His zest, energy, humor, and insight have fired up generations of personal reformers and social reformers. To those who know him by reputation he is merely remarkable; to those who have had the pleasure and privilege of knowing him personally, he is transcendent.
Michael Murphy is cofounder and Chairman Emeritus of the Board of the Esalen Institute, and serves as Director of Esalen’s Center for Theory & Research (CTR).
Born and raised in Salinas, California, Murphy graduated from Stanford University in 1952. He lived for a year and a half at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India before starting the Esalen Institute in 1962 with his fellow Stanford graduate, Richard Price. In Big Sur, Price and Murphy co-created a magical and magnificent living laboratory on land owned by Murphy’s family. But Michael insisted that Esalen focus not only on the wonders that happen for the thousands of people that come to be healed and made whole, but that it also work for social advance in various fields and fundamental research into the potentials of human nature.
In the 1980s, Michael and his wife Dulce were instrumental in organizing Esalen's pioneering Soviet-American Exchange Program, which became a premiere vehicle for citizen-to-citizen relations between Russians and Americans. In 1989, Esalen initiated Boris Yeltsin's first visit to America -- a trip that contributed to Yeltsin's change of heart regarding the United Sates, capitalism and the future of the Soviet Union. This success led to Esalen citizen diplomacy programs with China, an initiative to further understanding and healing among Jews, Christians and Muslims, and further work on Russian-Americana relations.
Murphy is director of the Center for Theory & Research (CTR), the groundbreaking research center for Esalen Institute. In addition to serving as Director, Murphy leads a number of CTR initiatives, including one that explores the empirical evidence of post-mortem survival, another to explore encompassing visions of evolution that reconcile scientific and mystical perspectives, and one on meditation research.
Preparatory work for Murphy’s The Future of the Body began in 1977 through the building of an archive that includes more than 10,000 studies of exceptional functioning, which is now housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Murphy's and George Leonard's Integral Transformative Practices (ITP) program has been researched by Stanford’s Medical School and it was this program that inspired their nonfiction book The Life We Are Given. Murphy also co-authored God and the Evolving Universe; In the Zone, an anthology of extraordinary sports experiences; and The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation. Murphy’s novel Golf in the Kingdom was released as a full-length feature film in 2011, and is still a best seller 30 years after it was published. He also wrote three other novels: The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, Jacob Atabet, and An End to Ordinary History.
Even though the single principle of how everything happens is great, those who follow the principle know that they are ordinary.
John Heider The Tao of Leadership
Richard Price was co-founder of Esalen Institute with Michael Murphy.
From a Chicago family of business men and women, Dick graduated from Stanford University the same year as Michael although the two did not meet at that time. After a year of graduate work at Harvard, Dick left due to the lack of clinical emphasis. He joined the Air Force and was stationed in the San Francisco Bay area where he simultaneous studied at the Academy of Asian Studies with Alan Watts and actively explored eastern practices in the midst of the North Beach Beat scene. In the course of this he had a psychotic episode/spiritual emergence, depending on ones point of view, and was hospitalized by the Air Force. Dick emerged from this experience feeling healed and renewed but his parents then maneuvered his commitment to a private institution where he was kept against his will for a year, undergoing electroshock and insulin shock treatments. Finally discharged, deeply affected by the damaging nature of conventional mental health treatment, Dick set about restoring his body and spirit. Moving back to San Francisco, he and Michael met at East-West house, a communal living situation founded by students of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.
With combined resources, shared interests, and mutual respect, Michael and Dick founded Esalen Institute. Agreeing on the need for freedom and innovations in the academic, medical, sociological and religious arenas, they created a space where diverse views could be explored both intellectually and experientially and where no approach would “capture the flag”. When Michael moved back to San Francisco and established the city branch of Esalen, Dick stayed in Big Sur, continuing to provide core direction to the operational, programming and community aspects of the Institute. His enthusiasm and support helped establish the work of Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, Fritz Perls and Stan Grof. Among others. He was instrumental in bringing Julian Silverman from NIMH and, in collaboration with Dr. Jack Downing, supporting significant research regarding drugless intervention in first break schizophrenia. These diverse interests led to Dick’s formation of Gestalt Practice, a communal approach to developing awareness, which synthesized eastern meditative principles and gestalt structures with a somatic emphasis, which continues to develop and expand through his long-term students.
Dick died in 1985.