Self-Hypnosis, Nudity, Courage & Cohousing

Self-Hypnosis, Nudity, Courage & Cohousing
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Self-Hypnosis, Nudity, Courage & Cohousing

A funny thing happened last weekend.  I chose to view a frustrating road-block as an opportunity — and it paid dividends.

Bob Doppelt‘s workshop at the Esalen Institute got cancelled due to low attendance.  I got 4 days notice.  Changing my flight would cost $150.  With the rental car, I would be eating another $80 (Hotwire – no returns).  Not life-threatening, but frustrating nonetheless.

Dreams of Esalen had danced in my head since I registered, so I decided to find a silver lining.  I went anyway.

  • I emailed Bob and set up a phone interview the next day — I’ve read 3 of his books, so the content of the workshop was less important to me than being able to talk one-on-one with him.
  • I kept my Esalen reservation and chose a different workshop — I emailed the instructors to let them know I was crashing, and why.
  • I told myself, “Just go and be open to whatever happens.  Maybe this is a sign.”

Was it ever.

First, Big Sur is majestic.  If you’ve never driven that stretch of Highway 1, I highly recommend it.  It’s the single most beautiful coastline drive in the United States.  I’ve ridden it by bicycle 3 years in a row, and driven it a handful more.  Where California drops into the Pacific Ocean, in those steep cliffs is carved a narrow road requiring constant maintenance from landslides and collapses.  The trees are massive, and every small canyon that you wind in and out of offers a tempting vista point or hidden waterfall hike.

Second, Esalen Institute is a modern day Garden of Eden.  Tucked between Highway 1 and the deep blue sea, split into 2 properties by a ravine, this nearly self-sustaining farm/resort has quite a history.  Each small stone and wooden yurt, hut, or house fits seamlessly into the landscape.  Most are named after ground-breaking psychologists that moved there in the 60’s and 70’s to develop new, more progressive models for human development (e.g. Fritz cabin, pioneer of Gestalt therapy).  Early Esalen leaders included:

  • Buckminster Fuller
  • Ansel Adams
  • Linus Pauling
  • B.F. Skinner

Basically, I spent Friday through Sunday in paradise, going to workshop sessions, and eating phenomenal food, grown on site.  During meals, I would talk in-depth with fascinating strangers, then pull any one of 10 community guitars (tuned daily) off of the lodge wall and sit by the ocean playing and singing.  Saturday morning I started off with a chakra-guitar meditation class (so peaceful) followed by an awaken-dance class (so joyful).  All before 9:00 AM.

That’s just the background context for where I spent my weekend — and how it felt.




I chose to take a workshop with a long title, because it was taught by two married psychologists — Annellen & Alex Simpkins.  Self-Hypnosis: Effortless Eriksonian Mind-Brain Change.  There is a week-long course offered in April.  Besides being all-around amazing human beings, the Simpkins have authored dozens of books, but The Dao of Neuroscience and Neuro-Hypnosis were recommended.

I can’t comment (yet) because I haven’t read them, and my integrity is something I value.

What I learned was that I am stubborn.  Really?  No…

More to the point, at high school prom I was asked to leave the stage by the hypnotist — it wasn’t working.  But what wasn’t working?  Did I have deep-seeded childhood issues I was afraid of letting out?  Or did I have a super-brain, incapable of being manipulated?  Maybe a little of both…

In this state, I could tell myself, “My arm is getting heavy.”  And I would resist.  Little to no movement.  But I could also tell myself, “I wonder what it would be like if my arm were to get heavy?” and boom, it would drop like a rock.  Aha!

During the workshop, I learned that I am open to suggestion (and thus self-suggestion) when it is not direct/declarative — but it is indirect/open.  We first practiced using visualization and relaxation to get into a “trance.”  Different than meditation — which results in brain cohesiveness — a trance results in dissociation — so parts of the brain are unplugged.  That is why people often don’t recall hypnotic sessions.

As an environmentalist, I can see the corollary — I am skeptical and resist directives.  I prefer my own curiosity, even when dealing with people that I trust.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But I realized it could be tiresome for people who have earned my trust.  Always having to measure up to unrealistic standards.


  1. I want to give people who earn my trust the benefit of the doubt.
  2. If I’m going to train my brain to make the kind of difference I want to make in the world, I need to start with indirect/open suggestion and then expand into direct/declarative over time.

Another cool metaphor.  Annellen said that we need to go easy on ourselves.  It’s never that we can’t be hypnotized.  It’s that we need to start with what we can do today, and not resist because we think it should be a different way.  I commented that environmentalists fall into the same trap — failing to celebrate and appreciate the small victories (what we can do today) along the path to the larger victories.  This tends to make environmental groups depressing to be around, and irritates those people just starting out on their journey — made to feel that nothing they ever do is good enough.


This part was pretty epic.

Esalen has THE best hot springs in the universe!  They basically built a cathedral to all that is glorious, and dangled it out over the most beautiful coastline in the US.  There were sea otters and seals frolicking in the surf below, as wave after wave crashed on the rocks.  We merely had to lean back while in the tubs to see straight down into the water.  Writing this makes me miss it so!



SAMSUNGThe shower — almost as good as the springs — also jutted out over the seawater.  At night, 4 glass walls protected us from the chilling ocean breeze.  But during the day, those frosted panels were open, and I would stand at the closest shower to the edge and just soak up how amazing it was.  In the elements.  Sun beating down.  Naked to the world.

Oh yeah, did I mention clothing was optional?

Orientation clued me in.  I even flirted with the idea of keeping my trunks on.  But as I made my way to the hot springs — alone, having just arrived — I reminded myself, “Adam, you’re here to be open-minded.  This is just another sign.”  And there you go.  Friday night was a good time to ease into it, because it was pitch black.  I’ve been naked before.  Skinny-dipping with friends used to be high on my list of things-to-do when I was globe-trotting.  But it had been awhile, and I didn’t know a soul.

That all changed fairly quickly.  I got extremely comfortable with my body those 3 days — and with all the ways I try to cover it up.  I even noticed in my workshop, barefoot, I felt like hiding my crooked alien-toes from sight.  I have a belief that I don’t need to impress anyone.  But I subconsciously judge my physical body constantly — toes, skinny legs, bald head, shoulder hair.  That all got out in the open for me this past weekend, and it felt great to start the process of letting those things go.

The #1 thing about the hot springs, is that I got just as much out of personal conversations there as I did from the Esalen workshop.


Friday night (my first tub experience, in the dark) my career got a powerful story from Laszlo, a Hungarian and fellow bald man, who was in my workshop.

Turned out, Laszlo had gotten his dream job at an early age.   But 3 years ago, he started to get anxious.  There were other things he now wanted to do — new passions — and he no longer felt he was growing in his current role.  He had a great salary, benefits, and hours.  He couldn’t picture his new passions landing him the same lifestyle — even though he was clear he would rather be doing something else.

My heart started to beat a bit faster.  Everything inside of me was screaming, “That’s exactly how I feel!  What did you do?”

What Lazslo did was to start taking workshops that would give him, what he referred to as “the balls to make a change.”  He was afraid, and he needed the courage to take action.  Lazslo went to Tony Robbins’ “Unleash the Power Within”, quit his job, traveled for   a year, and then got a job twice as good as the previous… this time with Google.  What he said next, I’ll never forget.  “I didn’t know that jobs like mine existed.  And I never would have learned, had I not followed my heart.”

At that moment I committed that my days as a sustainability professional are numbered, and my days as a sustainability coach/consultant are just starting.

Another burst of courage I received came from 2 couples that I met in the tubs.  They were attending a workshop on the book, Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix.  I just happened to be reading the same book with my girlfriend, so I was intrigued to learn what they were getting out of it.  Hearing a couple share openly about struggles after years of being together was humbling.  These people were so open, big-hearted, and committed to working through their childhood wounds to reconnect with the person they had fallen in love with.  Now THAT takes courage.

In today’s society, I sometimes feel like breaking up or getting divorced is a celebration of freedom and new beginnings to look forward to.  But unless we’re in an abusive relationship — staying together is likely the only way we can heal what there is to heal.  I truly believe that.  It’s not easy, but staying power counts for a lot.


One of those couples just so happened to know of Des Moines, Iowa.  That’s because they were Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant.  They are architects from Nevada City, California who wrote the bible on cohousing design.  Two farms on the outskirts of Greater Des Moines paid Charles to come give a workshop to get the community behind the idea of a cohousing development.

The trouble was, that both farms were on opposite sides of the city — and most of the people didn’t want to move out of the city to a farm to experience cohousing — and all its benefits.

Charles and Kathryn said, “You should really do something like condos in the city, just to get it started.  A rising tide lifts all ships.  If people can see it, touch, ask questions about it… You are 10 times more likely to get a 2nd or 3rd project under way.  But you need to get that first project — that’s the key.”

So true — on so many levels.  One of my favorite quotes is:

It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.

~ President Harry Truman

Communal hypnosis.  Communal hot springs.  Communal living.  Communal organizing.  It’s all related.

When I listened to Simpkins about self-hypnosis — something I value right up there with used car sales — I learned that I resist ideas that I don’t come to on my own.  So, it was very important that I opened up to the hot springs experience that night.

When I stop worrying about my body hang-ups — or at least push past them — my life opens up physically and emotionally. And I am able to focus on meeting new people (even if they were naked), whose stories and struggles significantly impacted me.

Cohousing is a way of sharing space — usually private sleeping quarters, shared kitchen/living areas.  Adopting this lifestyle takes patience and lots of communication.  Ironically, a new concept like cohousing needs people to relax their individual wants and look big-picture at what is best for the city.  Coming full circle, what is best for the city is also likely the fastest, most effective route to getting their individual wants met — a farm-based cohousing development that garners support once people see a cohousing condo complex downtown.

Thanks for listening.  I had an epic weekend.  That is all.



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

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  1. Michael Snodgrass Reply

    I went to Durrett's talk when he was in Des Moines and have talked to several people since. I think there is interest but most people want to be in the city not on a farm having to commute. The other issue regards cost as the development costs are enormous compared to what people are willing to pay, at least in Des Moines. I have been working on this project myself for several years and have a good network and a few options floating around. If you are interested in hearing more or know people who are, please let me know!

    • adam Reply

      Thanks Michael. I would love to get together sometime to talk more about cohousing for Des Moines – in the city. You are spot on about the issues that have stalled the process so far, and I'm eager to hear your thoughts.

  2. Erik Pedersen Reply

    Thanks Adam,

    Have spent way to many years trying to make it work as a techie, even when ecological sustainability is the end goal. Being a closet humanitarian for all those years, yearning to come out makes even more sense than it always has. Now for the metamorphosis.

    Thanks for the frustration?



    • adam Reply

      Well, Erik, I hope you can come out of the closet as a humanitarian after all these years! There is no better time, and if you're interested in some resources… check out earlier posts. There is a series of 6 that should really help, staring with "The 3 Stages of Eco-Influence." If you need anything, email me at

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