Finding Bliss at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California
I was putting my bags in my car, getting ready to leave, when a man came up to me and said, “Is it really time to go?” I smiled and answered, “No.” There was mutual understanding that nobody is ever ready to leave this place, where a feeling of bliss envelops every visitor. This results partly from the surrounding raw natural beauty, like the blackest sky so full of stars, the bright moon reflected in the ocean, forested cliffs that meet crashing waves, and sometimes whales passing by in the distance. It's also because the place has long been a haven for those seeking personal change and growth. The variety of workshops, from yoga to music and meditation to art, reflect Esalen's long history as a center for philosophical theory and research. Perhaps the institute's most memorable feature, however, is its extraordinary hot springs bath house and massage center, precariously positioned on a cliff overlooking the Pacific.
To visit Esalen, reservations are required, either for a workshop or for a stay without attending a workshop. All stays include use of the bath house, access to the grounds, and meals that utilize fresh ingredients from the center's huge gardens. Scholarships and work-stays are offered for those who cannot afford the regular prices.
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Hot Springs on the Edge
Before the Esalen Institute became a hub for workshops and retreats centered on topics from yoga and meditation to gestalt theory and psychotherapy, it was renowned for its natural hot springs. The springs' use predates the area's Esselen Indians, but the modern bath house was built in the 1880s by an arthritic man named Thomas Slate. Over the years, Esalen has grown into an education center that has attracted such famous visitors and residents as Henry Miller, Joan Baez, Hunter S. Thompson, and Timothy Leary, but the bath house has remained a focal point. Those who want to visit the (clothing-unlikely) springs without participating in a workshop can make a reservation for "Public Night" from 1 to 3am. It can be painful to stay up that late--especially if you're camping--but this is an only-in-California experience that you won't regret. Hopefully you'll meet a local during your trip who will invite you back for local's night (select days at 8pm.)
To make a reservation for Public Night, call (831) 667-3047 and be ready to make a $25 credit card payment.