My time here at Esalen is a rich tapestry of intensity, surrounded with the rugged beauty of the land, the demands of a 30-hour work week that is more physically demanding than anything I’ve ever done before, 4-5 hours a week of gestalt process groups, luxuriating in the hot baths precipitously perched on the cliff’s edge directly over the sea, nightly writing and improv performance sessions, daily “Weather Report” check in’s and Osho Tarot Readings as part of our work day, enjoying the healthiest and most deliciously prepared food and maintaining the plenty of energy that’s required to navigate being present to the people and processes that are all part of the cauldron of this extraordinary place.
It’s Week 2 now, so the first week’s period of overwhelm and adjustment have truly passed and I am settling in to feeling more energy, more calm and more of a sense of belonging here. I was even encouraged by a manager here to stay on for some more months, and truly, if I didn’t have other plans, I would seriously consider it. But Esalen isn’t going anywhere, although I could certainly imagine returning for a further extended stay. Who knows what’s coming?!
Ann Randolph, the facilitator of the “Sharing Your Life Story, from the page to the stage,” is an amazing woman of fierce truth-telling, hilarious humor and is incredibly encouraging and down-to-earth. She performed her one-woman show last night called “Loveland” which has received best solo performer and best one-woman show awards in San Francisco. She’s a brilliant performer and after crying and laughing through her show, I feel deeply inspired to keep on writing, keep on moving forward, no matter what form it may eventually take.
So here’s a random collection of some of the writings I’ve been doing in our circle of 15. The comparative mind has reared its ugly head at times since I am surrounded with most extraordinary writers; but I am trying to keep her at bay as I keep the metaphorical pen moving across the page and trust the words that show up.
Some of it, no, most all of it is far from finished – they’re all initial, rough writes, the result of writing prompts that Ann’s given us in circle, none of which I’ve had the time yet to work on more fully. But in my ongoing process of vulnerability, I share them here so I can record this process and this chapter of the journey.
Tonight’s Prompt – What Surprises Me About My Life Right Now
What surprises me about my life right now is that I’m moving through it, with no plan, no idea of what’s coming next, no organized anything … and it’s all working. It feels right, it feels true and it’s a creation that I’m making up as I’m going along. I’m free right now to do whatever I want, with whomever I want, wherever I want, for however long I want to do it. And so it is and so I am. I’m not looking much beyond the current experience within which I am … oh, maybe a little bit. Like I know that I’m not going back home to Puna now as I thought I would just a few days after this Esalen adventure. No, the serendipitous notice on the bulletin board at Sprit Rock (even being there serendipity enough) got me staying on in Sonoma County and then Tiburon. It got me to move on the feeling I had two days into my Sonoma County stay, which was, “I want more time here” which I almost immediately dismissed because of ‘the plan,’ the agreement that I would go home. Then suddenly it occurred to me that I could do whatever I want. Yes, I could do whatever I want, really and truly it is so. So now I will stay. Once I decided to do that, everything, I mean every single thing flowed perfectly in the direction of supporting that decision. So this tells me that I will follow it, with no regard for whether it makes sense or whether it’s ‘right’ because it simply is. I’m here now at Esalen, then I’ll be there, back in the Bay Area and then I’ll go home to Puna.
I have a home in Puna, somehow that feels very strange. It’s filled with stuff that’s mine and even a cat that’s mine and there’s a life I left behind there too, filled with people who I love and who love me, a circle of friends, a circle of chorus singing – a whole life there that I haven’t thought much about or connected in with for all these months. So I’ll go back there and find out about that life. And from there, I have absolutely no idea what’s coming. Well, I’ll go to Maui for 10 days just shortly after I arrive back. And ohyeah, Donna is coming for the holidays – we’ll do our Christmas thing together. And then I’ll Sing with Courage in January with my beloved Cape Cod friends. And after talking to Ann this afternoon, maybe I’ll do her workshop at Yoga Oasis. All these flutterings of experiences and friends and events. And it all feels fine and right. Somehow I’m expecting or anticipating that I should have some fear about it, some angst about, “hey what am I doing with my life?” Is there a job or some income-producing activity on the horizon? – it’s the question that everyone around me seems to be wondering. But I don’t seem to wonder or care about it much at all. This is what I’m doing with my life, what do you think of that? I sat down at the computer the other day to see how long I could go with no such income-producing activity and it seems it could be at least another 9 months before anything has to be thought of in that direction. So once armed with that information, any lingering or annoying thoughts dangling around my head just simply and completely went away. I don’t have to produce any money as long as I keep things simple, simple, simple. No fancy-pants lifestyle creeping in anywhere and I really will be fine.
So I get to live at Flea & Jim’s fancy ass house for a few weeks, then a fancy ass place in Tiburon and then back to my sweet and cozy place that I really do love so much.
How I got to figure this out and live this way while the world around me freaks out about markets crashing and burning is amazing and magical to me and I feel so deeply, deeply blessed with the freedom to move however I want to.
And yet, at the same time, that I have this sense of deep and complete freedom to create whatever life I want, I feel the yearnings for merging coming up again. It’s been some years and those years have brought me to a place of residing in my body in a way I’ve never taken up residence before. I’ve come to treasure my own company, trust my own intuition and let myself be guided by the forces of mystery and serendipity that continue to land me in delicious and never dangerous places. And yet, and yet, now I find my heart aching for, longing for that sense of intimate divine partnership. Ohgod, really? Ohsure, it’s a fine thing, that relationship stuff, but now? When I’m on such a roll, moving through life with such ease and grace – do I really want to complicate things with someone else with whom I need to navigate and figure out and process and share, share, share? Well, just one evening of it the other night and I was already ready to bolt. Just one example of annoying behavior and as Gary said, “Geez, so you see something you don’t like and you want to make a generalization that all my behavior will be like that forever and always? And you say you want a relationship? Really?” Isn’t the relationship I’ve got going with myself enough? Well, it’s great, it’s better than ever; but no, it’s not enough. As they say here at Esalen, it takes two to know one. But what do they know, they’re all deep in that gestalt relational stuff!
12 minute write – How Did I Get My Name?
If I get stuck – write “what’s next?”
Krys – teen – ahhhh
Didn’t I just publish a blog post about this? Didn’t I just last week declare the conundrum I’m in being Christina now, no longer Chris and how no one, not one damn one of them, those beloved California friends of mine, are getting with the program and calling me by my ‘proper’ name. Harumph!
I’m Christina, no longer mono-syllabic – it takes way more than one syllable to get my attention now. Yep! I’ve got three now and I want to use all of them!
Krys teen ahhhh
Krys teen ahhhh
Krys teen ahhh
I think of my mother calling me by this name when she was angry or wanted to use her stern, serious voice. Chris-teen-ah. It rarely got the attention she was going for. I generally carried on with my bicycle riding or roller skating or running after the ice cream man. Stopping on a dime was never my strong suit.
But it’s pretty new this ‘Christina’ business and certainly in this department. I remember hearing it out of Gary’s mouth last week as our limbs were tangled up across the tan leather seats of his fancy BMW station wagon parked on 4th Street in San Rafael – my legs spread up in the air as joggers strode by, acting like they didn’t see what they couldn’t possibly miss. My giggles emanating from the wide-open car windows didn’t help to muffle what couldn’t be subdued after too long of a dry spell. All those syllables rolled so softly off his tongue. Oh, his tongue. I liked it. I mean, him saying my name, that’s what I meant to say, anyway. His tongue, oh yes definitely his tongue, too. Chris-tin-a. He was talking to me when he called out that name and I responded just as I imagined he wanted me to. As we sprawled and giggled and played and he called me Christina there, I thought of my mother naming me that name and I wondered what she might think of me taking my name back and what she might think of me in this car in this moment. She might have a little something to say about it. Not that that matters now or mattered then. But if it doesn’t then why am I even thinking about her at a time like this?
Here I am – 54 years old and making a mess in a car that still has that new car smell to it with a Woody Allen look and act-a-like who seems to be projecting his childhood need to please mom all over me and me allowing, ohno, way more than allowing it, as he calls me Christina, the name my mother gave me that I never took and now I’ve taken back and now it’s being used to call out to me in the throes of front-seat passion – multi-syllabic, multi-orgasmic me. We’ll have the accompanying discussion another time – right now, Neurotic/Jewish/mother-issues will be tabled – this is way too much fun.
(Gary called later that day. When I picked up the phone and said hello, he merely said, “Hey, my car smells of sex!” “Who is this?” I replied, all serious like.
Get a load of that, Sara, betcha’ didn’t mean for that sweet name to be used in this context?
But I digress. And I wonder now, sitting here in the yurt in Esalen during the group’s very first writing assignment and me, me here writing right away about sex. And my mother. What am I thinking? What am I doing? Am I really gonna read this in the middle of this circle of still-strangers? All pretty good questions, I’d say! But hey, it’s time for that writing-from-the-authentic-voice business.
My mother named me Christina because she wanted to name me after a distant relative and because she liked the name. So she did. But then after I got the name, she found out it had been a mistake, there was no such distant relative, no such aunt ever existed. How’s that for an interesting beginning? I was named after someone who didn’t exist! The aunt in question, in honor of, in memory, was an illusion of my mother’s imagination.
As I sometimes feverishly search through that crooked, family tree, I climb up its rough and jagged trunk and through its tentacle-like branches, determined, desperately searching for her, for Aunt Christina, for her or for someone, anyone, with whom I feel a sense of belonging, connection, kinship, amongst these otherwise maniacs and strangers; sheet metal workers and alcoholics; Bush lovers, mental midgets and sarcastically-cutting cretins – somewhere there’s got to be someone from some distant place in the history of this family who can tell me that yes, you belong here, you have a place here. If it ain’t Aunt Christina, damn it, then who?
Things I’ve Noticed Over the Week-end
☼ I’ve noticed that I haven’t done my homework.
☼ I’ve noticed that I didn’t even remember anything about any damn homework until someone mentioned it an hour and a half before our session tonight.
☼ I noticed that as soon as I heard about it, I wanted to do it.
☼ I noticed that when I realized I completely forgot about it, I got crankier about how tired I am.
☼ I noticed that I am really sick of feeling so tired and equally sick of hearing myself say how tired I am.
☼ I notice that it’s no coincidence that I’m on Maslow for Row Cleaning – all that talk about the elemental needs needing to be met before the higher ones can be attended to – and how that’s exactly how I feel here with my physical body being so tired, so exhausted, so pushed way beyond what’s comfortable for me
☼ I notice that even though I like to stretch outside my comfort zones, that I tend to stretch in more emotional/psychological/sexual/spiritual dimensions – I don’t tend to push my body outside my physical comfort zones. And now that I’m doing it, I don’t like it.
☼ I notice thinking that that’s interesting, that I like stretching and being challenged in all those other dimensions except for the one I’m currently most pushed in.
☼ I notice that I get quiet and unfriendly when I’m tired.
☼ I notice that I then feel sad about that and even worry a little bit about people thinking I’m not interested in engaging with them when really it has nothing to do with them.
☼ I notice that sometimes I really don’t want to engage and that it actually does have something to do with them.
☼ I notice that I feel resentful of having to do so much work and don’t have the energy, time or interest to do much else with the little bit of free time that’s left over.
☼ I noticed that the sun felt delicious on my naked body as I lay on one of the massage tables in the late afternoon after work.
☼ I noticed that I just tried to move the subject away from complaining and more toward an appreciation because I don’t want to whine and complain.
☼ I notice that there is plenty I am grateful for, but that I can’t just make believe these other feelings aren’t here because they are and they will just get bigger and more demanding if I don’t pay attention to them.
☼ I noticed that I was practically apoplectic before getting on stage last night.
☼ I noticed that as soon as I got on the stage, the apoplecsy totally disappeared and all that existed was singing and having fun.
☼ I notice that I am slowly connecting with more people and the pace and ways in which it’s happening feels ‘right’ for me and I’m grateful that I’m giving myself the time that is my own rather than letting the comparative mind lead me.
☼ I notice that when the workload is too intense that I simultaneously get mad at the unreasonable expectations and also worry about how I’m not measuring up. I notice that the not measuring up is very old and the voice that carries it is not nearly as strong as it used to be.
☼ I notice that the voice is vying for front and center position and I’m just not surrendering to it. that voice that says I’m not strong enough, I’m not in good-shape enough, I’m not young enough, I’m not fast enough – shit, that I’m just not enough. Yep, I notice that the voice is still there, but so much less powerful that it used to be.
☼ I notice how pleased I am that this is so.
☼ I notice that I miss writing.
☼ I notice that already 25% of my time here at Esalen has gone.
☼ I notice that the roommate situation in the room I’m in reminds me of the quad I lived in in Undergraduate School and is about as uncomfortable for me.
☼ I notice that my solitude is one of my most precious ways of being in the world.
☼ I noticed that at the end of work yesterday I was as tired as I’ve ever been and when Fred wanted to rehearse our song, I wanted to bop him one.
☼ I noticed that after 45 minutes of rehearsing, I was energized in a whole new way and felt renewed and rejuvenated just by concentrating on something else.
☼ I notice that the work I’m doing in Cabins is providing me with more material for the essay I want to write about “The Invisible Workers of the World” and “How to Be with the Suffering of the World.” I notice that I keep thinking about the maid in NYC who was assaulted by the IMF guy.
☼ I notice that doing this work is opening my heart to these kinds of workers.
☼ I notice that even when I’m tired beyond belief and feel like I have no energy at all left, I do still have energy for a smile.
☼ I notice that I am distracted by the email romance I have going on.
☼ I notice that in the past 30 minutes of writing, my energy has dramatically shifted.
☼ I noticed that I forget this over and over and have to keep coming back to remember it.
☼ I notice that I’m sad that I didn’t get to sing with Jennifer Berezan while she was here.
☼ I notice that I have some judgments about the imbalance of ‘work’ time vs ‘scholar’ time.
☼ I notice that the salad bar and the hot food and every single thing coming out of the kitchen is amazingly delicious.
☼ I notice that I’m eating way too much of that fantastic food and that I’m not feeling good in my body as a result.
☼ I notice that I really don’t miss cooking, even though it’s been seven months since I’ve done so on any regular basis.
☼ I notice that if I never cook again, it really might be okay.
☼ I notice that I really miss cuddling.
☼ I notice that both the moon and the pelicans flying in formation startle and delight me – I feel stunned in the moment by their incredibly beauty.
☼ I notice that . . .
I Got Tired …
… of talking about how tired I was. It’s true, I was exhausted, well, I am exhausted, more than I can ever recall being so physically exhausted in my life. That’s true, too, I have no other reference point for pushing my body so hard physically. Or rather, having someone else pushing it. While it’s certainly my choice to be here and to stay here, it wouldn’t be my first choice to be spending most all my time cleaning toilets, making beds and scrubbing hot tubs. But wait a minute, that’s not what I want to talk about right now.
What I want to talk about right now is that over the past several days, I got myself stuck in a “woe is me” kind of cycle. Yes, I was tired, yes, I was exhausted, yes, practically every muscle in my body was aching. All true. Okay, okay, so it was true. But in the thinking it what felt like constantly and in the speaking it almost as often, I got to feeling crankier and sadder and angrier and more resentful each and every time I thought or said it. And I thought, too, well, that’s too bad, to be in this glorious place and to feel so pissed off, frustrated and annoyed, that’s not quite what I had in mind when I envisioned spending a month at Esalen. But poor me, this is what’s happening and I didn’t step out of it for long enough to even get space or perspective on it.
Then a few things happened to shift the energy.
Another work scholar asked me yesterday afternoon – “So, how are you?” In my lamenting refrain, I repeated, “Ohmigod, I am so exhausted.” She responded with, “Ohyeah, you said that last time I asked you.” I don’t think she was being dismissive or corrective or any such thing. She just offered that mirror. And it struck me. I don’t think she even knows the impact she had or the process that ensued partially from it. From then, I noticed how often I was thinking about how tired I was. I noticed how often I was speaking about how tired I was, how limited my time was, how frustrated I was with such a dense schedule, with no free time and no energy and on and on and on and on. And then something else happened.
I overheard some other ws’s talking about our homework assignment for yesterday. I had forgotten all about it – well, of course I did, that whining, complaining thought process went on with, who has any damn time to think about that or anything else. Wanh-wanh-wanh! But being the good student that I like to be, and realizing I had done nothing even remotely close to accomplishing the assignment and then also realizing that it was an hour before our meeting, I decided to come up to PY and do my homework. So I did. I wrote for the entire hour and long before the hour was up, I felt something dramatic shift inside of me. I felt lighter, more spacious and not so bloody pissed off and certainly not so tired. I left the session more energized than I had felt in days.
More please, I thought. It was like someone shone a light on the quagmire of darkness that surrounded me and which I felt was permanent with no way out of. Really, I thought that. How is it that I keep forgetting that nothing is permanent, not the shit nor the sublime, not the crankiness, the cataclysmic nor the catastrophic. Not the joyful pleasure nor the heights of ecstatic oneness. All of it floats through and passes on. Someday maybe I’ll remember that. Maybe.
So I went to sleep and I decided that I would be (I meant to write do, but maybe ‘be’ is more accurate) an experiment. I would take a vacation from thinking or verbalizing any crankiness or complaining. Not from a place of making the feelings wrong or bad or from wanting to feel ‘better.’ Just as an experiment. Frankly, because I was sick of listening to myself and I wanted to see what a shift might feel like.
The day offered plenty of opportunities to practice my experiment. The thoughts came up, as they had been, almost constantly. It would be better, as every writer teacher has ever told me, to show you not to tell you about this right now; but that would mean engaging in those thought and word processes that I’m still on vacation from, so I’m not gonna do that. Maybe I’ll come back another time and fill in the details. For now, you’ll just have to trust me and imagine the specifics. They came, oooh, they came. And each and every time they did, I just decided, ohhhh, no, I’m not going in that direction, I’m not saying those words, I’m not thinking those thoughts. And I reframed the sentence or the thought process into a different structure. Okay, well here are just a few examples: instead of feeling annoyed and complaining about having to stand all day on my wobbly legs above my sore feet to do my never-ending job of folding, folding, folding or scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing or whatever, you know what I mean … I thought, hey, maybe I don’t have to stand up – howz about I get myself a stool and get this job done from the comfy coziness of sitting my (almost said tired) ass down. So I did. And I felt less tired, less exhausted.
Then I got to the lodge with only 20 minutes to eat before my next assignment and a line that extended from one end of the room to the other. The thought came right away – goddamned it, blahblahblah (you can fill in the blanks), again, poor me, I don’t have time to eat, I’ve got to go to work, I’m terribly victimized in this situation, oh, so pitiful. Then I shifted out of that almost immediately into, hey, I think I’ll go to the front of the line and explain to the people in line my situation and ask them if I could step right in so I could eat before work. And that’s what I did. And I had plenty of time to eat and get to work. Simple, really, completely simple.
And the day just kept going on like that. whenever I noticed thoughts or words arising that would express my discontent or any feeling like that, I just didn’t give it any airplay. This is not about denying feelings, I must say this again – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feelings and I’m not one for calling feelings bad and wishing for good ones. I was just doing an experiment,
And here’s what I found by the end of the work day:
I was more calm.
I was more relaxed.
I went directly from work to a 2-hour Open Seat (I haven’t had energy to do anything after work except sleep or maybe soak) where I did some good work.
I feel more enlivened.
I feel more energized.
I feel more spacious.
I feel refreshed.
I feel lighter.
I feel more open.
I feel more curious.
I feel less cranky.
I feel less frustrated.
I feel less pissed off.
I feel less annoyed.
I feel less … gulp … tired.
Ohsure, I am still tired, I am still exhausted even. My body still aches. But it’s not the most important thing anymore. There’s room for other thoughts, other experiences, other feelings.
And just because I decided I was sick of listening to how tired I was.
Of course I know that my thoughts help to create my reality – it’s all part of the new age vocabulary and perspective and I buy it, I always have. But today is a more concrete example of how proof positive it is. The thoughts are still coming – and I’m still choosing not to give them air time. And simply because of that, I feel differently. I like this experiment. It won’t last forever. Nothing does, remember?! But I’m liking this, I’m noticing that yes, I like this. I think I’ll carry it on for just a while longer.
Indeed. More please.
Something that your mother or father said to you that never left you
I was alone and I was scared. Standing outside the hospital all by myself with my whole family inside. It wasn’t right, but there I was. They left me out here. What were they thinking?
Well, they tried to get me in, to sneak me in to see Daddy. But we got caught. They tried to hide me between them in the elevator. But it didn’t work. Just as the shiny silver doors slowly moved towards each other, safely encapsulating us like astronauts about to take off on an outer space journey, suddenly the doors moved in the opposite direction and there, outside, across the metal grate that separated us stood a big tall man, maybe the tallest man this frightened 11 year old girl had ever seen, in a crisp white uniform and even though I was hiding behind my mother’s wide hips and her pleated brown skirt and my sister’s ruby red mohair sweater, still he knew I was there and I knew he knew and my mother knew and my sister knew and my brother, standing off on the side not doing anything to help, he knew, too. My wobbly legs were shaking, held up only by the force of my mother’s will, determined as she was to get me upstairs to see Daddy.
But it didn’t work. He came inside the little box that was supposed to transport me to my daddy and he bellowed so that his voice echoed throughout the chamber, “Children aren’t allowed in the hospital, she’ll have to leave.” My mother looked around as if she didn’t know who he was talking to or about, but the jig was up and I came crawling practically out of her skirt, scared, embarrassed and almost whimpering. I wanted to see my Daddy upstairs in that scary, white-washed, weird, chemical smelling place. I wanted to see him now – I hadn’t seen him since he came into the hospital two weeks before, which was forever and he said he’s always be with me, always, always, always and now he wasn’t and now I was supposed to go up and see him so we could be together again and we could play and I could play giddy-yup on him and we would be together forever just like he always said.
But now I’m standing outside on the sidewalk, the tiny little pebbles of the concrete blocks all different colors and I walk from pavement block to pavement block careful not to step on the crack, because you know, it will break your mother’s back and I figured my mother didn’t need any more troubles today and besides, I liked playing that game with my girlfriend’s Patty and Darlene back on 122nd street in Queens and I hadn’t seen them in a long time and I missed them and by playing the game now I got to think about them and all the fun we had playing ringolevio and kick the can and rollerskating down the street and playing stickball. And anyways, I was scared, so I felt less scared when I thought about my girlfriends.
Then an amazing thing happened. After I was done not walking on the cracks, I looked up to the big brick building where my whole family was, my family who had left me out here on the street and I looked up there to one of the windows in the middle of the building and I could see, yippee, I could see my father standing at the window, framed through the wooden slats slowly, very slowly waving down at me and I jumped up and down and yelled and screamed and waved like his crazy little girl and I thought, wow, he really is here, he really is here, he wasn’t prentending, he really will be here all the time for me, even when the big mean man in the white coat wouldn’t let me see him – even he couldn’t stop my father from coming as close as he could to see me. I kept jumping and waving and I saw that big tooth-filled smile of my father and his warm green eyes and everything was better now.
Everything except for one thing – it was the very last time I saw him.
She Who Walks on Solid Feet with Fire in the Belly
She walks strong, she walks on
Her head is high, her stride is wide
Her hips sway here, her hips sway there
Her hips sway wherever she so chooses
Her mouth is full of words, so full of words
Sometimes she can’t speak anymore because her mouth is so full of words
Her legs are wide, her thighs are thick
They meet at a place that’s burning her up from the inside
Right there in the middle is where she holds it, or rather, where it holds her
The longing, the ache, that’s splitting her in two
Her heart is heavy, almost pulling her down to go back to walking on all fours,
So heavy, her heart is so heavy, but she resists, she resists and she resists, she’s determined you see, not to go backward, only forward, never backward – those days are done, she says
Her eyes are bright, her sight is keen – the one with the fire in the belly,
She can see, from the miniscule where the mice are to the wide open vistas reserved for the eagles
She knows everything and nothing
She’s ready to explode, she’s ready to spontaneously combust
But not yet, no, not yet, she knows it’s not the time ‘cuz it’s better to keep that fire burning, keep that fire burning
Her arms hold the weight of the earth down so that gravity doesn’t pick her up and carry her away
Her solid, strong feet make big indentations in the sand as she moves
There’s no place to go, dear one, she’s told
Stay here, just stay here, you don’t have to go anywhere or be anything
Stop, just now, and remember what’s burning inside you doesn’t burn you but births you over and over and over,
Remember what keeps you whole.
There’s no need to rush, there’s no need to move, go, search, seek or find
There’s no place to be, there’s nowhere to go.
You’re already home.