CALIFORNIA DREAMING: Meditating on Monterey, Napa Valley’s delicate balance, Savouring Sonoma, Berkeley Bohemians
There’s no rush here. None. If not for that enviable laid-back California vibe where the pace of life and conversation moves like a sip or two of wine while waves roll up on a quiet shore, then it’s the road that forces us to slow down and Cali-fornicate with that awesome majesty of the golden coast. On the drive along Highway 1 from Carmel to Big Sur, the road weaves and undulates like the whip of a rhythmic gymnastics ribbon. Awed by the “prophet on the burning shore” of which the Grateful Dead sings, around each bend lies another panorama that I can’t stretch my eyes wide enough to see. An endless sea of sapphire pours out from the horizon and laps the high rocky coves as I veer off the road and into the storybook of Esalen.
Cleaved out of the steep slope is the fertile oasis of the Esalen Institute; a community of only a few hundred people at a time exploring their own individual intellectual and spiritual possibilities. Workshops at various locations along the narrow stretch of land include arts, movement, yoga and meditation. You can’t just drop in. It’s not a refuge, and yet it is a retreat providing space and time to be present for self-exploration and discovery. It’s not about having a feel-good time or even relaxing—although that may be inevitable. Rooted in Gestalt theory, the aim is to provide all the organic components to free oneself for deep personal growth and human understanding.
Breakfast is a cornucopia of clean energy ingredients harvested on site in the garden. Sipping a soothing infusion, I gaze out at migrating whales. Morning yoga followed by meditation enables my internal shift to begin from the full tilt traffic blitz temperament of my daily grind to a spiritual quietude. Esalen is also renowned for its Esalen® Massage inspired and influenced by the rhythm of the ocean waves. Slow, long, deep strokes induce my sleep almost immediately. Passive stretching and gentle joint manipulation slows the nervous system and supports the lymphatic system. An added abdominal massage technique called Chi Nei Tsang blends Chinese and Thai massage as well as meditation to detoxify and energize me. Completely sedated, I’m out for the count. Awakening to the ocean breeze and the distant crashing of waves, I stretch out and plunk down into the adjacent outdoor hot springs. These healing waters literally on the edge of the cliff overlook the ocean for a magical experience. The co-ed and clothing-optional aspect of these showers and baths evoke an organic Eden-esque quality that is naturally liberating. At night, cosmic splendor dances above as shooting stars stream out of the sparkling and nebulous infinity.
Daybreak in Monterey is met with a cacophony of barking sea lions. The best way to see this harbour is to be in it. Cannery Row, immortalized by John Steinbeck, is the launching point for our Fast Raft Marine Eco-tours. As we motor out, dolphins and whales promenade across Monterey Bay in awesome fashion. We can only stare in amazement. It’s another world.
Inland the hypnotic beauty of Pinnacles National Park beckons. Volcanic vestiges draped in wilderness appear as spires shooting up like pet-
“The West is the best. Get here, and we’ll do the rest”
– THE DOORS