For our last full day of vacation, we decided we wanted to spoil ourselves. I really wanted to spend a day at a spa or something. We were driving up the California coast past Big Sur, so I looked up “hot springs”. The first one I looked up involved a 10-mile hike and was closed due to flood damage from a couple of years ago. The 10-mile hike was a no-go anyways. Then I saw Tassajara – a Zen Monastery that allows summer day visitors and has a Japanese style hot springs baths. Sounded pretty ideal. I called and made a reservation for the following day (Friday). When I called I was warned of a 14-mile dirt road with steep downhill and 4-wheel drive recommendation. That hasn’t stopped us from trying before so it wasn’t about to stop us trying this time.
Then we set our GPS to navigate us there only to discover that in order to get there we had to drive all the way to Caramel and then loop back, because it was accessed by the upper portion of Big Sur State Park. Scott used our trusty Ultimate Campgrounds app and discovered a couple of forestry campgrounds along the road to Tassajara, so we planned on camping on one of them the night before – that would put us closer and allow us to spend more time at Tassajara before needing to leave so as not to have to drive that road in the dark. We spend a nice night at White Oaks campground in a not exactly flat space (we were on quite an angle). What struck us most was the sound of the birds when we woke up in the morning. It was blissful.
I wrote more about that aspect of our experience, and shared pictures, at our Travel blog – goingeast.ca.
When we arrived, we saw the immediate beauty of the place. Our first order of business (after checking in) was to go on a short hike. Since we decided to be without electronics, we cannot tell you how long our hike was, but we took about 45-minutes exploring. We climbed one of the hills to check out the “helicopter pad” (which was just a cleared patch on the ridge of a mountain). I was a little worried about hiking. My back has been problematic since mid-January. I have been very limited in the amount of hiking I can do, which is sad, because I loved going on 2-3 hour hikes. Fortunately, the 45-minute hike agreed with my body and I was doing fine afterwards.
After our hike we enjoyed a hearty lunch – soup, salad, bread, and dessert. I skipped the bread part, but was happy that I could still partake in the soup, salad, and dessert. I was glad to see that they are aware of various food allergies and provided alternatives to ensure that everyone was well fed.
We then decided to check out the swimming pool before heading to the baths. I found the pool to be a nice length for swimming laps and wished I had my swim snorkel and earplugs to keep the water out of her ears. I could easily see myself getting up in the morning and going for a nice 45-minute swim.
After a short swim it was time for the baths. The baths are segregated. They are listed as clothing optional, but really it was more like you were odd if you were wearing anything. They had two hot tubs at different temperatures, and a steam room. Plus, if you wanted to cool down, you could take a walk down to the creek and cool off in its cold flowing water. It was truly delightful until the biting insects came out (some kind of fly).
This is where I had a decision to make – and a big one. Do I just walk around naked like everyone else – showing my scars? I decided I didn’t care what others thought of me. I decided to not care, and went about soaking in tubs, roasting in a steam sauna, and dousing myself in a freezing cold stream all in the buff – not caring about exposing my scars … and feeling blessed that my plastic surgeon did such a good job that I felt comfortable enough with my body to be in the buff – especially when many other women I know would not feel comfortable in this situation. I did find that most of the other women there looked more like models than a middle-aged overweight cancer survivors, but who is comparing anyways. I am reminded of a yoga practice of letting go of the ego – not comparing to others as we each have our own paths … and so I enjoyed my time until I got bit by some type of fly … then it was time for me to put on some clothes and get out of there!
We had enough time to also enjoy the 1 hour orientation to zazen in the Zendo. It was interesting to learn about the rituals that were used in their particular form of Zen meditation practice. It is done in community and yet it is such an individual thing. You spend most of the time sitting facing a wall, so that you are not distracted by anyone else in the room. I enjoyed the experience but at that point my back was killing me. The heat of the baths didn’t seem to do it well – especially when followed by a lot of standing and sitting in uncomfortable positions. I didn’t feel like I understood well enough how one my deal with adaptations if one was physically unable to handle the practice as is. The person giving the orientation talked about how some aspect of the practice is painful, and learning to be with the pain – but that was more about acute pain in the moment, and not about putting oneself in a position of being in pain all day as a result of morning practice. I think I would need to talk more to a teacher (I think that is the term that is used) who had a deeper understanding of ways it could be done with a body that is not healthy or fit. In that way, I feel that yoga practice does a better job of allowing people to come as they are – but that is most likely because I just don’t understand it well enough.
We found ourselves considering a longer visit in the future. Over the summer, if they have rooms available you can rent them. We are thinking of looking into a two or three night stay sometime mid-week. There is no internet, so it would need to be time when we could both be away from work. We both felt like we could spend days exploring the different hiking trails, eating the wonderful food, meditating, and just being one with the space. The thought is so peaceful.
It was a great way to end a vacation that was filled with such a variety of experiences – almost crazily so!