About 2 years ago now I visited the Esalen community in California as part of my recovery process. I was recently separated from my husband of 28 years. I was struggling with esteem issues around my femininity and size. I was overeating, anxious and somewhat depressed.
The centre is just off the Pacific Highway between Monterey and Los Angeles. Several of my friends had been and said how they had enjoyed the experience. They had trained there also, in yoga and other mindfulness practices.
Although this was my first trip to the US and I was driving alone I somehow felt less nervous because I was going somewhere friends of mine had been. I am always surprised at how my anxiety can be triggered by something trivial and day to day whilst driving across another continent doesn’t touch me at all.
I used to be very nervous about driving around so the confidence has been hard won. And it feels like a real sense of achievement.
I was booked on a week’s course for women’s sexual histories, taboo subject that I needed to confront since I was carrying my Catholic mother’s guilt and shame in large measures. After this was a weekend of mindfulness eating, another one of my weaknesses.
The experience caused a shift in me and my confidence, my belief about my abilities. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to go. In going to the US I also stood up to my sister’s dislike of the country. I was making choices for me, based on my perceptions and not people pleasing nor standing in fear.
The buildings and grounds are on the site of anient Indian tribal ground, a holy place because it looks out onto the Pacific ocean, is graced with natural hot springs and a waterfall that all join with the ocean.
The week long course was liberating for me and I met a group of people that I am still in touch with. It was a positive experience and I learnt that being me was not something of which I should be ashamed, nor the fact that I was ageing and my physical appearance, my body was not as attractive as it once had been. I came home.
Mindfulness around food was calming, thought provoking, none the more because the facilitators had such a calm, kind manner about them, no prescriptive diets, no regimented meals, just a teaching of slowing down around food. In our frenetic civilised modern world we tend to multitask even when it comes to eating meals.
I learnt to taste the food I was eating again, listen to my body’s needs and tell when I was hungry, my eating was emotionally based. If there was an emotion too difficult for me I ate on it. Of course the correlation between the two acts is a nonsense. Food is food and fulfils a physical need, emotions are feelings, ephemeral and to be felt, however uncomfortable those feelings might be.
If you have the means and the time, I’d highly recommend both avenues as paths to increasing wellness. They have helped me no end.