Gazebo Park School at Esalen Institute

Photo courtesy of Esalen Institute.

Photo courtesy of Esalen Institute.

The month of May is beautiful in most parts of the US, and California is no exception.  These photos are from a recent trip up the California coast where I took an art class at Esalen Institute. A place my cousin refers to as “that famous meditation retreat.”  Followed by, “You are so lucky to be going there!”  Indeed, I did feel lucky to be going there, especially because I was going for ME – for pure, personal replenishment.  And replenishment was something I sorely needed. Have you heard the term “compassion burnout” at conferences lately? I was beginning to relate a bit too much to that expression, and I longed for relief.

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The Esalen grounds were bursting with color, and the Gazebo Park School was there to accommodate parents attending classes. Every day I walked by the nursery school on my way to class and marveled at children playing in this unique, natural environment.  There is no cell service at the retreat, and that helped me stay present. My iPhone stayed packed in my suitcase for all 5 days, imagine. That factor alone helped my eyes re-focus outward.

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After a particularly good day of painting, I stopped to take pictures of the Gazebo Park School. The children had gone home for the day. I was first taken with the overall beauty and simple aesthetics of this outdoor school. Then my eye picked up several recycling ideas that I fell in love with and thought I’d share here. Like these planters made from plastic milk jugs, hanging from nylon ropes. How can I have been in so many schools over the years, and not seen this before? My eyes must have missed it, this is such an obvious and simple idea…and it’s free!

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Or how about this empty picture frame set up in front of the garden? At first I thought this frame was abandoned or waiting to be trashed. Then I realized it was intentionally positioned in front of the garden, as a “view finder” so that children could position themselves and look through the frame from different angles, creating different garden “paintings” in their imaginations. How clever is that? It’s also free, and a good way to repurpose old picture frames.

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The music area was created from a combination of bells and kitchen pots and pans.   Are you inspired yet? I read and agreed with the school’s mission statement about the natural environment.

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Simple, cheerful artwork covered the walls of the schoolhouse buildings. Don’t think you’re not artistic enough to pull something like this off, because it’s children’s work combined with some adult organization skills. Your own outdoor playhouse could look just as nice, even if you live and work in the city.

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Last of all, how’s this for a clever recycling idea?  It’s an old rubber tire, turned inside out and used to contain a garden hose. Who thinks of these things? Ahh….creativity.  It’s so exciting to see it in action.

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I do love my iPhone, my laptop, and my other tech gadgets. They make my life easier in many ways. But the more time I spend looking at a screen, the more time I need to balance my psyche with things that inspire me on a deeper human level. I feel incredibly fortunate to have taken time for myself at Esalen this spring. Are you planning something for yourself soon?

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Graphic courtesy of Tutorials for Inky Hands.

PS – Three months internships are available at the Gazebo Park School, see website here for more information.

The Painting Experience

Materials Used:
Colorations® Simply Washable Tempera Paint, set of 15 (SWTALL)

* Brought to you by Discount School  Supply®

“The Painting Experience” by Stuart Cubley

This week I am fulfilling the lifelong dream of taking a painting class at Esalen Institute. I am “out of my mind” excited about being here, and each day is a gift. Here’s my first painting, which I just finished yesterday. This is process oriented art, which I find is just as “developmentally appropriate” for me as it is for children. 
To be painting for five days straight in an incredible environment overlooking the ocean, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.

I am painting with 25 other adults who came here from all over the country. None of us knew each other three days ago, but we all came in search of relaxation and restoration. We come from a multitude of professions but we’re all searching for something authentic and meaningful, and we’re finding it here as we paint away in this large white canvas “yurt” by the sea. Esalen has five different workshops going on this week and most people here are steeped in gratitude for this opportunity. 

I love immersing myself in creativity with a group of adults. You can feel the sense of community as we paint together, share materials, and observe our creative process emerge. Here are a couple of my new “best friends” – one a therapist from Montana and the other a widow from Sebastopol who is reinventing her life. Isn’t creative companionship grand? And isn’t it amazing how the creative process can magically break down the barriers between us? 

Most people taking The Painting Experience are not artists, and many have never painted before. Stuart Cubley created The Painting Experience to help people find pleasure and meaning in process oriented painting. His book Life, Paint and Passion is wonderful, but there’s nothing like taking one of his hands-on workshops. Some are just a weekend long, and others are a week or ten days. The Painting Experience embodies open ended for adult “non-artists” in the same way we encourage open ended art in early childhood education. I encourage you to try it for professional development, or as a vacation treat that will make your spirit soar. Imagine walking along this pathway to your painting class every morning. That’s something to dream about for 2012. 

Find workshops and classes with Stewart Cubley at The Painting Experience (
Check the schedule at Esalen ( for more workshops!
Read Life, Paint and Passion by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley and learn all about creative process!