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Wild Presence


May 9-14, 2019


“Wilderness, by itself, has its own way of teaching. The direct experience of wilderness can spontaneously bring wholeness back into the human community.” – Manual of Gestalt Practice in the Tradition of Dick Price

If we are present in the here and now, every moment in wilderness represents an opportunity to enrich, heal, and clarify our relationship to the Earth, ourselves, and one another. Few places in this wild world contain as much beauty, diversity and power as the Big Sur backcountry (Esselen tribal territory). For five days, we live and practice Relational Gestalt and deep nature connection in this sacred wilderness.

Together with an intimate group (three guides and up to nine participants), we journey into the backcountry to the verdant Pine Valley camp. We inhabit this valley for four days, exploring our inner and outer wilderness through mindful day hikes, campfire check-in circles, and Gestalt “open seat” awareness-expanding sessions under the open sky. On our fifth morning together, we journey on foot to the remote Tassajara Zen Mountain Center – which waits with hot springs, fresh bread, and a magnificent Zendo (meditation hall).

Wildtender Co-Founder Fletcher Tucker will enrich our connection to the natural world. Dorothy Charles, Co-Founder of Tribal Ground Circle and Founder of Relational Gestalt Practice, will support the authentic expression of our hearts and minds. Upon arrival at Tassajara, there will be space for rest and integration as well as meditation instruction in the Zazen tradition.

Tassajara’s Zendo

Tassajara’s Zendo

About Tassajara Mountain Zen Center

Tassajara is a world renowned Zen center nestled in a sublime mountain valley, inland from the Big Sur coast, in a remote part of the Ventana Wilderness. Established in 1967 by Suzuki Roshi, Tassajara was the first Soto Zen training monastery on the West Coast. In the spring and summer months, Tassajara opens its gates for guests to enjoy the natural hot spring baths, serene accommodations and exquisite grounds, sumptuous vegetarian meals, fresh-baked bread, and Zen practice in the traditional Zendo meditation hall.

Tassjara will be our final hiking destination. We will spend a day and half here (one night) rejuvenating, contemplating, celebrating, and integrating our wilderness experience. Our lodgings are double rooms shared with another Wildtender participant. Your stay and meals are included in the program tuition.   

Program Schedule | May 9-14, 2019

  • May 9 | Meet at group campground on Tassajara Road in Carmel Valley by 5pm. Orientation, introductions, and camp dinner by campfire.

  • May 10 | Morning backpacking into Pine Valley, our verdant backcountry home deep in the magnificent Ventana Wilderness. Make camp and settle into the wild place and our wild selves. Afternoon and evening practice.

  • May 11-12 | Experience and explore place and self with presence. Activities will include day hikes, nature awareness & connection practices, check-in circles, and orientation to a variety of Relational Gestalt Practices including Open Seat.

  • May 13 | Hiking with day packs only, we will journey on beautiful trails to the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, arriving by 3:00 PM (our other belongings will be transported by vehicle for us). Enjoy Tassajara's Japanese-style bath-house, featuring natural hot springs, steam room, and creek-side sunning deck. Optional Zen meditation instruction will be available in the afternoon. Later we'll share a celebratory family-style dinner in the beautiful dining room, followed by optional evening meditation in the Zendo.

  • May 14 | Savor the day at Tassajara, including breakfast and lunch in the dining room. Depart by by 3:00 PM to retrieve personal vehicles in Carmel Valley.

Meet your guides



Dorothy has been a Gestalt practitioner since 1985. She began her work at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California where she was inspired by the wildness of the land and experienced the way that time spent in nature enhances wellbeing. Dorothy now practices in Santa Cruz, California, and is the co-founder of Tribal Ground Circle, an educational community studying and practicing Gestalt Awareness Practice, Relational Gestalt Practice, and other work evolving from the lineage of Richard Price, gestalt teacher and co-founder of Esalen Institute. Dorothy received her training at Esalen with Richard and Christine Price, and at the Pacific Gestalt Institute in Los Angeles, California, with Lynne Jacobs and Gary Yontef.

photo by Colin McCarthy

photo by Colin McCarthy

Fletcher Tucker

Fletcher is a California Central Coast native, and a former inhabitant of Big Sur. Having hiked and backpacked throughout the American West, Europe and Japan, Fletcher has become a devotee of trail-craft and minimalist backpacking. Fletcher is an experienced teacher, ancestral skills practitioner, Deep Ecology disciple, and lifelong student of California natural history. Fletcher is a dedicated student of Gestalt practice, learning from Dorothy Charles and Eric Erickson in the lineage of Esalen co-founder Dick Price. Fletcher has also studied and participated ceremonially with teachers within indigenous North and South American spiritual traditions, which have deeply informed his spiritual relationship to nature. Fletcher is a NOLS certified Wilderness First Responder.

Program Tuition

$1,250 total, including your stay at Tassajara, meals (breakfasts & dinners), permits, shuttle costs, guide fees, etc.

Long-term students of Tribal Ground Circle can use Elective Days towards your pilgrimage tuition. Please make a note when applying for the program.


1-2 scholarship positions may be available for this program (depending upon enrollment and eligibility). More information, eligibility criteria and application for scholarship will be posted here in January. In the mean time, if you are interested in this program and would require scholarship to be able to participate, please send us an e-mail to inquire.

Application & Registration

To apply and register for this program, click the button below and follow the steps on the Registration Page.

Space is limited and our programs fill rapidly; if you are interested, we suggest registering and submitting a deposit ASAP.

While previous backpacking experience is not required, hikers should be physically fit and capable, free of bodily injury or serious health conditions. Participants must be at least 18 years of age. If you are unsure of your capacity or have any other concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by e-mail

Payment & Cancellation Policy

A $350 non-refundable deposit is required upon registration to secure your space. We will bill you for the remaining balance 60 days prior to your program.

Cancellations made 60+ days from the program start date will be refunded minus the $350 non-refundable deposit. We are not able to refund cancellations made within 60 days of the program start date, since we will have already confirmed lodging and shuttle reservations, purchased supplies, and turned away other potential participants. Given the intensive nature and limited space of our programs, we have found it unrealistic to find replacements within a shorter timeframe. However, if you or we are able to find a replacement for your spot, we will happily refund your full tuition/deposit minus a $75 administration fee.

Preparing for your pilgrimage

A complete list of what you will need to pack for this excursion will be provided upon registration, and we are happy to provide more specific guidance. Wildtender will supply some shared backpacking essentials: water filters, camp stoves, first-aid kit, and more. Below are a few things you will definitely need to bring. We will provide more guidance on preparing physically, emotionally and spiritually for our time in wilderness about a month in advance of the program.

  • hiking boots (broken in)

  • backpacking backpack

  • lightweight sleeping bag + stuff sack

  • lightweight sleeping pad

  • headlamp

  • trail lunches and snacks for yourself

Explore photos from previous Big Sur Backcountry Programs