For many many years I have been teaching workshops at the Esalen Institute entitled “Cultivating Meaning and Happiness through Mindfulness and Yoga.” And I also have publicly stated on many occasions that I don’t think anyone can teach anyone older than 12 years old anything; the best we can do is inspire students to want to expand their mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, philosophical and psychological horizons. As Esalen teacher Abraham Maslow said, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem resembles a nail.” Simply put, I share tools.
Every class begins with a dharma talk, followed by a yoga class, then a meditation. The morning talks present philosophical and psychological problems and then afternoon talks offer potential solutions for the students to try on. This is what the days resemble:
The week is replete with quotes, jokes, movie clips, poetry, music, comedy sketches, scientific studies, literature, art, magic tricks, illusions and exercises that explore how the human mind works as well as its limitations and foibles. Wittgenstein said that the history of philosophy could be told as a series of jokes and my class proves it unequivocally. I spend two days deconstructing the human mind, the myth of romantic love, democratic capitalism, and science while modeling authenticity so that students feel comfortable playing with new skillful solutions to old problems. On the third day, some of them pop like popcorn with “Aha!” revelations; others burst into tears; others dive deep into their hearts to discover new levels of compassion; and others gain new perspectives on how they are going to transform their lives as well as the planet. If you are confused by the above course description it is because the arc of the class is incommunicable to anyone who has not gone on this journey.
And none of the above matters because what I am really building is community. I prove irrefutably that — in general — the human experience is extremely similar for wealthy and not-so-wealthy people, capitalists and socialists, black people and white people, Christians and Muslims, etc. Essentially, we all yearn to be loved UNCONDITIONALLY but we only are given tools to gain love CONDITIONALLY. There are no classes in our current school system on how to give a hug, how to receive a hug, how to hold hands, how to breathe to take yourself out of fight, flight or freeze mode, how to look someone in the eyes compassionately, how to make someone feel heard. So now at 26, 36, or 46 years-old, when people have accomplished much of the fictional “American Dream” and are swimming in a pool of debt rather than a pool of bliss, joy, ecstasy and happiness, I provide a set of tools that is scientifically proven to keep people at the upper ranges of their happiness spectrums.
And all of the important, poignant and really transformational portions of the workshop happen either 1. at the luxurious dinners or 2. in the luscious baths or 3. at the amazing concerts featuring world-class musicians.
- Thirty percent of the food on the tables at Esalen is picked from their gardens that day. Toss in a few bottles of wine and you end up with something like this:
2. Regarding the “clothing optional” baths, my own theory is that being naked in those gorgeously steamy waters is subconsciously like being held in the womb again. However, I tell people, “Well, it’s just more difficult to be an asshole when you’re naked.” An over-abundance of skin tends to level the playing field — particularly in our superficial culture where most people walk around being judged and judging others on their facades.
3. In some odd way, the concerts at Esalen are akin to old-fashioned talent shows, but you have to imagine that Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder and Ani DiFranco happen to be sitting in the audience and the MC — moi — has nonchalantly invited them to share a jingle or two. Here’s the entire show from last week featuring Chris Brown solo, Chris Brown and the Less is Morchestra, kirtan superstar Mirabai and her friend Mischa who just happened to be there, Skye Weaver, Jeremiah Hepner, JJ from Esalen, Rowly and Madonna, and a back-up band of composer Jeff Gall and multi-hyphenate Nicolas de los Ríos:
Here’s Skye Weaver singing about gratitude a-cappella:
And here’s a tidbit of the impromptu dance party requested by the audience:
OK, so last week while demonstrating that language is a cage and that what the vast majority of people believe is utter horseshit, I misspoke while citing the study on happiness entitled “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims.” I was demonstrating that the mind functions analogously to a hedonic treadmill and that we overestimate things we think will make us happy and underestimate our resilience, when I refered to the study as, “Accident Winners and Lottery Victims” instead of “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims.”
Actually that might be a better title for my class on happiness because it turns out that what we are taught will make us happy — money, sex, prestige, power — is highly efficient in the short run, but in the long run pales dramatically in comparison with LOVE. So it doesn’t matter what the workshop is called, as long as there is great food, great music, and optional nudity — sprinkled excessively with authenticity and authentic communications. When baked at 70 degrees for five sunny days the recipe ends up looking like this:
And I even manged to find a spare few minutes to exercise my creativity and make this silly homage to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”