Journal Entry: October 12, 2014
The Science of Happiness and Well-Being
We left Little River and the Heritage House and headed down the Highway towards Big Sur. The first portion of the drive was gorgeous and relatively uneventful. For lunch, we stopped in adorable Boonville in the Anderson Valley. It was gloriously sunny and nearly 80 degrees. Even though for a lot of the drive the roads were narrow and windy, we passed through redwood forests and vineyards, and all was lovely until we hit the San Francisco area where we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for nearly three hours. What was supposed to be a total five-hour drive with arrival in Big Sur and the Esalen Institute with time for dinner before the first night’s session, turned into an eight-hour drive with much stress plus navigating the harrowing hairpin curves of Highway 1 after dark. We had decided not to stop for another meal, and try and make it for dinner, which ended at 7:30pm. Even though we had both been craving In-N-Out Burger from Santa Rosa to Gilroy, we used our willpower and decided to try in earnest to make it to Esalen to experience what is described on their website as “delicious and healthy meals featuring herbs and produce from the Esalen farm and gardens.” I kind of read that as vegetarian food, which is not a great diet for my intestinally challenged husband, but I kept an open mind.
Unfortunately, when we finally arrived, his white knuckles firmly gripping the steering wheel, at 8:10pm, it was too late for dinner. Honestly we felt lucky to have actually gotten there alive. Finding our room in the dark without the requisite flashlight (they had suggested we bring, but we forgot) turned into another adventure, especially since we needed to find our room, deposit our bags, try and scrounge up something to eat, and get to the workshop. The first session of our workshop was scheduled from 8:30pm-10:00pm. We ended up 10 minutes late to the session, no food, no drink, and having to sit way back near the door as the room was completely full. There were so many attendees, we both immediately looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking. This is not what we signed up for. What we did sign up for was a workshop called “The Science of Happiness and Well-Being” described as providing us with “the experience to learn about the science behind emotion and pleasure, as well as ways to cultivate happiness in our own life and to identify our own individual fulfillment profile. The workshop was promised to include science-based teachings, interactive videos, group discussions, yoga, breathing, and meditation exercises.” We were looking for an intimate experience with lots of interaction with others earnestly seeking a path to an enlightened state of well-being.
What we experienced that first night was a lot of people, and I mean A LOT of people striving to be heard and voice their opinions and make things really personal. It was annoying and we were tired and hungry and agitated from our drive. It was amazing to watch people, in the very first session of the workshop, already being know-it-alls. I was worried the instructors were being really passive, especially with the large number of “students” to contend with. Since we missed the first few minutes of the session, I can only assume they asked people to open up about themselves and be personal? It was exasperating.
When the session finally ended, we were so hungry and thirsty, we made a bee-line for the dining hall. I had read that they had home baked breads, jams, and nut butters available all night. We made ourselves peanut butter sandwiches and grabbed some water and headed back to our room to explore. The Esalen grounds were pitch black, so there was certainly no reason to venture around the property although we could hear the surf far below. When we turned on the light to our room, we both laughed. These were Spartan accommodations, that’s for sure, and for a very steep price. I guess most of the money was going towards the workshop. We proceeded to make our own little double bed with the rough, but clean sheets that were provided in a neat little pile with a sprig of fresh rosemary on top. It was a little like camp, well, a lot like camp, but there was electricity and a bathroom in our room, so better than the camp I remembered from my youth. We decided to spend that first night pretending like we were teenage camp counselors having snuck into one or the other’s bed to have our first sexual encounter. I have to say, it was a fun little fantasy, under the circumstances. We went to sleep early, setting our alarms so as not to miss another meal of this renowned Esalen Institute cuisine.
We were at the dining hall promptly at 8:30am as breakfast was being served. We had a full hour to enjoy the lavish breakfast spread, uh, except, it wasn’t so lavish. There was a small salad bar, homemade granola, fresh made yogurt, oatmeal, more of the homemade breads, jams, and nut butters, and apples. I was good with the granola and yogurt, and my husband went with the oatmeal. We also sliced up some apples, and drank plenty of hot tea. Our session began at 9:30 and went until 12:30. I thought I would die of boredom. There was no fun yoga, or breathing exercise or meditation. There was a lecture by one of the presenters who is a college professor. BORING! It was like being back in school, lots of slides, and videos, and data presented on elaborate charts and graphs and yada, yada, yada. I was hoping the afternoon would be more interesting as my mind wandered and I longed to be outside in the sunshine. After our modest breakfast, we were excited to see what lunch delicacies awaited us. This meal we were presented included the salad bar, of course and on it were the daily specials, roasted squash with a miso sauce, and celery root Milanese. There were also a couple of vegetarian soups. It was becoming obvious that Esalen focuses pretty exclusively on vegetarian fare. We piled our plates with salad and celery root and squash. Blue Eyes said he was getting a little sluggish, so we decided to head back to our room for a nap before the afternoon session. Even though Blue Eyes was not feeling 100%, we decided to revisit the camp counselor fantasy and then he fell fast asleep. It was so darn bright and warm in our room, I was unable to fall asleep and ended up reading my book.
After naptime, we took a little stroll around the Esalen grounds, which are beautiful. We peered down at the hot springs tubs that are so popular and hang over the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. They are clothing optional, so my sex addict husband and I will not be partaking.
We finally and begrudgingly went back into the dark room where our workshop was being held. It was warm and humid in the room, and sadly, so beautiful, crisp and clear outside. On the bright side, the afternoon’s instructor was amazing, He led us in some simple yoga and then breathing exercises, and finally, meditation. He decided to move the rest of the afternoon session outside on the lawn overlooking the ocean. We were all so excited. Unfortunately, the assignment while outside was to get into groups of three, and then share our intimate life stories with strangers. Well, my husband and I decided not to separate into different groups, so our group ended up being the two of us and one other lady who was about our age and from Toronto, Canada. She was there alone and looked as apprehensive as we did about this assignment. We were each given seven minutes to share our life story. My husband decided to go first. It took him a little bit to get up the nerve to speak, but when he did speak, he really let it all out. He started with, well, nine months ago I was diagnosed as a sex addict, and he went on from there. I shared my story, but seven minutes goes by pretty quick when you are sharing 51 years of life. Then, our new friend, who hadn’t stopped crying since about two minutes into Blue Eyes’ share, started to tell her story. Wow. I thought our stories were hard to tell. This woman has suffered, I mean really suffered. She is most certainly clinically depressed. She was at Esalen with the hopes of gaining some insight into how to bring some happiness into her life and here she was sitting on the lawn with two other sad saps, and we all were miserable.
Somehow, as we left the lawn for dinner, we hoped tomorrow’s session, the last, would manage to actually bring some happiness and a feeling of well being to this group of people sequestered here in beautiful Big Sur. Sadly, we were doomed to never find out if that actually happened. We went in for dinner and my husband was now complaining of stomach problems. He decided maybe he was just really hungry because the food so different from his regular diet seemed to be lacking in protein. Dinner’s main course was vegetarian Pad Thai. It really was quite delicious, but I was concerned as Blue Eyes was obviously becoming more distressed.
We made our way back to our room and relaxed and tried to detox from the day’s events. I wish the afternoon session had started with the stressful life share and ended with the yoga, breathing and meditation. My husband declared that since dinner his stomach was much worse than before. We decided to go to sleep early in the hopes that some more rest would help aid his digestion. Again, I was unable to sleep and therefore read my book. My husband woke up about an hour later and announced he was going to take a walk around the grounds and see if that helped his intestinal dilemma. By the time he got back, I was fast asleep. About two hours later, Blue Eyes woke me up. He didn’t even have to say it, I knew what was coming. We needed to pack up and head to the hospital. As I packed up, tore off the bedding, and loaded the car, Blue Eyes spent the rest of his time at Esalen Institute in the little bathroom, vomiting. At approximately 3:00am, we departed Esalen and headed down Highway 1, on our way to a hospital, in Silicon Valley…