Upping the Ante at Esalen

You’ll recognize some of this post from another one. And this may keep happening as I resurrect some of my Esalen writings which morphed together into different pieces, some of which I performed in our circle. This is one I had thought to perform and didn’t, but which I shared with the group during our reading times.

As if the first week of the Work Scholar program at Esalen is not off the charts of the intenso-meter enough, what with the first full day of training in Cabins that had me delirious, exhausted and wondering what the hell I had signed up for and how to get myself out of it as quickly as possible, except of course that I would never do such a thing; to the Writing Group; ohgod, the Writing Group, filled with, of all things, extraordinarily skilled writers who activate my comparative mind into a tailspin of self-judgment, a severity of not-good-enough-ness that I thought I was long done with, and a facilitator who clearly wasn’t gonna take no for an answer to this performance part of the program that I thought I had cleverly ignored; to the cauldron that is Esalen – the rough and rugged setting that in its rawness, has been calling generations of people to this place for internal exploration, cutting-edge contemplation, and celebration of the human spirit and potential (and which lays carbon-dated claims to people inhabiting the place for over 7000 years!); to the baths, the healing soaking waters of the thermal baths perched on the ragged cliffside over the wild Pacific; to the myriad of new people, relationships and groups to navigate, after having been solo traveling for the past 6 months, solitude firmly and comfortably intact, in lands where there was no common language – to a place that is all atither about communication on every level – all that going on, in this stew of stimulation within which I find myself simultaneously raw, marinating and sometimes too overcooked to even know how to find my way, my place and my sense of belonging. Still all that wasn’t enough – noooooo – I had to stir the proverbial pot and add just a tad more spice, put some possibilities in place for when I’m back in the North Bay … and place a personal ad on Craig’s List.

So I did – only four days into my stay here, somewhere I found the energy to post an ad. No, I’m not gonna read it here. Not that I’m a braggart, but it just so happens that I write some of the best personal ads I’ve seen on the internet. This one is far from the top, but hey, I got 26 responses during the seven days it was online and some of the most promising prospects I’ve had since I’ve started posting when I landed back in the Bay back in late June. There are three particularly promising prospects with whom I exchange emails almost daily (who says I’m not writing!) and there are already plans afoot to connect in late August. Seems that sowing these seeds is already bringing in a harvest. I’m casting my net wide, as Rachel so aptly put it. But hey, they’re not even the point of this story.

In the midst of writing my ad, answering responses, folding laundry, sanitizing hot tubs, shaking out dirty cleaning and kitchen rags, changing sheets, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming rooms, feeling my feelings deeply and meaningfully, going to Open Seats, 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; and carving out twelve 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 now that I’m trying to juggle it with all these and a kazillion other activities), someone else has shown up. And he didn’t even respond to the CL ad. He came from a dating site where I’ve posted perhaps the longest personal ad in the history of online personal ads. I can’t even begin to describe it to you or include it here, lest it take up not only way more than my front and center time, but everyone else’s too. I shared a small portion of it with someone in our group last week until her eyes started to get glassy and she needed some air. It’s long, it’s really long and I daresay it’s a fabulous piece of writing. You’ll have to trust me on this. That’s the profile he answered.

A week ago, I found his email in my In Box. It was early morning and suddenly I was wide awake, jolted to attention with surprise, excitement and anticipation, to say nothing of the delight of giggling into my pillow (lest I disturb my easily-disturbed roommates), feeling more than pleased in looking at his sweet face and imagining the deeper delight of seeing him smile and hearing his laughter (for starters) in person. He clearly has smarts and a heart and I am smitten. I told him most of that in my first response (not the smitten part) and told him yes, indeed I’d like to meet him, but explained my Esalen commitment until the end of August and that I’d like us to figure out how not to wait until then to meet.

I’d love to pour over each and every luscious detail of the fast and furious emails that have lit up the shimmery white screens in front of us as they fly up and down the coast of California, promising a most provocative and playful potential encounter, really I would; but I’m running out of time, so I’ve got to cut to the chase.

He’s arriving on Saturday.

Yep, here at Esalen, we have our first date. He doesn’t know much about Esalen, except for the stereotyped views of the hippie haven days of the 60’s and the little bit I’ve since told him. I suggested a few ideas: we could approach one another slowly, reading each other’s body language and non-verbal cues and move intuitively as we’ve done here in our writing circle. We could imagine our beginning, middle and end – no, no, wait a minute; that doesn’t sound very appropriate. We could go directly into a gestalt therapy session to process the whole experience or fuck it, just take the plunge into a naked bath together and the hell with the pretense of sitting at a table with cups of warm beverages between us when really we’d rather see if there’s the chemistry between us that we both imagine is so.

The practice here is to be open, curious and hold it all very lightly. Let go, let go, let go of expectations. Be in the moment, in the flow and welcome whatever comes. Om Shanti Om. If anyone thinks that online dating is anything less than an exercise in all these things, a zen practice if ever there was one, then they’re missing a big part of the process.

Just to balance all that centered, grounded and groovy energy, the nervous school girl wants some air time too. I’ve blabbed about this to almost everyone I know here and now I’m reading it to all of you, just in case I’ve missed someone. That leaves me feeling rather exposed and vulnerable, like I’m dating in a gigantic fish bowl.

What’s gonna happen? Howz this gonna go? Should we go directly to lunch or take a walk? No, not in that direction, let’s head north instead. What am I gonna wear, oh shit, what am I gonna wear? I don’t think the gray flannel robe that I’ve been prancing around in here is quite the ticket – what do you think? I might need a panel of Esalen fashion consultants to help me out. That annoys me – how many men are worried about what they’re wearing to these shin-digs? Or even thinking about it? If only the men in my life, most all of whom are gay, were here – they’d be eagerly advising and directing me, with attention to every nuance of accessories.

How is this one gonna hold up in what’s becoming the long string on online speed-dating I’ve done since being back here, that’s been a fascinating sociological study, but has done little for my dance card, my love life or my sexual appetite? Well, unless you count that time in the front seat of the BMW in San Rafael, but that’s another story.

Is he even gonna show? The internet disappearing acts happen way too often; and since the rubber doesn’t meet the road until the in-the-flesh meeting happens, no matter the sense of closeness that’s developed, some people take their anonymity and run, rather than speak whatever makes them want to go. For this woman, disappearing acts trigger some old stories, particularly the one about my father who was supposed to be discharged from the hospital the day I, a girl of only 11, stood outside his window waving at him, only to have him die that night and never see him again. I was too young to lose him and too young to understand he hadn’t meant to disappear, that he wasn’t really breaking that promise he’d made that he’d always be there. And years of therapy and some solid relationships since have put that wound far in the past … right? But then there was the husband who, decades later, disappeared from our emotional and sexual lives long before I decided it was really time to end it. No, the disappearing acts don’t sit so well with me, whether they’re my father, my husband, or even the cute boy from L.A. who I don’t even really know and really oughta care much less about that I seemingly do. Talk to me, damn it! Just tell me the truth, fuck the withholding and come out with whatever it is, it’s got to be easier for me to cope with than the stories I so viciously and self-deprecatingly write to fill in the vacuum.

It came up again this past week when I hadn’t heard from Creg after a few days. We had a clear and specific plan to meet here at Esalen (Really? What the hell am I thinking?!) and we were both unabashedly excited and open about it. So far, so good – there was plenty of subtle flirtation and teasing which left me feeling my own and his desire matching and growing. And then it all came to a sudden and crashing halt. We’d been exchanging emails, as I said, daily and sometimes several times a day. His last email came on Tuesday evening – I answered it on Wednesday and then sent him another about some logistics on Thursday. Not a return word on Wednesday. Nor on Thursday. By Friday with no response, I was well on my way to spinning, splintering into sinking shreds of doubt. Another one has disappeared, I decided. How did this happen again? How did I not see it coming? How is it that I ‘never’ see it coming? I remind myself to breathe, to let go, to let be, to do the fuckin’ Om Shanti Om thing, to hear my therapist’s voice in my head, “It’s true? How do you know this story is true?” Oh, shut up, John, I say, stay out of this, I’ve got enough voices swirling around right now, who needs you? I just know it, that’s all, I know it and that’s that and so now I’m totally embarrassed in this place where I’ve blabbed to everyone about my hot internet date and now they’re all gonna wanna know about it and I’m gonna have to tell them he didn’t come, and somehow, I come up with the absolutely ridiculous idea that his disappearance is somehow a statement about me. Me! And that that’s what these other people are gonna think and so, I’m dreadfully embarrassed, ashamed even.

But then I realize that focusing on what I’m so damn sure they’re thinking is a pretty handy way to stay away from what I’m thinking and feeling. And ohmigod, why does this keep happening and yes, I know that why is not the best question and better to ask what I’m learning from all this but damn it, I don’t care what the better question is and I really do want to know why this pattern keeps repeating, why people keep disappearing and what the hell I’m doing to create it. Damn it, I’m not creating this, I didn’t ask him to disappear, I didn’t ask anyone to disappear, but he did and they do and they are and now here’s another one. <Sigh>   …

Where do I come up with these convoluted thoughts? Am I insane? Well, no, I’m not. But I’m driving myself there, that might be so. And I’m disappointed and sad and even, damn it, teary. And then I’m mad, I’m pissed that a potential date can have me effervescently soaring one minute and then in its anticipated cancellation, decline down to the depths in the next. Maybe it’s bi-polar, not insanity. Am I so shallow, so needy for relationship that it does this to me? Ohgod, gimme a break. No, I’m not, I haven’t morphed into some sniveling, sappy, sorry-ass, co-dependent (god, I hate that word!) queen-of-the-day excuse for a middle-aged woman calling partnership into her life. Stop it. The very truth is that I live a full and amazing life that I love and all that nonsense about the Law of Attraction and The Secret is simply new-age drivel and it always make me wonder about the poor slobs in the shanty towns and the ghettos – why don’t they get their fair chance at manifestation, I wonder. But now I’m trying to change the subject.

So, convinced my date isn’t gonna show, ashamed that his not showing is somehow a reflection on me, I do spiral down and I isolate and get really sad. Then I get even sadder that I’m so sad, that I’ve gone down to this place that I didn’t even know was here to go down to. So I cry. I walk through the lodge and I cry. One of the ES’s here asks me how I’m doing and I hesitate, lest this self-reliant, all well put together, competent and capable woman be seen for anything like how she’s feeling in the moment. But I do, I let her see me. And the tears come and the truth comes and I don’t disappear and neither does she. I don’t melt into a puddle of pity. Instead, I head straight to the Sweat Lodge, which just so happens (yeah right) to be scheduled for this afternoon. I sweat and I pray and I cry. And I remember. Most of all, I remember. I remember that the ancestors really are here and that I really do have their comfort and support. I remember that I’m fine and that’s not just a euphemism. I’m okay, whether this man shows or not, I’m still who I am and his decision to show up or not really has absolutely nothing to do with me. I’m no different from who I was before he came along, nor will I be after, whether that’s now or some other time to come. I’m still here and I’m still me. Sad? Okay, be sad. But the spinning has eased. The story-writing has stopped. I remembered. I came back to myself and I remembered that maybe I’ll be disappointed, yeah, maybe I will. But no one ever died of disappointment, even if they wanted to. And I’m far, far away from wanting to. So I left the Lodge, thanked my relations and the circle and had the best soak and sleep of my three weeks here.

I can’t hardly leave you with that, though, can I? But it’s true, I did have a great sleep and I then I awoke to what ended up being a very long day of waiting for a man who … did show up … he showed up, after all my doubts and worries and stories. He drove over 16 hours from a family crisis in Portland which he left for abruptly and which had his attention since … Tuesday night. Along the way here, his car broke down and he hitch-hiked the rest of the way, arriving late Saturday night, car-less, exhausted, hungry, apparently without a bitter, cynical or whiny bone in what must be his weary body. He got lots of points for that.

So I did what anyone, maybe even you, might have done in the moment – I brought him directly to the baths.


Yikes, have I really just said all this out loud to this entire circle? Have I really just let people see this kind of vulnerability inside of me? Well, yes, I have. And no one has gone away screaming. No one has rolled their eyes in disgust. No one is laughing, except during the funny parts, and everyone is still listening. Amazing, isn’t it, what happens when I show myself, even with all the crazy machinations of the mind – seems we’ve all got them. And somehow, shining the light on them, making fun of them, relating to them and not of or from them makes the world of difference. It’s part of the human experience, these crazy monkey mind thought processes; and saying it’s so doesn’t make me any crazier than making believe that it isn’t. In fact, really, that’s much crazier.

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