The alarm went off at midnight and I rolled out of my sleeping bag already dressed. I fumbled in the dark on all fours for the opening and unzipped the tent. I pulled back the nylon like I was pushing back a curtain to another world and gazed at the full moon casting a soft glow on the redwood trees. I was alert and groggy at once. The scent of earth and the tingle of magic electrified the air.
Joey, my lover of one year, placed his hand on my lower back. “Ready?”
I shivered from his gentle yet firm touch. “Yes.”
We drove through the misty fog of Highway 1 and followed the rolling road through Big Sur. We stopped to admire a thin waterfall streaming from a promontory into the bay. Allowing the stars and moonlight to guide us, we took a stroll and discovered the stone remnants of a home for the wealthy family. I imagined their life, rugged and yet refined with those flowing white dresses and large hats of the 1880s.
Joey drew me out of my reveries and we returned to the car.
With the ease of perfect timing, we soon arrived at the pull-out next to the sign for the Esalen Institute. The hilltop was empty, and we vaguely wondered if we were at the right spot, but then a man drove up the hill in a golf cart and opened the wide metal green gate. Two older couples and a gang of boys and girls in their twenties arrived from nowhere.
After we were all checked in for our moonlit bath, we followed our guide down the paved hill and rows of cabins with porch lights on. Guests who had signed up for a weekend or a week or a month or longer to heal, to grow, and explore their humanity, slept soundly, while us midnight bathers tiptoed passed. I felt buoyant, giddy with joy. I was finally back in Esalen.
Fifteen years ago, I had been camping with my young children when I met a wonderful woman who taught me how to make a tea of bay leaves to alleviate the painful itch my son got when he squatted in poison oak. She then brought us to the green hillside of Esalen where her son went to preschool overlooking the black sand beach.
Of all that I saw that bright morning, what impressed upon me most were the two toilets stationed on the hillside without walls that epitomized the Esalen belief that humanity was sacred and natural, and children should not feel shame, even around elimination.
Founded in 1962, Esalen is the considered the birthplace of the human potential movement and explores the “possibilities of reconciling intellectual and experiential; mind and body; science and mysticism; immanence and transcendence; East and West; meditation and action; youthful idealism and time-tested wisdom.”
It has been said that the enlightened mystics of Atlantis and the beloved Kuan Yin, goddess of compassion, blessed Esalen. It was and is my nirvana.
And I had returned with a man whose touch gave me chills and brought me multiple orgasms and steadfastly endeavored to take care of my every need. It seemed that our love had cast a spell on Life, and Life obliged to our desire to take care of each other and made our path effortless with each step.
I walked into the musk-smelling changing room infused with the scent of wet stone. I tuned to look into Joey’s hazel eyes that reminded me of the tiger’s eye stone, shot with gold. Clothing optional, the guide had said. I willingly got naked. Joey kept his shorts on. I caressed his broad chest, running my fingers through his soft hair to reassure this private, quiet man. He closed his eyes and sighed.
“I love you,” I said as I stretched onto my tiptoes and kissed his lips.
He pressed into my kiss with soft eagerness that deepened my passion. “Mm. I love you, baby.” He took my hand and led me outside to the mineral springs carved into the cliffside.
The fog had cleared. The full moon illuminated a watery path of sparkling diamonds on the black waters of the Pacific Ocean. Waves pounded against the beach, sending a salty mist up to the cliffs where we stood. The older couples had already claimed the smaller tubs built for two. I imagined this to be their regular date night and a wise way to keep love alive, nurturing and growing.
We stepped into a large, circular tub and sighed deeply as we settled into the soft water. The scent of Sulphur wafted on the air. I nearly purred. I smiled at Joey. He smiled back and stretched out to rest his arms on the edge of the tub. I sunk into the water up to my neck. I felt like Roman royalty.
Three young women sat across the tub. Their breasts floated on the surface of the water. They turned in unison to face the open ocean, leaning far over the tub’s edge. They looked like mermaids with their wet hair plastered against their backs.
The veil between the worlds thinned. I closed my eyes and could easily imagine the shimmer of scales on their tails. I could hear the seductive siren call causing sailors to crash on the craggy rock croppings for a night of underwater pleasure. Their song promised a love that went beyond anything humanly conceivable.
Responding to my unspoken desire, Joey reached through the water to caress my leg, then my hip. Eager for more, I suggested we try the massage tables. We held hands as we walked to an open room with stone walls that reverberated the sounds of crashing waves. I lay face down on the table. The sea mist was chilly and intoxicating on my bare skin as Joey rubbed my back.
I sensed the presence of otherworldly peace and mystery. I sunk deeper into my body, into the nothingness of mind and fullness of a soul in love.