives. Gabrielle brought them through it with her work. For me, dancing was just perfect. I got to stomp it out, beat it out, laugh it out, cry it out, play it out, act it out, sing it out. I wasn't just processing when I was dancing. It was freedom and joy. 

I was transforming. And I came back into myself again.

I remember in the Lodge after supper, if people wanted to dance, the tables would push back. The music was cranked up in the kitchen and boogie happened! People who were in bands always had their instruments close. 

Gabrielle made me realize that if you weren't singing or dancing or expressing yourself through your body, maybe there's something you need to look at. I remember moving across the room, not touching anybody. Everybody was going in every direction. I suddenly realized, Oh my God, this is so sweet! My energy is not going to clash with anybody else's. They’re not gonna clash with me.

This ground is sacred. We don't realize how sacred it is. The smell of the eucalyptus. The ocean air. The explosion of plants, rocks and fossils. It's here for us — if we can be present to it.

At Esalen, no matter who's there, or what's happening, there's always a spirit of the land that holds that sacred ground. These are holy grounds. And it can dump you out or it can hold you there — whichever. Either way, it's a gift.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


LaVerne McLeod is the founder of Purple Feather Press and the creator and facilitator of Bridge Building to Equity workshops. She is the author of Corn Hollow, a fiction book that draws on her experiences growing up in the American South during the rise of the Civil Rights movement. She has a non-fiction book that is soon to be released.


About

Sam Stern

Sam Stern is the host of the Voices of Esalen podcast. He lives in Big Sur with his wife, Candice, and a magnificent three-year-old, Roxy.

Back in the Day with LaVerne McLeod: "I think I scared the whole damn room!"

About

Sam Stern

Sam Stern is the host of the Voices of Esalen podcast. He lives in Big Sur with his wife, Candice, and a magnificent three-year-old, Roxy.

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop

When I was fourteen, schools had to be integrated. We started going to this high school with the white kids in the ninth grade. Some teachers clearly did not want us there. They ignored us, and so I had to ignore myself. I started pretending that I was invisible. I dropped into a state of silence. It deprived me of being a real teenager. In college, I joined every African-American club that there was. I wore this big Afro. In 1971, I graduated from college. I taught junior high school for a while, then I felt a little restless, so I went back and got a master's degree in counseling education.  

While I was working on my master's thesis, my supervisor pulled out a book called Joy by William Schutz.

I started reading it, and I went, What are these encounter groups? It was at this place called Esalen. I bravely searched and wrote to the institute, and they sent me a catalog. I sat on that catalog for two years. 

When I finally flew out to California, I got picked up by an airport bus. Coming down the coast, I saw such beauty. I said, “Oh my God, I'm seeking this. I'm seeking a place where there's water, where there are trees, where there are mountains.”

When I came down the hill, it was just magic. People from different countries: Argentina, Brazil, all over Europe. Many of them spoke different languages. At times, I was the only black woman on this property, but I never put myself in a position where I felt bad because my skin was brown. I was still in diversity city, and I really loved that.

It took me a second to adjust to the volleyball games. About two or three times a week, there was a volleyball game that took place on the oval. All the males were nude. And I was like, Wow! They’re just …  flopping around. Then I realized, Oh, they're just being themselves. They are just playing a game without clothes. 

That was the Esalen spirit of freedom. But I had to guard myself when my mother, a Southern-bred Christian woman, came to visit. I was very cautious. At lunch, a friend of mine had just finished working in the garden and the girl took her top off at the table. My mother stopped eating her salad. 

I said, “Why'd you stop eating?”

“What is wrong with that girl? Is she mental?” my mother asked.

“She's just warm because it's a hot day,” I told her.

 “I wish she would put her blouse back on,” said my mother.

“Just ignore it, mother. She's okay. I guarantee she's in her right mind.”

I never did take that workshop with Will Schutz, but I soon took a Gestalt workshop led by Beverly Silverman and the late Julian Silverman. Thank goodness I took that course. I just let go of all kinds of discriminatory injustices that had come towards me as a child, as well as things that had happened in our community. I did a lot of screaming, kicking, crying, and all that stuff. I got to go down really deep into a lot of hurt and pain and upset. And boy, I was processing like a maniac. But I needed to get that purged. I think I scared the whole damn room. 

I didn't even know that I was feeling that anger and that pain. Julian and Beverly were brilliant in what they did. Very brilliant.

There was one person in that group who stuck with me. He wouldn't let me out of his sight. He was comforting me, and it was amazing. “Let's go to the baths, let's soak this out,” he said. “We're going to eat together.” He did that for two or three days. I said, I'm okay. I'm okay. But he wanted to be sure that I had support.

My next workshop was with Gabrielle Roth. Her gift was her love and compassion. She helped us to connect with our love and compassion. She had kind of an entourage, and some of them just had horrible, horrific experiences in their lives. Gabrielle brought them through it with her work. For me, dancing was just perfect. I got to stomp it out, beat it out, laugh it out, cry it out, play it out, act it out, sing it out. I wasn't just processing when I was dancing. It was freedom and joy. 

I was transforming. And I came back into myself again.

I remember in the Lodge after supper, if people wanted to dance, the tables would push back. The music was cranked up in the kitchen and boogie happened! People who were in bands always had their instruments close. 

Gabrielle made me realize that if you weren't singing or dancing or expressing yourself through your body, maybe there's something you need to look at. I remember moving across the room, not touching anybody. Everybody was going in every direction. I suddenly realized, Oh my God, this is so sweet! My energy is not going to clash with anybody else's. They’re not gonna clash with me.

This ground is sacred. We don't realize how sacred it is. The smell of the eucalyptus. The ocean air. The explosion of plants, rocks and fossils. It's here for us — if we can be present to it.

At Esalen, no matter who's there, or what's happening, there's always a spirit of the land that holds that sacred ground. These are holy grounds. And it can dump you out or it can hold you there — whichever. Either way, it's a gift.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


LaVerne McLeod is the founder of Purple Feather Press and the creator and facilitator of Bridge Building to Equity workshops. She is the author of Corn Hollow, a fiction book that draws on her experiences growing up in the American South during the rise of the Civil Rights movement. She has a non-fiction book that is soon to be released.


About

Sam Stern

Sam Stern is the host of the Voices of Esalen podcast. He lives in Big Sur with his wife, Candice, and a magnificent three-year-old, Roxy.

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