Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Back in the Day with Little Bear: "We were doing sweat lodges and ceremonies, and the medicine was super strong."

Tom “Little Bear” Nason, Tribal Chairman of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, takes us back to a moment in time when arriving at Esalen was like entering a tribal village.


My memory goes back so far with Esalen. All the way to childhood. I remember going there with my parents and grandparents back in the ’60s when it was still called Slate’s Hot Springs.

There were not many people around at all. The coast was quiet. We pretty much had the place to ourselves to pray, to do our thing as a family and as a tribe. We went there for healing, to heal our aches and bodies. It was a ritual for us as a tribe and a family: a place to wash our spirits, to refresh and renew ourselves. I grew up always knowing that it was a sacred place to visit, that we went there for a sacred reason, like a celebration or a ceremony.

I would see the parents, the elders, the grandparents, uncles, aunties, and cousins getting a healing from going to the baths. I would always see my grandfather and grandmother, washing their face with the hot water, offering it the four directions. That's my first impression of the land there: feeling the power, the mana, the energy of the land.  

And then, during the late ’60s, then ’70s, things ramped up. Lots of people started coming to Big Sur. The elders had always said that the people would be coming — that they'd be coming in all colors, all walks of life, and they would come with open hearts and hands and minds, come here to Big Sur. And they did. America’s third eye was awakening to the traditional Indigenous people's culture. I think in the ’60s and ’70s, there was a huge draw to Native Americanism and shamanism, either through peyote, through using plant-based medicines, through the use of herbal-based medicines.

But the ’80s were where things really started picking up. As a young apprentice under my Elders, I continued going to Esalen with other Native Americans. When arriving, I would have the feeling that I was entering into a tribal village, that there was a feeling of the land there and the feeling of the community. 

We were going mostly at nighttime, from 12 midnight till 3:00AM, the allowed time locals could go to the baths. Going to the baths became like a ritual. Esalen was a place where we could get a meal, see people, hang around the fire. There was a lot of drumming going on, a lot of music, a lot of partying, a lot of good times.

There was definitely a tribal vibe at Esalen. There was a pecking order. There were elders of the Esalen community who we held in highest regard. I saw it as a mirror of our Native American culture. In a way, Esalen became another village site for me. We considered them relatives, and we became immersed and blended as a culture with their culture. 

Our sense of being pioneers blended with those who lived at Esalen at the time, who worked at Esalen, who were work scholars at Esalen, teachers at Esalen, including Dick and Peggy Horan, and so many other people that we started to know and love during those periods of time.

In the ’90s, more Indigenous people began coming to the healing lands of Esalen/Esselen. Many different traditional elders came. We would meet there with the many tribal elders from tribes from California and other tribal leaders from across the US including the Chumash, Lakota and other indigenous groups from Central and South America. We all recognized each other and  would share together in the land and the ceremonies. There was a ceremonial feeling to the land — when you went there, people would come running to hug you and to be part of welcoming you to the land. The doors were opened to us as Indigenous people. Things were really powerful. I did a lot of workshops — was an assistant and co-led a lot of workshops together with Steve Harper and with David Schiffman. I was leading work-scholar programs. We were doing sweat lodges and ceremonies, and the medicine was super strong. I'm telling you, it was so profound.

People who were coming to Esalen as students, as work-scholars, and as people who were paid to come were getting this experience — they were going through transformations. Their lives changed for it.

And then a change happened. Something happened. It shifted. Many of the people I once knew were not there any longer, and that seemed like it happened in a short period of time. Almost like an earthquake came or a tornado or hurricane wiped the place clean. That community vibe was gone. The family, the roots, the school going away — all that was all trauma to us.

But it's like we're starting to build it back again as a community. Esalen is opening the door again. As we've gone through the healing reconciliation, things have gotten much better. I was able to vent some of my pain and get it out of me and express it, but I still find that there are still residues in there of pain and suffering, in sorrow and loss, of the feeling of loss in my heart of that tribal vibe, village vibe, family vibe, community.

If I was in front of a group at a gathering, I'd be speaking upon this in a gentle way: How do we bring back the fire? How do we reignite that sacred fire that went out, that burnt for so long at Esalen?

How do we do that as an institute? How do we do that as a community? In today’s craziness, how do we do that as a society? We've all gotten out of balance because we're no longer focused on intentional community. 

The spirit of this land is the people and the energy of the place: the space, the trees, the waterfall, the river, the ocean, the dolphin, the fish, the whales. The way the wind blows. We need to preserve and protect it.

Luckily, we're holding on, but we're only hanging on to the cliff with our claws. Bringing back the tribe, bringing back the feeling, bringing back people, rebuilding, restarting, beating the drum, and calling the people back home is where I'm at.

We need to reignite the fire that burns in all of us in our spirits, our souls, our minds, our bodies, our dreams. A lot of people have broken hearts from the loss of that feeling. The coast itself, the south coast, the wild coast, the lonely coast. It's no longer. It's missing us. It's missing the family, the ohana, the mana, the spirit, the power. We need to get it back. And Indigenous people are key to all this. We play a key role in the revitalization.

“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?


Tom Little Bear Nason returns to Esalen to co-lead Healing Waters: Rites of Passage & The Embodied Masculine with Douglas Drummond March 13–17, 2023.

Register Now

About

Tom Little Bear Nason, Douglas Drummond & Sam Stern

Back in the Day with Little Bear: "We were doing sweat lodges and ceremonies, and the medicine was super strong."

About

Tom Little Bear Nason, Douglas Drummond & Sam Stern

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop

Tom “Little Bear” Nason, Tribal Chairman of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, takes us back to a moment in time when arriving at Esalen was like entering a tribal village.


My memory goes back so far with Esalen. All the way to childhood. I remember going there with my parents and grandparents back in the ’60s when it was still called Slate’s Hot Springs.

There were not many people around at all. The coast was quiet. We pretty much had the place to ourselves to pray, to do our thing as a family and as a tribe. We went there for healing, to heal our aches and bodies. It was a ritual for us as a tribe and a family: a place to wash our spirits, to refresh and renew ourselves. I grew up always knowing that it was a sacred place to visit, that we went there for a sacred reason, like a celebration or a ceremony.

I would see the parents, the elders, the grandparents, uncles, aunties, and cousins getting a healing from going to the baths. I would always see my grandfather and grandmother, washing their face with the hot water, offering it the four directions. That's my first impression of the land there: feeling the power, the mana, the energy of the land.  

And then, during the late ’60s, then ’70s, things ramped up. Lots of people started coming to Big Sur. The elders had always said that the people would be coming — that they'd be coming in all colors, all walks of life, and they would come with open hearts and hands and minds, come here to Big Sur. And they did. America’s third eye was awakening to the traditional Indigenous people's culture. I think in the ’60s and ’70s, there was a huge draw to Native Americanism and shamanism, either through peyote, through using plant-based medicines, through the use of herbal-based medicines.

But the ’80s were where things really started picking up. As a young apprentice under my Elders, I continued going to Esalen with other Native Americans. When arriving, I would have the feeling that I was entering into a tribal village, that there was a feeling of the land there and the feeling of the community. 

We were going mostly at nighttime, from 12 midnight till 3:00AM, the allowed time locals could go to the baths. Going to the baths became like a ritual. Esalen was a place where we could get a meal, see people, hang around the fire. There was a lot of drumming going on, a lot of music, a lot of partying, a lot of good times.

There was definitely a tribal vibe at Esalen. There was a pecking order. There were elders of the Esalen community who we held in highest regard. I saw it as a mirror of our Native American culture. In a way, Esalen became another village site for me. We considered them relatives, and we became immersed and blended as a culture with their culture. 

Our sense of being pioneers blended with those who lived at Esalen at the time, who worked at Esalen, who were work scholars at Esalen, teachers at Esalen, including Dick and Peggy Horan, and so many other people that we started to know and love during those periods of time.

In the ’90s, more Indigenous people began coming to the healing lands of Esalen/Esselen. Many different traditional elders came. We would meet there with the many tribal elders from tribes from California and other tribal leaders from across the US including the Chumash, Lakota and other indigenous groups from Central and South America. We all recognized each other and  would share together in the land and the ceremonies. There was a ceremonial feeling to the land — when you went there, people would come running to hug you and to be part of welcoming you to the land. The doors were opened to us as Indigenous people. Things were really powerful. I did a lot of workshops — was an assistant and co-led a lot of workshops together with Steve Harper and with David Schiffman. I was leading work-scholar programs. We were doing sweat lodges and ceremonies, and the medicine was super strong. I'm telling you, it was so profound.

People who were coming to Esalen as students, as work-scholars, and as people who were paid to come were getting this experience — they were going through transformations. Their lives changed for it.

And then a change happened. Something happened. It shifted. Many of the people I once knew were not there any longer, and that seemed like it happened in a short period of time. Almost like an earthquake came or a tornado or hurricane wiped the place clean. That community vibe was gone. The family, the roots, the school going away — all that was all trauma to us.

But it's like we're starting to build it back again as a community. Esalen is opening the door again. As we've gone through the healing reconciliation, things have gotten much better. I was able to vent some of my pain and get it out of me and express it, but I still find that there are still residues in there of pain and suffering, in sorrow and loss, of the feeling of loss in my heart of that tribal vibe, village vibe, family vibe, community.

If I was in front of a group at a gathering, I'd be speaking upon this in a gentle way: How do we bring back the fire? How do we reignite that sacred fire that went out, that burnt for so long at Esalen?

How do we do that as an institute? How do we do that as a community? In today’s craziness, how do we do that as a society? We've all gotten out of balance because we're no longer focused on intentional community. 

The spirit of this land is the people and the energy of the place: the space, the trees, the waterfall, the river, the ocean, the dolphin, the fish, the whales. The way the wind blows. We need to preserve and protect it.

Luckily, we're holding on, but we're only hanging on to the cliff with our claws. Bringing back the tribe, bringing back the feeling, bringing back people, rebuilding, restarting, beating the drum, and calling the people back home is where I'm at.

We need to reignite the fire that burns in all of us in our spirits, our souls, our minds, our bodies, our dreams. A lot of people have broken hearts from the loss of that feeling. The coast itself, the south coast, the wild coast, the lonely coast. It's no longer. It's missing us. It's missing the family, the ohana, the mana, the spirit, the power. We need to get it back. And Indigenous people are key to all this. We play a key role in the revitalization.

“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?


Tom Little Bear Nason returns to Esalen to co-lead Healing Waters: Rites of Passage & The Embodied Masculine with Douglas Drummond March 13–17, 2023.

Register Now

About

Tom Little Bear Nason, Douglas Drummond & Sam Stern

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Back in the Day with Little Bear: "We were doing sweat lodges and ceremonies, and the medicine was super strong."

Tom “Little Bear” Nason, Tribal Chairman of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, takes us back to a moment in time when arriving at Esalen was like entering a tribal village.

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Tom Little Bear Nason returns to Esalen to co-lead Healing Waters: Rites of Passage & The Embodied Masculine with Douglas Drummond March 13–17, 2023.

Register Now

About

Tom Little Bear Nason, Douglas Drummond & Sam Stern

Back in the Day with Little Bear: "We were doing sweat lodges and ceremonies, and the medicine was super strong."

About

Tom Little Bear Nason, Douglas Drummond & Sam Stern

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