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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A New Year, A Meditation Challenge and The Grad Studies

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I love December. Work typically slows down, festivities abound and it’s a time filled with lots of food, warmth and loved ones. I also love December because it’s a time to reflect on the year and look forward to a new start. Cliché, I know, but there is something to be said for taking a deeper look at yourself and making improvements.

Every arrival implies a journey; and, with the close of the year, it’s the perfect time to look at where you’re at and the path to take moving forward.

One resolution of mine is to integrate a solid meditation practice into my daily routine. As a working mom, I’m essentially a professional multi-tasker. I’m constantly tapped in, spinning 12 plates at once. My thoughts are scattered and cluttered and I have a tendency to get too deep into my own mental chatter further blurring the lines between my own self delusion and reality.

I’m not sharing new information here and it’s widely known that meditation leads to a reduction in heart beats, breath rate and blood pressure which results in stress relief, mental clarity and a general sense of well-being. Meditation is also a form of prayer that provides the ability to merge with something greater. But a daily practice can be a hard commitment and I have a tendency to get sidetracked. Starting January 1st, I raised my hand to join the 40 Day Benshen Meditation Challenge led by the beautiful, Desirée Pais. I’ve been a follower of her blog; and, as a fellow natural skincare crafter, I have a respect for her offering and work.

Desirée practices Kundalini yoga. While, I’ve dabbled in Kundalini, I’d say that dance has been my moving meditation. The challenge seems quite simple: 3 minutes of “Ego Eradicator” meditation practice a day. For me, this entails waking up 30 minutes earlier than my family to practice. I’ve also integrated a 5 minute meditation to settle in and 5 minutes of loving prayer meditation to close.

Within a 48-hour period and a fresh start to the year, I’ve had quite an interesting experience with choice information coming to light. This information has led to a deep reassurance and knowing that it’s essential to take responsibility for our mental states, projections, intentions and emotions….this is the essence of our magic. To harness this energy, is to live beautifully.

So what happened on January 1st?

I spend a good amount of my personal time reading about the human experience, esoteric studies, love and the extraordinary. Last night, while charging my Kindle, I picked up a book that was given to me by my Aunt months ago. I hadn’t given much time to the book but I figured I’d dive in. While reading a few passages, I stumbled upon the research work of Bernard Grad from Montreal’s McGill University. A biologist, Grad’s initial work was fairly conventional and involved research related to cancer, aging and the endocrine system. Grad’s work shifted after studying with Wilhelm Reich and his controversial work related to the concept of life energy and body armoring. (Side note – I studied the work of Reich in a weeklong intensive workshop at Esalen at the age of 24 and it profoundly shifted my perspective on emotional energy having an effect on our physical bodies).

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Grad’s research and laboratory studies related to nonlocal healing intention have been recognized and honored by Harvard University. His work was able to show in a laboratory setting that our thoughts, emotional states and intentions are powerful enough to influence other living things while explaining away the placebo effect.

To start, Grad tested whether or not our moods can have an effect on others who are near to us. He tested his theory using water. In a controlled experiment, Grad took three subjects: two were clinically depressed and one had an upbeat, positive personality. Each person held a sealed bottle of water for a half hour and then watered barley seeds. The depressed female happened to be in a positive mood that day and actually held the bottle as if she was cradling a child. Consequently, her seeds grew quickly. Otherwise, you can probably guess the rest of the results. The seeds watered by the upbeat man grew the fastest and the seeds watered by the depressed man grew the slowest. The findings suggest that our emotions do have both a negative and positive influence and objects we hold can pick up this energy.

Grad also studied nonlocal healing intention and the ability to physically heal trauma. He conducted experiments in which mice had a small piece of skin removed. The mice were then divided into three groups. In one of the three groups a healer (using his/her mental ability and intentions) would hold the cage of the wounded mice for fifteen minutes twice a day for two weeks. The second group of mice were placed in a heated cage. The third group received neither heat nor healing intentions. The results showed that the mice who received the loving care from the healer actually healed significantly faster than the other two groups.

What Grad’s work has shown is something we all intuitively understand. The sentiment stretches beyond just moods. Think about the healing power of homemade chicken soup. Or the warmth from a blanket that was knitted by a relative. Or simply the unexplainable power of loving touch.

After swimming in excitement for what I had just read, I ended my evening with a meditation on my Grandparents. It had been a long time since I really took the time to remember them and I was missing that connection. I sat and visualized their memory, their walk, how it felt to hug them and the sound of their voices. It was a lovely meditation and my memories were so vivid that it didn’t seem like it had been over 11 years since they passed. To my wonder, I woke in the morning to a 6am text message from my Aunt who simply sent an undiscovered photo of my Nanny with our female lineage (pictured below). I hadn’t spoken to my Aunt in about a month and she had no idea I started to read the book she gave me, or the fact that I had intentionally been thinking about my Grandparents the evening before. My Aunt and I have always functioned on a similar wavelength intuitively, so I took this as a loving sign from beyond.

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In summary, the work of Grad echoes the sentiment of quantum physicist, Albert Einstein that all life is connected and therefore we need to be mindful and compassionate towards all living beings. And on that note, I look forward to the mental and energetic shift that results from this 40-day meditation challenge.

Thank you Benshen

xx
Sam

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Heaven On Earth: Esalen, Big Sur

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Another year, another journey to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. In my opinion, there is no other place on this planet that compares to the beauty, essence, and purpose of Esalen. When I close my eyes and dream of my happy place, this is the place I envision. I can go on and on about it’s perfection, the people, the bodywork, the food or how I’m constantly trying to scheme up ways to live there but I’ll focus this post on this particular experience and the workshop I took.

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For a little backstory, I try to visit Esalen once a year. The past trips included a relationship workshop on Wilhelm Reich and Awake In The Wild, a weekend workshop dedicated to meditation in nature with Marc Coleman. This year, I took Paul Selig‘s workshop , I Am The Word. While I highly recommend Marc’s workshop (you can’t go wrong with outdoor mediation in heaven), I can’t stress enough how insanely powerful I Am The Word was. Paul is a channel and an empath; meaning, he channels his guides to deliver teachings and also works one-on-one to deliver highly intuitive, emotional readings. Maybe you’ve heard of Edgar Cayce or you’ve read the Abraham Hicks books – this is the same method of work. Enlightening knowledge simply pours out of Paul when he channels. To witness Paul work, is to witness true wonder and magic. I wouldn’t believe it, unless I saw it, but Paul’s eyes even changed color when he worked! The energy in the room was palpable and I can honestly say that I left this workshop a different person. Thank you Paul, thank you Esalen and thank you to the friends I made for sending me home a happier, more blissed-out person. I’d even venture to say that the entire weekend made my personal Top 5 Life Experiences list. Real energy was moved and I can’t wait to attend Paul’s workshop next year.

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If you’re interested in Paul’s work, I recommend reading his books. Each one is the unedited transcript from channeled sessions with his guides. Also, if you can’t make it to Esalen (which is a shame), you can attend one of Paul’s workshops around the world. Check out his website for more details.

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Side note – if you’re driving to Big Sur from Southern California, you have to pit stop at Centrally Grown in Cambria. The garden/farm/restaurant/bar/marketplace is located right off the 1 highway and it’s a little slice of bliss. I highly recommend the sandwiches from the marketplace and you can enjoy a nice ocean view while you dine. Trust me, you’re welcome!

Hello 2015!

IMG_5287 I spent the first week of January up at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur and I honestly have never had a more relaxing time anywhere… That is saying a lot coming from me, someone who notoriously has a hard time relaxing to begin with, but most especially when far from home. As a personal assistant, I joke that it is my job to worry and I’m damn good at it. But it is also a very hard thing to just “switch off” and relax.

My Mom and I put ourselves on a waiting list for a “personal retreat” in Sept, so when we got the call in Nov that there was an opening in Jan, I jumped on it. It’s one of those places that books up fast, so if you are interested in doing something there, take a look at their online catalog and book as far in advance as you possibly can. (They only take a small deposit, which also give you some time to figure out finances.)

Come the day before, I packed about 700lbs of stuff (all of which I didn’t need) and my anxiety began. Morning we left, my stomach was in knots. Yes, I was excited. Completely excited. But the anxiety always wins out. Even if my mind doesn’t “feel” worried, my body still holds onto it. It’s a feeling I am very familiar with. After 30 years of anxiety stomach aches, that peak highest on travel days, I know what’s happening, even if I seem to have no control over it. It usually wears off once I arrive at my destination anyway… or at least that’s what I tell myself to get out the door.

It was a relatively easy 6 hour drive from LA, the last 2 hours of which were up the coast on Hwy 1 and some of the most beautiful miles Ive ever driven. As soon as you pull off the highway and onto the Esalen compound, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. The grounds basically hang off the cliffs looking over the ocean. And for some reason the ocean looks more expansive there than anywhere else I’ve been. It somehow seemed to just surround us. Wherever you looked, there was more and more ocean. Not sure if it’s because where I grew up, there are super accessible beaches all over, but Ive always found that a half hour of staring at the waves does wonders at putting my problems at ease. It’s sheer giantness can make my problems feels small and insignificant. Add dolphins, whales and some ridiculously beautiful sunsets, and I was in heaven. I could have sat and just looked at the ocean for 5 days… which is I guess basically what we did!!

As if the grounds themselves and the peacefulness that they provide weren’t enough, the mineral baths (which we soaked in 3x a day) and the deliciously gourmet home-cooked meals truly nourished my soul. They have a bunch of different tubs down at the super cool modern bath house (photo below of bath house from Esalen site) and they are open 24 hours. I cannot tell you how healing it was to soak in silence outside in an old school clawfoot tub filled with 120deg water, while hearing crashing waves and watching the stars come out. I mean. Come on. It felt unreal. And don’t get me started on all the food! I don’t know how they manage to cook amazing food for a group of 300 people, 3 times a day. I simply chock it up to the magic of the whole place.

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Add to that my 2 massages, both of which were some of the most intuitive bodywork I have ever had. And a “spiritual massage” that involved all kinds of crystals and crazy breathing techniques. I felt relaxed from the inside out, which I honestly am not sure I have really felt before. It took 3 good days for my anxiety to truly evaporate, but after that, it stuck. Even 2 weeks later, I am still holding onto that “calm, collected, peaceful, everything’s going to be fine” feeling I left there with.

I know a lot of this sounds hippy dippy and corny of me, but it’s completely true. I would 100% recommend this place to anyone. But most especially if you are looking for a few days to just get back to yourself and start fresh. It was absolutely the best way to start a new year. I cannot wait to go back! xo Cait

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Healing Matters: Yoga Booty Ballet + Esalen

kristenThis is Kristen Huffman, isn’t she beautiful? To know Kristen and call her a friend is a true honor. She is a beacon of positive energy and a true healer. For 4 years now, I’ve been a student of her dance class, Yoga Booty Ballet. The name doesn’t quite sum up what you get from this class because it is so much more than dance.

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Each week, I make the trek to Atwater Village for the 8:30 class at Heartbeat House; that’s a 30-45 minute drive on a weeknight, after I’ve had a full day of motherhood & work. But this is my church and I would travel to the moon and back to dance with these ladies. During this 75 minute class, you can expect to meditate, to set intentions, to clear your mind, to dance your heart out and to cultivate a true sense of community. During years past, I worked for FILTER Magazine as a music curator and talent buyer. Music have always been an enormous part of my life so it makes sense that I experience so much creativity and inspiration while dancing.

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So clearly YBB is one of my favorite activities and now it might collide with my favorite place in the world: Esalen, Big Sur. My heart could explode just thinking about this possibility. Kristen applied to teach a dance workshop at Esalen so I have to plant the seed and send the wish out into the universe. If I blog about, then it has to happen, right? I could write endlessly about my love for Esalen and how it’s this magical place tucked into the cliffs of Big Sur. It’s just simply perfect and to experience this place is to understand how to live in a constant state of happiness.

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If you’re interested in taking Kristen’s class, please check her website here.

And if you’re not familiar with Esalen and would like to lear more, click here.