Several times now I have stressed the fact that whatever “it” is one gets here at Big Sur, one gets it harder, faster, straighter than one would elsewhere. I come back to it again. I say, the people here are fundamentally no different from the people elsewhere. Their problems are basically the same as those who inhabit the cities, the jungles, the desert or the vast steppes. The greatest problem is not how to get along with one’s neighbor but how to get along with one’s self. Trite, you say. But true, nevertheless.
Henry Valentine Miller (December 26, 1891 – June 07, 1980) Big Sur resident 1944 – 1963.
My fascination with Big Sur, a small enclave perched upon the bluffs along the California Central Coast, began long before I ever arrived there through the writings of Henry Miller. Specifically Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch and his book of essays, Stand Still Like The Humming Bird. I travelled Highway One many times since by auto, bicycle and Vespa. It is one of man’s most beautifully created roads and also one of the most expensive highways to maintain in the world. Almost every year part(s) of Highway #1 collapses into the ocean. Often these collapses cut off traffic to and from the Big Sur area where the Esalen Institute is located. I mention this fact as it is an integral part of my
Esalen Stories: Closer to Root, Further into Sky
I heard stories through the years about a retreat center called Esalen on the Big Sur Coast where in earlier days the San Francisco hippies would go for wild, naked, drug filled debauchery. However, I paid little attention to those urban myths and not much to Esalen until my friend Jyoti mentioned she had worked there for a few months as a work scholar. She said her experience had been life changing and recommended I visit. She gave me an overnight guest pass as a belated birthday gift. I was forty-nine. I borrowed a car and drove to Big Sur and Esalen.
It was dusk when I arrived and the sun was just starting to set. I checked in, dropped off my bag and walked to a grassy bluff to watch the sunset. The other weekend guests were all in classes so I was alone on what would in the near future become my favorite spot to sit while at Esalen.
The surf of the sea below me was so loud, the sun setting was as beautiful as any I had seen. I was overwhelmed with nature. I could not hear my own thoughts. I closed my eyes, breathed in. The loud roar of the ocean stopped. It was silent. It was still. Everything was still. All motion, time, effort had stopped. The sun was no longer sinking. It stood in place between the ocean and the sky as a flag at half mast. I was still seeing all of this with my eyes closed. When I opened them everything was as before but not overwhelmingly so. I must be tired from the drive I thought to myself as there was no rational explanation for what I had just experienced.
I returned to my room, unpacked my few things and headed to the hot tubs. On the Esalen property are natural hot springs which at that time fed into stone tubs sitting on the edge of the bluff. These were most likely the first infinity pools because when sitting in one I felt I was in the ocean. They later were made unusable by earth slides and were rebuilt in the present location. At the time of my visit there was a dirt path leading to the tubs. All guests were encouraged to carry flashlights as the property lighting was dim and designed to not interfere with the natural surroundings.
After a soak in the tub my mind and body began to relax. I dried off and headed up the dirt hill to my room. The guests were all still in class. I was alone. The sky was so full of stars that night that darkness seemed to be fighting for space. I turned off my flashlight and looked up to the Milky Way floating across the enormous space above me. I was adrift in wonder and awe.
“Come back here.” Said a voice with sound from all around me. I was startled. I dropped my flashlight. It would not come back on. I looked around in the darkness surrounding me but could not see any one. I convinced myself that I was just hearing things and continued up the hill.
“Come back here.” The voice called again.
…to be continued.