Many years ago I was sitting at a dinner party in hancock park when one of the guests began talking about a week long retreat she was about to take. As I listened to her speak, it was apparent this particular retreat was quite expensive and exclusive, so in a failed attempt at silencing her at the table, I remember saying something to the effect of "Big deal! Anyone could go and do that."
She proceeded to put me on the spot and asked if I would go, provided there was a space. I immediately answered"yes" hoping by nights end it would be long forgotten.
The following day, to my surprise, my phone rang. As fate would have it, there was a single opening left and she said if I was serious, it was mine. Lucky for me, at the time I had been making some pretty good money with a Coca Cola campaign I had recorded, but before I would commit, there was a call I had to make. I told her I'd let her know by the end of the day.
When I moved to Los Angeles, there was one constant in my life. I spoke to my Godmother Bella every single day. Oftentimes, before I would agree to do anything, I would call her and say "Yes or no?" And her answer would most always be my decision, even before she ever heard the question.
I remember calling Bella, after dinner that fateful day in Hancock Park, and asking what had become an oh so familiar question:
"Yes or no?"
She said without hesitation, "Yes!" And so it was, I agreed to take the spot at Esalen. I had no idea what effect that single trip would have on the rest of my life.
Prior to making my way to Big Sur, where Esalen is located, I began to find out a little bit more about what I had agreed to participate in. It wasn't exactly the "retreat" I had imagined. There would be no massages or mud masks in this particular week. It was called the Hoffman Quadrinity Process, and I was joining a group of business professionals from across the country who were coming to re-live their childhood. Still in my twenties, I was hardly a business professional, and had no desire whatsoever to re-live my childhood. It was apparent from the get go, I was not there to do any real work on myself.
Or so I thought...
One of the interesting things about that week, was we could have no outside contact. There would be no newspaper, no television, no telephone or radio. Blackberries and computers were not yet in the picture back then.
I remember calling my Bella and saying "Should I really go? I won't be able to speak to you for 9 days!" And I'll never forget the conviction in her voice when she said:
"You need to go there Jimmy."
Strange, in hindsight, that she was so adamant about my going. Bella had never even been to California, and yet there was a knowing in her voice that to this day gives me chills. To say I fell in love with the sacred grounds of Esalen would be an understatement, and in the process of re-living our childhoods, together as a group, we formed that year relationships and bonds that have lasted half my life.
When I got back to LA, all my friends wanted to know what I'd learned, and I remember joking;
"I'll save you five thousand dollars! Here's the deal. . . Our parents are guilty . . . But they're not to blame . . . Deal with it!"
Last month, I found myself driving along the coast to San Francisco to attend a dinner for a friend I'd met at Esalen all those years ago. I had tried to book a room at Esalen on my drive back to Los Angeles, but was unsuccessful. I decided to stop at the gate just the same and see if by some miracle I could get in and sure enough, by the grace of God, I managed to get a room for the night. I spent most of that evening in one of my favorite places, the natural hot springs located in the side of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As I sat in the comfort of that hot sulfur water, I was looking at shooting stars in the sky. All the years seemed to flash before my eyes, and in that moment, I remembered the young me who had arrived there some twenty years before.
All because his Godmother had said "Yes"
Little did I know when we spoke that day back in 1993, it would be our final conversation. While I was re-living my childhood at Esalen, my Godmother Bella was saying goodbye to her life as we knew it.
While I was at Esalen, my Godmother went into a coma, and I was soon on a plane bound for New England, where I buried my dearest and closest friend.
Not a single year has passed since that first visit, where I have not returned to the sacred grounds of Esalen. It is there I soak my soul in the waters, and return to the peaceful garden that held me so close during one of the most difficult times in my life.
And every year, whenever I go back, I find a quiet and tender moment where I am overlooking the Pacific. It's usually late at night, where the glow of a haunting moon reminds me that somewhere, she who loved me so, is still finding a way to whisper through the mysterious miracle of Mother Nature, "Yes"