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Intentional Bliss

Jul 25, 2018 04:34PM ● Published by Dawn Garcia

Truth time: I’ve been going at warp speed for years. Toggling motherhood, screenwriting, editing, writing, and overall life—and it has me feeling a bit like the Tasmanian Devil (for those of you old enough to know who I’m talking about). In other words, while I smile and push myself to accomplish a laundry list of to-do’s every single day, the idea of a blissful escape seems more like an anecdotal pipe dream than my reality. That said, it was long overdue. This summer, the call to leave the city behind was too loud to ignore.

The whispers of calm are something you can only hear when you’ve stopped long enough to breathe. With our everyday lives seemingly consumed with news headlines that make our heads spin, a continual cycle of chasing our dreams and gathering our humanity, there’s never been a more relevant time to find our center. In an effort to leave the world behind for a while and engage in small-town living, a state of tranquility, and the reminder that a sense of community is still alive and well, I headed north with my partner in crime, Alexia—past the roar of the cities, the politics, the stress, the calling of the screen—and literally escaped. To Glen Ellen.

Glen Ellen is a town no bigger than 2 square miles and barely 800 residents. Surrounded by nature, small eateries, boutique wineries, and one hotel that is a Japanese-inspired ryokan—the Gaige House + Ryokan, which can be described as a place of Eastern thought and meditative grounding. Gaige House + Ryokan (THEGAIGEHOUSE.COM) features 23 thoughtfully appointed guestrooms with modern Asian details. A verdant and secluded setting along the Calabazas Creek offers a tranquil wine country retreat with soul-reposing additions like their meditation areas, calming fountains, private zen gardens, and luxurious amenities including on-site spa treatments. I revisited the serenity I found over and over on my trips to Japan.

Traditional tatami flooring lines the entry, with accents of Shoji screens, Japanese décor from a soaking tub, kimono robes, traditional Japanese zori sandals, sculptures lending to the artistic curation of the space, dual showers, a gorgeous bedroom, and a private meditation garden in the middle of the room. With entry to the garden from both the bathroom and bedroom, it reminded me of feng shui—earth by way of the plants situated in the corner, stability and a sense of grounding represented in the white rock acting as a foundation, air in the opening above, and water in the form of a flowing water fountain lulling you to sleep each evening. The meditation garden became my morning reminder that a bit of quiet does the soul good.

Each night they host a wine hour, and the evening we arrived, we were introduced to a winery called Imagery Winery (IMAGERYWINERY.COM), thanks to a couple I’m confident will be lifelong friends—fellow Mexicanos, Gabriela Alamarez and Daniel Zamanillo. Pouring some malbec and award-winning white burgundy (chardonnay and pinot blanc) from the Sonoma collection (SONOMACOUNTY.COM), the story behind the brand is notable. Crafted by female winemaker (badass and rare in the industry) Jamie Benziger, these wines break the rules and take risks, which on this trip only adds to the draw of the region. Gabriela and Daniel set the tone for exciting wines. After all, wine is supposed to be fun, and while it’s often perceived as serious, the joy of making it and drinking it is what should shine through.

After the wine tasting, food was on the brain; and much like when traveling to Europe and immediately making friends with strangers, Daniel and Gabriela insisted on driving us to the “best authentic Mexican restaurant in town,” El Molino Central.

“Real authentic Mexican food, run by women,” they said emphatically.


It was a reminder of the late Anthony Bourdain. When I interviewed him last year, his passion for authentic cuisine made with culture and heart, and a love of Japan, became our common thread. I’ve spent my life falling in continual love with other cultures, appreciating my own, and hoping to taste that in everything I eat. As an homage to him, we had to go to El Shaved cedar wood in the nether regions, meditative gardens, and zen achieved. 44 AUGUST 2018 Southern California Molino Central (ELMOLINOCENTRAL.COM). The experience became yet another reminder to pause and take in the simplicity and grace of life.

El Molino may not seem like a stop for bliss, but I can assure that the minute you bite into their nachos verdes, tamales, molé, or any of the tacos, you will understand. Every ingredient reminded me of my heritage, my travels, and what it means to take pride in the cuisine you present. Run by owner Karen Taylor, with food prepared by Alfonsina Juarez and Alma Blanco, the restaurant has a mostly female staff. It’s a space where tradition and family are evident. The menu consists of dishes passed down from mother to daughter, including Zoraida’s molé. It has a real sense of community, and even down to the brightly painted picnic tables outside on the patio, you feel like you’re eating with people you’ve known all your life. Just come hungry—the portions are huge.

After happily achieving food coma status, it was time to melt into the ryokan and enjoy the calming state of the hotel. Outside the open windows, nature drowned out the noise of incessant thought constantly plaguing my all-too-busy mind. Pouring the sake gifted to us, I paused before submitting to the odayaka (“calm” in Japanese). Cascading water just outside the screen, and melodies from the meditation garden, soothed us into a quiet state.

The following day, I awoke rested and ready to partake in a meditative retreat that has the only cedar enzyme baths outside of Japan: Osmosis Day Spa. Mind you, we didn’t totally know what a cedar enzyme bath entailed, but once we got there and were greeted by owner Michael Stusser and the property’s publicist, Jennifer Klein, it all became quite clear. Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary (OSMOSIS.COM) is a place of refuge. Stusser designed it alongside his friend Robert Ketchell, after a fateful meeting in Kyoto years ago while together studying Japanese landscape and Taoist philosophy.

“I enjoy sharing Osmosis with people because it’s a collective learning experience—I learn something every day. It allows us to bring alive what we’re doing here, creating a meditative environment where people can drop out of the rat race and get renewed at a deep level,” said Stusser.

Walking through the gardens, we noticed rocks strategically placed throughout that represent stages of one’s journey, and Kyoto’s influence was apparent. As we passed the water installation that depicts the continual flow within us, we were called in for our cedar enzyme bath. This was when everything got way more interesting.

Stripping down to nothing but a robe, we were led into a private room where tea, ginger bites, and a host awaited. Our host was Melissa, and she poured us fresh tea and encouraged us to sit outside in the Japanese garden while she prepared our bath. We happily obliged, and the stillness of the moment was heavenly. Now time for the bath!

Imagine an empty, square jacuzzi. Now imagine it being filled with what seems like pencil shavings comprised of finely ground cedar, rice bran, and enzymes. While sure we would sink into the mixture upon ditching our robes, that wasn’t the case. It was a firm pile of material that you’re led to step into—naked—and nestle into the molded shavings. Once there, you had to dig yourself in. Translation: your nether regions get extra friendly with the blend of cedar, rice bran, and enzymes. Welcome to a new experience! Make sure you burrow down until only your head is sticking out.

While the sweat gathers in every place you never wanted it to, I found myself distracted by our view. Tall bamboo swayed in the wind a few hundred feet outside, all in a careful dance. It was another kind of peace—something hard to describe—but imagine melting into the stillness of yourself, giving into your body’s deep desire to heal, as tension unravels like a snake loosening its grip. That’s what it felt like. It was otherworldly. That said, there came a point when the heat became nearly unbearable. That’s when Melissa entered on cue with ice-cold washcloths, gently wiping away the sweat puddled on our faces, giving us sips of water. At the end of the 20-minute soak, we exfoliated outside and then showered off. We followed it with a massage in the pagodas, along with a facial. When we left, our mindset was so content, it was as though we finally felt ourselves take full breaths for the first time in probably forever.

After one more night, a lovely dinner at Glen Ellen Star (GLENELLENSTAR.COM), a deep sleep, and a three-mile trail hike the following morning, the stress and worry that most often hides behind my smile dissipated. I felt—we felt—free to completely let go and simply be in the moment. A rare and beautiful thing. Bliss.
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