You can’t, for example, just head down Route 1 listening to the stern yet comforting voice of the GPS guiding you confidently, determinedly, to your destination. Because you will be told that you have arrived when you are right in the middle of one of the many bridges that span the coastal highway, and if you take the suggested right turn, you will plummet to the sea.
And you can’t just open a map on your phone and find out exactly where you are because … silly you … there hasn’t been cell service for miles. Many miles.
So you continue on for a bit, hoping for the best, hoping for a sign, hoping to be able to find a place to turn around, if it comes to that. But how many more miles should we go? We were due at a certain time, and that time has arrived, and we don’t know if we’ve missed the entrance to where we were supposed to be, or whether we simply haven’t come to it yet and should just keep going.
Eventually we decide to do things the old-fashioned way. We make a U-turn and return to the entrance of the state park we whizzed by earlier and ask: “Have we passed Esalen yet?”
We’re conflicted even just saying the word.
We know a bit about the Esalen Institute, more by anecdote than formal inquiry. We know it as a center of the Human Potential Movement, we know that it might be the high church of the religion of no religion, and we know that writers and thinkers and questers of all natures have come here on spiritual journeys. And while we would never question the motivations behind a spiritual journey, we’ve also speculated, as a schoolboy might, about the nature of those activities, both psychological and otherwise.
And oh yes of course, we’ve heard that Esalen is spectacularly beautiful, soothing to the soul and body, a place of power and inspiration.
What we don’t know in this moment, though, is how the locals view the place, and the local now standing before us is a big-hatted park ranger who is already a little annoyed with us because we hadn’t come to a full stop at the guard station quickly enough for his liking. So we’re off on the wrong foot and now we’re asking about that Esalen place, and we’re not sure at all at how this query will be received.
“No, you haven’t passed it yet,” the ranger says maybe a little too loudly but thankfully non-judgmentally. “It’s about 20 minutes down the road. There’s a sign.”
Megan Miller is the director of communications for Burning Man. She is bright and engaging, and she tells us that she first came to Esalen at the age of three with her mom, who was making a trek from their home in Alaska to Mexico. Esalen was a stop along the way. It was supposed to be a brief visit, but it wound up lasting longer. Megan is standing in front of about 50 people in a large tent that is about 15 feet from the edge of a cliff that dives to the sea. It is dark, and you can’t see, but you can hear the surf pounding the rocks below. (more…)