The possibilities of the human future transcend the power of our imagination.

We suspect that our creative capacity, like that of the universe itself, is ultimately limitless. The prospect of further human development stands before us as an ethical demand, providing guidance for our scientific research, education, and legislation as well as for our individual and personal choices.

Much of the world knows about Esalen through our leading edge public workshops. Yet, there is another, lesser-known Esalen that fosters big thinking which is accessible by invitation only.

Esalen’s Center for Theory & Research (CTR) was founded in the fall of 1998 as a means of revitalizing, quickening, and formalizing both our original Esalen vision and a particular format that had been in place from the Institute’s very beginning: private symposium bringing together world-class intellectuals and practitioners to discuss a single focused theme or idea.

The founding vision of Esalen is to inspire and promote personal and social transformation worldwide.

To this end it explores, nurtures, and works to actualize those extraordinary capacities or “human potentials,” that have been otherwise denied or repressed by modern cultures, yet, appear to be emerging today with increasing force and excitement in concert with new science.

Traditionally framed in terms of mystical experiences, psychical phenomena, or extraordinary physical and cultural accomplishments, these “evolutionary buds,” whether personal, institutional, or social, have been extensively explored at Esalen through various channels, including philosophy, comparative religious studies, psychology, anthropology, somatic practices, quantum physics, evolutionary biology, citizen diplomacy, and various forms of social action.

The goal of CTR is to bring together leading-edge thinkers to accelerate our collective evolution toward a new worldview.

For nearly three decades, Esalen has sponsored a series of hundreds of private innovative and daring meetings through CTR. This other Esalen has consistently had a significant cultural and political impact on America and the world at large. From its programs in citizen diplomacy to its pioneering role in holistic health; from physics and philosophy to psychology and religion, Esalen has exercised a significant influence on our culture and our society.

CTR seeks to nourish and support an emerging 'school' in which theory, research, and practice will co-evolve to embody our latent supernature. The topics, issues, themes and passions CTR delves deep into include: extraordinary human capacities research, practices and theory; citizen diplomacy projects with Russia and China; food reformation; and working to create peace amongst three Abrahamic religions — Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

In order to cultivate the pursuit of Big Ideas for Bigger Thinking, CTR sponsors work in areas that think tanks and universities ignore, either because they are too controversial, too new, or because they fall between disciplinary silos. The world needs those who believe in our common humanity, who understand and promote the development of all individuals and communities — body, mind, heart, and soul.

Historical Initiatives & Achievements

Esalen Institute is a preeminent alternative education center charged with helping to transform and evolve world culture through its public workshops and its Center for Theory & Research (CTR) projects. Since 1962, Esalen has initiated new areas of research, theory, practice, and action, all of which have fostered social change and the realization of the human potential. These initiatives are often not known about by Esalen workshop participants, so we have provided a short overview of them below. Learn more about CTR initiatives stretching back to 1962.

Citizen Diplomacy

During the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, Michael and Dulce Murphy launched a series of Soviet-American citizen diplomacy gatherings at Esalen. Joseph Montville coined the phrase "track-two diplomacy" at these meetings, which is now a well-recognized diplomatic method. This work led to the first spacebridges, which enabled Soviet and American citizens to speak directly with one another via satelliteCTR communication. One set of conferences focused on the political psychology of Soviet-American relations, resulting in Sam Keen’s classic book Faces of the Enemy. Lastly, as the culmination of many years of diplomatic work, Esalen sponsored Boris Yeltsin’s first trip to the United States in 1989, at which time he had a transformative experience witnessing the contrast between the prosperity of the US and the poverty of Soviet Communism.

Read this New York Times article from 1989 about Yeltsin's visit and Esalen's role.

Transformative Practices

In 1992 Michael Murphy and George Leonard launched Integral Transformative Practice (ITP), which became a leading form of long-term transformative practice. Stanford University has conducted research on the overall health and lifestyle benefits of ITP, resulting in some outstanding findings, such as a marked increase in cognitive skills after participation in the program. ITP is now popular worldwide.

New Fields in Psychology

When Esalen was founded in 1962, the eminent psychologist Abraham Maslow influenced our vision of positive human values and potentials. Inspired by his own experiences at Esalen in the 1960s, Maslow founded the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology.


Through a series of Esalen conferences in 1993-94, Theodore Roszak created the field of ecopsychology. Roszak’s Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind was published in 1995.

Gestalt Therapy

In 1964, Esalen provided Fritz Perls, co-founder of Gestalt Therapy, a public platform for his method. By 1970, several Gestalt training centers had become a central feature of the psychotherapeutic field.

Physics and Consciousness

In 1976 Esalen began a 12-year series on the interface between quantum physics and consciousness. Fritjof Capra was a frequent participant and Nick Herbert’s Quantum Reality grew directly from these gatherings.

Complementary Medicine

Starting in the early 1970s, Sukie Miller led conferences that in 1976 would result in the first federal legislation on Humanistic Medicine in the United States. Dr. Wayne Jonas’s experiences at Esalen in the 1970s led to his work as the head of the National Institutes of Health's Office of Alternative Medicine.

Extraordinary Human Capacities

In 1976 Michael Murphy started compiling a research database of humanity’s extraordinary capacities in a variety of areas of human experience, ranging from meditation and yoga to sports and love-making. This is the only such database in the world and is now housed at UC Santa Barbara’s library. It is a testament to the full range of the human capacity to transform and evolve new forms of body, mind, and spirit. Murphy’s research on this database led to the groundbreaking books The Future of the Body and The Life We Are Given. The central finding stemming from his research is that most human attributes have extraordinary expressions, in which those capacities are taken to new levels of experience and sophistication. This suggests a larger purpose for the continued evolution of human embodiment, which is a central premise in Esalen’s vision and programs.

Effects of Meditation

From 1988 to 1995 Esalen hosted conferences on New Directions in Meditation Research, resulting in Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan's The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation.


Throughout the 1980s Professor Michael Harner facilitated conferences and trainings that led to the rediscovery of shamanism as a valid method for psychological healing and spiritual growth.

Holotropic Breathwork

In the 1970s and 80s, while living at Esalen, Stan and Christina Grof created the transformative healing method of Holotropic Breathwork. They also founded the Spiritual Emergence Network as a referral and information source that now has a worldwide presence.


From 1987 to 1989, Don Hanlon Johnson convened several somatics conferences, which led to a new series of books, including Bone, Breath, & Gesture: Practices of Embodiment. These conferences included leaders in the somatics field, such as Emilie Conrad and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.

Embodied Transformation

Starting in the early 1960s, Esalen helped launch a revolutionary view of the transformative capacity of the human body by providing a place for Charlotte Selver’s Sensory Awareness, Ida Rolf’s Structural Integration (now known as Rolfing), and Alexander Lowen’s and John Pierrakos’ Bioenergetics. Today, these approaches have been integrated into Esalen’s massage and bodywork practices, which are considered world class.

Confluent Education

In 1967 a Ford Foundation grant led to the creation of the Ford/Esalen Project in Confluent Education, joining affective and cognitive learning. Dr. George Brown of UC Santa Barbara spearheaded this program. His work was summarized in Human Teaching for Human Learning, which sold more than 50,000 copies in the education field and was republished in 1990 as a Penguin paperback.

Race Relations

In the late 1960s Look magazine editor George Leonard and psychiatrist Price Cobbs led a series of powerful events called Racial Confrontation as Transcendental Experience, which contributed to racial awareness and healing at a crucial time in American history.

Past & Upcoming Conferences

Facilitators: Sravana Borkataky-Varma, Simon Cox, and Charles Stang

Mapping Subtle Bodies and Esoteric Anatomies
January 22–27, 2023

Facilitators: Dulce Murphy and Virginia Thomson

Track Two: Opening New Channels
April 23–28, 2023

Facilitators: Wouter Hanegraaff, Jeff Kripal, and Charles Stang

Entheogenic Humanities
August 6–11, 2023

Facilitator: Charles Stang

Indigenous Plant Medicines Movements
October 8–13, 2023

Articles & Papers

CTR Giving Opportunities

Directed by Esalen Co-founder Michael Murphy, Professor Jeff Kripal, and Professor Charles M. Stang, Esalen’s Center for Theory & Research sponsors research, theory, and action to promote positive social change and the realization of human potential. Underwriting is needed for project research, facilitators, translators, coordinators, summary writers, occasional expert fees, travel and accommodations, and special outreach projects.

Supporters at the $10,000+ level are invited to attend a CTR conference of their choice, when donor seats are still available for the selected conference. Housing arrangements must be made and paid for separately.

To make a donation, contact Mary O'Brien, Director of Development.

Esalen Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. Donations to Esalen Institute are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Federal tax ID #94-6114235.

Inquiries for CTR
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