Esalen Institute

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Big Sur June fog

Esalen Institute is a center in Big Sur, California, in the United States, for humanistic alternative education and a nonprofit organization devoted to multidisciplinary studies ordinarily neglected or unfavoured by traditional academia. Esalen offers more than 500 public workshops a year in addition to invitational conferences, residential work-study programs, research initiatives, and internships. Part think-tank for the emerging world culture, part college and lab for transformative practices, and part restorative retreat, Esalen is dedicated to exploring work in the humanities and sciences that furthers the full realization of what Aldous Huxley called the “human potential”.

Esalen Institute was founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price in 1962, and soon became known for its blend of East/West philosophies, experiential/didactic workshops, and a steady influx of philosophers, psychologists, artists, and religious thinkers.

Once home to a Native American tribe known as the Esselen, Esalen is situated on 27 acres (10.9 ha) of Big Sur coast with the Santa Lucia Mountains rising sharply above the Pacific Ocean. A key geological feature of the site are its cliff-side natural hot-springs. The grounds are divided by the Hot Springs Canyon which also serves as a fresh water source along with underground springs. The location is also a Monarch butterfly overwintering site. It is located in California about 45 miles (72 km) south of the Monterey and Carmel area along scenic State Route 1 (about a three-hour drive south of San Francisco) and nine miles (14 km) north of Lucia.


[edit] History

[edit] Pre-Esalen

Carbon dating of artifacts found on the grounds indicates human presence as early as 4,000 BC. Given access to the ocean, fresh water, and the hot springs, the Esselen people used the grounds regularly, with certain areas reserved for burial grounds. The Esselen population was largely decimated by disease, especially in the Carmel Mission, where introduced diseases such as measles, smallpox, and syphilis wiped out 90% of the native population. Today, people in the area can still trace their ancestry to the Esselen.

In the 1870s, Thomas Slate visited the site to use the hot springs as he suffered from severe arthritis. He homesteaded the property in the early 1880s. The site became the first tourist oriented business in Big Sur as others sought relief from similar afflictions. In 1910, Slate sold the land to Dr. Henry Murphy, a Salinas physician who notably delivered John Steinbeck. Murphy bought the property with the intention of opening a European style health spa once the yet to be built State Route 1 was completed which, once started, was to be an 18 year project.

While the highway was being built, the site was used for engineers and others involved with the construction (the highway was largely built with convict labor though they were housed elsewhere.) The highway was opened in 1937 and then closed to the public with the outbreak of World War II. After the highway reopened, the Murphy family had various property managers, a restaurant operated there, the hot springs were open to paid use, and some hotel units were built in the 1950s though it did not become what Dr. Murphy had originally intended.

The official business name was “Big Sur Hot Springs” though it was more generally referred to as “Slate’s Hot Springs”.

[edit] Origins

Michael Murphy and Dick Price were classmates at Stanford University in the late 1940s and early 1950s, though they did not meet until later at the suggestion of Stanford professor of comparative religion and Indic studies Frederic Spiegelberg, with whom they had both studied. In the time since leaving Stanford, Price had attended Harvard University to continue studying psychology, lived in San Francisco with Alan Watts and experienced a transformative psychotic break and institutionalization before returning to San Francisco. Murphy, meanwhile, had gone to Sri Aurobindo's ashram in India and was also back in San Francisco.

After meeting, Murphy and Price found much in common and, in 1961, went to the Big Sur property. The two began drawing up plans for a forum that would be open to ways of thinking beyond the constraints of mainstream academia, while avoiding the dogmatism so often seen in groups organized around a single idea promoted by a charismatic leader. They envisioned a laboratory for experimentation with a wide range of philosophies, religious disciplines and psychological techniques. Dr. Murphy’s widow, and Michael’s grandmother, Vinnie, had refused to lease the property previously, including an earlier request from Michael, though she agreed to do so this time and granted free use of the property. This, combined with capital that Price had (his father being an executive vice-president at Sears) and the networking support and aid of Spiegelberg, Watts, Aldous Huxley and his wife Laura, Gerald Heard and Gregory Bateson the experiment soon got off the ground. Esalen was somewhat patterned after a monastery founded by Heard in Trabuco Canyon in Southern California called The College of All Religions, which was later donated to the Vedanta Society of Southern California.

Watts led the first seminar in 1962. In the summer of that same year Abraham Maslow happened to drive onto the grounds and was soon an important figure there. In 1964 Fritz Perls started a long-term residency at Esalen and became a major and lasting influence. Perls led numerous Gestalt Therapy seminars at Esalen, and he and Jim Simkin led Gestalt Therapy training courses there. Dick Price became one of Perls' closest students during Perls' time at Esalen. Price continued practicing and teaching Gestalt at Esalen until his own death in a hiking accident in 1985.

Esalen gained popularity quickly and was soon publishing a catalog of programs. The facility was large enough to run multiple programs simultaneously and Esalen started creating numerous resident teacher positions. All of this combined to make Esalen a nexus for the counterculture of the 1960s.

Rather than lecturing and listening to lectures, a number of leaders and participants began experimenting with what Huxley called the non-verbal humanities: the education of the body, the senses, the emotions. The intention of much of the new work was to suggest a new ethic: to develop awareness to one’s present flow of experience, to express this fully and accurately, and to listen to the feedback. The experiential workshops that grew out of these experiments were particularly well attended and did much to shape Esalen’s future course.

Early leaders included Arnold Toynbee, theologian Paul Tillich, two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, Carl Rogers, B.F Skinner, Virginia Satir, Buckminster Fuller, Ansel Adams, Michael Harner, Richard Alpert, Robert Nadeau, Timothy Leary and J.B. Rhine. Gia-Fu Feng provided a strong Asian perspective (along with Watts' influence).

Esalen was incorporated as a non-profit institution in 1967. Increased attention came to the institute when The New York Times Magazine published an article entitled "Joy is the Prize: A Trip to Esalen Institute" by Leo E. Litwak on December 31, 1967.[1] The article was to be reprinted numerous times over the years in anthologies of outstanding magazine articles. More immediately, the article brought Esalen to the attention of scores of other media, not just in the U.S. but also overseas. Esalen responded by holding large-scale conferences in cities in the Mid-West, East Coast and Europe and opening a satellite center in San Francisco. This offered extensive programs but was to close in the mid 1970s.

Many of the offerings seemed meant to challenge the status quo such as The Value of Psychotic Experience and even the movement of which Esalen was a part such as Spiritual and Therapeutic Tyranny: The Willingness To Submit and Theological Reflection on The Human Potential. There was also a series of racial encounter groups.

[edit] Initiatives and projects

Esalen Institute exists to promote the harmonious development of the whole person. It is a learning organization dedicated to continual exploration of the human potential, and resists religious, scientific and other dogmas. It fosters theory, practice, research, and institution-building to facilitate personal and social transformation and, to that end, sponsors seminars for the general public; invitational conferences; research programs; residencies for artists, scholars, scientists, and religious teachers; work-study programs; and semi-autonomous projects.

Michael Murphy, Chairman, Esalen Board of Trustees, Esalen Institute Statement of Purpose

Esalen has sponsored significant research and education projects and conferences in Big Sur and elsewhere. Some of these include:

[edit] Soviet-American Exchange Program

The Soviet-American Exchange Program was established in 1979 to create alternatives to adversarial relationships between nations by encouraging a broader understanding of human relations and human potential. Some highlights of this project:

  • In a 1981 conference Joseph Montville coined the term "track-two diplomacy" to refer to private-sector initiatives between Soviets and Americans that supplemented formal diplomatic channels.
  • In 1982 pioneered the first “spacebridges”, allowing Soviet and American citizens to speak directly with one another via satellite communications. These spacebridges inspired subsequent satellite teleconferences between Soviets and Americans, including an ongoing United States Congress-to-Supreme Soviet teleconference.
  • In 1985 Sharon Thom, James Hickman, Pulitzer Prize winner John Mack, MD, and others brought 2,000 books, donated by 200 American publishers, to Moscow and Novosibirsk, Siberia, for a ground-breaking exhibition of works on a wide range of health issues, enhancing the dialogue between American and Soviet scientists. Subsequently, Thom, Norman Cousins, Tom Luddy, Leonard Michaels, and others furthered the communication between Americans and Soviets in medicine, literature, cinema and other disciplines, to broaden the scope of the exchange program.
  • In 1985 helped create the Association of Space Explorers with astronaut Rusty Schweickart, the first forum in which Russian and American astronauts and cosmonauts could share their experiences in space and their hopes for the future of space exploration.
  • In 1986 co-produced a spacebridge on Chernobyl and Three Mile Island with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the USSR Academy of Sciences.
  • In 1988 brought Abel Aganbegyan, one of Mikhail Gorbachev's chief economic advisors and among the first influential Soviet economists to voice the need for a restructuring of the economic and business infrastructure of the Soviet Union, to the United States.
  • In 1989 brought Boris Yeltsin on his first trip to the United States. Esalen arranged meetings for Mr. Yeltsin with President George H. W. Bush, former President Ronald Reagan, and many leaders in business and government.[citation needed]
  • in 1990, with the the support of two former presidents of the exchange program, Jim Garrison (founder and President of the Gorbachev Foundation/USA) and Jim Hickman -- who devoted 30 years to improving relations between the United States and the Soviet Union -- Mikhail Gorbachev courageously stepped down from one of the most powerful leadership positions, and effectively dissolved the Soviet Union, ending the long reign of the Soviet communist party. Realizing that a global dialogue was essential to issues of world peace, Garrison helped establish The State of the World Forum, with Gorbachev as its convening chairman.
  • In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the project name was changed to the Russian-American Center and in 1994 became a separate 501 c-3 non-profit organization. It remains active and in close collaboration with Esalen.

[edit] Schizophrenia Research Project

The Schizophrenia Research Project was conducted over a three year period with 127 young males with schizophrenia at Agnews State Hospital in San Jose, California. This program, co-sponsored with the California Department of Mental Hygiene and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), explored the thesis that the health of certain patients will permanently improve if their disease is not interrupted with anti-psychotic chemotherapy. [2]

[edit] Publishing

Starting in the late 1960s, in association with Viking Press, published a series of seventeen books related to topics explored at Esalen. Some of these books remain in print and Esalen later had a joint publishing arrangement with Lindisfarne Press.

[edit] Community

Given Esalen’s isolated location, staff has been residential from the beginning and has done much to shape the character of the Institute. Many of those on staff developed new practices and become known teachers, but that is mostly in the past. Esalen started year-long residential educational programs in 1966 and subsequently started month-long work-study programs and year-long extended student programs. There is a pre-school on site serving the children of staff, local residents, and program participants.

[edit] Past teachers

[edit] Scholars in Residence

Has sponsored long term residencies: Gregory Bateson, Joseph Campbell, Virginia Satir, Alan Watts, Ida Rolf, George Leonard, Fritz Perls, John C. Lilly, Stanislav Grof, Will Schutz, Sam Keen, Brother David Steindl-Rast, Babatunde Olatunji, and others have lived and worked at Esalen as part of this program.

[edit] Arts events

In 1965 Joan Baez led a workshop titled “The New Folk Music” which featured a free open performance. This grew into the first of seven “Big Sur Folk Festivals” featuring many of the music luminaries of the era. The 1969 concert included performers who had just come from the Woodstock Festival, and is featured in the 20th Century Fox film “Celebration at Big Sur”.

Some of those that have performed at Esalen include Baez, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Simon and Garfunkel, James Cotton, John Sebastian, Bruce Springsteen, Judy Collins, Taj Mahal, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Chambers Brothers, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, Donovan Leich, John Trudell, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Charlie Hunter, Michel Petrucciani, Three Fish, Bruce Langhorne, Roy Hargrove, Fred Frith, John Densmore, Paul Winter, Paul Horn, David Darling, Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Jim Messina, Kenny Loggins, Henry Kaiser, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Olatunji, The Mermen and others.

John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg performed together at Esalen.

Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth (Rexroth having led one of the very first workshops), and others have held poetry readings and/or 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 on works in progress, interacting with the staff, offering informal gatherings and performances on the newly created dance platform surrounded by a Dionysian amphitheater. Located next to the Art Barn, the dance platform has also been used by Esalen teachers in dance and the martial arts, as well as serving as the base of the 36' Chartres / Grace Cathedral labyrinth, provided by Lauren Artress, Ph.D.

1995 and 1996, Esalen hosted two Art Festivals, which not only gathered together artists, poets, musicians, photographers, and performance artists, as well as New York artist Margot McLean, philosopher James Hillman, Michael Hedges and the enduring Joan Baez, but also allowed all staff members to attend every class and performance that didn't interfere with their schedule. This inclusive spirit was extended to most Invited Conferences for the first time in Esalen Institute's history.

[edit] Current status

Esalen continues its innovative work, offering approximately 500 workshops to its 17,000+ visitors each year. Customized residencies and work-study programs make immersion in the Esalen community feasible and economical, and the tradition of opening the hot springs to the public from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., for a nominal fee, remains. In the 1994, the Esalen trustees committed to ensuring that all functions of Esalen's facility was at least 95% organic. Much of the food served is grown on its 26 miles of prime Pacific coastline. The Agricultural Department at the University of California at Santa Cruz has developed programs by which its students can learn onsite many of the possibilities of sustainable agriculture. Even the staff's children are involved: they feed the worms which are then worked into the rich soil that grows the organic produce.

Staff members are members of the volunteer Fire Department, the search and rescue teams, volunteering at the local public schools and working to preserve the rich heritage of the Big Sur area. The work schedule of the staff allows for 8 hours of week of personal development, whether an individual's focus is exercise, meditation, scholarship, massage or seva (volunteering, selfless action). When rooms are available, the office staff contacts Homeless Veteran organizations to those in need. After El Niño destroyed the Esalen baths, millions of dollars were invested in creating a stable, respectful oasis for hot spring bathing and massage, including a completely ADA accessible changing room, bathroom, massage room, and hot tub. The massage room is equipped with a hydraulic massage table which can be raised or lowered in an instant to the appropriate height. Also included is a hot tub equipped with a special lift for handicapped access. Esalen Institute, the first holistic learning center, and the longest enduring institution of its kind (with numerous imitators, but none with the astonishing beauty of the Murphy land) continues to lead the way in not only humanistic psychology, but humanistic practice.

Additionally, Esalen continues to facilitate Invitational Conferences and other programs largely through its Center for Theory and Research, co-founded by Michael Murphy, Steve Donovan and Sharon Thom. The Center has designed unique collaborations in the areas of ecopsychology, neuroscience, metaphysics, literature, art, music, and sustainability. Esalen has continued to provide a calm atmosphere for public figures who would not ordinarily enjoy mingling with the public in such a relaxed manner. Excluding the names of those who wish to remain anonymous, some recent guests have included Alanis Morissette, director Robert Zemeckis, Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral, Thomas Moore, Gloria Naylor, Amy Tan, Matt Groening, theologian Raimon Panikkar, Oakland Mayor Gerry Brown, filmmaker and Academy Award winner Walter Murch, Pearl Jam, and many others. Since 2008, Esalen has used a sustainable wastewater recycling model that conserves fresh water, protects the Big Sur bioregion, saves energy, promotes sustainable economy and provides a model of green technology.

Workshops cover many subjects including: The Arts, Ecopsychology, Health, Integral thought, Martial arts, Massage, Dance, Myth, Philosophical Inquiry, Somatics, Spiritual & Religious Studies, Wilderness, Yoga, Mindfulness, Permaculture and Sustainability.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Kirpal 2007, p. 287. See also: Litwak, Leo E. (1967-12-31). "A Trip to Esalen Institute -- Joy Is the Prize". The New York Times Magazine. pp. 119. Retrieved on 2008-08-04. 
  2. ^ Anderson, Walter Truett The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the Human Potential Movement: The First Twenty Years ISBN 0-595-30735-3 pgs 217-219

[edit] Further reading

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Norman, Jeff (2004). Big Sur. Images of America Series. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-2913-3. 

[edit] External links

Coordinates: 36°07′37″N 121°38′30″W / 36.12701°N 121.64159°W / 36.12701; -121.64159

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