After a month of intensity like I haven’t experienced in … well, maybe ever, I am now happily ensconced at my dear friend Flea’s home while she’s off Burning in the desert. I’m here alone, except for her kitty who I’m here to look after, who was actually my kitty 12 years ago when I took off for some world travel. Flea was to look after her and then, when I didn’t return when we expected me to, she kept taking care of her and kept taking care of her and well … now it’s 12 years later, so I guess it’s about damn time I showed up to look after her for a little while!
So, I’ve spent plenty of time petting and talking to her today, but not much else. I lounged for longer than I have in weeks in the big queen bed with the sensually soft, bazillion-thread count sheets and down pillows that my head melted into as my body followed suit; then I lounged on the blood red, over-sized, and over-comfy chair in the bedroom; then I moved to the 102° hot tub where I lounged even longer. From there, I moved to the soft, thickly-pillowed couch and lounged just a little bit more. Ethel the kitty was there with me in every spot, enjoying my attention and petting, while she purred like a truck and demandingly squeaked for attention. She even gave me a good sharp bite at one point. I wondered whether she was getting back at me for leaving her all those years ago. But after all, she was left in the hands of a most loving family, so I think she’s got no room for complaints. Or none that I’m about to entertain today, anyway.
I had two big cups of tea and some cookies. I haven’t eaten much else and have little hunger, after being in a place where I’ve eaten three full meals a day and couldn’t stand the idea of skipping one of them, lest I miss out on another Esalen kitchen delight. But since no one’s cooking here, maybe I’ll just live on tea and cookies until Flea returns!
Now it’s early evening time, and while I was slightly tempted to leave the house earlier when the fog burned off and it looked like a lovely day for a walk in my beloved Petaluma, I resisted and did so easily. I’ve needed this day for total and complete doing no-thing ness and that’s exactly what I did. Yessssss!
But prior to all this, life at Esalen was different. Wayyyy different. Almost every moment of the 28 days was scheduled and so much more densely than I ever choose to live. It came as a surprise to me, as my imagining of my time at Esalen was more about spaciousness, writing and taking a lot of time of just being on the land there. That is not how it was.
The rhythm of a typical day was something like this:
7:00 am Wake Up
7:30 am Begin work with a walk down to the baths, scrub & clean three of them (naked!), collect towels, bag them into laundry bags (generally around 8 large bags) and carry them up two flights of stairs for pick up, empty trash, scrub toilets and clean sinks, dry off & clean (outdoor) massage tables, clean the hair out of the shower drain, scrub the bathroom floor, sweep the steps leading down to the tubs and the changing room floors, refill the cleaning supply bottles, restock the bathrooms with supplies and … I think that’s all. Walk the hill back up to the Lodge.
8:30 am Breakfast
9:00 am Report to the Laundry for next duties. Help with a variety of duties, including: fold massage sheets, fold bath towels, load and unload the industrial-sized washing machine (known as Re-Bertha because its name was Bertha when a fire hit the Laundry Room in 1992 and Bertha was the only thing that survived, hence, Re-Bertha – it is Esalen, after all!); do the same with the three industrial-sized dryers; clean out the dryers’ lint filters with one of those cobweb catchers; fold mattress pads, sheets, towels, wash cloths and bath mats from guest rooms; fold kitchen rags, kitchen aprons, tablecloths; shake out cleaning rags and kitchen rags; follow very clearly stipulated directions on how to fold and stack. After Laundry Duty, duties include being sent out to different guest rooms or meeting rooms on the land – sometimes a two-minute walk, sometimes a fifteen-minute one. From there, we clean, make beds, clean bathrooms, vacuum, follow specific directions for set up in all areas, and return to the Laundry when the work is complete for more work there.
10:30 am “Weather Report” – All the people working this shift (could be 5, could be 10) meet together at the Lodge for a meditation, a personal check-in, preferably of some depth and transparency and then a Tarot reading for each person. From there, we each get our next assignment.
11:00 am It’s either a return to the Baths to scrub the other four tubs that weren’t cleaned in the morning, a complete clean of the other bathroom, along with similar duties that were completed then or it’s to other meeting rooms, bathrooms, offices and guest rooms for more cleaning.
12:30 pm Lunch & maybe a stroll on the land, through the garden and some ocean-gazing time.
1:30 pm Return to the Laundry for more Laundry Duty. 15 minute-break somewhere in there.
3:00 pm Return once again to the Laundry for more folding and stacking.
4:00 pm Work done
If work started at 8:30 or 9:00, then there’s another 3:30 pm Baths shift, which includes scrubbing all seven baths, along with a quick clean of the bathrooms, emptying trash and restocking supplies.
4:30 pm On certain days, there is a Gestalt Therapy Group Process for two hours. If not this, then there may be another kind of Community Meeting. Or it’s tub-soaking time. Or it’s nap time.
6:00 pm Dinner & time to hang out on the land.
8:00 pm Writing Group until 10:00 pm
10:15 pm Head to the baths for a soak or flop exhausted into bed. Perhaps read, until one of the other three roommates complains about the light shining into her eyes. Or try to sleep while one of the other three roommates is snoring too loud to make that possible, while they later complain of mine and everyone else’s snoring. Plan a process group to discuss it all with “I” statements and kind, respectful tones while secretly thinking mean thoughts and wondering how to pull off another work day.
I even had the energy to sing a song at the Staff Talent Night the first week we were there. And then toward the end of the month, I met with our teacher’s director (as we all did) and decided to stretch to my edge and perform my monologue as a total improv. Which is exactly what I did, my stage fright almost completely disappearing as I took in, really took in, what Ann reflected back to me from our first meeting – “You’re a natural story teller and performer, Christina, let go of that identity that you’re not, because it just ain’t so.” Yes, a lot to be with, to pay attention to and to open to.
So there I was, feeling my feelings deeply and meaningfully, going to Open Seat sessions, using “I” statements to express what I want, need, feel and think, negotiating with roommates in the smallest bedroom I’ve ever lived in, let alone shared with three other adults; navigating the energy of 300 people on the land having big experiences; dancing around all the socializing going on at meal times, preferring to be quiet rather than engage in dinner-time chit chat and hiding in a corner eating by myself; and carving out minutes a day to write the most deeply moving, profound, poignant and funny writing of my life (or so I was determined before I arrived here, not nearly so convinced after I arrived and tried to juggle it with all these and a kazillion other activities) – YIKES!
The amount of relating going on was unbelievable. Constant relating – talking, communicating, processing – in the birthplace of Gestalt therapy, which is all about relational everything. We are encouraged (“invited” is the word Esalen folks like) to reflect upon what our personal issues are, how they are triggered throughout our work days – our issues around authority and co-workers and power issues and on and on. Sometimes people had way too much to say about personal experiences and wounds that I really shouldn’t have known anything about in the short time I knew them. And yet, self-revelation is highly prized, while curiosity about others doesn’t seem to get nearly as much attention. There are big signs in the Laundry, inviting us to use the language of Gestalt, to be open and curious and notice what comes up in the course of our days. Ohsure, in the midst of the schedule I just outlined, I’ll be sure to take note of all the minutiae going on inside of me – and I’ll do so with an open and compassionate heart. Except of course for those moments when I’m too exhausted to think or feel straight and then I’ll just go straight to bed and spend most of my days off recovering in sleep and tub lounging, with little energy for much else. But really, I’ll get right to that effective and appropriate communication and open to loving everyone, remembering, after all, that we are all one; yes, I’ll get to all of that, I swear, just as soon as I have a minute.
And all of this going on with the raw and rugged, stunningly gorgeous backdrop that is Esalen.
In the midst of all that intensity, I guess it just wasn’t quite enough for me, so somewhere in that ridiculous schedule, I also found the time to post a personal ad online and even had a first date come to visit me there at Esalen – but that’s a story for a whole other post!
So maybe now you understand why I’ve spent the day lounging. Total quiet and total silence (except for Ethel’s purring and a few phone calls of my choosing with people I really do love and even some more potential prospects for partners!). I can hardly believe I had the wherewithal to post this, but there’s not much left before I go horizontal once again and return to my current read, a book entitled, “Intimacy and Solitude” – a good read indeed, that elusive balance that I’m determined to figure out, even if it does me in, in the process.