Return From Esalen

I have recently returned from a North of Eden archetypal dreamwork retreat at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. As always the teachings and learnings were profound. Every moment of it was just for me. The moment I arrived at Esalen from a short visit with friends in Oakland, the energy of the retreat center and the landscape of Big Sur entered my body with ecstatic sensuality.

Each moment was for me, for my work and my journey: the moment when my partner went into reaction because I didn’t call for 12 hours, the moments in my tiny cabin with my sister dreamers as we settled in for the evening, the ancient sulfur bathes on the cliff side, dancing with wild abandon in the Huxley room with other Esalen retreaters, the famous Esalen massage, the 12 Step Tribe meeting, the music of our beloved Trubadors, the food, and of course the deeply moving work that every member of my group participated in during the 5 days we were together perched on the cliff overlooking the western horizon where it disappeared into the vast pacific ocean.

On the eve of our first day, when we got the news that one of our dreaming community members had taken his life back home in Montpelier, VT, I dropped into the intense pain that was my own and part of my work going into the retreat. Going in, I had dreamwork which had me feeling into being the boy with the Father, in the inadequacy as he tells me that everything that was, everything that is, and everything that will be is about to be changed forever. This pain is contained in me. It is a place deep in me that I have suppressed and the boy aspect of my soul has been holding it for me.

Everything is different when I know that the pain is my own pain.  This pain is part of everything that was, everything that is and everything that will be. There is no exception. There is only the choice to know and accept this or to project it out onto the people, places and things of the world so that I don’t have to feel it.

Every moment of the retreat brought this foretold change. Every person, every dream, every teaching brought it. The truth about healing, true spiritual healing, is that it has the ability to change everything, even the past. This is because as we are healed our vision clears. We see what part we had in our past hurts and traumas. We come to understand the world and everyone in it in some new way. Something in us is transformed and we come to know peace about the past. We even begin to speak of things long hidden as the shame around the wound is healed. We come to see how our speaking carries the message of hope for others.

In my strings (dream enactment) at Esalen, I got to see the demon of self hate as something separate from myself. It came in the form of a dusty old man with a southern drawl lying on the floor of a train who says “Look what you’ve done to me!” He has no legs, just bones as if the flesh had rotted away. His arms are like sticks, thin pencil bones. I am with the Anima, who is there at my back to support me. With her there, I say, “No, he did it to himself”. I snap off his arms and throw them off the train. When the demon is so deposed, it becomes almost ridiculous. I can no longer abide the demon as he waves his boney stumps at me, as if he could attack me even still. And he can if I choose to let him. Once I see the demon, once it is no longer hidden in my psyche tricking me by speaking to me in my own voice, I have a choice. Do I listen or kick him off the train?

The final night I asked my bunk mate to tell me I would remember my dreams, a little trick I often practice with my partner when I haven’t remembered dreams in a while. She said, “You will remember your dreams.” That night brought this dream:
I am with the Animus (played in the dream by Bob M., a big-hearted member of the NOE dreaming community). Then I am floating in some kind of viscous liquid inside of him. I can feel every movement he makes like I am floating inside him. I feel small, like a tiny kernel of awareness held inside the vastness of him. I feel joy and contained in love.

To feel the motion, the chaotic, unpredictable fluidity in such a contained way is a bit shocking and carries some fear with it too. The movement has a slight feeling of vertigo associated with it. I imagine it is like being in the womb.

Everything is different when I know that the love I feel is my own love, the love that lives in me, the love for myself that is of God. We are all floating inside the vastness of Divine love. We do not know this because we live outside ourselves, which is outside of Him.  To be inside of Him is to be inside of myself, not from the place of how I have repressed my feelings, hidden inside myself or inside my trauma, but from the place of who I truly am. I am, that I am of the divine oneness, that I choose to call God.

I believe all spiritual work must be approached in this way. Spiritual awakening is personal and happens through a direct connection to the divine oneness. No human can save us, no human can give us this connection, this gnosis. We must reach for it ourselves.

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