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Waters of the Sur

To be in Big Sur is to swim in the diversity of how water shows itself on earth. Water is one of the very few compounds that we see in all of its forms — solid, liquid, and gas — perhaps the key reason for life on this third planet from the sun. Here the water element offers itself so freely that there is no other choice but to be touched by it in sound, smell, sight, movement, and yes, in every breath.

Here, we find water pushed up from deep in the earth by such great pressure that when it finally emerges to meet air, it is laden with minerals and geothermal heat —gifted to us as hot springs. Here, a fresh water creek that begins almost 4,000 feet above sea level in the Big Sur mountains makes its long, steep journey through rock layers, spring upon spring, fork upon fork, and becomes Hot Springs Creek, which runs through Esalen before finally making its way home to the sea.

Here, we receive water offerings in the forms of rain, fog, and even snow. Even on a cloudless day the air is heavy with gaseous water and every breath of clear air is filled with water in it vaporous form. Here, we behold the salty ocean, mother of all biological life. Ocean waves sing their constant songs, which can remind us of our own pulsing hearts. By weight the average human is approximately 70% water. Each ocean wave’s rhythmic touch – a forceful crash or gentle caress – reminds us that we, too, are water-bodies.

To be in Big Sur is to be touched by water, to deeply feel our liquid body and the community of this larger water-body that we live in each moment. Here, we participate in a fluid and animate world while knowing our ancient belonging. This watery foundation is a fertile bed for the many seeds, the tending, weeding, blossoming, and fruition of all that Esalen has brought forth and will bring forth into each individual and our collective, ever-changing world.

- Steven Harper, 2016

Photos by Emma Barry


Steven Harper is a long-time Esalen faculty member, a wilderness guide, author, artist, and Big Sur resident. He has led both traditional and experimental wilderness expeditions internationally for more than 35 years. He has an MA in psychology and his work focuses on wild nature as a vehicle for awakening.


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