One of my oldest friends recently told me a story about herself that involved a place I love. The friend has asked that I give her a pseudonym, so I’ll call her Wise Old Owl. The place is Esalen Institute. If you’ve never heard of Esalen, it’s time you did.
Carved into Big Sur’s majestic Santa Lucia mountains, it’s located about 45 miles south of Monterey, CA. and features glorious hot mineral baths that overlook the Pacific Ocean. Due to a lack of light pollution, lying in the cliff-side baths at night feels like floating in the universe. During the day while taking in the baths, I have watched grey whales migrating, dolphins and otters frolicking.
But that’s not all. For half a century, Esalen Institute has been at the heart of exploring human potential, offering classes in everything from philosophy to massage, meditation to improv. Their catalogue is extensive and I think it’s safe to say, offers something for everyone.
I also think it’s safe to say that a stay at Esalen is profound. In the words of Thomas Wolfe about America, “It is a place where miracles not only happen, but they happen all the time.”
Which brings me to Wise Old Owl, who some years back, was there doing work study, a program where a person can reduce the cost of a stay by pitching in with some of the upkeep. Wise Old Owl was working in the kitchen. (I should mention, Esalen is known for its scrumptious food, much of which is grown right there on the 140 acres.) Wise Old Owl noticed a pile of tomatoes and prayed she wasn’t going to be asked to cut them. The last time she’d been cutting tomatoes she’d cut her finger pretty severely. She was not eager to jump back on the horse. But Esalen being Esalen, that is exactly what the head chef asked her to do, because at Esalen, whatever issues you’re dealing with will beg to be addressed, guaranteed. It’s a place of healing. You can feel it the moment you step onto the soil.
When Wise Old Owl mentioned her reservations to the head chef, even requested a different activity she might do, he didn’t roll his eyes or chastise her, instead he acknowledged her fear and said, “How about I show you a way to cut tomatoes where you will never cut your finger again?” He instructed her to grasp the knife’s handle close to the blade and to lightly rest the fingertips of her other hand against the blade. That’s right, to get as close to the cutting edge as possible. Hmm. There’s a thought: to conquer fear, move toward it rather than away from it. Seems counterintuitive. But it worked! I’m happy to report, Wise Old Owl has been happily cutting tomatoes ever since.
This seems a simple tale, but, to me, it embodies the spirit of Esalen. Even working in the kitchen becomes a transformative experience. Because Esalen is a place that fosters personal growth, even in the small things, like cutting tomatoes. Take one of the many workshops and the potential for personal growth increases exponentially.
I expect to be experiencing a lot of these moments come Spring of 2017 as Dixie and I, wearing our Fun Institute hats, have the honor of teaching a 5-day improv workshop there, May 14-19. It’s called Improv: Expand Yourself with Laughter. It’ll be our tenth year to teach there, and I can’t wait. Maybe, if the stars are with us, I’ll see you there.
As for the principle of conquering fear by moving toward it, I’d be curious: do you think it would be effective outside of the kitchen? I’d love to hear your thoughts.