" I think that we are not just celebrating a single life. I think that we are celebrating a vision that the world desperately needs ..."
Society never knows quite what to do with a visionary. This is not the worst of times for visions. In many ways, it is the time.
My deepest sense of Michael Murphy over the years, 22 now, is that he is one of those rarest of human beings: a person with a vision who has stayed faithful, absolutely faithful, to the vision that he received and the vows that he took and who, rarer still, has been gifted and graced by family, by circumstances, by nature, by meditation and prayer (by what we sometimes call "God?") with countless opportunities to express and explore this vision’s nuances, implications, promises and problems with others, thousands of others.
This does not make Mike perfect. Nor does it guarantee that his vision will be accepted and shared in the broader culture, much less in that culture’s near or far future. But it makes Mike Mike: an American visionary of the evolution of consciousness and the future of the body.
I know Mike is many other persons to many other people (husband, father, co-founder, friend, writer, golf legend), but this is what he is to me. This is what I most think of as Mike turns 90. I think that we are not just celebrating a single life. I think that we are celebrating a vision that the world desperately needs and in actual fact already is. I also think that it is time, more than time, to focus that vision even more in all we do and are now, to make the human potential the human actual.
— Jeff Kripal, Chair of the Board, Esalen
Happy big 90th—Dad! I am proud to be your son. You are a champion, Michael Henry Murphy. Your leadership and vision bridges nations, transcends old paradigms and weaves emergent narratives. Throughout my life I have been collecting gratitude from individuals whose lives have been profoundly transformed by Esalen and your creations. Its gratitude for you and our family’s legacy in connection to the land that we have made a sacred contract with. Thank you for making vows at an early age for your great work. Bless your life and all of the lives whom you have touched.
My wish for you is deeper meditations, continued health, the right amount of laughter and contentment with which you have created in this life. I am grateful to carry your legacy and participate in its evolution.
I love you, Dad!
— Mac Murphy
Ten years ago, for a tribute collection for Esalen Co-founder Michael Murphy’s 80th birthday, I wrote the following words:
“Where do we even begin talking about the life, legacy, and contributions (so far!) of the remarkable being we know as Michael Murphy? Adventurer of the mind and spirit, pioneer in the research of extraordinary human capacities, Intrepid explorer of inner space, visionary co-founder (with Richard Price) of Esalen Institute, renowned novelist, dreamer and instigator (with Dulce Murphy and others) of the Soviet/American project—formerly Russian American Center, now Track Two: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy—which ended up shapeshifting the Cold War, founder (with George Leonard) of Integral Transformative Practice (since researched at NIH and Stanford University, and practiced across the world), inspiring director of Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research, world-class athlete, legendary guru of the world of golf, meditator for 60-plus years, Irish storyteller par excellence, Basque bon vivant, fiercely loyal friend, passionately proud father—to name a few. How can this and more be the experience and work of just one man—even one with such brilliant collaborators and co-conspirators.
And that’s yet another of Michael’s superpowers—his matchless talent for dreaming up, evoking and inspiring teams of brilliance. Perhaps “shapeshifter” is the best term for Michael when all is said and done since shapeshifting our consciousness may be the deepest unifying theme of this protean intelligence and career.”
Apologies for quoting myself as we now celebrate Michael’s 90th birthday, but my original sentiments still ring true. Meanwhile, Michael himself has only gone on from height to height, including something very close to his heart—and mine as a psychologist and student of the evolution of the human brain/mind—which is the pioneering rapprochement between spiritual vision, quantum theory and cognitive neuroscience, seeded by a long series of invitational forums at Esalen over these years and resulting in multiple books, including the major tomes Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21stCentury and its companion/sequel volume Beyond Physicalism: Toward Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality.
In the last of these you can see a beautiful statement by Michael himself of his own radical vision of mind and universe. Get it—if I can’t improve on my own words from a decade ago, I for sure can’t improve on his.
What I can tell you is what that vision has meant to me in my own journey, my own adventures in the mysteries of personal growth, relational therapy, and social activism.
For me, my takeaway from the effusion of creativity which is Michael Murphy goes something like this: There is a “something” (one of Michael’s favorite terms) going on inside our human psyches, and in the universe around us and through us. Something larger than ourselves, and yet we are full participant/agents in it. And that “something” is going somewhere—and so are we.
Call it Mind, Spirit, Consciousness—or Creativity, greater Self, or God if you will. Every human culture that’s ever been has felt it and groped for words to capture it. Wars are fought over those words—but not over that “something” itself, which is beyond language and cannot be pinned down. There are many other, more direct ways of knowing and we always know more than we can tell.
Michael’s name for it, oftentimes at least, is Evolving Consciousness.
Consciousness evolves whenever any part of the universe complexifies, connects, creates a larger whole of understanding or meaning. This can happen within ourselves or between or among individuals, at a societal level, in scientific breakthroughs or spiritual insight, and perhaps higher, even more inclusive levels as well.
Looking at it this way, you can see how this deep attitude, this faith in the creative human potential, lies behind everything we do at Esalen. When we take down a wall between things that are potentially connected at a higher level, we add to the evolving complexity of the universe, and of our own understanding.
Think of a wall within yourself: Between your mind and your feelings, say, or your body states and your cognitive/emotional system or those of another person (or another group, or culture). Take the wall down and you get an explosion, large or small, of new creative power. You evolve and in this view, the universe does, too.
It incorporates ever more complexity, into unified (not monolithic) wholes. The One and the Many; the Many as dynamic components of the One. This, again, can be individual persons or parts of ourselves – or complexes as large as religions and the world of weirdness that is evolving quantum physics.
This also means we are all of us living parts of a great adventure. The universe is engaged in a great Game, and we are the agents as well as the passengers on this odyssey. This is the full meaning—to me—of the phrase “creative human potential.” And this is the bedrock, the stable balance point behind everything we offer at Esalen … no doubt including things we don’t fully know we are offering in communion with the land, with each other in our diversity, with Creative Spirit itself.
Thank you, Michael, for your part in shapeshifting our culture over the past 60 years. All of us can live larger, richer lives, because of you. Ten years ago I ended my contribution by saying, “Stay tuned: Michael is only 80—watch for what the next 10 years bring.” Today I say the same thing only substituting “90” for “80.”
Many happy returns, Michael. And yes, we will stay tuned.
Till we all meet again—at Esalen!
— Gordon Wheeler, President, Esalen
Please enjoy this photo gallery in honor of Michael's 90th birthday.
Learn more about Michael Murphy here.