Esalen Institute
A center at Big Sur, California, formed to explore trends in
the behavioral sciences, religion, and philosophy that emphasize
the potentialities and values of human existence. It was
founded in 1962 by Michael H. Murphy to devise ways of extending
human potential. The name derives from a tribe of Indians
who once lived along the California coast.
Murphy spent three years in study and meditation before
creating Esalen and lived for 18 months at the Sri Aurobindo
ashram in Pondicherry, India. His associates have included
Baba Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), William C. Schutz, Ida P.
Rolf, and Frederick S. Perls. Many famous individuals have
given lecture courses or acted as advisers, including veteran
mythologist Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, Ralph Metzer, and
Bishop John Robinson (of Britain). Esalen made encounter
group a universally recognized term and has conducted courses
in mythology, mysticism, meditation, psychotherapy, group
awareness, emotional reeducation, and expansion of consciousness.
Michael Murphy has also been associated with the formation
of Quaesitor, a European center with programs similar to
Inevitably, the wide range of activities and lecturers at Esalen
has invited criticism that the center has sometimes sensationalized
sensitive areas of human experience and potential.
In addition to reputable and accredited individuals, workshops
Eric of the Windy Hat Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
have also been conducted by self-styled mystics, shamans, and
experimenters. For example, one staff member of Esalen
whimsically claimed in a brochure current or previous bouts as
‘‘a drug user, village idiot, thief, madman, carny, masseur, and
shaman.’’ However, Esalen has undoubtedly pioneered and
popularized new directions in human awareness and relationships
and introduced methods of ‘‘turning on’’ without drugs.
It has been considered a power center of the human potential
Esalen grew out of an exciting discussion between Aldous
Huxley, Michael Murphy, and Richard Price in Santa Monica
in the summer of 1961. The story of the founding and history
of Esalen, and the many famous names associated with it as the
consciousness revolution swept the United States and influenced
the world, is chronicled by Walter Truett Anderson in his
book The Upstart Spring Esalen and the American Awakening
(1983). The title derives from the play A Sleep of Prisoners, by
British playwright Christopher Fry, which describes a dark and
frozen winter of centuries that begins to thaw in the ‘‘upstart
spring.’’ The quotation occurred in an introduction to the 1965
Esalen brochure. The book describes Esalen’s beginnings; its
exploration of new lifestyles; its development as a gathering
place for such individuals as Alan Watts, Gregory Bateson,
Timothy Leary, and Abraham Maslow; and the triumphs, mistakes,
tragedies, and controversies of Esalen’s heady history.
Anderson is a political scientist, journalist, author of books
on American politics and social movements, and a former contributing
editor to Human Behavior magazine. He has also
served on the editorial board of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology.
He visited Esalen in the mid-1960s and later became an
instructor there.
Esalen maintains a wide range of programs and continues
to pioneer new approaches to the development of human consciousness.
Address Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA 93920.
Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring Esalen and the
American Awakening. Reading, Mass. Addison-Wesley, 1983.
Miller, Stuart. Hot Springs. New York Viking Press, 1971