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Esalen Institute

Esalen Institute
Esalen main campus
Esalen main campus
Esalen Institute is located in California
Esalen Institute
Esalen Institute
Location in California
Country United States
State California
Region Big Sur
Website Esalen Institute

The Esalen Institute, commonly just called Esalen, is an American

  • Esalen Institute website
  • Notes on Gestalt Practice
  • "In Murphy's Kingdom" article by Jackie Krentzman
  • "Totally on Fire: The Experience of Founding Esalen" from Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeff Kripal

External links

Further reading


  1. ^ Goldman 2012, pp. 2–
  2. ^ Kripal 2007
  3. ^ Esalen Institute home page.
  4. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 64
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ Goldman 2012, p. 2
  7. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 27
  8. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 30
  9. ^ Documentation provided by Steven Harper of radiocarbon dating, performed by members of the Sonoma State University Cultural Resources Faculty, that produced the following results: 4,630 +/- 100 years BP (before present). Harper notes confirmation by similar tests from Big Creek (4-5 miles south of Esalen Institute), which produced: 6,400 years BP, as cited in The Prehistory of Big Creek by Terry Jones (2000).
  10. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 31
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c Kripal 2007, p. 32
  13. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 36
  14. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 22
  15. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 35 et seq
  16. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 95
  17. ^ Goldman 2012, p. 56
  18. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 47 et seq
  19. ^ a b The Only Way Out Is In: The Life Of Richard Price by Barclay James Erickson, in Kripal & Shuck 2005
  20. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 60
  21. ^
  22. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 48
  23. ^ a b Kripal 2007, p. 98
  24. ^ Kripal & Shuck 2005, p. 148
  25. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 91
  26. ^ a b Anderson 2004, p. 65
  27. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 63
  28. ^ Kripal & Shuck 2005, p. 2
  29. ^ Perls 1992
  30. ^ Perls 1992, p. 249
  31. ^ Grogan 2008, p. 196
  32. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 157
  33. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 175
  34. ^ Fadul 2014, p. 204 [1]
  35. ^
  36. ^ Callahan 2014
  37. ^ Kripal 2007, pp. 274, 291–2
  38. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 151
  39. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 156
  40. ^ Goldman 2012, p. 19
  41. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 207
  42. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 160
  43. ^ (The full article requires paid subscription to access it.)
  44. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 172
  45. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 219
  46. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 181 et seq
  47. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 147 et seq
  48. ^ Goldman 2012, p. 44
  49. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 463
  50. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 270
  51. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 546
  52. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 212
  53. ^ Goldman 2012, pp. 85–86
  54. ^ a b Kripal 2007, p. 389
  55. ^ Goldman 2012, p. 65
  56. ^ Nancy's name changed to Nancy Lunney Wheeler upon marriage to Gordon Wheeler who later became Esalen CEO; see Goldman 2012, p. 67
  57. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 376
  58. ^ See the extensive biography of David Price,, "Esalen's Child", in Goldman 2012, pp. 107 et seq
  59. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 436
  60. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 437
  61. ^ Wheeler became CEO and is now president. See generally, Goldman 2012, pp. 99 et seq
  62. ^ Goldman 2012, p. 44
  63. ^ Explanation of "power shift" found in: Goldman 2012, p. 65
  64. ^ Tribal Ground announcement on Tribal Ground website.
  65. ^ Kripal 2007, pp. 101 et seq
  66. ^ Kripal 2007, pp. 182 et seq
  67. ^ Kripal 2007, pp. 104
  68. ^ Anderson 2004, pp. 159, 178, 179, 207, 220, 234, 253, 320
  69. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 490
  70. ^ Wildflower, Leni. The Hidden History Of Coaching, Open University Press (2013) p. 17
  71. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 547 [listing numerous citations]
  72. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 159
  73. ^ Heider, John The Tao of Leadershp Green Dragon Publishing (2005)
  74. ^ John Heider's Esalen page.
  75. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 102
  76. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 434
  77. ^ 2011 Esalen Arts Festival
  78. ^ Anderson 2004, p. 140
  79. ^ YouTube segments.
  80. ^
  81. ^
  82. ^
  83. ^ Anderson 2004, pp. 217–219
  84. ^ Rappaport, M. "Are There Schizophrenics for Whom Drugs May be Unnecessary or Contraindicated?" International Pharmacopsychiatry 13 (1978) p. 100 et seq.
  85. ^ Julian Silverman's Memorial Page
  86. ^ Cornwall 2002, p. 4
  87. ^ Alternative Views and Approaches to Psychosis, November 2012. An Esalen Center For Theory and Research Initiative at Esalen Institute.
  88. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 527
  89. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 320
  90. ^ "Track II (Citizen) Diplomacy" at The Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base Project.
  91. ^ Track Two, An Institute For Citizen Diplomacy.
  92. ^ Esalen CTR: Accomplishments in Citizen Diplomacy.
  93. ^ Esalen Center for Theory and Research.
  94. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 439
  95. ^ Goldman 2012, p. 67
  96. ^ "40 years later, Woodstock's spiritual vibes still resonate", Houston Chronicle. August 6, 2009.
  97. ^ "Esalen's Identity Crisis", Los Angeles Times Magazine. September 5, 2004.
  98. ^ Don Lattin. "Like countless spiritual pilgrims, Esalen Institute faces its own midlife crisis" The Washington Post. May 30, 2012
  99. ^
  100. ^ Kera Abraham and Mark Anderson. "One Half-Century at Esalen Institute". Monterey County Weekly. October 4, 2012.
  101. ^ Lasch 1978, p. 13
  102. ^ a b c Kripal 2007, p. 401
  103. ^ Kripal 2007, p. 172
  104. ^ Esalen's Work Study Program
  105. ^ Esalen's Gazebo Park School
  106. ^ Tricia McEntee - Interview
  107. ^ Goldman 2012, p. 99
  108. ^ Esalen Farm and Garden



Esalen is organized as a Californian 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Currently, the institute is managed by CEO Tricia McEntee,[106] with Gordon Wheeler now serving as president.[107] The 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. The institute has focused in more recent times on issues of permaculture and ecological sustainability.[108] 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.

Esalen, evening aerial view

Current status

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.[102] 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.[103] In 1966, the institute began year-long residential educational programs which were subsequently replaced by month-long work-study programs and year-long work-oriented extended student programs.[104] There is a preschool on site called the Gazebo, serving the children of staff, some program participants, and affiliated local residents.[105]


The Human Potential Movement was criticized for espousing an ethic that the inner-self should be freely expressed in order to reach a person'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.[101] In 1990 a graffiti artist spray painted "Jive shit for rich white folk" on the entrance to Esalen,[102] highlighting class and race issues. Some thought that this was a regression of progress away from true spiritual growth.[102]

Esalen has been cited in the press as having played a key role in the cultural transformations of the 1960s.[96] Esalen has also been the subject of some criticism and controversy.[97] After reporting the professed mission statement of the institute, The Economist summarized the critics as follows: “For many others in America and around the world, Esalen stands more vaguely for that metaphorical point where ‘East meets West’ and is transformed into something uniquely and mystically American or New Agey. And for a great many others yet, Esalen is simply that notorious bagno-bordello where people had sex and got high throughout the 1960s and 1970s before coming home talking psychobabble and dangling crystals.”[5] Other criticism may be found in publications cited in the footnotes.[98][99][100]

Cultural influence and legacy

Esalen massage practitioners.[95]

Esalen Massage and Bodywork Association

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.[93] The CTR is the research and development arm of Esalen Institute.[94]

Center for Theory and Research

[92] and Jim Hickman. After 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.Jim Garrison 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 [91] 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".[90]In 1980, Esalen began the Soviet-American Exchange Program (later renamed: Track Two, an institute for citizen diplomacy).
Boris Yeltsin

Soviet-American Exchange Program

In the mid-1980s, Esalen entered into a joint publishing arrangement with Lindisfarne Press to publish a small library of Russian philosophical and theological books.[89]

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).[88] Some of these books remain in print.


Encouraged by 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.[84] Julian Silverman was chief of research for the project. He also served as Esalen's general manager in the 1970s.[85] 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.[86] 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.[87]

Schizophrenia Research Project

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.

Initiatives and projects

The Chryskylodon Institute, from Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice and Paul Thomas Anderson's film adaptation, is modeled after Esalen.[82]

The Panticapaeum Institute from True Detective Season 2 was largely based on the Esalen Institute.[81]

The Mad Men finale, "Person to Person" (which aired on May 17, 2015), featured Don and Stephanie staying at an Esalen-like coastline retreat in the year 1970.[80]

A BBC television series, The Century of the Self (2002), was critical of the Human Potentials Movement and included video segments recorded at Esalen.[79]

Esalen features prominently in Edward St Aubyn's comic novel On the Edge (1998).

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,[78] after which they return to their life determined to embrace free love and complete openness.

Esalen has been the subject of loose interpretations in art, entertainment, and media.
Movie lobby card

In popular culture

In 1995 and 1996, Esalen hosted two arts festivals which gathered together artists, poets, musicians, photographers and performers, including artist Margot McLean, psychotherapist 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.[77]

In 1994, President and CEO Sharon Thom[76] 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. The platform was later covered by a dome and renamed the Leonard Pavilion after deceased Esalen past president and board member, George Leonard.

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.

Performers at Esalen have included:

In 1964, Joan Baez led a workshop entitled "The New Folk Music"[75] 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.

Arts events

Esalen has sponsored long-term resident scholars, including:

Scholars in residence

Past teachers

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.[67]

Early leaders included:

[66] — such as "The Value of Psychotic Experience". There were even Esalen programs that questioned the movement of which Esalen itself was a part — for instance, "Spiritual and Therapeutic Tyranny: The Willingness To Submit". And there was a series of encounter groups focused on racial prejudice.status quo challenged the [65]In the early days, many of the seminars
Aldous Huxley, 1970

Leaders and programs

Esalen has always been forced to change as it responded to internal and external factors.[47][48][49][50][51][52][53] Dick Price provided leadership at the institute, and his death in late 1985 brought about many changes in personnel and programming.[54] Steven Donovan became president of the institute,[55] and Brian Lyke served as general manager.[54] Nancy Lunney[56] became the director of programming,[57] and David Price (son of Dick Price) served as general manager of Esalen beginning in the mid-1990s.[58] The baths were destroyed in 1998 by severe weather and were rebuilt at great expense, but this caused severe institutional stress.[59] Afterward, Andy Nusbaum developed an economic plan to stabilize Esalen's finances.[60] Ultimately, under the direction of Gordon Wheeler,[61] management was dramatically restructured.[62] However, this resulted in the voluntary withdrawal of Christine Stewart Price (wife of Dick Price) from the institute, in order to preserve Dick Price's legacy at a new teaching facility.[63][64]

Esalen was incorporated as a non-profit institution in 1963.[40] Increased attention came to the institute in 1966 when Esalen started to receive coverage in the news media. Look magazine about the California scene, that mentioned Esalen and included a picture of Murphy.[41] Time magazine published an article about Esalen in September 1967.[42] The New York Times Magazine published an article by Leo E. Litwak in late December.[43] Then an article about Esalen appeared in Life magazine.[44] 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,[45] 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.[46]

Esalen gained popularity quickly and started to regularly publish catalogs full of programs. The facility was large enough to run multiple programs simultaneously, so Esalen started creating numerous resident teacher positions.[38] Murphy recruited Will Schutz, the well-known encounter group leader, to take up permanent residence at Esalen.[39] All this combined to firmly position Esalen in the nexus of the counterculture of the 1960s.

Dick Price became one of Perls' closest students. Price developed his own form of practice called Gestalt Practice,[36] which he continued teaching at Esalen until his death in a hiking accident in 1985.[19] Michael Murphy became an author, writing non-fiction books about Esalen related topics, as well as several novels.[37]

Alan Watts gave the first lecture at Esalen in January 1962.[26] Gia-fu Feng joined Price and Murphy,[27] along with Bob Breckenridge, Bob Nash, Alice and Jim Sellers, as the first Esalen staff members.[23] In the middle of that same year Abraham Maslow, the prominent humanistic psychologist, just happened to drive into the grounds and soon became an important figure at the institute.[28] 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".[26] 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.[29] When Perls left Esalen he considered it to be "in crisis again". He saw young people without any training leading encounter groups. And he feared that charlatans would take the lead.[30] However, Grogan claims that Perls’ practice at Esalen had been ethically “questionable”,[31] and according to Kripal's account he is supposed to have insulted Abraham Maslow.[32] Jim Simkin[33] and Perls led Gestalt training courses at Esalen. Simkin started a Gestalt training center[34] on contiguous property that was later incorporated into Esalen’s main campus.[35]

After they met, Murphy and Price found much in common. In 1961, they traveled down to the Murphy family's Big Sur property.[21] 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. So they envisioned offering a wide range of philosophies, religious disciplines and psychological techniques.[22] 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,[23] 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).[24] 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 the mountains east of Irvine, California, and later donated to the Vedanta Society.[25]

and then he also returned to San Francisco. [20],India in ashram's Sri Aurobindo Murphy, meanwhile, traveled to [19]. Price was admitted to a mental hospital for a time, before returning to San Francisco.psychotic break and experienced a transformative Alan Watts. Then Price joined the Air Force and lived in San Francisco, where he met psychology to continue studying Harvard University After graduating from Stanford, Price attended [18] and Indic studies, with whom both had studied.comparative religion, a Stanford professor of Frederic Spiegelberg They met in San Francisco at the suggestion of [17] in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were in the same class, but they did not become friends until later.Stanford UniversityMichael Murphy and Dick Price both attended
Richard Price in 1968

Origins and evolution

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,[15] Joan Baez was a resident and Hunter S. Thompson was an employee.[16]

[14]. After Highway 1 reopened, the Murphy family employed a series of property managers. There was a restaurant and the hot springs baths were opened to paid use.World War II and then closed to the public with the outbreak of [12] While the highway was being built, the Slate's Hot Springs site was used by engineers and others involved with the construction. The highway was opened in 1937[13] was completed.Highway 1-style health spa, when the yet-to-be-built European). Murphy bought the property with the intention of opening a John Steinbeck, California, physician (who delivered Salinas a [12]. 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,Slates Hot Springs and a settlement began known as [12] the property in the early 1880s,homesteaded. He arthritisIn the 1870s, Thomas Slate visited the Big Sur site to use the hot springs because he suffered from severe
Slates Hot Springs aerial view

The grounds of the Esalen Institute were once home to a Native American tribe known as the Esselen, from whom the institute gets its name.[8] Carbon dating tests of artifacts found on Esalen's property have indicated a human presence as early as 2600 BCE.[9] Given access to the ocean, fresh water and hot springs, the Esselen people used the site regularly, with certain areas reserved for burial grounds. The Esselen population was largely decimated by diseases contracted at the Carmel Mission, where measles, smallpox, and syphilis wiped out 90 percent of the native population.[10] Today, a few people in the area can still trace their ancestry to the Esselen and they maintain a relationship with Esalen Institute.[11]

Prior history and origin of the name



  • History 1
    • Prior history and origin of the name 1.1
    • Origins and evolution 1.2
  • Leaders and programs 2
    • Past teachers 2.1
    • Scholars in residence 2.2
  • Arts events 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • Initiatives and projects 5
    • Schizophrenia Research Project 5.1
    • Publishing 5.2
    • Soviet-American Exchange Program 5.3
    • Center for Theory and Research 5.4
    • Esalen Massage and Bodywork Association 5.5
  • Cultural influence and legacy 6
  • Community 7
  • Current status 8
  • References 9
    • Notes 9.1
    • Bibliography 9.2
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Esalen is located near the John Little State Natural Reserve and Lime Creek, about 45 miles (72 km) south of Monterey and nine miles (14 km) north of Lucia. The institute is situated on 120 acres[6] of Big Sur coast.[7]

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".[4] 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 therapies, to Gestalt Practice.[5]

[3] The institute offers more than 500 public workshops a year in addition to conferences, research initiatives, residential work-study programs, and internships.[2]

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