Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Back in the Day with Chungliang "Al" Huang

Though he’s been called “a master in the arts of living,” “a sage for the modern age,” and one of Esalen’s most beloved teachers, “perpetual student” is the title Master Huang prefers. “I don't want to be the guru, sitting on top, with people studying me. I am always evolving.” The Tai Chi master, teacher, and best-selling author honors us with memories of his first years at Esalen — almost six decades back! — alongside the institute’s most seminal legends: Michael Murphy, Alan Watts, Fritz Perls, Charlotte Selver, Joseph Campbell, and more. “Those were the early freedom days.”


My new life really began when I came to Esalen more than half a century ago.  

I was a young professor of architecture at UCLA, totally immersed in my artistic endeavors and my work, but I was aware of this new movement of human potential. Through some good fortune, Alan Watts [writer/philosopher who helped popularize Eastern philosophy in the West] found me, and he invited me to come up to Esalen to visit him.

It was around 1963. At the time, Esalen was informal. It was wonderfully intimate. I was impressed with the beauty of this place. I had grown up in China, loving hot springs, so of course I was intrigued. But I was busy teaching.

American consciousness was reaching outward: Everybody seemed to be going to India, going to Japan. [Esalen co-founder] Dick Price was very much of a deep student of Tao and Chinese classics, and he kept saying, “Come up and teach here. Be with us. Come to our staff week.”

I found his invitations hard to resist. When I finally came, I was probably the youngest teacher here, almost half the age of most teachers. I still remember being here with Fritz Perls [pioneering Gestalt therapist], Charlotte Selver [creator of Sensory Awareness method], Ida Rolf [founder of structural integration or “Rolfing”], Carl Rogers [humanistic psychologist], and later with Will Schutz and his encounter groups. I became a good student. I sat at their feet and learned from them.

At that time, yoga and Tai Chi were becoming popular. Everybody said, “Oh, we gotta do Tai Chi. Please teach us Tai Chi.”

So I began teaching Tai Chi and dance. Part of my philosophy was that every morning, we will do Tai Chi before breakfast and get everybody to open up their body, mind, and spirit all together — which is very much a Chinese thing to do.

It was fun. Those were the early freedom days. I had the free spirit in me and I loved the freedom at Esalen, but it was a little intimidating, actually. I was quite square. I was artistically involved, academically involved in the movement, but I wasn't ready to inhale and do all those things. I was too clean-cut.

My two most important collaborators through the years at Esalen were Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell [Seminal mythologist/author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces]. In the early 1960s, I was a young professor at UCLA, and Alan had begun writing about Buddhism. I was impressed with this Westerner writing about my culture so well. He was able to write the ineffable so impressively. Once we met, we became kindred spirits right away. In fact, in the beginning, it was not only mutual admiration — it was mutual intimidation.

Alan was intimidated by how free my body was, how easily I could express with my body, mind, and spirit all at once. He was much more of an intellectual, a philosopher. And, of course, I was intimidated by his facility in language; I worried about my incompetency matching his verbal intellect.

But Alan said to me, “Chungliang, don't you ever improve your English!” He said, “It’s your second language. You have to fumble. You have to gesture; you have to use your whole body. You use your emotions and feelings to express what you want to say. And I, Alan Watts, who speaks perfect English, need to learn to move with you. I need to Tai Chi Boogie with you. Please help me.”

So we established a good partnership. Alan loved calligraphy, and he kept asking me to work with him, help him to get better. The problem was, he didn't start until when he was a young man. I have practiced all my life, so I became a calligrapher artist while he was at a second or third-grade level, basically.

But he was famous, so one day he called me and said, “Chungliang, a gallery in San Francisco wants to do an exhibition of my calligraphy. Everybody wants Alan Watts calligraphy to collect.”

He was flattered but worried.  He said, “I need to improve. Please help me.”

“Alan,” I told him, “your calligraphy is unique. It sounds like you have an accent. No matter how hard you try in the next few months before the exhibition, you won't look any better. You might as well accept being unique.”

He saw the truth in that. And many people still collect his calligraphy. In his way, he was such a guru and famous person at that time, but he was still willing to learn from me as I learned from him. That made the combination really work. The only sad part was that he died so young. We were having such a good collaboration. He just left me and went on.

And my other collaborator, Joseph Campbell — he was another giant. We appreciated each other's work, so we vowed to schedule ourselves to teach together every year at Esalen on Joseph’s birthday, March 26th.

For ten years before he passed on, we taught here on his birthday week, and it was the blessing of my life. I could really sit by his feet, learn from him, share with him, and dance with him, and evolve and cultivate myself through his scholarship.

It was funny. In the beginning, there were two camps: the Campbell camp, with everybody wanting Joseph to talk and talk throughout the workshop, and the Chungliang Al Huang camp — Get up and dance! And both sides fought with one another. But by the middle of our collaboration, Joseph said, “Chungliang, you're gonna give the lecture on Kundalini. And I will teach the five moving forces. I’ll get them to dance. You lecture.”

And in short time, the two camps became one. I helped the people who were uncomfortable with their intellect to be more open. And Joseph helped people holding onto the intellect to be more comfortable with their body.

Ida Rolf was also here. Ida was a wonderful innovator, but she had a different approach than most Esalen massage therapists. She dug deep into the muscle to find the deep tissue. While we smiled and danced softly on the back deck, Ida and her people were digging in, down by the baths. We’d hear the screams all the time.

My mother used to come up here for my birthday in the summer, and she said, “Something is really wrong with all these people screaming, killing each other. I must stop the whole thing.” 

She was very fierce. She did sword practice and all of that. I really had to assure her that these were all mutually consenting adults, that Rolfing was all quite legitimate.

[Esalen co-founder] Michael Murphy used to say that no one captures the flag at Esalen. We had many charismatic and wonderful teachers who drew people, and suddenly people come to study with that person. We all have vanity, and ego. But I am a perpetual student. I don't want to be the guru, sitting on top, with people studying me. I am always evolving. I make sure I learn every day.

One of my current jokes with my network is people come to me and say, “Oh, thank you, Chungliang. I studied with you a while ago. I practice every day the way you taught me.” And they look to me for approval.

I say, “When did you study with me? A year ago? I have evolved. I've grown for a whole year. Are you still doing last year's Tai Chi? Poor you!”

See, this is what people need to learn: Every day, a new sunrise. Every evening, a new sunset to appreciate. Every day is a new you. Every morning, I begin again.

Please don’t say, “this is it.” When you say, “this is it,” everything dies with you.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Back in the Day with Chungliang "Al" Huang

About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop

Though he’s been called “a master in the arts of living,” “a sage for the modern age,” and one of Esalen’s most beloved teachers, “perpetual student” is the title Master Huang prefers. “I don't want to be the guru, sitting on top, with people studying me. I am always evolving.” The Tai Chi master, teacher, and best-selling author honors us with memories of his first years at Esalen — almost six decades back! — alongside the institute’s most seminal legends: Michael Murphy, Alan Watts, Fritz Perls, Charlotte Selver, Joseph Campbell, and more. “Those were the early freedom days.”


My new life really began when I came to Esalen more than half a century ago.  

I was a young professor of architecture at UCLA, totally immersed in my artistic endeavors and my work, but I was aware of this new movement of human potential. Through some good fortune, Alan Watts [writer/philosopher who helped popularize Eastern philosophy in the West] found me, and he invited me to come up to Esalen to visit him.

It was around 1963. At the time, Esalen was informal. It was wonderfully intimate. I was impressed with the beauty of this place. I had grown up in China, loving hot springs, so of course I was intrigued. But I was busy teaching.

American consciousness was reaching outward: Everybody seemed to be going to India, going to Japan. [Esalen co-founder] Dick Price was very much of a deep student of Tao and Chinese classics, and he kept saying, “Come up and teach here. Be with us. Come to our staff week.”

I found his invitations hard to resist. When I finally came, I was probably the youngest teacher here, almost half the age of most teachers. I still remember being here with Fritz Perls [pioneering Gestalt therapist], Charlotte Selver [creator of Sensory Awareness method], Ida Rolf [founder of structural integration or “Rolfing”], Carl Rogers [humanistic psychologist], and later with Will Schutz and his encounter groups. I became a good student. I sat at their feet and learned from them.

At that time, yoga and Tai Chi were becoming popular. Everybody said, “Oh, we gotta do Tai Chi. Please teach us Tai Chi.”

So I began teaching Tai Chi and dance. Part of my philosophy was that every morning, we will do Tai Chi before breakfast and get everybody to open up their body, mind, and spirit all together — which is very much a Chinese thing to do.

It was fun. Those were the early freedom days. I had the free spirit in me and I loved the freedom at Esalen, but it was a little intimidating, actually. I was quite square. I was artistically involved, academically involved in the movement, but I wasn't ready to inhale and do all those things. I was too clean-cut.

My two most important collaborators through the years at Esalen were Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell [Seminal mythologist/author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces]. In the early 1960s, I was a young professor at UCLA, and Alan had begun writing about Buddhism. I was impressed with this Westerner writing about my culture so well. He was able to write the ineffable so impressively. Once we met, we became kindred spirits right away. In fact, in the beginning, it was not only mutual admiration — it was mutual intimidation.

Alan was intimidated by how free my body was, how easily I could express with my body, mind, and spirit all at once. He was much more of an intellectual, a philosopher. And, of course, I was intimidated by his facility in language; I worried about my incompetency matching his verbal intellect.

But Alan said to me, “Chungliang, don't you ever improve your English!” He said, “It’s your second language. You have to fumble. You have to gesture; you have to use your whole body. You use your emotions and feelings to express what you want to say. And I, Alan Watts, who speaks perfect English, need to learn to move with you. I need to Tai Chi Boogie with you. Please help me.”

So we established a good partnership. Alan loved calligraphy, and he kept asking me to work with him, help him to get better. The problem was, he didn't start until when he was a young man. I have practiced all my life, so I became a calligrapher artist while he was at a second or third-grade level, basically.

But he was famous, so one day he called me and said, “Chungliang, a gallery in San Francisco wants to do an exhibition of my calligraphy. Everybody wants Alan Watts calligraphy to collect.”

He was flattered but worried.  He said, “I need to improve. Please help me.”

“Alan,” I told him, “your calligraphy is unique. It sounds like you have an accent. No matter how hard you try in the next few months before the exhibition, you won't look any better. You might as well accept being unique.”

He saw the truth in that. And many people still collect his calligraphy. In his way, he was such a guru and famous person at that time, but he was still willing to learn from me as I learned from him. That made the combination really work. The only sad part was that he died so young. We were having such a good collaboration. He just left me and went on.

And my other collaborator, Joseph Campbell — he was another giant. We appreciated each other's work, so we vowed to schedule ourselves to teach together every year at Esalen on Joseph’s birthday, March 26th.

For ten years before he passed on, we taught here on his birthday week, and it was the blessing of my life. I could really sit by his feet, learn from him, share with him, and dance with him, and evolve and cultivate myself through his scholarship.

It was funny. In the beginning, there were two camps: the Campbell camp, with everybody wanting Joseph to talk and talk throughout the workshop, and the Chungliang Al Huang camp — Get up and dance! And both sides fought with one another. But by the middle of our collaboration, Joseph said, “Chungliang, you're gonna give the lecture on Kundalini. And I will teach the five moving forces. I’ll get them to dance. You lecture.”

And in short time, the two camps became one. I helped the people who were uncomfortable with their intellect to be more open. And Joseph helped people holding onto the intellect to be more comfortable with their body.

Ida Rolf was also here. Ida was a wonderful innovator, but she had a different approach than most Esalen massage therapists. She dug deep into the muscle to find the deep tissue. While we smiled and danced softly on the back deck, Ida and her people were digging in, down by the baths. We’d hear the screams all the time.

My mother used to come up here for my birthday in the summer, and she said, “Something is really wrong with all these people screaming, killing each other. I must stop the whole thing.” 

She was very fierce. She did sword practice and all of that. I really had to assure her that these were all mutually consenting adults, that Rolfing was all quite legitimate.

[Esalen co-founder] Michael Murphy used to say that no one captures the flag at Esalen. We had many charismatic and wonderful teachers who drew people, and suddenly people come to study with that person. We all have vanity, and ego. But I am a perpetual student. I don't want to be the guru, sitting on top, with people studying me. I am always evolving. I make sure I learn every day.

One of my current jokes with my network is people come to me and say, “Oh, thank you, Chungliang. I studied with you a while ago. I practice every day the way you taught me.” And they look to me for approval.

I say, “When did you study with me? A year ago? I have evolved. I've grown for a whole year. Are you still doing last year's Tai Chi? Poor you!”

See, this is what people need to learn: Every day, a new sunrise. Every evening, a new sunset to appreciate. Every day is a new you. Every morning, I begin again.

Please don’t say, “this is it.” When you say, “this is it,” everything dies with you.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Back in the Day with Chungliang "Al" Huang

Though he’s one of our most beloved teachers, “perpetual student” is the title Master Huang prefers. “I don't want to be the guru…I am always evolving.” The Tai Chi master and teacher honors us with memories of Esalen’s earliest days — almost 60 years back! — alongside the institute’s founders and legends.

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About

Esalen Team

Back in the Day with Chungliang "Al" Huang

About

Esalen Team

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