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Ways to 'Do' Esalen

December 06, 1987|Alice Kahn

THE ESALEN catalogue is the best way to find out what the institute has to offer. You can acquire one by telephoning (408) 667-3000 or by writing to the Esalen Institute, Big Sur, Calif. 93920. A section in the front of the catalogue called "Ways of Being at Esalen" explains the options, from a visit to the hot springs (free to local residents between 1 and 5 a.m. weekdays) to a residency program that can cost several thousand dollars.

There are monthlong programs, work-study programs, wilderness programs, continuing education courses for nurses and doctors, and invitational conferences to bring together experts in a given field.

The most common introductions to Esalen:

"Experiencing Esalen." This weekend seminar (Friday afternoon to Sunday noon) is designed for the uninitiated. An individual selects from a smorgasbord of self-awareness workshops that can include sensory awareness, gestalt practice, group process, guided fantasy, meditation and massage.

The price is $270, which includes a simple but attractive all-wood room--no telephone, no TV, some antique furniture, linens, wildflowers, private bath. Some rooms have patios and ocean views. You can hear the waves crash from anywhere on the property. The price includes all meals from Friday night dinner to Sunday brunch. The food is delicious, wholesome, heavy on fresh vegetables and whole-grain breads. A dinner meat entree or breakfast egg dish is usually offered in addition to vegetarian choices. Food is served buffet style, with plenty to go around, in a friendly lodge dining room. At dinner time there is a beer-and-wine bar.

The baths are open 24 hours and require no additional charge. You can use the large swimming pool (some people wear suits, some don't), explore the beautiful grounds or hike in one of the nearby state parks.

Weekend seminars. Several are offered each weekend. Two of the most popular are the "Ram Dass Event," which sells out months in advance, and a "Weekend in Developing Comic Perspective," which explores the wisdom of Baba Lenny Bruce. These also cost $270 and include the same room, food and amenities discussed above.

The "samurai game" described in this article is one such seminar. When I called to make reservations, I asked if I had to attend all the meetings. "You can do whatever you want," said the reassuring voice.

Five-day workshops. These cost $530 and include room and meals. Topics might include "Painting Experience," "Food for Health," "Using Risk to Effect Change," "Pleasure and Addiction" or "On Being a Man."

The room, the food, the baths--hold the enlightenment. You can stay at Esalen for about $150 a weekend (meals included) as space is available.

El Cheapo. Esalen tries to accommodate anyone regardless of ability to pay. It offers scholarships, sleeping-bag rates for university students, senior citizen discounts, bunk-bed rooms to share with three others and family rates.

You could spend the whole weekend at Esalen just looking at the ocean. But don't forget to reserve a world-famous massage--$50 for an hour of heaven. Your body, from the nape of your neck to the balls of your feet, will thank you.

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