Hammocks, Enneagrams and A Contemplative Practice: Lessons From Big Sur

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Another year, another journey to Esalen in Big Sur. If you know me well, then you’ve probably heard me wax poetic about the power of this place. If you’re looking for something, you will likely find it here.

Many people raise an eyebrow or question my need to take this annual solo trip. But it’s just that: a need. Maybe it’s the introvert in me but mostly, it’s the only way that I know how to reconnect with myself. For a few days out of the year, I embark on a solo journey. And for those few days, I take a step outside of my titles (mom, wife, employee, daughter, friend etc) and spend some time getting to know myself. I am not saying that these roles are burdens, they’re quite the opposite and provide me with great love and joy. But in order to be all of these things, I need time to slow down, connect with my purpose and go deeper. My experience has led me to find that solo travel spits me out on the other end with a greater sense of clarity, strength and gratitude.

The trip this year was particularly profound. As usual, I never really know what I’m getting myself into. I think I have intentions set for the journey, and, in usual form, I’m always amazed at the real lessons learned. I signed up for a weeklong workshop titled “The Inner Spiritual Dimensions of Ayurvedic, Tibetan and Chinese Medicine” taught by David Crow. What does that mean? Good question. Most of us weren’t quite sure but embarked on the journey anyway. Through the basics of Eastern Medicine, we explored the underlying spiritual foundations that not only teach us how to cultivate a holistic mind-body relationship but also a purposeful relationship with our environment. Each lecture was fully explored through a contemplative, mindfulness meditation practice to truly connect the lesson to the inner experience. Mostly, the workshop was an incredible compliment to what Esalen provides, and that’s a beautiful, welcoming space to learn, grow and connect. I took just as much away from the workshop as I did from the people I met, the conversations I got wrapped up in and the awe-inspiring connection to nature. Now that I’m back in Los Angeles, I’m reflecting on what I took away from the experience and the lessons learned:

  1. Disconnect and Go Outside

Look up from your phone, forget the menial psychodramas of the day and go play outside. Nature is our greatest intuitive teacher. The easiest way to connect to a sense of prana (life force) is to simply experience the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. Here, it’s easy to feel the interconnectedness of everything and our relationship to the 5 elements.

  1. Be Open To People

You never now who might have an affect on your life. There are influential lessons to be learned from other’s experiences and stories. Real conversation and deep connections help us feel a greater sense of love, empathy and compassion. This is important to cultivate to feel a greater sense of inner belonging but also a better sense of community. Every person is equal.

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  1. Spend Time In A Garden

Our food systems are struggling. Yes, there’s the evil that is Monsanto, but there’s also global warming which is having an apocalyptic affect on our environment and agriculture. Gardens remind us of the life giving energy of food and the gaseous exchange that we share with plants. We feed the plants and they feed us. Grow your food and then eat that delicious organic food and you’ll see how much better you feel.

  1. Laying In Hammocks, Napping Outside and Soaking In Hot Springs are God-Giving Experiences

Can you think of a better way to recharge? I can’t.

  1. A Contemplative Mindfulness Meditation Practice Can and Will Change Your Life

Exploring your inner experience through a meditation practice increases memory, sense of self, empathy, decreases stress and changes the brain chemically. A contemplative practice also increases the mind-body connection. Most people are disembodied. This is not just about being active and working out. It’s about developing an awareness of what your body and mind truly need to operative effectively through diet, physical activity and sleep to function in peak performance.

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  1. Read Books, Keep Learning and Stop Consuming Crap Media

It’s not too late to make changes. I was deep in conversation about our education system and how insane it is to think that a decision I made when I was 18 should determine the rest of my life. I’m referring to my college major. Now that I’m 32, I struggle with feelings of greater purpose vs. responsibility. I dove in a bit to what I’d like to do and was met with a very simple answer: “Well then, you should do that”. Of course, I rolled my eyes, pushed back and said how it’s not that easy. Now looking back, I can see it’s all my own internal resistance. There are many ways to learn and to indulge interests. Always think about what you feed your mind, who you engage with and how distracting most media can be. Focus, learn and changes are possible.

  1. The Wisdom of The Enneagram

This is a personality test (and quick too). Take it. Learn something about yourself and the people in your life.

  1. Gratitude

I came home to a family that I love with a greater sense of connection and purpose. A full heart, a feeling of wonder and a smirk of possibility….this is what it’s all about.

Now the big question remains: How to integrate these lessons back into  daily life? Through dedicated practice, commitment and actually listening to my intuition. Another question also popped up: How do we teach our children to find purpose at a young age so they grow up connected to their sense of self and committed to a life of meaning? This is something I plan to explore much further. It’s my greatest wish that my son grows up with a healthy sense of compassion, connection to the environment and wants to live a life of social purpose. No one at the end of their life ever regrets not having made more money or acquiring more things. The quality of your relationships, your experience, traveling, connecting to nature, compassion, these are what’s important.

xo, Sam

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