Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
INSIGHTS: A Journey to Understand and Heal

It wouldn’t be Esalen if we didn’t show up, dive in, and be open to perspectives other than our own. That’s how we transform. That’s how we grow. Danai is a member of the guest services team, and likely one of the first faces you'll see when you arrive at the store to check in for your experience.

As part of Danai’s new hire orientation, she spends at least one day in training through the Healing and Reconciliation Institute (HRI), part of a much larger engagement with HRI and the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County (ETMC). The goal is to better understand the complex history and relationships that play a role in stewarding the land that Esalen Institute occupies

Danai’s story of learning is just one of the many that intersect with each other in our community. Humble, honest, and hopeful, her personal insights are practically an offering to learn alongside her. Please offer your community energy as we all take this journey of learning together. 

Danai’s interview was part of our End of Year Campaign and the work of Friends of Esalen.  

Friends of Esalen: What is the Healing and Reconciliation Institute training? 

Danai: [It’s a] training that all Esalen staff have to complete in order to meaningfully be of service to this unique land and the people that pass through it. The training gives staff members an opportunity to learn about the history of the Esselen tribe, what this land means to them, the roots of the violence and oppression against Indigenous people from a factual and spiritual perspective… and what we can do to participate in the healing of that historical wound and be of genuine service to the tribe and their land.

Friends of Esalen: How have you grown from this experience?

Danai: As an immigrant-born black woman, I typically focus on exploring the historical roots of trauma against people of African descent. But, the HRI training allowed me to position and link my own community’s trauma in relation to the trauma that Indigenous people have suffered; I think that’ll ultimately be an important perspective to bring into the healing of our country’s story of oppression against under-represented communities. 

We also got some valuable insight into the role of generational trauma in oppressors and the oppressed, and we got a chance to explore how that presents itself in our own families. It was a lot to digest and stirred up a lot of emotions for me… but made me understand how my own personal history makes me show up for myself and the rest of humanity.

Friends of Esalen: Has it changed your relationship with Esalen? 

Danai: Definitely! I feel so grateful to have access to this sacred land that the Institute occupies. Despite the land’s complicated legacy, it continues to heal and transform the lives of people every day. I am also more connected to the gratitude I feel toward  the Esselen tribe for sharing this place with us, and for continuing to work with the Institute to make it the special place that it is. 

It changed my perspective of who I am as an employee here and my relationship with my colleagues. I now have a deeper understanding of where I am, and how that impacts my work at the Institute. It also feels good to be in community with folks who took this training seriously and to see all the wonderful ways they have used it to be in service here. 

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.

Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?

Help Us Continue the Work

Organizational relationship building, such as the work we do with the HRI, is a critical part of helping every staff member at Esalen honor this sacred place. If you would like to help us continue to invest in this work, you can find out more here, or make a donation to Friends of Esalen.

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Esalen Team