In the beginning of October I had the luck to be in one of the most nurturing places I have yet experienced, having a meeting of the mind with bright members of the global burner community. The event was Burning Man Convening at Esalen.
Thank you Meghan Rutigliano for sending the invitation!
Actually, this journey to Esalen started exactly a year ago in Mill Valley, California…or maybe five years ago in Peru (but this is already a longer story). So, on October 2018 I was at Druid Heights, having tea and sitting by a round thick wooden table with artists Marilyn and Ed Stiles, Steven Vermillion and author Echo Heron. Steven was looking at my sketches of the place we were and noted that I should also draw Esalen Institute at Big Sur. Marilyn added that some previous residents of Druid Heights like Gary Snyder or Alan Watts, used to go to Esalen to give talks.
Few months ago, when I serendipitously got the call for applying a scholarship to the convening, I intuitively acted on it without thinking about the logistics. I ended up traveling to Burning Man and back to Estonia, then to Israel and Palestine, to Estonia and then again to the U.S. Now when sitting at my studio back in Tallinn (with a crazy jet-lag), it all makes sense. Just like Burning Man – I could see the connections, feel it, but in the end could not define how it all came about.
And like at Burning Man, in Esalen I felt that this place and the people support one to be the best self – to learn, practise and get inspired to live up to the highest potential as a human being. And while being among burners, there is always an extra kick of humour, love and creativity involved in the experience.
// DAY AT ESALEN
I would wake up every day at 6 or 6:30 AM, go to the Round House to meditate, then walk through the lush garden to Katie Hazard’s yoga class, Qi Gong with Mac Murphy or the hot springs on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Several times during the day, especially while being in the gardens, I got amused by the feeling of stepping into the New Age book “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield. Like in the written fiction the food that is served at Esalen, is grown on the land and it radiates pure love and care!
After morning activities and breakfast, the tracks started. Every participant could pick one for the whole event. The choices were:
° Principles of Inclusive Stakeholding
° Creative Communities & Placemaking
° Radical Collective Impact for Catalytic Neighborhood Development
° Democracy: are you a spectator?
° Creative Catalyst – Collaborative Workshop with Artist Dana Albany
° Conversations on the Edge (CotE) / Time to Reflect
As I was part of Creative Communities & Placemaking group and would attend Conversations on the Edge, I lay the focus there. Also on time and common sessions in between.
// THE BEGINNING
On the first evening Roothub tuned us in with a song “Let’s turn the magic on right here in Esalen!”
And the day later Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell officially opened the convening with toast and evening talk.
// CREATIVE COMMUNITIES & PLACEMAKING
This track was facilitated by John Marx, Maya Zuckerman and Debi von Huene. Add to the content, there was so much to learn from these curators. Starting from their support and inclusion before getting to Esalen. John Marx asked me to prepare a presentation about what is happening in the Regional Network and among Estonian Burners. The way he connected and kept in touch made me feel warmly welcomed and excited to participate! I was also inspired by Maya’s tactics of paying attention and curating that everyone would have an opportunity to speak up and through that also opportunity to listen. Making just inclusion into radical! Debi’s power was her experience – making way to the art/ists and sharing tools how to expand the burner community outside of the Black Rock City.
I became truly fond of the whole group and kept finding myself in awe while listening to any of the participants speak. To give a few examples:
Greg Delaune talked about floating cities and showed images of some ongoing projects. I had seen similar utopian renderings when I studied architecture years ago. While listening to Greg, I understood that these are not utopian anymore – these cities are forming here and now. And they are for actual & crucial need, as the global sea level keeps on rising minute by minute. For sustaining vibrant communities living on the shores, these structures have become true necessity.
Jeremy Crandell introduced Crucible – a maker space in Oakland, giving a deeper insight how add to providing rooms for creativity and skill sharing, the board pays attention on transforming any disharmonious social interaction on the way.
Zaid Fredericks is working on collecting billion dreams. And, Lisa Friedman and Herman Gyr gave a playful tool to encourage to take action for making some of the dreams come true – sharing Co Star for pitching moonshot ideas.
“Regenerative describes processes that restore, renew or revitalize their own sources of energy and materials. Regenerative design uses whole systems thinking to create resilient and equitable systems that integrate the needs of society with the integrity of nature.“
The topic of diversity and radical inclusion was highlighted also at one of the Conversations on the Edge workshop lead by Élida Bautista inviting the participants to self-examine one’s social identity and discuss with each other how one is affected by it. We continued to have a conversation about it under a starry night sky in the hot baths full of minerals on the edge of a cliff. Magic of Esalen!
Another magical coincidence occured during an unconference – “Multidisciplinary Tools for Conflict Transformation”. I ended up getting answers to questions that I kept on asking from locals while being in the Middle East right before Esalen. For this experience, the crazy traveling made a perfect sense!
The final Conversation on the Edge was with super inspiring [freespace] activist Mike Zuckerman who is mastering culture hacking. Another synchronicity in action – months before Esalen I got inspired by an article about an amphitheatre in Uganda and seeing the same images on Mike’s slides made me love life and and it’s curious ways of connecting people even more!
We also had a burn organised by our community’s standup shaman Dave X. The ceremony started with “fire dancers” flagging towels for not-45 minutes and Katie Hazard raising the hands of the Man. While the Man was in flames, the founder of Everland – Jonathan Jenkins passionately performed this poem and Donald Cassel aka Space Master enriched the moment with playing Didgeridoo live.
On the last day in the morning after the meditation I went for a hike to a place that my friend and mentor Andrew Johnstone had recommended. He had been at the Burning Man Convening a year before, enjoying a hidden redwood forest to practise playing his bagpipes. Being on the same road, I realised (once again) that I am the most elevated when I’m on solo hikes…in the jungles of Thailand, or the Himalayas in Nepal, or valleys of Peru and now on a small, but grand forest road in Esalen. Feeling fully connected with nature and experiencing that being here and now is enough.
Sharing the advice of one current Esalen resident and wingsuit flyer John Verb:
“Just show up!”
For closing the convening all came together for the last circle to share what anyone could give, ask and commit to. And finally, for what we are thankful for.
And right before heading to San Francisco, we soaked in the baths one more time with Katie Hazard, Andrea Saliba and Playa Restoration Manager – “DA” Dominic Tinio, who needed the soak the most, as he came to Esalen straight from our desert home, leaving no trace!