Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool

Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool
A Retrospective Dive into the Pool’s Past
Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop

Built around 1963, the freshwater pool we submerge in today is a replacement of a rectangular hot spring water-filled pool of the Big Sur Hot Springs era. By the 1980s, a heat exchange was installed to warm the fresh water with heat from the hot springs. In the late 1990s, Esalen switched to salt water chlorination while still providing heat through our innovative hot springs system.

The pool area, a.k.a. the Chungliang “Al” Huang deck, is named for the tai ji master who first came to Esalen through the invitation of his friend Alan Watts circa 1963. His weaving of tai ji sequence with dance was legendary, as was his mother, Mama Huang. They started each day in community, welcoming the sun before sending her off again at dusk.

Embodying the Esalen ethos of “nobody captures the flag,” Chungliang, or “Uncle Al” as folk know him, took the more traditional tai ji first taught at Esalen by Gui-Fu Feng and offered a more liberated approach. Rather than follow any one dogmatic school of thought or guru, Chungliang popularized the Chinese lineage practice with metaphoric storytelling and humor. His presence was frequent. Each March, he could be found on campus teaching and dancing alongside Joseph Campbell at the writer and philosopher’s annual birthday celebration. Every 4th of July, he’d dance to the beat of Babatunde Olatunji’s drums alongside other immense talents, including Joan Baez, Béla Fleck, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, and Bruce Langhorne. 

Speaking of Babatunde Olatunji, the Nigerian drummer known for the acclaimed album Drums of Passion first taught at Esalen in the mid-1980s and spent the last few years of his life in residence here. One of his notable bandmates, djembe drummer Sanga of the Valley, continues to teach at Esalen today, carrying on Olantunji’s legacy through the collective rhythm of our hearts and soul.

The pool and deck have been the location of some truly epic gatherings — most famously, The Big Sur Folk Festival. From 1964 to 1971, musicians and music lovers gathered to celebrate, spreading love over war and fighting to give power to the peaceful. Joan Baez and former Esalen staff Nancy Jane Carlen kicked off the concept with lineups that included Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Taj Mahal.

Lily Tomlin performed one year. If you were there, you’ve likely got your own version of what went down. Like the tubs, the pool is clothing optional. Lily, however, took an unwanted dip fully clothed when a local ornery man pushed her in. Some recall her holding a microphone connected to the sound system and how it was electrically fortunate that a quick-thinking sound guy unplugged it, narrowly avoiding the electrocution of a comedy legend and ensuring us seven seasons of Grace & Frankie.

Poolside music has always been a thing. The Chambers Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival got their groove on by the pool. Back in the Lodge were performances by Ali Akbar Khan, Donovan, Michael Hedges, Russian rockstar Boris Grebenshchikov, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg. Bruce Springsteen claims in his autobiography to have given his first live performance at Esalen in ’63. 

Today, between dips the ambient soundtrack of Mother Nature is likely accompanied by a talented guitarist on the lounge chair next to you gently strumming in the very spot of so much music history — realized and unrealized. Or a drum circle tapping out the rhythms of the surrounding natural beauty. Or perhaps, if you're at the right place at the right time, and you remember it, a future superstar will unleash an impromptu concert for those who just happen to be nearby. As history has shown, this happens surprisingly often.

“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

Esalen Team

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< Back to all Journal posts

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool
Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool
A Retrospective Dive into the Pool’s Past

Built around 1963, the freshwater pool we submerge in today is a replacement of a rectangular hot spring water-filled pool of the Big Sur Hot Springs era. By the 1980s, a heat exchange was installed to warm the fresh water with heat from the hot springs. In the late 1990s, Esalen switched to salt water chlorination while still providing heat through our innovative hot springs system.

The pool area, a.k.a. the Chungliang “Al” Huang deck, is named for the tai ji master who first came to Esalen through the invitation of his friend Alan Watts circa 1963. His weaving of tai ji sequence with dance was legendary, as was his mother, Mama Huang. They started each day in community, welcoming the sun before sending her off again at dusk.

Embodying the Esalen ethos of “nobody captures the flag,” Chungliang, or “Uncle Al” as folk know him, took the more traditional tai ji first taught at Esalen by Gui-Fu Feng and offered a more liberated approach. Rather than follow any one dogmatic school of thought or guru, Chungliang popularized the Chinese lineage practice with metaphoric storytelling and humor. His presence was frequent. Each March, he could be found on campus teaching and dancing alongside Joseph Campbell at the writer and philosopher’s annual birthday celebration. Every 4th of July, he’d dance to the beat of Babatunde Olatunji’s drums alongside other immense talents, including Joan Baez, Béla Fleck, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, and Bruce Langhorne. 

Speaking of Babatunde Olatunji, the Nigerian drummer known for the acclaimed album Drums of Passion first taught at Esalen in the mid-1980s and spent the last few years of his life in residence here. One of his notable bandmates, djembe drummer Sanga of the Valley, continues to teach at Esalen today, carrying on Olantunji’s legacy through the collective rhythm of our hearts and soul.

The pool and deck have been the location of some truly epic gatherings — most famously, The Big Sur Folk Festival. From 1964 to 1971, musicians and music lovers gathered to celebrate, spreading love over war and fighting to give power to the peaceful. Joan Baez and former Esalen staff Nancy Jane Carlen kicked off the concept with lineups that included Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Taj Mahal.

Lily Tomlin performed one year. If you were there, you’ve likely got your own version of what went down. Like the tubs, the pool is clothing optional. Lily, however, took an unwanted dip fully clothed when a local ornery man pushed her in. Some recall her holding a microphone connected to the sound system and how it was electrically fortunate that a quick-thinking sound guy unplugged it, narrowly avoiding the electrocution of a comedy legend and ensuring us seven seasons of Grace & Frankie.

Poolside music has always been a thing. The Chambers Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival got their groove on by the pool. Back in the Lodge were performances by Ali Akbar Khan, Donovan, Michael Hedges, Russian rockstar Boris Grebenshchikov, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg. Bruce Springsteen claims in his autobiography to have given his first live performance at Esalen in ’63. 

Today, between dips the ambient soundtrack of Mother Nature is likely accompanied by a talented guitarist on the lounge chair next to you gently strumming in the very spot of so much music history — realized and unrealized. Or a drum circle tapping out the rhythms of the surrounding natural beauty. Or perhaps, if you're at the right place at the right time, and you remember it, a future superstar will unleash an impromptu concert for those who just happen to be nearby. As history has shown, this happens surprisingly often.

“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

Esalen Team

Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool

About

Esalen Team

< Back to all articles

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool
A Retrospective Dive into the Pool’s Past

Built around 1963, the freshwater pool we submerge in today is a replacement of a rectangular hot spring water-filled pool of the Big Sur Hot Springs era. By the 1980s, a heat exchange was installed to warm the fresh water with heat from the hot springs. In the late 1990s, Esalen switched to salt water chlorination while still providing heat through our innovative hot springs system.

The pool area, a.k.a. the Chungliang “Al” Huang deck, is named for the tai ji master who first came to Esalen through the invitation of his friend Alan Watts circa 1963. His weaving of tai ji sequence with dance was legendary, as was his mother, Mama Huang. They started each day in community, welcoming the sun before sending her off again at dusk.

Embodying the Esalen ethos of “nobody captures the flag,” Chungliang, or “Uncle Al” as folk know him, took the more traditional tai ji first taught at Esalen by Gui-Fu Feng and offered a more liberated approach. Rather than follow any one dogmatic school of thought or guru, Chungliang popularized the Chinese lineage practice with metaphoric storytelling and humor. His presence was frequent. Each March, he could be found on campus teaching and dancing alongside Joseph Campbell at the writer and philosopher’s annual birthday celebration. Every 4th of July, he’d dance to the beat of Babatunde Olatunji’s drums alongside other immense talents, including Joan Baez, Béla Fleck, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, and Bruce Langhorne. 

Speaking of Babatunde Olatunji, the Nigerian drummer known for the acclaimed album Drums of Passion first taught at Esalen in the mid-1980s and spent the last few years of his life in residence here. One of his notable bandmates, djembe drummer Sanga of the Valley, continues to teach at Esalen today, carrying on Olantunji’s legacy through the collective rhythm of our hearts and soul.

The pool and deck have been the location of some truly epic gatherings — most famously, The Big Sur Folk Festival. From 1964 to 1971, musicians and music lovers gathered to celebrate, spreading love over war and fighting to give power to the peaceful. Joan Baez and former Esalen staff Nancy Jane Carlen kicked off the concept with lineups that included Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Taj Mahal.

Lily Tomlin performed one year. If you were there, you’ve likely got your own version of what went down. Like the tubs, the pool is clothing optional. Lily, however, took an unwanted dip fully clothed when a local ornery man pushed her in. Some recall her holding a microphone connected to the sound system and how it was electrically fortunate that a quick-thinking sound guy unplugged it, narrowly avoiding the electrocution of a comedy legend and ensuring us seven seasons of Grace & Frankie.

Poolside music has always been a thing. The Chambers Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival got their groove on by the pool. Back in the Lodge were performances by Ali Akbar Khan, Donovan, Michael Hedges, Russian rockstar Boris Grebenshchikov, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg. Bruce Springsteen claims in his autobiography to have given his first live performance at Esalen in ’63. 

Today, between dips the ambient soundtrack of Mother Nature is likely accompanied by a talented guitarist on the lounge chair next to you gently strumming in the very spot of so much music history — realized and unrealized. Or a drum circle tapping out the rhythms of the surrounding natural beauty. Or perhaps, if you're at the right place at the right time, and you remember it, a future superstar will unleash an impromptu concert for those who just happen to be nearby. As history has shown, this happens surprisingly often.

“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

Esalen Team

< Back to all Journal posts

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool
Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool
A Retrospective Dive into the Pool’s Past

Built around 1963, the freshwater pool we submerge in today is a replacement of a rectangular hot spring water-filled pool of the Big Sur Hot Springs era. By the 1980s, a heat exchange was installed to warm the fresh water with heat from the hot springs. In the late 1990s, Esalen switched to salt water chlorination while still providing heat through our innovative hot springs system.

The pool area, a.k.a. the Chungliang “Al” Huang deck, is named for the tai ji master who first came to Esalen through the invitation of his friend Alan Watts circa 1963. His weaving of tai ji sequence with dance was legendary, as was his mother, Mama Huang. They started each day in community, welcoming the sun before sending her off again at dusk.

Embodying the Esalen ethos of “nobody captures the flag,” Chungliang, or “Uncle Al” as folk know him, took the more traditional tai ji first taught at Esalen by Gui-Fu Feng and offered a more liberated approach. Rather than follow any one dogmatic school of thought or guru, Chungliang popularized the Chinese lineage practice with metaphoric storytelling and humor. His presence was frequent. Each March, he could be found on campus teaching and dancing alongside Joseph Campbell at the writer and philosopher’s annual birthday celebration. Every 4th of July, he’d dance to the beat of Babatunde Olatunji’s drums alongside other immense talents, including Joan Baez, Béla Fleck, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, and Bruce Langhorne. 

Speaking of Babatunde Olatunji, the Nigerian drummer known for the acclaimed album Drums of Passion first taught at Esalen in the mid-1980s and spent the last few years of his life in residence here. One of his notable bandmates, djembe drummer Sanga of the Valley, continues to teach at Esalen today, carrying on Olantunji’s legacy through the collective rhythm of our hearts and soul.

The pool and deck have been the location of some truly epic gatherings — most famously, The Big Sur Folk Festival. From 1964 to 1971, musicians and music lovers gathered to celebrate, spreading love over war and fighting to give power to the peaceful. Joan Baez and former Esalen staff Nancy Jane Carlen kicked off the concept with lineups that included Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Taj Mahal.

Lily Tomlin performed one year. If you were there, you’ve likely got your own version of what went down. Like the tubs, the pool is clothing optional. Lily, however, took an unwanted dip fully clothed when a local ornery man pushed her in. Some recall her holding a microphone connected to the sound system and how it was electrically fortunate that a quick-thinking sound guy unplugged it, narrowly avoiding the electrocution of a comedy legend and ensuring us seven seasons of Grace & Frankie.

Poolside music has always been a thing. The Chambers Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival got their groove on by the pool. Back in the Lodge were performances by Ali Akbar Khan, Donovan, Michael Hedges, Russian rockstar Boris Grebenshchikov, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg. Bruce Springsteen claims in his autobiography to have given his first live performance at Esalen in ’63. 

Today, between dips the ambient soundtrack of Mother Nature is likely accompanied by a talented guitarist on the lounge chair next to you gently strumming in the very spot of so much music history — realized and unrealized. Or a drum circle tapping out the rhythms of the surrounding natural beauty. Or perhaps, if you're at the right place at the right time, and you remember it, a future superstar will unleash an impromptu concert for those who just happen to be nearby. As history has shown, this happens surprisingly often.

“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

Esalen Team

Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool

About

Esalen Team

< Back to all articles

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Esalen Origin Stories: The Esalen Pool
A Retrospective Dive into the Pool’s Past

Built around 1963, the freshwater pool we submerge in today is a replacement of a rectangular hot spring water-filled pool of the Big Sur Hot Springs era. By the 1980s, a heat exchange was installed to warm the fresh water with heat from the hot springs. In the late 1990s, Esalen switched to salt water chlorination while still providing heat through our innovative hot springs system.

The pool area, a.k.a. the Chungliang “Al” Huang deck, is named for the tai ji master who first came to Esalen through the invitation of his friend Alan Watts circa 1963. His weaving of tai ji sequence with dance was legendary, as was his mother, Mama Huang. They started each day in community, welcoming the sun before sending her off again at dusk.

Embodying the Esalen ethos of “nobody captures the flag,” Chungliang, or “Uncle Al” as folk know him, took the more traditional tai ji first taught at Esalen by Gui-Fu Feng and offered a more liberated approach. Rather than follow any one dogmatic school of thought or guru, Chungliang popularized the Chinese lineage practice with metaphoric storytelling and humor. His presence was frequent. Each March, he could be found on campus teaching and dancing alongside Joseph Campbell at the writer and philosopher’s annual birthday celebration. Every 4th of July, he’d dance to the beat of Babatunde Olatunji’s drums alongside other immense talents, including Joan Baez, Béla Fleck, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, and Bruce Langhorne. 

Speaking of Babatunde Olatunji, the Nigerian drummer known for the acclaimed album Drums of Passion first taught at Esalen in the mid-1980s and spent the last few years of his life in residence here. One of his notable bandmates, djembe drummer Sanga of the Valley, continues to teach at Esalen today, carrying on Olantunji’s legacy through the collective rhythm of our hearts and soul.

The pool and deck have been the location of some truly epic gatherings — most famously, The Big Sur Folk Festival. From 1964 to 1971, musicians and music lovers gathered to celebrate, spreading love over war and fighting to give power to the peaceful. Joan Baez and former Esalen staff Nancy Jane Carlen kicked off the concept with lineups that included Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Taj Mahal.

Lily Tomlin performed one year. If you were there, you’ve likely got your own version of what went down. Like the tubs, the pool is clothing optional. Lily, however, took an unwanted dip fully clothed when a local ornery man pushed her in. Some recall her holding a microphone connected to the sound system and how it was electrically fortunate that a quick-thinking sound guy unplugged it, narrowly avoiding the electrocution of a comedy legend and ensuring us seven seasons of Grace & Frankie.

Poolside music has always been a thing. The Chambers Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival got their groove on by the pool. Back in the Lodge were performances by Ali Akbar Khan, Donovan, Michael Hedges, Russian rockstar Boris Grebenshchikov, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg. Bruce Springsteen claims in his autobiography to have given his first live performance at Esalen in ’63. 

Today, between dips the ambient soundtrack of Mother Nature is likely accompanied by a talented guitarist on the lounge chair next to you gently strumming in the very spot of so much music history — realized and unrealized. Or a drum circle tapping out the rhythms of the surrounding natural beauty. Or perhaps, if you're at the right place at the right time, and you remember it, a future superstar will unleash an impromptu concert for those who just happen to be nearby. As history has shown, this happens surprisingly often.

“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?



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Esalen Team