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Coordinates: The Esalen Institute, commonly just called Esalen, is a retreat center and intentional community in Big Sur, California, which focuses upon humanistic alternative education. Esalen is a nonprofit organization devoted to activities such as personal growth, meditation, massage, Gestalt, yoga, psychology, ecology, spirituality, and organic food. The institute offers more than 500 public workshops a year, in addition to conferences, research initiatives, residential work-study programs, and internships.
Esalen was founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price in 1962. Their goal was to explore work in the humanities and sciences, in order to fully realize what Aldous Huxley had called the "human potentialities". Through the years, Esalen became the center of practices and beliefs that make up the New Age movement, from Eastern spirituality, alternative and mind-body claims, to gestalt therapy.
- 1 History
- 2 Leaders and programs
- 3 Arts events
- 4 In popular culture
- 5 Initiatives and projects
- 6 Reception
- 7 Community
- 8 Current status
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Prior history and origin of the name
In the 1870s, Thomas Slate visited the Big Sur site to use the hot springs, because he suffered from severe arthritis. He homesteaded the property in the early 1880s, and a settlement began, known as Slates Hot Springs. This site became the first tourist-oriented business in Big Sur, frequented by others who sought relief from similar afflictions. In 1910, the land was purchased by Henry Murphy, a Salinas, California, physician (who delivered John Steinbeck). Murphy bought the property with the intention of opening a European-style health spa, when the yet-to-be-built Highway 1 was completed. Murphy family employed a series of property managers. There was a restaurant, and the hot springs baths were opened to paid use.
The official business name was "Big Sur Hot Springs", although it was more generally referred to as "Slate's Hot Springs". Henry Miller was a frequent visitor. Joan Baez was a resident and Hunter S. Thompson was an employee.
Origins and evolution
Michael Murphy and Dick Price both attended Stanford University in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were in the same class, but they did not become friends until later. They met in San Francisco at the suggestion of Frederic Spiegelberg, a Stanford professor of comparative religion and Indic studies, with whom both had studied. After graduating from Stanford, Price attended Harvard University to continue studying psychology. Then Price joined the Air Force and lived in San Francisco, where he met Alan Watts and experienced a transformative psychotic break. Price was admitted to a mental hospital for a time, before returning to San Francisco. Murphy, meanwhile, traveled to Sri Aurobindo's ashram in India, and then he also returned to San Francisco.
After they met, Murphy and Price found much in common. In 1961, they traveled down to the Murphy family's Big Sur property. They envisioned a wide range of philosophies, religious disciplines and psychological techniques. Henry Murphy's widow, and Michael's grandmother, Vinnie, previously had refused to lease the property, even turning down an earlier request from Michael. However, she agreed to a lease this time, and granted free use of the property. The lease was combined with capital that Price had accumulated (his father was a vice-president at Sears). They were given networking support by Spiegelberg, Watts, Huxley and his wife Laura, as well as by Gerald Heard and Gregory Bateson. The concept of Esalen was partially modeled upon Trabuco College, founded by Heard as a quasi-monastic experiment in Southern California, and later donated to the Vedanta Society.
Alan Watts gave the first lecture at Esalen in January 1962. Gia-Fu Feng joined Price and Murphy, along with Bob Breckenridge, Bob Nash, Alice and Jim Sellers, as the first Esalen staff members. In the middle of that same year Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist, became an important figure at the institute. By autumn a catalog was issued advertising workshops with such titles as "Individual and Cultural Definitions of Rationality", "The Expanding Vision" and "Drug-Induced Mysticism". In 1964, Fritz Perls began a long-term residency at Esalen and became a lasting influence. Perls offered many Gestalt therapy seminars at the institute, until he left in July 1969. Perls and Jim Simkin led Gestalt training courses at Esalen. Dick Price became one of Perls' closest students. Price developed his own form of practice called Gestalt Practice, which he continued teaching at Esalen until his death in a hiking accident in 1985. Michael Murphy became an author, writing non-fiction books about Esalen related topics, as well as several novels
Esalen started to regularly publish catalogs full of programs and creating numerous resident teacher positions. Murphy recruited Will Schutz, an encounter group leader, to take up permanent residence at Esalen.
Esalen was incorporated as a non-profit institution in 1963. Increased attention came to the institute in 1966 when Esalen started to receive coverage in the news media. George Leonard published an article in Look magazine about the California scene, that mentioned Esalen and included a picture of Murphy. Time magazine published an article about Esalen in September 1967. The New York Times Magazine published an article by Leo E. Litwak in late December. Then an article about Esalen appeared in Life magazine. These articles brought Esalen into the awareness of other media outlets, not just in the U.S. but also overseas. Esalen responded by holding large-scale conferences in Midwestern and East Coast cities, as well as in Europe. Esalen opened a satellite center in San Francisco that offered extensive programming until it closed in the mid-1970s for financial reasons.
When Dick Price died in late 1985, Steven Donovan became president of the institute, and Brian Lyke served as general manager. Nancy Lunney became the director of programming, and David Price (Dick's son) served as general manager of Esalen beginning in the mid-1990s. The baths were destroyed in 1998 by severe weather. Afterward, Andy Nusbaum developed an economic plan.
Leaders and programs
In the early days, many of the seminars challenged the status quo — such as "The Value of Psychotic Experience". There were even programs that questioned the movement of which Esalen was a part — for instance, "Spiritual and Therapeutic Tyranny: The Willingness To Submit". The Human Potential Movement was criticized for espousing an ethic that the inner-self should be freely expressed in order to reach one's true potential. Some people saw this ethic as an aspect of Esalen's culture. The historian Christopher Lasch claimed that humanistic techniques encourage narcissistic, spiritual materialistic or self-obsessive thoughts and behaviors. And there was a series of encounter groups focused on racial prejudice. In 1990 a graffiti artist spray painted, "Jive shit for rich white folk" on the entrance to Esalen, highlighting class and race issues. Some thought that this was a regression of progress away from true spiritual growth.
Early leaders included:
Rather than merely lecturing, many leaders began to experiment with what Huxley called the non-verbal humanities: the education of the body, the senses, and the emotions. The intention of this work was to suggest a new ethic — to develop awareness of one's present flow of experience, to express this fully and accurately, and to listen to feedback. These "experiential" workshops were particularly well attended and did much to shape Esalen's future course.
- Ansel Adams
- Joan Baez
- Ellen Bass
- Robert Bly
- Gregory Bateson
- Ray Bradbury
- Joseph Campbell
- Fritjof Capra
- Carlos Castaneda
- Deepak Chopra
- Phil Cousineau
- Harvey Cox
- David Darling
- Erik Davis
- Warren Farrell
- Moshe Feldenkrais
- Richard Feynman
- Matthew Fox
- Fred Frith
- Buckminster Fuller
- Spalding Gray
- Stanislav Grof
- Michael Harner
- Andrew Harvey
- Paul Horn
- Chungliang Al Huang
- James Hillman
- Albert Hofmann
- Aldous Huxley
- Sam Keen
- Ken Kesey
- Paul Krassner
- R. D. Laing
- George Leonard
- Dennis Lewis
- John C. Lilly
- Amory Lovins
- Abraham Maslow
- Peter Matthiessen
- Rollo May
- Terence McKenna
- Robert Nadeau
- Claudio Naranjo
- Sara Nelson
- Babatunde Olatunji
- Dean Ornish
- Humphry Osmond
- Linus Pauling
- Fritz Perls
- J. B. Rhine
- Carl Rogers
- Ida Rolf
- Gabrielle Roth
- Jerry Rubin
- Douglas Rushkoff
- Virginia Satir
- Will Schutz
- Charlotte Selver
- B.F. Skinner
- Huston Smith
- Gary Snyder
- Susan Sontag
- David Steindl-Rast
- Paul Tillich
- Arnold J. Toynbee
- George Vithoulkas
- Alan Watts
- Robert Anton Wilson
- Andrew Weil
- Marion Woodman
Scholars in residence
Esalen has sponsored long-term resident scholars, including:
In 1964, Joan Baez led a workshop entitled "The New Folk Music" which included a free performance. This was the first of seven "Big Sur Folk Festivals" featuring many of the era's music legends. The 1969 concert included musicians who had just come from the Woodstock Festival. This event was featured in a documentary movie, Celebration at Big Sur, which was released in 1971.
Performers at Esalen have included:
John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg performed together at Esalen. Robert Bly, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Kenneth Rexroth (who led one of the first workshops), Gary Snyder and others held poetry readings and workshops.
In 1994, President and CEO Sharon Thom created an Artist-in-Residence program to provide artists with a two-week retreat in which to focus upon works in progress. These artists interacted with the staff, offered informal gatherings, and staged performances on the newly created dance platform. Located next to the Art Barn, the dance platform was used by Esalen teachers for dance and martial arts. Later, the platform was covered by a dome, and renamed the Leonard Pavilion after deceased Esalen past president and board member, George Leonard.
In 1995 and 1996, Esalen hosted two Arts Festivals, which gathered together artists, poets, musicians, photographers and performers, including artist Margot McLean, psychologist James Hillman, guitarist Michael Hedges and Joan Baez. All staff members were allowed to attend every class and performance that did not interfere with their schedules. Arts festivals have since become a popular yearly event at Esalen.
In popular culture
Esalen's has been the subject of loose interpretations in art, entertainment, and media.
In the comedy-drama, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), sophisticated Los Angeles residents Bob and Carol Sanders (played by Robert Culp and Natalie Wood) spend a weekend of emotional honesty at an Esalen-style retreat, after which they return to their life determined to embrace free love and complete openness.
Esalen features prominently in Edward St Aubyn's comic novel On the Edge (1998).
Initiatives and projects
Esalen Institute has sponsored many research initiatives, educational projects, and invitational conferences. The Big Sur facility has been used for these events, as well as other locations, including international sites.
Schizophrenia Research Project
Encouraged by Dick Price, the Schizophrenia Research Project was conducted over a three-year period at Agnews State Hospital in San Jose, California, involving 80 young males diagnosed with schizophrenia. Funded in part by Esalen Institute, this program was co-sponsored by the California Department of Mental Hygiene (reorganized: CMHSA) and the National Institute of Mental Health. It explored the thesis that the health of certain patients would permanently improve if their psychotic process was not interrupted by administration of antipsychotic pharmaceutical drugs. Julian Silverman was chief of research for the project. He also served as Esalen's general manager in the 1970s. The Agnews double blind study was the largest first-episode psychosis research project ever conducted in the United States. It demonstrated that the young men given a placebo had a 75 percent lower re-hospitalization rate and much better outcomes than the men who received anti-psychotic medication. These results were used as justification for medication-free programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Michael Cornwall, who worked in one of the Agnews-inspired projects, has revived the Alternative Views and Approaches to Psychosis Initiative at Esalen by convening an invitational conference of leaders in the field of psychosis treatment, under the auspices of the Esalen Center for Theory and Research.
Starting in 1969, in association with Viking Press, the institute published a series of 17 books about Esalen-related topics, including the first edition of Michael Murphy's novel, Golf in the Kingdom (1971). Some of these books remain in print.
Soviet-American Exchange Program
In 1980, Esalen began the Soviet-American Exchange Program (later renamed: Track Two, an institute for citizen diplomacy). This initiative came at a time when Cold War tensions were at their peak. The program was credited with substantial success in fostering peaceful private exchanges between citizens of the "super powers". In the 1980s, Michael Murphy and his wife Dulce were instrumental in organizing the program with Soviet citizen Joseph Goldin, in order to provide a vehicle for citizen-to-citizen relations between Russians and Americans. In 1982, Esalen and Goldin pioneered the first U.S.–Soviet Space Bridge, allowing Soviet and American citizens to speak directly with one another via satellite communication. In 1988, Esalen brought Abel Aganbegyan, one of Mikhail Gorbachev's chief economic advisors to the United States. In 1989, Esalen brought Boris Yeltsin on his first trip to the United States, although Yeltsin did not visit the Esalen facility in Big Sur. Esalen arranged meetings for Mr. Yeltsin with then President George H. W. Bush, and many other leaders in business and government. Two former presidents of the exchange program included Jim Garrison and Jim Hickman. After Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down, and effectively dissolved the Soviet Union, Garrison helped establish The State of the World Forum, with Gorbachev as its convening chairman. These successes led to other Esalen citizen diplomacy programs, including exchanges with China, an initiative to further understanding among Jews, Christians and Muslims, as well as further work on Russian-American relations.
Center for Theory and Research
In 1998, Esalen launched the Center for Theory and Research (CTR) to initiate new areas of practice and action, which foster social change and realization of the human potential. The CTR is the research and development arm of Esalen Institute.
Esalen Massage and Bodywork Association
Bodywork has always been a significant part of the Esalen experience. In the late 1990s, the "EMBA" was organized as a semi-autonomous Esalen association for the regulation of Esalen massage practitioners.
Esalen Institute has been the subject of criticism . The Economist says it was the " metaphorical point where 'East meets West' and is transformed into something uniquely and mystically American or New Agey" and it was a " notorious bagno-bordello where people had sex and got high throughout the 1960s and 1970s before coming home talking psychobabble and dangling crystals"
Because of Esalen's isolated location, its operational staff members have been residential from the beginning, and collectively they have shaped the character of the institute. The community has been steeped in a form of Gestalt that pervades all aspects of daily life, including meeting structures, workplace practices, and individual language styles. In 1966, Esalen began year-long residential educational programs, which were subsequently replaced by month-long work-study programs and year-long work-oriented extended student programs. There is a preschool on site called the Gazebo, serving the children of staff, some program participants, and affiliated local residents.
Esalen Institute is organized as a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Currently, Esalen is managed by CEO Tricia McEntee, with Gordon Wheeler now serving as President, Esalen Institute continues to offer workshops to its visitors throughout the year, most of them dedicated to the integration of humanistic psychology, physical wellness, and spiritual awareness. Esalen recently has focused upon issues of permaculture and ecological sustainability. Other workshops cover a wide range of subjects including: arts, health, Gestalt, integral thought, martial arts, massage, dance, mythology, philosophical inquiry, somatics, spiritual and religious studies, ecopsychology, wilderness experience, yoga, tai chi, mindfulness practice, and meditation.
- Goldman, Marion S. (2012). The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege. NYU Press. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-0-8147-3290-8. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Kripal, Jeffrey (2007). Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-45369-3
- Reference Esalen's Website at: http://www.esalen.org/
- Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (1983, 2004) p. 64
- "Where 'California' bubbled up". The Economist. 19 December 2007.
- Full Directions at: http://esalen.cfdv.net/page/getting-here
- Goldman, Marion S. (2012) p. 2
- Kripal (2007) p. 27
- Kripal (2007) p. 30
- Kripal (2007) p. 32
- Kripal (2007) p. 36
- Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (1983, 2004) p. 22
- Kripal (2007) p. 35 et seq.
- Kripal, J. (2007) p. 95
- Goldman, Marion S. The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege. New York University Press. (2012) p. 56
- Kripal (2007) p. 47 et seq.
- The Only Way Out Is In: The Life Of Richard Price by Barclay James Erickson, in Kripal, Jeffrey and Glenn W. Shuck, ed. On The Edge Of The Future: Esalen And The Evolution Of American Culture. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21759-8.(2005)
- Kripal (2007) p. 60
- Excerpts from an interview with Dick Price conducted by Wade Hudson, at: http://www.esalen.org/page/dick-price-interview
- Kripal (2007) p. 98
- The Only Way Out Is In: The Life Of Richard Price by Barclay James Erickson, in Kripal, Jeffrey and Glenn W. Shuck (editors), On The Edge Of The Future: Esalen And The Evolution Of American Culture, Indiana University Press (2005) p.148
- Kripal (2007) p. 91
- Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (1983, 2004) p. 65
- Anderson, Walter Truett. (1983, 2004) p. 63
- Kripal, Jeffrey and Glenn W. Shuck, ed. On The Edge Of The Future: Esalen And The Evolution Of American Culture. Indiana University Press (2005) p. 2
- Perls, Frederick (1969). In and Out of the Garbage Pail. Real People Press.
- Manual of Gestalt Practice in the Tradition of Dick Price] (2014) The Gestalt Legacy Project. ISBN 978-1304962478
- Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (1983, 2004) p. 156
- Goldman, Marion S. The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege. New York University Press. (2012) p. 19
- Kripal (2007) p. 207
- Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (1983, 2004) p. 168
- Litwak, Leo E. (December 31, 1967). "A Trip to Esalen Institute -- Joy Is the Prize". The New York Times Magazine. pp. 119 et seq. (The full article requires paid subscription to access it.)
- Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (1983, 2004) p. 172
- Anderson, Walter Truett. (1983, 2004) p. 219
- Kripal (2007) pp. 286, 181 et seq.
- Goldman, Marion S. The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege. New York University Press. (2012) p. 65
- Kripal (2007) p. 389
- Nancy's name changed to Nancy Lunney Wheeler upon marriage to Gordon Wheeler who later became Esalen CEO; see, Goldman, Marion S. The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege. New York University Press. (2012) p. 67
- Kripal (2007) p. 376
- See the extensive biography of David Price "Esalen's Child" in, Goldman, Marion S. The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege. New York University Press. (2012) p. 107 et seq.
- Kripal (2007) p. 436
- Kripal (2007) p. 437
- Kripal (2007) p. 101 et seq.
- Lasch, C. The Culture of Narcissism. New York: W.W. Norton (1978) p. 13.
- Kripal (2007) p. 182 et seq.
- Kripal (2007): http://books.google.com/books?id=fzSP6BRFBzIC&q=jive+shit#v=snippet&q=jive%20shit&f=false
- Kripal (2007) p. 401
- Kripal (2007) p. 104
- Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (1983, 2004) p. 102
- Kripal (2007) p. 434
- The 2011 Esalen Arts Festival
- Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening, Addison Wesley Publishing Company (1983, 2004) p. 140
- Watch the relevant episode of The Century of the Self here: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6111922724894802811
- Dean, Will (17 May 2015). "Mad Men recap: season seven, episode 14 – Person to Person (warning: spoilers)". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
- Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the Human Potential Movement: The First Twenty Years. (1983, 2004) pp. 217–219.
- Rappaport, M. "Are There Schizophrenics for Whom Drugs May be Unnecessary or Contraindicated?" International Pharmacopsychiatry 13 (1978) p. 100 et seq.
- Julian Silverman's Memorial Page
- Cornwall, Michael W. Alternative Treatment of Psychosis, A Dissertation presented at the California Institute of Integral Studies. San Francisco, CA (2002) p.4
- Alternative Views and Approaches to Psychosis, November 2012. An Esalen Center For Theory and Research Initiative at Esalen Institute.
- Kripal (2007) p. 527
- Kripal (2007) p. 320
- Track Two, An Institute For Citizen Diplomacy
- Esalen Center for Theory and Research
- Kripal (2007) p. 439
- Goldman, Marion S. The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege. New York University Press. (2012) p. 67
- "Esalen's Identity Crisis" Los Angeles Times Magazine. September 5, 2004
- Don Lattin. "Like countless spiritual pilgrims, Esalen Institute faces its own midlife crisis" The Washington Post. May 30, 2012
- Norimitsu Onishi (August 19, 2012). "Celebrating the Past, and Debating the Future". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
- Kera Abraham and Mark Anderson. "One Half-Century at Esalen Institute" Monterey County Weekly. October 4, 2012
- Click here for "Gestalt" in Kripal (2007), p. 172
- Esalen's Work Study Program
- Esalen's Gazebo Park School
- Tricia McEntee - Interview
- Goldman, Marion S. The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege. New York University Press. (2012) p. 99
- Esalen Farm and Garden
- Workshops are listed in the Esalen Catalog
- Callahan, John F., ed. (2014). The Life and Practice of Richard Price. The Gestalt Legacy Project. ISBN 978-1-312-06228-3.
- Goldman, Marion S. (2012). The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege. New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-3287-8.
- Kripal, Jeffrey (2007). Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-45369-3.
- Kripal, Jeffrey and Glenn W. Shuck, ed. (2005). On The Edge Of The Future: Esalen And The Evolution Of American Culture. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21759-8.
- Lattin, Don (2004). Following Our Bliss : How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-009394-3.
- Anderson, Walter Truett (2004) . The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the Human Potential Movement: The First Twenty Years. Addison Wesley Publishing Company. ISBN 0-595-30735-3.
- Norman, Jeff (2004). Big Sur. Images of America Series. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-2913-3.
- Miller, Stuart (1971). Hot Springs: The True Adventures of the First New York Jewish Literary Intellectual in the Human-Potential Movement. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-226-45369-3.
- Murphy, Michael (1971). Golf in the Kingdom. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-019549-1.
- Esalen Institute website
- Notes on Gestalt Practice
- "In Murphy's Kingdom" article by Jackie Krentzman
- "Huxley on Huxley.". Dir. Mary Ann Braubach. Cinedigm, 2010. DVD.
- "Totally on Fire: The Experience of Founding Esalen" from Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeff Kripal