Monday, August 07, 2006

The Esalen Experience

It does the body good, Bush, to strip itself naked and soak itself in a tub of natural hot springs water with other naked human bodies, male and female, at ease with one another. It does the spirit good to gaze out over the endlessly restless, immeasurably deep Pacific Ocean from your hot tub, nested halfway up the side of the cliff; and to gaze up into the even more immeasurable depths of the California skies--by day, by night, at dusk, at the break of day... It connects the spirit with its true home in the vastness of that great, ever-mysterious natural universe, and the body with the water and the earth. It also does the body good to lie naked under expert hands and feel its aches and pains be tended to with tender precision and care.

It does the heart good to sit in a circle of fellow human beings and open itself out to hear the truth of others and to speak its own without fear of the kind of ill-treatment with which it is too often met in the world out-there, in the form of ridicule and judgment. For myself, arriving in that circle, I was surprised by the sudden rawness that I felt: I had celebrated that seventieth birthday, yes, and well. But I had not fully processed the experience, along with all the sadness around reaching that age, and the fear of growing old--with all the debility and dependence that might entail.

And I have to tell you, Bush, I used the opportunity of that circle of good, fellow-suffering, fellow-curious, fellow-feeling human beings to unburden myself of those feelings in their full depth. Here's the poem I wrote, in a long, sleepless night of endeavor to explore and expose them: I call it,

Go Gentle

I wish to acknowledge that I am now
seventy years old, and entering
what is at best
the last third of my life.

I wish to acknowledge the fear of getting older--
there, I said it, I denied myself permission
to say "old"--the fear of getting old.

I wish to acknowledge the fear of being helpless
and helpless
the fear of infirmity
the fear of dependence on others
the fear of vulnerability and exposure.

I wish to remain conscious through the process of aging
and the process of dying.

I wish to suffer any indignities I may be called upon to suffer
with dignity and grace.

I wish to suffer any pain I may be called upon to suffer
without self-pity.

I wish to be an old man of kindness, compassion and contentment
and not an old man of anger and bitterness,
of resentment and regret.

I wish to be helpful and never helpless.

I wish to bring joy to my children and grandchildren
and never a burden.

I wish to be known for my wisdom and compassion
and not for my small-minded foolishness.

I wish to grow outward toward the great universe
and not inward toward my small self.

I wish to live for as long as the universe allows
and no longer.

I wish to live until then in the spirit
of tranquility and generosity and love.

I wish to live always in the moment.

And when my time comes to leave this great planet
let me not, with my countryman Dylan Thomas--
remember that line?--
"rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Let me rather go gentle into that good LIGHT.

So I had the opportunity to lay bare the heart and soul in the same way as the body, in the hot tubs. And equally important, I had the opportunity to hear others as they laid bare their hearts and souls, and to hear the echo of my own in theirs. They were all "doing my work", and I was grateful for their courage and the depth of their concern. Life is immensely richer, I have discovered, happily, as I grow older, when I can be authentic and true amongst true, authentic people. It does the heart and soul good.

So it is at the Esalen Institute, Bush, where I just spent the weekend. You should try it sometime. It would do you good. It would be great if you could try it sometime soon, before you do the universe and this small planet more harm than you have already done.


dennis said...

P: I've sat in that tub at Esalen and it does induce melancholy. Did they make you wash the dishes? Or at least clear the table?

EAT RIGHT! and you could squeeze out another Thirty, old man. You could beat the pot (wok, whatever) and wail about old age later.

Eat well.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for the sage advice, Dennis! Cheers, PaL

Fred said...

Excellent poem, Peter. Ditto, I say.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, Fred.