This week I’m participating in a massage course – a week long introduction to the style developed at the famous Esalen Institute in California. It’s the first time I’ve undertaken a course as participant since first coming to Findhorn some nine years ago. I hope that my writing about the experience willoffer a glimpse of how it is to be a participant in one of our programmes. I can’t say, “a typical programme”, because this one is very different to most, and in any case, each course is unique, although some of the activities I’ll describe are common to many.

I have always been a keen amateur masseur. I love the sense of touch and the communication that skin to skin contact brings with another. And yet I’ve never undertaken any training to learn how to do it with more understanding and purpose. My approach has always been very intuitive. And whilst this has served well enough, I have always wanted to strengthen the effectiveness of my technique. Without knowing much about it, Esalen Massage has appealed especially in recent years as I’ve spoken with trainees undertaking courses here in Findhorn. However, I’ve never been able to afford the cost of the full month-long training. This week-long introduction, at a subsidised price for Findhorn Foundation coworkers, is very affordable and in perfect timing given that my workload in the office is light at the moment.

  room view card

I arrived at Cluny, our campus in Forres where the Esalen courses are run, mid-morning on Saturday. Registration was quick and easy. I meet the lovely Mika, our trainer who has come all the way from Tokyo for the purpose and her co-facilitator, Nadashree whom I already know well as a Foundation coworker and a good friend. I was allocated a very nice room, facing south, overlooking the beautiful Cluny gardens and the golf course beyond. Before lunch I unpacked and made myself at home there, then mingled with a few of the other participants. We scratched the surface of each other’s worlds, learning names and countries and backgrounds … gaining a sense of with whom we would journey for the next week. Lunch was typically beautifully conceived and prepared, Findhorn style. I sat to eat at the long table in the bay window at the far end of the dining room, the same table I had adopted during Experience Week … the viewpoint from which I originally fell in love with the gardens and landscape around here.

Cluny  02 Cluny  04 unnamed (2)

We met as a group for the first time at 2pm in Cluny’s Ballroom, our home for the week. This is a magnificent Victorian room with a high, richly decorated ceiling, teak panelling on the walls, magnificent large windows, fine wooden floor and a spaciousness bordering on grandeur that belies its compact size. It’s my second favourite interior space in this whole region; the first being the aforementioned dining room. The purpose of the first session, as it is with almost all our programmes, is an introduction to the course and to each other. It quickly becomes clear that we are a very diverse group in terms of massage experience. Several are already practitioners and teachers of massage therapy and an equal number have little or no experience. One participant has never given or received a massage in her life and was even a little anxious about being touched. I wonder how much of a challenge such diversity will pose for the focalisers.

After an hour or so of preliminaries we move to the Sanctuary for an Angel Meditation. This is something we integrate into almost all our courses. It’s an attunement of sorts whereby a focaliser will lead a meditation, inviting the participants to go inside to align, then select (or perhaps it selects them), a card from a deck which portrays a particular quality that will accompany them during the week. I drew the Angel Card of Grace…always a lovely quality to dance with. What’s not to like about Grace? And the Angel Card selected for the group as a whole, the Group Angel, was Light. We shared what our respective qualities meant to us – whether they resonated or not, or touched on something going on in our lives. Then we completed the session by forming a circle and going inside to individually and collectively express gratitude for the events of the day, for life, for anything really that we fancy appreciating. This manner of closing a session is common to most group activities held in the community.

ballroom cards

Saturday evening is one of the two nights of the week when the sauna in Cluny is fired up. So after dinner, that’s what I did. And it was delicious. More than adequately hot, with a very cold outdoor plunge pool and a lovely wood-lined rest area, the Cluny sauna is a much valued facility, certainly by those hardcore sauna-goers who regularly meet there. I was returning to the sauna for the second or third time when something highly unexpected happened. I jumped up onto the top bench, diverting my eyes (as one does in a sauna) from the naked body of the woman I sat next too. “Hello” she said. My heart jumped at the sound of her voice; it was the wondrous woman who has been my on-again-off-again girlfriend/partner/lover for the last six months. We had been having a challenging day; harsh (from me) and curt (from her) text messages had been flying back and forth between us. I’m going to cut a long story short here. In fact, I’m only including this digression because I wish to bring to a conclusion the story that I posted last week – such has been the level of interest in my love life since.

Anyway, by 10.30 we were back at my place in The Park, processing the challenges of the previous few days. We were both feeling hurt and desperate. We talked for about an hour and decided that, once-and-for-all we would split up – that our relationship was not serving either of us, nor any higher good. Then we realised that in half an hour, the date would be Oct 19th, exactly six months since we first got together. It seemed obvious that we should not formally split until midnight. But what to do with the remaining half hour? We decided to spend it in appreciation and celebration of our oftentimes joyous journey together. So we each shared what we had most enjoyed about our adventures into love, sex and intimacy. And of course, in the process, we softened again and grew close. By midnight we were passionately locked together on the couch and deciding to spend the night together. In the morning we parted as singles, still fully resolved that the relationship was over but knowing that we would likely remain lovers, albeit on an ad hoc basis. Essentially, we had ditched the relationship in order to preserve the love. And it feels perfect!

Sunday morning was to be the first day of the course proper; but rather than launch straight into a session of massage, we began with an hour of meditation and yoga. This is unusual for our courses. Participants on most of our programmes always have the option of attending our regular morning group meditations in the two sanctuaries at Cluny and The Park. But it’s rare for there to be a morning mediation followed by yoga held by the course focalisers. Both activities were beautifully led by Mika. Then we broke for a light breakfast and returned to the Ballroom for the second session of the day; once again, this was not a massage session. Rather, it was an hour-long session of dance, again lead by Mika. And so it’s been every morning this week; we would start the day with meditation (half an hour), yoga (half an hour) and dance (an hour). This emphasis on self knowledge and healing through meditation, yoga and movement is part of the Esalen ethos. They rightly believe it essential that massage practitioners develop a deep awareness of their own physicality and also conciously attend to their emotional and spiritual well-being.

At 2pm, we met again for the first session of massage. During the check-in, more than a little frustration was expressed that it had taken 24 hours to get to this point. I was feeling a little of that, but because of my understanding and appreciation of the ‘field-setting’ that is part of almost all our programmes, I was predominantly feeling relaxed and grateful to be there. Mika began by explaining then demonstrating a few basic strokes on her ‘client’, Nadashree – actually, just one long continuous stroke down the back from shoulders to buttocks, up the sides and across the upper back to the shoulders, then back to the neck and head. It became clear to me in an instant, that YES! this is a style of massage that I can enthusiastically adopt. Strokes that are deep, long, continuous, fluid and very, very slow…bordering on sensual and surely deeply relaxing and healing for the lucky recipient. Mika demonstrated a stroke or two more. It seemed that this massage style would be as much of a joy to give, as to receive. She used her whole body at fullest stretch, sometimes with feet firmly planted, using gravity’s pull on her bodyweight to provide the impetus and strength to her strokes. And at other times, up on her toes and pirouetting like a dancer around shoulder or foot as she completed the pulled stroke along arm or leg.

We paired up to practice on each other. My partner was a good friend from within the community so there was little apprehension as we set about applying what we had witnessed. We worked on each other for about a half hour, applying the strokes we had observed whilst being closely supervised by Mika and Nadashree. I was in heaven, learning how to do with intent and purpose what I’d always done with intuition and love. I now feel (several days later) that I’ll be able to blend all of these incentives to confidently offer a massage to friends and lovers that will bring them relaxation and healing. The ensuing days of the course followed the same pattern. We began with meditation, yoga and dance, followed by two sessions of instruction and the giving and receiving of massage. I have no intention to take further Esalen massage courses. I doubt that I will ever be able to afford the full month’s training but, in any case, I have no desire to turn this new interest into a vocation. This week has been perfect. It has provided sufficient input and inspiration for me to now be able to offer a full-body massage with reasonable understanding and proficiency.

I thank the Findhorn Foundation for offering the course and for providing a generous subsidy for its coworkers.