What is the future of the Esalen Institute

Ⓘ Esalen Institute. The Esalen Institute has existed since 1962 as a non-profit center for humanistically oriented interdisciplinary studies and congresses.


3. Early years

Regular visitors in the early years included Joan Baez, Hunter S. Thompson and Henry Miller. Alan Watts gave the first seminar in 1962. That summer, Abraham Maslow happened upon the area and soon became an important person at the institute. In 1964 Fritz Perls began a multi-year stay in Esalen and gained great and lasting influence. Perls conducted numerous gestalt therapy seminars in Esalen, and together with Jim Simkin he also gave training courses in gestalt therapy. Dick Price became one of Perls’s first students at Esalen; he practiced and taught Gestalt therapy in Esalen until his accidental death on a hike in 1985.

Esalen quickly grew in popularity and was soon publishing a program catalog. The facility was large enough to run several programs at the same time, and Esalen gradually established numerous permanent teaching positions. Those who wanted to turn the place into something like a connecting point of the counterculture gathered there. Some of the early leading figures were Arnold J. Toynbee, theologian Paul Tillich, two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, Carl Rogers, B. F. Skinner, Virginia Satir, Ansel Adams, Michael Harner, Richard Alpert, Timothy Leary, and J. B. Rhine. Gia-Fu Feng and Chungliang Al Huang provided a strong Asian perspective along with the influence of Watts.

Instead of speaking and listening, a number of teachers and participants began to experiment with what Aldous Huxley called "non-verbal humanity": the formation of the body, the senses, the emotions. The main concern was to bring about a new ethic: to fully and precisely express the "current flowing experience", to make this aware and to get feedback on it. The experience workshops that built on these experiments were particularly well attended and contributed a great deal to Esalen's future direction.

Esalen was recognized as a not-for-profit institution in 1967. Its popularity grew when the New York Times Magazine ran an article on Esalen on December 31, 1967, "The Prize is Joy: A Trip to the Esalen Institute by Leo E. Litwak". The article has been reprinted several times over the years in anthologies of excellent magazine articles. For a short time it brought Esalen the increased attention of other media, not exactly in the USA, but mainly overseas. Esalen responded by organizing major congresses in cities in the Midwest, on the East Coast and in Europe, as well as opening an institute branch in San Francisco. Many programs were offered here, but the branch had to close in the mid-1970s.

Much of the offerings seemed designed to challenge the status quo and the movement itself, of which Esalen was a part. Such offers were for example: the value of psychotic experiences or spiritual and therapeutic tyranny: the readiness for submission and theological reflection on the potential of the human being. There was also a series of mixed ethnic encounter groups.

Because of the remote location, the concept of the institute was geared from the start that the employees also lived there. This fact has had a decisive influence on the character of the institute. Esalen began one-year permanent education programs in 1966. Monthly work study programs as well as year-long extended student programs followed. Many of the permanent staff developed new practices and became well-known teachers. Esalen's "Die Gartenlaube" preschool, which looks after the children of the employees, local residents and program participants, was founded by Janet Lederman in the mid-1970s and is still in existence today.