Not sure how to feel about it

USA, California, Big Sur, Esalen, a woman sits on the edge of the hot spring at the Baths and takes in the evening view, the Esalen Institute

I know I am excited. I know I think about it every single day. I know I can’t wait. At the same time, I fear it will go by so fast that it’ll be over before I know it.  Or it will be so alien to how I think I’ll leave with no real idea of what happened.  Or I will disagree with everyone or feel like a fish out of water. I suppose I just don’t know how to feel about it. But I can’t wait to go.

I’m talking about my first writers retreat – an unbelievable gift from Natalia for the holidays. I was given the choice of attending a writers conference, a retreat, or something similar that might add to my repertoire as a writer. After checking dates, costs, what was happening in the writing world where and when, I settled on The Writer’s Journey: Crafting Personal Stories that are Vivid, Compelling and True with the fascinating and well-traveled writer Laura Davis. This weekend workshop, located at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, takes off April 8, 2016, and is so close to our house in Seaside I can drive there in no time. Being that it’s Esalen, with views of the roaring Pacific Ocean and healing hot springs (not to mention the presence of literary ghosts in Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac to name a few), I’m also looking at the outing as a short respite from the world and a chance to meet Laura and others who love the written word.

Normally, retreats are the sort of thing I could never afford and, at the cost of such things, I would question whether they’re worthwhile. I’ve often wondered how writers, historically poor, can afford such diversions. Isn’t their time better spent writing? Would it benefit my writing if I went? Like forever? Shouldn’t that money go to an outstanding debt or my empty retirement? Or maybe a new computer or two?


Me and my not-so-gently-used copy of

Natalie Goldberg’s famous book.

But this is where I let go and allow my desire for knowledge to override my common sense. I have never done this sort of thing before and I have been writing for a long time. I want to know what a retreat is like. I want the experience. I could love it so much I’ll yearn to return. I could come away with reasons to never return. One thing is for sure. I will never know unless I go.

And I do plan to follow up on this blog with a post-retreat entry.

The Laura Davis/Esalen retreat includes meditation and personal exploration, and includes a mandatory reading of Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I don’t meditate except when I’m trying to remember what I was supposed to do next on my to-do list. I’ve never thought my inner writer shackled to anything except my own time limitations. But I am excited nonetheless, maybe because I’ve never done these things, maybe because the idea of exploring my inner voice from a new perspective has me uncomfortable, or maybe I feel like I will be pretending (in glorious Big Sur of all places) to be something I’m not: affluent, metaphysical, interesting, privileged, etc.,

It could be we all merely pretend. Do it long enough and you’re an expert, right?

Published by patrickwhitehurst

Patrick Whitehurst is a fiction and non-fiction author who's written for a number of northern Arizona newspapers over the years, covering everything from the death of the nineteen Granite Mountain Hotshots to Barack Obama's visit to Grand Canyon. In his spare time he enjoys painting, blogging, the open water, and reading everything he can get his hands on. Whitehurst is a graduate of Northern Arizona University and currently lives in Tucson, Arizona.

15 thoughts on “Not sure how to feel about it

      1. Yeah. And full truths are like clogged toilets when someone else has to “go” and there’s no plunger to be found.

  1. Looking forward to seeing you at Esalen, Patrick. Strangely enough, I read your post about coming to my retreat next April–from my hotel room in Vietnam. I’m leading a writing group here and we just came to the third stop in our itinerary for a three day “writing intensive.” Up until now, we’ve been in the grit of Hanoi in a decent, but affordable hotel, the kind of place I might stay on my own. Now we’re in a very decadent resort for a few nights–definitely not the kind of place I’d be able to afford on my own. Nor is it the kind of place I’d choose for my own personal travel. But I must say…it’s very very nice!

    I’m just going to enjoy the amenities while I’m here teaching. I suggest you do the same at Esalen. Just savor the unique California eccentric luxury of Esalen. I’m sure you’ll get a good story out of your weekend there. There’s no place quite like it.

    P.S You don’t have to read the book. It’s a recommendation, not a command. And the meditation will not be intimidating. I promise. Just a way to get centered and to find the deep place good writing comes from.

    See you in April in Big Sur. I look forward to meeting you. And believe me, most people are nervous before their first writing retreat.

    1. Hi, Laura! I actually knew you were in Vietnam because I stalked you! Actually I follow you on Facebook and read about your adventures there – even the foot massage sounded memorable. Thank you for helping me breathe a little easier. I will probably be taking a few deep breaths before the retreat. I’ve heard good things about Esalen, so I am quite curious about it at this point. And Writing Down the Bones has been recommended by more than one author friend, so I am actually pretty excited to start reading it (tonight if the stars align).
      I hope you are enjoying the swanky hotel!

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