When you haven’t quite figured things out yet, a safe space to explore, heal, and be curious can be the antidote to feeling stuck. Artists who stay at Esalen for several weeks as part of the Artist in Residence program all seem to say the same thing: their creativity blossoms when they are given the opportunity to slow down.
“It felt like the place where I’d finally be able to breathe,” shared Darnell Walker, a filmmaker and former Blues Clues writer. “It felt like the place that was offering me the opportunity to slow down – an opportunity I couldn’t find anywhere else in recent times.”
Those were just his first impressions, but the impact is lasting, says Walker. “Esalen will always be that place where I was able to reconnect to forgotten parts of me, and connect with people I didn’t know I needed to meet. It was full of kindness and good energy.”
In this Q&A, Darnell shares more about how his art could change the future and a conversation with someone who helped him understand that at the heart of his work is healing.
ESALEN: How would you describe your life’s work?
Darnell Walker: I haven’t quite figured that out just yet, and not sure when I will, but it’s beginning to feel like my life’s work is to create safe spaces that welcome others to explore and find their way to healing and happiness.
ESALEN: You’ve made three powerful documentaries: Seeking Asylum, Outside the House, and Set Yourself on Fire. Is there a through line to the topics you choose? How would you describe your approach to the craft?
DW: I became a documentary filmmaker by accident or happenstance. It was never my intention to do it, but a backpacking trip around Europe with a camera asking citizens how they felt about what was happening to Black Americans at the hands of police and racists turned into Seeking Asylum. Conversations around racism led to conversations around Black mental health, and to no surprise, mental health conversations included sexual assault and rape. Organically, it all unfolded. Beautifully, in some strange way. It was at Esalen, talking to Sam Stern [host of the Voices of Esalen podcast], when I realized each of these films were about healing.
ESALEN: You also write children’s media, books, animated shorts, a podcast, what is your goal with that work?
DW: My goal here is to create content that allows all children to see themselves. I strongly believe that representation matters and know what it means when kids are able to see themselves outside of themselves. Incredible things happen - lives, places, things, hearts, and minds change for the better when this happens. A recent project features a boy inspired by an awesome little boy I know with ectrodactyly. It’s important that he sees a kid who looks like him.
ESALEN: What changes are you hoping to affect in the world with your art?
DW: I’m hoping to be one of those artists whose work brings people to very difficult, but necessary conversations.
ESALEN: What was a typical day at Esalen like for you?
DW: During the week, I’d wake up around 6 to do some journaling, novel outlining, and meditation. Throughout the day, I’d spend time in the gardens, by the water, in the Lodge, writing, thinking, creating, and just breathing. I spent late nights in the baths.
ESALEN: What kinds of new rituals/practices did the pandemic inspire you to create?
DW: I began morning journaling, walking and biking to clear my head to let new thoughts enter, and intentionally connecting with others.
ESALEN: What explorations will you carry forward that grew out of your residency?
DW: I’m working on exploring and creating transformative spaces for others who don’t have access to Esalen. What I gathered there should be shared with the folks I’ve come across who simply need a breath.
We’ll be announcing our three new artists on July 20, 2021. Want to know more about the Artist in Residence program? Email us: email@example.com.
“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.”
“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.“
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?