November 12, 2020

This is how we Know We’re Alive.

Four friends, four round trip plane tickets, one Jeep Wrangler, and way too many bags took me on the adventure that brought me my moment of satori, my moment of understanding and awakening.

Surely, I hope to experience this again, but this was a doozy.

I’m not a big traveler. It was never the right moment to take time off of work, student loans took financial precedent, I was single and didn’t want to travel alone—you get my drift. I began to realize I could always find an excuse, so a few girlfriends and I decided to take a trip, but where to go?

Big Sur.

Over-packed and under-slept, we got to the airport for our absurdly early flight and settled in. Boarding the plane was what my therapist would call an exposure for me. A huge plane with closed quarters that induced a lack of control was an obvious anxiety trigger, but I felt much lighter than I anticipated. Perhaps, a good omen. I was determined to thoroughly revel in this trip and not let the undercurrent of exhaustive anxiety ruin it.

First stop was San Francisco and honestly, when I revisit this trip in memory, I forget we even stopped here. The real magic happened 145 miles south. After checking out of our hotel in San Francisco, we loaded our bags, found the Pacific Coast Highway, and set free. Windows down, music turned up, and souls alive, we made a two-hour drive into a six-hour tour. We stopped at practically every single outpost on the PCH and stood in awe of the glimmering Pacific Ocean and wide-open beaches. Lunch was enjoyed at a local restaurant that stood alone on the side of the highway, adorned with bumper stickers and locals, utterly carefree and relaxed.

We managed to book our trip during the off season, which, in hindsight, worked to our advantage. Big Sur is an unadulterated gem in the middle of California that smells like pine needles and saltwater. Devoid of commercial buildings, it’s a haven for hikers, artists, lovers, musicians, and soul wanderers, the likes of Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller.

We stayed at an inn alongside the highway and the Big Sur River. In the back of the property was a babbling river, shallow and clear. Adirondack chairs were precariously placed in groupings—an invitation to connect to nature. Everything in Big Sur was an overture; you just had to stay present to absorb the magic.

There was no pretense here; we spent our days barefaced and casual. We hiked barefoot in some spots and sat for hours staring at sunsets that forced you to believe in a heaven. There was little need for conversation because we were all in awe.

There was one slot on the itinerary that we had been eager to experience: the natural hot springs at Esalen Institute. If you’re not familiar, Esalen Institute, founded in the 1960s and built on the cliffs of the rocky coast, is a retreat center that explores consciousness potential, creativity, and community. Long before the institute was founded, many found the healing properties of the natural hot springs in the area. Now, you only have access to these hot springs if you are signed up for a workshop, but every night from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m., the springs are open for public night bathing. Limited spots and lack of advanced reservations were a clue that this moonlit ceremony was going to be extraordinary!

Even on a clear and sunny day, driving on the cliffside switchbacks of Big Sur was like dancing with death. The roads were newly reopened, having been under maintenance for quite some time due to mudslides. The guardrails were practically non-existent and there was no denying that six inches of shoulder space was the only thing between you and a plummet to darkness.

The destination was only a few miles from where we were staying, but we knew the drive would be risky at night. I fought internally for an hour, feeling something; I was scared and I didn’t know why. I put that premonition in my back pocket, got in the Jeep, and drove us 10 miles south to meet with the 15 other people who reserved their spot in the nightly ritual—all of us hoping to heal from the hands of Mother Nature.

Already earmarked by the employee for being in a group of four, we were extra quiet on the winding walk to the building that housed the co-ed changing rooms and showers that led to the hot springs under the naked sky. We picked one of the first large baths, with a wide brim flushed over the cliff. One look below offered a view of the rocky shore generously kissed by the ebb and flow of the Pacific. The only sound was the tide echoing down miles of shoreline beneath us. I had never taken any psychedelic drugs, but I had imagined that is how one feels—alive and buzzing. I lost count of how many shooting stars I wished upon; they twinkled with such life, their energy emanating down to those of us who were staring intently with wishful hearts.

Two hours later, my life had shifted.

I’ve spent much of my life fraught with anxiety; a visceral fear of the unknown, managing to overthink everything and sometimes twirling myself into a panic attack. In that moment I was genuinely content and at peace, feeling one with life force energy. This trip broke me wide open.

Our purpose, our reason for being here, is to choose the paths that awaken our soul. The paths that force us to vibrate higher, shaking up the stagnant energy. It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s always worth it. This is how we know we’re alive.

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