I spent this past weekend at a writing workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur.
Esalen is a retreat center on the beautiful coast of California, pools have been built around natural hot springs overlooking the coast. You can sit in the warm, sulfury water, listen to the waves crash and look out to the horizon.
The grounds at Esalen are lovely, there’s a big garden where most of the produce is grown. You walk through and smell rosemary, admire tomatoes, and listen to the buzz of bees and marvel at fluttering of butterflies.
Mealtimes are wonderful at Esalen, it feels like summer camp! The internet (wifi) is disconnected for mealtimes and real, live human interaction is encouraged. The food is clean – think salad from the garden, pesto polenta, roasted carrots, hot cocoa, fresh baked rye bread (a slab of which is available all day long sitting on a cutting board, in front of a butter and jam bar). People sit at long tables and talk, the murmur of conversation testament to the fact that humans are still able connect to one another without technology.
The writing workshop was hosted by The Sun magazine which is a literary magazine, self-described as “Personal. Political. Provocative.” I love the writing they feature in the magazine as it’s real, no sugar coating of life, raw human experience on the page.
My experience was just that, pride and preconceived notions stripped away and just talking to people beyond the surface level and, of course, writing. We attended various sessions and were given writing prompts and a limited time to write. After, people would share their writing with the group which unfailingly prompted conversations. One woman wrote about the death of two of her children in a car accident, after the session several parents went and spoke to her, overcome with compassion and sympathy. Others wrote about professional experiences, personal failures, politics, poetry, you name it. One gentleman stood up and read about his recent heartbreak, after I approached him and thanked him for sharing. I told him I could relate to what he had described and we struck up a conversation. It was a beautiful, unassuming connection and we shared our stories – there’s something healing about knowing you’re not alone in your experiences, in the world.