Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
LEEP-ing Into One’s Deeper Self

Laley Lippard was coping with loss on many levels last year - the loss of community,, connection, and clarity during a social revolution. In her Washington, D.C. apartment, she poured over a list of retreats, classes, and more, hoping to find somewhere to nourish her soul within a community setting. 

“With only two hours left on the deadline for the January session, a friend sent me a link to LEEP,” Lippard shared via email. “Hallelujah.” Lippard applied quickly for LEEP, our Live Extended Education Program, a total immersion of four weeks focused on unlocking potential and exploring new perspectives. 

For Lippard, it was like an incredible sign from the universe, reminding her of a time when she was a young artist living in the Bay Area. “Big Sur had been a refuge, a healing space, full of rapture, adventure, and spiritual discovery, and it lived in me even after I left the West Coast in 2009,” Lippard shared. “Water has always been the passageway to my greatest healing, too. The sacred land, the converging waters, and Esalen’s way of negotiating nuance, tangling with complexity, and sitting inside contradiction… all rang the bell of my heart.”

On the tails of her LEEP experience, Lippard was exploding with enthusiasm about how this transformational time will shape her future. 

Christine Chen: List three words to describe your time in LEEP and one sentence about your word choices. 

Laley Lippard: Healing. Working in the garden, I had the chance to plant tiny seeds, care-take their growth in the greenhouse, and then transfer those babies into the earth to flourish. This is a good metaphor of Esalen’s focus on the intricacies of transformation, centering, tending, tendering, rebuilding, and rehoming into healing.

Sensual. Everything is alive at Esalen; the flavors are rich, the colors are vivid, the tactile world is humming, the air’s sweetness is intoxicating, the aliveness in my relationships there are inspiring. 

Astonishing. Every minute of every day, I felt awe at the landscape, the animals, the people, the practices, the synchronicities, and the lessons. 

CC: How would you describe yourself in the program?

LL: Wildly curious early riser. Hands caked in dirt garden-lover. Art-making altar-honorer. Otter-energy water lady. Humble learner, grateful friend, and stumbly human. 

CC: What will you take away from this experience? 

LL: … the growth I saw in the other nine members of my cohort: their vulnerability, courage, brilliance, and generosity. We were lucky that Steven Harper, our facilitator, studied directly with Dick Price, absorbing early Gestalt work in real time. His knowledge of Esalen’s origin, the constellation of thinkers and practice that forged the early days at the Institute (and the field), and his ease with the somatic integration of all that theory was profound. I have built habits in a spectrum of practice for emotional and physical regulation, emotional release, awareness, centeredness, maintaining growth edge, and community building.

CC: What’s changed in your life since your LEEP experience? 

LL: The quality of my awareness – of my thoughts, breath, animal body, spiritual connection, relating – is palpable. There are a few percolating big-picture changes, but like those babies in the greenhouse, I will wait to plant in the big arena once they are a bit stronger. 

CC: What do you envision for your future as a result of this immersion? 

LL: I envision a future where all beings are happy, do not struggle with oppression or suffering, and can realize our wildest dreams. As a result of this brief but penetrating experience, I hope to be a more centered, courageous, loving, and humble champion of human liberation. And on the bad days, hold a steady compassion for the hurting. 

“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?

If you’re inspired by Laley’s story, we invite you to discover more information about LEEP and hope to see you soon!

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Christine Chen

Christine Chen is the host of Esalen Live! and Chief Editor of The Journal. She is a two-time Emmy winning journalist, best-selling author, California native, and senior teacher of yoga and Ayurveda on Esalen Faculty.