Thursday, January 8, 1970

Esalen

Event: October 24, 1965
Updated: March 27, 2010

Episcopal priest John David Arnold, pastor of The Ranch of the Way in Ben Lomond, California, at which I stayed for a few days (after having permanently left home in San Diego less than a week before that) wanted me to meet and sing for his friends at Big Sur Hot Springs (Esalen Institute). The first people I met were members of a dance therapy group headed by Jungian oriented Mary Whitehouse and Josey Taylor. This was my introduction to the world of Carl Jung.

The group had just finished an exhaustive dance process as I arrived and was introduced and asked to sing. As I began singing various songs ranging from Russian folk songs to Negro spirituals, one or two of the dancers began to move spontaneously. As a few more began to move, Josie came over to me and said, "Eugene, we practice moving spontaneously to unstructured sounds, but you are singing structured songs. Can you consider letting your singing become spontaneous sound?"

I'd never done such a thing before, but agreed to try. I asked to use noise and sound making instruments I saw scattered around the dance floor and gathered them around me for easy access. Then I asked the dancers to let whatever sounds they felt like expressing to come out of them and that I would see if I could use what happened to make a medley with what came up in me.

So we began the experiment. And what an experience it became! At first as I began humming aimlessly, those dancers already on the floor began moving more energetically. Some began to hum and chirp. I took those sound bites into my own sounds which included my voice, bongo drums and various metal gongs. More and more dancers joined in as the sounds accelerated and the volume increased. It didn't take long for all dancers, previously exhausted, to spring to their feet and join the event, which continued to spiral up and around us all. This went on for perhaps an hour or two! until we began to descend and slow and taper off to a beautiful quiet peace.

We all sat soundless now, looking at each other in amazement with grateful smiles at what we had all just experienced. No one was tired any more, but very much at peace. It was a spiritual experience.

One of the dancers came over to me and introduced herself as Susan. Lenard Cohen's famous song "Suzanne takes you down by the river...." began playing in my mind and my life took a fateful, irreversible turn.

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