After weeks of rains it was extremely sunny on the south side of the Julia Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur on Sunday, February 12, 2016. Which made it even more surreal when the California Highway Patrol officer told us that we would probably have to leave our cars in Big Sur for the winter, hitchhike to Monterey Airport, fly home, and come back in a few months to recuperate our possessions. I felt as if I were back in India.
A few hours later the engineers decided that one car at a time could cross the bridge over a span of two hours. I was one of the last people to escape. Between twenty miles of mudslides on CA-1 to the south and a condemned bridge to the north, hundreds of people would be trapped in Big Sur for the winter. One of the most gloriously scenic roads in the world—home to the Esalen Institute, Post Ranch, and Ventana Inn—was now only accessible by helicopter.
Esalen has been closed to the public since February 12, sustaining damage on its property including fallen Monterey Pines as well as multiple mudslides. On a practical level, a small core team has remained on the property to address those damages, take care of the land, and ensure that all of the accommodations will be completely ready when they reopen on June 9. On a more holistic level (and in typical visionary fashion), Esalen is taking this unique opportunity to reconnect to its groundbreaking roots and reimagine its future as leader of realizing human potential in our troubled culture.
Esalen’s new Executive Director Ben Tauber told me, “Mother Nature is one of our greatest teachers in understanding that life is cyclical – and with every ending comes a new beginning. Esalen has weathered challenges in the past, including the loss of the baths during a particularly bad El Nino winter, and we’ve always come out stronger due to our community here in Big Sur and around the world. I see this as an opportunity to refresh and restore our community and our land.”
In addition to addressing winter-related damages, Esalen is making the most of this time without guests to give more attention to their accommodations and shared spaces in ways that would not be possible with their full year-long calendar of transformational workshops. Ben added, “We hope when our guests return they will be inspired by the beauty waiting for them – in the Lodge, in our guest rooms, at the baths, and all points in between.”
After the mudslides to the south are soon cleared, Esalen encourages all guests to approach from the south until the new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is completed in the fall. Visitors from the north will have to circle down the 101 highway, across the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road and then come up CA-1.
In the meantime, many people do not realize that Esalen is a nonprofit organization that relies heavily on the students’ tuitions to cover their operating expenses. Four months without students means substantial losses. Friends of this amazing community can support Esalen by donating to their Emergency Closure Relief Fund at www.esalen.org/relief as well as – of course – now booking your next yoga, meditation, or personal growth workshop at Esalen for June and beyond.
Ira Israel is a psychotherapist and author of How To Survive Your Childhood Now that You’re An Adult: A Path to Authenticity: iraisrael.com