Where is it?
Founded in 1962, the Esalen Institute is located in Big Sur, California. Once home to a Native American tribe that went by the name Esselen, it covers about 27 acres of the Big Sur coastline and is home to some famous hot springs. The Santa Lucia Mountains provide the backdrop for the institute.
So how did they get started?
Well, Esalen is where the so-called “human potential movement” started. Jack Kerouac makes mention of it in his novel “Big Sur”. Ken Kesey led workshops there; John Lilly was also a resident as was Stanislav Grof. The rooms at the Esalen Institute are named after people that have generally been recognized as important to this school of thought. Examples such as Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley and Abraham Maslow come to mind. While these were all members of the so-called “Beat Generation” Esalen was staring to experience a new school of thought. Since LSD was still legal at the time and Esalen proved to be a non threatening atmosphere, the “Esalen Experience” was about to be born. Thanks is large part to Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary and Owsley Stanley, there's a strong case for stating that the philosophy of the “hippie movement” had their origins at Esalen
Two of the big words of the time were “experience” and “now”. LSD helped to heighten both of the feelings.It wasn’t good enough just to read some book or listen to some music, it had to be “experienced”. I think that’s the question that Jimi Hendrix was getting at when he asked “Are you Experienced?” The "now" portion can probably be best summed up by reading the classic Be Here Now, co-authored and co-edited by Ram Dass and the Lama Foundation
So what do they do there today?
Glad you asked. According to the Esalen Center for Theory and Research, they “support essential philosophical, academic, and research aims of the Institute. It evaluates frontier inquiry, creates networks of pioneering individuals, and works to catalyze new discoveries that promote personal and social transformation. It carries forward projects at the growing edge of philosophy, psychology, comparative religious studies, education, sociology, somatics, the arts, ecology and related disciplines that bear upon transformative practice and continued evolution of humankind.”
If you as me, that’s quite a mouthful that had it origins in some mighty controversial schools of thought.