vibrant artistry at esalen


I spent Saturday afternoon surrounded by the flowers of Esalen, an institute and retreat center in Big Sur.

esalen gardens

The flowers are near the gardens,

esalen gardens

and visitors are encouraged to take a sweet pea or two with provided scissors,

sweet peas

There is incredible energy in this place where those seeking to learn arrive for workshops and seminars,

that this bud

to see parts of themselves unfold in brilliant colors.

becomes this flower

From the gardens, I could hear the poets on stage as part the day’s Arts Festival, so I left the orange dahlias,

orange dahlia at esalen

to see what words were being spoken—

audience participation as part of poetree

beyond impressed with Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis’s performance, especially her (famous) “An Upbeat Black Girl’s Song” that rang out over the grounds.

poetree performance at esalen

I wandered over to where hula hoops revolved near the mineral baths,

hula hoops near succulents at esalen

and plantings of succulents,

succulents at esalen

and returned to watch the opposite stage as someone chalked a peaceful heart in blue near my feet,


as the tribute to to Francisco Aguabella (1925-2010) with Jesus Diaz & Pedro “Muñeco” Aguilar began, and I was inspired by another fierce female artist, Kati Hernandez, who commanded the audience’s attention.

A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella at Esalen

Kati was joined by another dancer who left his microphone to dance in front,


until she appeared in a different costume (the blue costume symbolized the maternal force of water, known as Yemayá in these traditions).

A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella at Esalen

Then, the two danced together after the different types of Afro-Cuban rumba (Rumba Yambú, Rumba Guaguancó, and Rumba Columbia) were explained,

A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella at Esalen

A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella at Esalen

A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella at Esalen

and the group’s performance on the bright stage hung with prayer flags ended with a huge audience conga line around the space and everyone on their feet (also, the drummer in the center with the cap was phenomenal).

A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella at Esalen

As they finished, the festival founder and creative director Jayson Fann (here in the hat) was readying the next performer, Viviana Guzmán—part of a seamless string of talent that graced the stages throughout, and not an easy feat with an entire day of different acts.

Jayson preparing the next act

As Viviana’s set started, beautiful local food began to be served:

Viviana Guzman

a local halibut, local corn, and three salads with lettuces grown at Esalen ( “greens that haven’t seen a mechanized vehicle!” a proud server crowed).

dinner at esalen: local halibut, local corn, esalen salads

Grateful to my friend Bella Shing for alerting me to the event (she’s lovely, and ran a filmmaking intensive as part of the festival), I left the celebration of artists and food and nature to drive into the sun around Big Sur,

big sur

inspired by all the views of the day on the misty drive back to my cabin…

big sur

  1. Awesome photographs! As someone who lived there for a little while in the 90s, this post reminded me of what I’m missing living in Manhattan. Thanks so much for sharing your day!

  2. Kristen says:

    Thanks, Marcia, how wonderful that you were part of Esalen for a time—it really is a special place. Look forward to catching up when I’m back in Brooklyn later this summer (and I may have to live at Esalen someday too!)

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