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Esalen History

Esalen is neither a school, nor a church, nor a spa, nor an inn, nor a monastery . . . and yet its utterly unique mixture contains a bit of all of the above.

Perched on 27 acres of Big Sur coastline where the mountains meet the sea, its magical beauty makes it feel a little like the Garden of Eden. Esalen hosts 20,000 visitors a year who come for a weekend or a week or a month or longer to learn, to grow, to explore, to heal, or to carve the near edge of the future, the cutting edge of humanity.

Founded in 1962 by Michael Murphy and Dick Price, Esalen is the birthplace of the human potential movement. Where Freud gave us a portrait of the human condition based on pathology, Murphy and Price were inspired early on by Abraham Maslow’s psychology of higher health and peak experiences. With the help of hundreds of workshop leaders drawn from many disciplines and with many practices, Esalen allows its visitors not just sanctuary from the urban hubbub, but an opportunity to push the envelopes of their own and society’s existing limits.

Esalen boasts breakthroughs in fields from Gestalt psychology to quantum physics, from philosophy to economics, from body work to citizen diplomacy. Esalen sponsored Boris Yeltsin’s first visit to the United States, immediately after which he resigned from the Communist Party. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Time and again, Esalen has proven the possibilities of reconciling intellectual and experiential; mind and body; science and mysticism; immanence and transcendence; East and West; meditation and action; youthful idealism and time-tested wisdom. At a time of personal and economic stress, when demagoguery seeks to exploit fears and insecurities, Esalen continues to fulfill a critical role: to explore and promote interconnections between heart and mind, soul and body, individual and society.

Maintained by a living community of teachers, body workers, work scholars and other staff who walk the talk and welcome guests, Esalen is a social invention new under the sun. Prior to 1962, there was nothing like it. Since then there have been hundreds of imitators, but none has survived and thrived as Esalen has. Proud of its past, Esalen remains poised toward a future featuring ongoing commitment to sustainability, a stronger role for its Center for Theory & Research, and an abiding passion for personal and social transformation.

We willingly limit workshop enrollments so teachers and students can learn from one another. But while we are small by design in many respects, our approach to teaching and learning is expansive and ever-evolving. Our legendary Esalen catalog contains enough learning and transformative opportunities for several lifetimes. Ultimately, everything we do feeds one goal: to make Esalen feel revelatory with each visit—a place to discover new reserves of courage, new tools for growth, and a new sense of adventure.

Esalen? It’s a trip and a half and then some.

Photo credit, below: Kathleen Carr


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