Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
When An Awakened Spirit Creates An Opportunity to Heal
Category:
Healing

If Esalen is the birthplace of the human potential movement, how do we ensure that a diverse community of brains, bodies, hearts, and souls are benefiting from the opportunity to explore and heal?

Akuyoe Graham began taking cohorts of her students on trips to Esalen in the 90s through her organization, Spirit Awakening, a non-profit that creates space, healing, and confidence through the creative arts for system-impacted youth harmed by the juvenile justice system and institutional racism.

We asked her to share the story of one of her students then and where he is today. Meet Tony, formerly a student at the John Muir School, who made his first pilgrimage to Esalen at age 17.

“Coming to Esalen wasn’t just the icing on the cake [for Tony], it was the whole cake,” Graham explained. “His life was messy. He was gang affiliated and not just at-risk, he was high-risk. Coming to Esalen allowed him to see the beauty of the planet that perhaps he hadn't seen before. It allowed him to get in touch with his soul and explore what was real, authentic, and beautiful. Having that experience was a tremendous shift.

“At that time, there were about 10,000 imprisoned youth in California, most of whom were Black and Latino. Many of the young people I mentored had been incarcerated for petty crimes and gang activity; most suffered from trauma and abuse. Trauma-informed arts programs were not in vogue. The thinking then was more about punishment rather than rehabilitation,” said Graham. 

Graham’s first visit to Esalen Institute was in the late ‘90s on her own for a leadership retreat with a cohort of powerful women from across the United States. 

“As we drove down the winding entranceway onto the Esalen grounds, I feasted my eyes on the great lawn that stretched over the Pacific Ocean. My jaw dropped in awe of such luminous, radiant beauty that silently greeted us.”

On a walk through the rose garden, Graham had an epiphany about how Esalen could impact the young humans she mentored, primarily at-risk and formerly incarcerated teens: “I knew that an experience in nature, in such a pristine place, around global thinkers in an environment of human potential, would be life-changing for these young women and men.

“Many of my incarcerated mentees were suffering emotionally, mentally and physically. They needed a safe space to exorcise the ghosts of their past, heal from trauma, and to inquire as to their existence. They needed to be seen and heard and inspired. Esalen Institute would do that for them.”

Graham returned with a group of ten students soon thereafter. “They were blown away by Esalen — the people, the place, the food, the bread bar, and of course, the baths,” said Graham. 

That group participated in writing, inquiry, and meditation classes. They were also in service to Esalen through supporting the kitchen, housekeeping, and the Farm & Garden. Graham recalled how Wednesday evening programs in particular cemented that bridge of connectivity.

“The kids performed spoken word, using their life experience as the canvas on which they painted pictures of their fractured lives. They wrote about being at Esalen and how Esalen would forever shape their lives and people really got it. People would leave crying. It was real. It was beautiful, and people opened their hearts.”  

“This work that Spirit Awakening does both in LA and at Esalen is designed to help young participants heal the internalized racism that has plagued and sabotaged their every deliberation and to help them recognize the debilitating systems that have marginalized and oppressed them, so they can stop devaluing themselves. 

“For young people transitioning to adulthood, learning to free themselves from limitations and self-sabotage is critical. There are not many places or opportunities where system-impacted young people in those transitional ages of 18 to 25 can be in nature and look at or experience how everything is connected.

“You have to understand, being in a place like Esalen is a huge shift for a lot of African Americans. For a number of reasons, including perhaps financial barriers, they don’t take time to have these experiences. Historically, places like Esalen don’t overtly seem to be marketing to people of color. It is quite alien for a  young black male to say, ‘Wow, this is for me. I deserve it. I’m going to do it and I’m going to take one month out of my everyday life in LA to go and really work on myself through being of service, contributing to the experience of others, and existing in a totally different environment.’” 

Without programming that acts as that bridge to Esalen, Graham’s students, like Tony, would most likely never have had the opportunity to visit.

“He was equipped with all that awareness so that he could then embrace all that Esalen offers — the beauty and magic, and the different modalities. He knew and believed that in his core, in his center. So much so that about a year later, he came back to Esalen for the work scholars program and was there for over a month.”

“We are all connected. It’s not just taking kids to Esalen and saying: ‘Go do Gestalt or try yoga.’ It’s about the awareness — it's in spite of the lack of diversity, despite what someone might say to them, we are connected. Regardless of what anyone might say or they might hear, you know you belong there just like anyone else.

“By the end of the week, the kids — Black, Latino, white, all different backgrounds — are walking around hugging each other,” said Graham. “They are allowing their connectivity to be expressed, and that is a blessing for the Esalen community. “

One student who came to Esalen is now a teacher, another works in business management for a private firm, and another graduated from Berkeley and teaches kindergarten. “So many have moved beyond their childhood trauma and have found the beauty and strength that Esalen showed them within themselves,” said Graham. 

Today, Graham tells us, Tony is a family patriarch who’s had a long career as a manager working for the city. “When Tony reflected on his experiences with Esalen and Spirit Awakening, he told me: ‘My brother said the difference between your life and my life is you had Spirit Awakening, and I didn’t.’” 

Considering what the collaboration cracks open, Graham says: “It is important that young people have that awareness that they are stronger than they are made to believe they are. They have the courage to look beyond the perception. This is the divine connection, and that connection can never be broken. It is like a wave of the ocean. It never leaves. It is always connected.”

“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?



About

Akuyoe Graham

Akuyoe Graham is an award-winning playwright, actor and educator who has also dedicated her life to helping youth in the juvenile justice system realize their spiritual identity.

When An Awakened Spirit Creates An Opportunity to Heal

About

Akuyoe Graham

Akuyoe Graham is an award-winning playwright, actor and educator who has also dedicated her life to helping youth in the juvenile justice system realize their spiritual identity.

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Category:
Healing

If Esalen is the birthplace of the human potential movement, how do we ensure that a diverse community of brains, bodies, hearts, and souls are benefiting from the opportunity to explore and heal?

Akuyoe Graham began taking cohorts of her students on trips to Esalen in the 90s through her organization, Spirit Awakening, a non-profit that creates space, healing, and confidence through the creative arts for system-impacted youth harmed by the juvenile justice system and institutional racism.

We asked her to share the story of one of her students then and where he is today. Meet Tony, formerly a student at the John Muir School, who made his first pilgrimage to Esalen at age 17.

“Coming to Esalen wasn’t just the icing on the cake [for Tony], it was the whole cake,” Graham explained. “His life was messy. He was gang affiliated and not just at-risk, he was high-risk. Coming to Esalen allowed him to see the beauty of the planet that perhaps he hadn't seen before. It allowed him to get in touch with his soul and explore what was real, authentic, and beautiful. Having that experience was a tremendous shift.

“At that time, there were about 10,000 imprisoned youth in California, most of whom were Black and Latino. Many of the young people I mentored had been incarcerated for petty crimes and gang activity; most suffered from trauma and abuse. Trauma-informed arts programs were not in vogue. The thinking then was more about punishment rather than rehabilitation,” said Graham. 

Graham’s first visit to Esalen Institute was in the late ‘90s on her own for a leadership retreat with a cohort of powerful women from across the United States. 

“As we drove down the winding entranceway onto the Esalen grounds, I feasted my eyes on the great lawn that stretched over the Pacific Ocean. My jaw dropped in awe of such luminous, radiant beauty that silently greeted us.”

On a walk through the rose garden, Graham had an epiphany about how Esalen could impact the young humans she mentored, primarily at-risk and formerly incarcerated teens: “I knew that an experience in nature, in such a pristine place, around global thinkers in an environment of human potential, would be life-changing for these young women and men.

“Many of my incarcerated mentees were suffering emotionally, mentally and physically. They needed a safe space to exorcise the ghosts of their past, heal from trauma, and to inquire as to their existence. They needed to be seen and heard and inspired. Esalen Institute would do that for them.”

Graham returned with a group of ten students soon thereafter. “They were blown away by Esalen — the people, the place, the food, the bread bar, and of course, the baths,” said Graham. 

That group participated in writing, inquiry, and meditation classes. They were also in service to Esalen through supporting the kitchen, housekeeping, and the Farm & Garden. Graham recalled how Wednesday evening programs in particular cemented that bridge of connectivity.

“The kids performed spoken word, using their life experience as the canvas on which they painted pictures of their fractured lives. They wrote about being at Esalen and how Esalen would forever shape their lives and people really got it. People would leave crying. It was real. It was beautiful, and people opened their hearts.”  

“This work that Spirit Awakening does both in LA and at Esalen is designed to help young participants heal the internalized racism that has plagued and sabotaged their every deliberation and to help them recognize the debilitating systems that have marginalized and oppressed them, so they can stop devaluing themselves. 

“For young people transitioning to adulthood, learning to free themselves from limitations and self-sabotage is critical. There are not many places or opportunities where system-impacted young people in those transitional ages of 18 to 25 can be in nature and look at or experience how everything is connected.

“You have to understand, being in a place like Esalen is a huge shift for a lot of African Americans. For a number of reasons, including perhaps financial barriers, they don’t take time to have these experiences. Historically, places like Esalen don’t overtly seem to be marketing to people of color. It is quite alien for a  young black male to say, ‘Wow, this is for me. I deserve it. I’m going to do it and I’m going to take one month out of my everyday life in LA to go and really work on myself through being of service, contributing to the experience of others, and existing in a totally different environment.’” 

Without programming that acts as that bridge to Esalen, Graham’s students, like Tony, would most likely never have had the opportunity to visit.

“He was equipped with all that awareness so that he could then embrace all that Esalen offers — the beauty and magic, and the different modalities. He knew and believed that in his core, in his center. So much so that about a year later, he came back to Esalen for the work scholars program and was there for over a month.”

“We are all connected. It’s not just taking kids to Esalen and saying: ‘Go do Gestalt or try yoga.’ It’s about the awareness — it's in spite of the lack of diversity, despite what someone might say to them, we are connected. Regardless of what anyone might say or they might hear, you know you belong there just like anyone else.

“By the end of the week, the kids — Black, Latino, white, all different backgrounds — are walking around hugging each other,” said Graham. “They are allowing their connectivity to be expressed, and that is a blessing for the Esalen community. “

One student who came to Esalen is now a teacher, another works in business management for a private firm, and another graduated from Berkeley and teaches kindergarten. “So many have moved beyond their childhood trauma and have found the beauty and strength that Esalen showed them within themselves,” said Graham. 

Today, Graham tells us, Tony is a family patriarch who’s had a long career as a manager working for the city. “When Tony reflected on his experiences with Esalen and Spirit Awakening, he told me: ‘My brother said the difference between your life and my life is you had Spirit Awakening, and I didn’t.’” 

Considering what the collaboration cracks open, Graham says: “It is important that young people have that awareness that they are stronger than they are made to believe they are. They have the courage to look beyond the perception. This is the divine connection, and that connection can never be broken. It is like a wave of the ocean. It never leaves. It is always connected.”

“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?



About

Akuyoe Graham

Akuyoe Graham is an award-winning playwright, actor and educator who has also dedicated her life to helping youth in the juvenile justice system realize their spiritual identity.

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