I think one of the jewels of Esalen is their magnificent mineral baths, which appear to be carved right into a cliff overlooking the rocky beach below. As you enter the modern stone baths, there are bathrooms, a large dressing area, showers with sliding glass doors that open right to the ocean, a massage area, and then the baths themselves—all of which are co-ed (right down to the bathrooms), and all of which are clothing-optional. Being a naturally modest person, I felt pretty certain that I wouldn’t exercise that option and packed my swimsuit. But when I arrived and took a peek at the baths, I noted that there wasn’t a single stitch of clothing to be seen. I am not sure about the notion of “optional” when no one chooses the alternative option. At that point, the real option is much baser than a superficial layer of clothing. The option becomes: “do I want to look like the self-conscious dork that I am, or don’t I?” Or, “do I want to go against the grain, or do I want to go with the flow?” I decided immediately that my desire to not look like a dork was far greater than my desire to demurely cover up.
I’m sure this says something important about my character that I really should pay attention to, but I’m choosing the option of ignoring it.
Instead, I’m opting to revel in the liberation that comes from enjoying a hot mineral bath in the great outdoors without worrying about my clothing, my body, or my appearance. When everyone is naked, nudity loses its novelty quickly and instead you either turn your attention inward or outward to your surroundings. Today, our surroundings are blowing all around in an awesome unseasonable October storm, complete with high winds, downpour, and big crashing waves. And of course, I didn’t pack appropriately for this—but that matters not when you’re soaking nude in a hot mineral bath while the cold wind whips rain against your exposed shoulders and face.