Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Inspired by Nature

Christina Dauenhauer is a landscape designer and artist living off the grid near Hood River, Oregon. Between 2009 and 2016 she was Esalen's Grounds Manager and specialized in succulent design. Christina recently returned to Esalen to lead Inspired by Nature: Creative Expression in Esalen’s Big Sur Landscape. We recently spoke with her on how nature inspires and informs her art.

Esalen News: How were you first introduced to art?

My mother and grandmother were interested in painting and craft. I  can remember weaving and carding wool at a very early age. We always had paper and an easel with paints when I was really young. I learned that I loved working with my hands and seeing what I could form.

Esalen News: How did you segue into landscape as an art form?

After art school, I worked in a warehouse for a jewelry supply company and I hated being indoors. So I applied to work at a nursery and, in a few years, decided I wanted to be a landscape designer. My medium of choice went from metal, paints, and paper to plants and earth. While I was in art school, I worked with nature. I was interested in the idea of bringing nature into an indoor setting of a gallery. I was also interested in creating by marking and forming with the land, like cutting shapes into the grass and, at Esalen, working with pine needles.

Esalen News: What is your personal connection to nature? Did it begin when you were young?

As a child, I spent every summer on 450 acres of land with a lake and no neighbors. There was tons of freedom, trees, and sticks. I remember making art forms out of mud and sticks and playing in the stream daily. Personally, when I slow down and connect to the world around me, I open up to more of who I am and I begin to see the details of the world.

Esalen News: How can nature inspire us?

How can it not? Nature is so broad and complex – from its grand vista to minute details. Light, color, form, and sound. It can touch all our senses. So I like to follow what I am drawn to: the color of the sky, the wind in my hair. Then I can use a twig, ink, and paper to draw the wind or use paint to explore the blue of the sky.

Esalen News: What can we do to slow down and appreciate nature around us (regardless of our location)?

One of my favorite things to explore is shadow. No matter where you are, even if there are no plants, light from the sun creates reflection and shadow. Ask yourself what shapes are they forming? What are the subtle tones? Shadows of deciduous trees are amazing circles, overlapping patterns of grey and light.

Esalen News: What are some of the areas you explored during your workshop?

While at Esalen and throughout Big Sur, we hiked in the redwoods and visited the sandy beaches. We got to explore how its feels to be in the shelter of the trees, out on the opens of the cliffs, and down along the ocean as it crashed into the mountains of Big Sur.

Esalen News: As a former Esalen community member, what were you looking forward to about returning?

I was very excited to be returning to Esalen after almost two years. Specifically I looked forward to watching the moon on the ocean and watching the stars overhead. Being without the lights of the city slows me down. It helps me come into the rhythm of the earth.

Esalen News: Do you have a favorite spot at Esalen?

I have many favorite spots at Esalen. I love sitting by the stream. Watching the kelp on the waves. Drinking tea on the Lodge deck as the sun comes over the mountain, lighting up the ocean in aqua green spots.

Esalen News: What inspires you now?

Time is my biggest inspiration now. Life can get so busy in the everyday activity of living. Taking the time to just sit and be in a moment surrounded by wind and sky, settling into the world around me, and having the time to allow the details of the world to come forward. There is the possibility to see with new vision, opening to new ways of seeing myself and the world around me.

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

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“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.”

“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?“

“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.”

“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.“

“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!”

“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.”
“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?


Esalen Team