My Experience at Esalen

Before we went to Big Sur for the Memorial Day weekend, my massage therapist advised me to schedule a massage at Esalen Institute. “It’s right on the cliff overlooking the ocean,” she winked, “it’s an experience not to be missed.”

I did not know anything about Esalen Institute. From what I read on the website, it sounded very intriguing: “The word itself summons tantalizing visions of adventure, of unexplored frontiers, of human possibilities yet to be realized.” My innate sense of adventure and curiosity kicked in – that’s something I want to explore. Isn’t it a one-of-kind experience? I must go!

Only after I arrived on the Esalen property, I started to get a sense what I was getting myself into. On the way to the massage house located on the cliff, I saw people, men and women, lying around sunbathing – they were all naked.

At the entrance, a woman, noticed my confusion, kindly handed me a towel and led me to the hot spring lounge. Just as I turned around the corner, I was appalled to see an open shower room with both men and women in it taking showers. It has a huge glass wall facing the jet-blue Pacific Ocean.

Too shocked to enjoy the scene, I turned myself to the corner. For a moment, I thought perhaps I should just turn around and leave. I didn’t mean to act like a conservative “bumpkin,” but I was not mentally prepared for this! I reached out to open my bag. I could put on my bathing suit, no one would force me to be nude. As I was hesitating, I took a peek around me – there were both men and women, quickly undressing or dressing themselves. No one was paying attention to me. Of course, no one was looking at anyone else.

At this point, I realized putting on anything, even my very sexy two-piece bikini, seemed pointless. What the heck, I thought, if I have gotten this far, I might as well just do the rest. It’s not a big deal. I took a deep breath and slowly undressed myself. I took off everything like everyone else, except my sunglasses. Thank God, I just got a new pair of sunglasses with big dark lenses of this year’s fashion!

I rushed into the shower room to take a quick shower, and then rushed out to drop myself into the first hot spring tub I saw. After I settled in, I started to look around to get myself oriented. This is an open veranda with three hot spring tubs enjoying a spectacular ocean view. People were walking around care-freely like Adams and Eves. A picture of Medieval Greek gods amusingly came into my mind….

I sat stiffly in the water, trying to relax. Big drops of sweat started rolling down my forehead. The half hour seemed extra long to me. Finally, my massager came in to fetch me. I thankfully wrapped myself in towel and followed him to the massage room on the other side of the building.

It was a large open room with six massage tables facing a huge glass wall toward the ocean. The place was exceptional serene with the soothing sound of ocean waves. As I lay down on the massage table, pacing my breaths with the rhythm of the ocean, all the tension faded away. I felt my whole being dissipating into an infinite vastness.

The essence of Esalen massage is to align our body’s internal rhythm with the rhythm of the ocean, of the nature, and of the universe. It was transformative. It magically awakened my inner awareness and helped me to regain a sense of harmony, reverence and balance.

After the massage, I returned to the hot spring lounge feeling reborn. I was able to walk around like Eve. I discovered there were three outdoor hot springs on the cliff. I soaked into one of them like a mermaid, and crawled to rest my arms and chin on the edge, enjoying the bountiful ocean of dark blue waters in front of me. I no longer cared who was around me. The ocean, the sky, men and women became one…

I closed my eyes and let the natural healing hot springs penetrate deeply into every inch of my body. I felt the gentle sea breeze caressing my hair, and warm sunshine kissing my face, neck and back…. I sunk into a deep meditation. I prayed for the ocean, for the sun, for the land, for the tree, for the valley, for the mountain, and for the world, “where mention of God has been made, and His praise glorified.”

My experience at Esalen tested my “unexplored frontiers.” It expanded my horizon to a new level. No wonder it is such a renowned place for “revolutionary ideas, transformative practices, and innovative art forms.” I look forward to returning to Esalen Institute someday in the future.

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