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About

Daria Halprin: My Esalen Story

July 2015

Images: top, Daria Halprin; below, Anna and Daria teaching at Esalen in 2012

When did you start offering workshops at Esalen?

I began teaching at Esalen in 1975. I'm counting it according to my daughter's age as I brought her with me to spend time in the Gazebo School. Now this summer she's bringing her daughter, my 5 year old granddaughter, to the Gazebo School. My husband will be here for this special introduction of our granddaughter to Esalen. He has come to Esalen with me and on his own both for workshops and personal retreats over the decades, as has our son, who has performed as a spoken word artist during several of Esalen's annual fundraisers. Along with his sister he came as a youngster to Esalen when I workshopped here. Anna has never missed a summer of teaching since she first started. Making pilgrimage to Esalen is a family tradition!

With whom did you work?

My first teaching at Esalen was with my mother. Later I taught here on my own and now for the past few years Anna and I have taught Esalen workshops together again. It has been quite a rich, full circle on multiple levels and through three generations.

How would you describe your connection with Esalen?

I came to Esalen in the late sixties to see Fritz Perls. I first met and worked with him in San Francisco--he knew my parents well. I was part of my mother Anna Halprin's artists and dancers group with whom Fritz held ongoing Gestalt workshops over a number of years, and eventually I wanted to come to Esalen to watch his Gestalt therapy groups here.

Even before that, my parents Anna and Larry Halprin brought me down to Big Sur to camp and stay up on  Partington Ridge with the mosaicist Lousia Jenkins. Trips to Big Sur imparted quite a potent and influential sense of nature, art and creative contact between like-minded and inspirited innovators. At key moments I've come here both on my own and with my husband to reflect and reconnect, as well as to teach. It's a very special place to recharge physically, emotionally and spiritually.

What makes working at Esalen special?

Esalen is the site of a unique interweave of magnificent nature, cutting edge exploration into human consciousness, and creative expression that forms a kind of laboratory for research and experiments. The back-and-forth between personal, community and even political development and discourse is pivotal here. It has been and I hope will continue to be a living think tank, as well as a place of focused work with focused play.

What is a special memory you would like to share?

Every time I'm here another special memory is added. As well, every time I return it feels in some manner like a homecoming and a remembrance of a shared history. Teaching here with Anna at this time in our lives is particularly memorable!

What event(s) occurred during your time(s) at Esalen that catalyzed significant changes in your life? (e.g., shifts in life purpose, career, relationships, spirituality, emotional or physical well-being)

My experiences with Fritz changed me and catalyzed my life's work! I fell in love with Gestalt therapy. Later I focused my own work in bridging dance and the expressive arts with psychology, in particular through my studies and practice of Gestalt therapy. I remember driving down to Esalen to teach my first solo workshop here. I held an imagined conversation with Fritz, who had recently passed. I dialogued with him about my stage fright and  asked him what I ought to teach. He planned my entire workshop out with me during that 3 hour drive.

In more detail, what was the transformation that resulted within your life?

I've experienced many influential moments at Esalen, major highlights being encounters with remarkable people, but also the seemingly simple profundities: walking the grounds and listening to nature speak; a musician playing up at the fireplace; a conversation with a scholar here to lecture; another artist speaking of her challenges in art; making those many brief yet potent and often unexpected exchanges.

In the late 1990's, more than twenty years after my very first teaching experience at Esalen, I returned totally burnt out. I was in one of those moods where I wanted to walk away from everything I'd ever done in my work. I arrived at the dining hall and there was Daniel Bianchetta across the room, who has been part of the Esalen family since the beginning and one of my best Esalen buddies since those very early days. He took one look at me and I imagine he saw the internal picture, as only he can do. He came over to me and said something like this: OK good thing you came down, you are exhausted. Are you teaching? I told him no, that I'd actually come down for a self retreat. He announced to me that he was going to collect all the archival footage he had of Fritz practicing here in the early days and that I was to sit and watch those films. And I did. And I remembered, and I returned to work in a whole different way which I've continued to develop and learn from ever since.

Another wild story is working with Fritz and Ida Rolf at Esalen right before I took off for Hollywood to star in Michelangelo Antonioni's film, Zabriskie Point. Ida "steam-rolled" me physically and Fritz handled the psychological side. It was an Esalen make-over!

How does your life look now compared to prior to your Esalen-related period of transformation?

Because I've been coming to Esalen for such a long time, there wasn't a lot of "prior" for me. I feel nostalgic and deeply appreciative of the part Esalen has played in my life. I came here as a wild child, and it was here that I was inspired to try to understand more about myself and others psychologically, where I got turned-on to become a therapist, and where I ultimately came full-circle back to my artistic roots, finding a kind of embodied creativity  that can be transformative. 

If you were to describe Esalen to someone who had never heard of our organization, what would you say?

Esalen is a place that, simply by being here and being open to it, can generate remarkable encounters, deep  personal and interpersonal insight, and connection. It can be a place to be alone and together within each day. The natural beauty is serious therapy and a healing balm for the body, mind and senses.

How do you support Esalen’s mission of catalyzing personal and social transformation?

I really hope it lives on! I hope it changes and grows, as we have, without loosing its original intention, soul and spirit. We need the physical place to gather, to learn, to keep experimenting and to commune. It holds so much rich history of a movement, and Esalen keeps making new history.

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