Voices of Esalen Podcast

Our podcast showcases in-depth interviews with the dynamic teachers and thinkers who are part of Esalen Institute. Hosted by Sam Stern, a former Esalen student and current staff member, the podcasts have featured engaging conversations with authors Cheryl Strayed and Michael Pollan, innovators Stan Grof and Dr. Mark Hyman, teachers Byron Katie, Mark Coleman and Jean Houston, Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy, and many more.

These podcasts are made possible in part by the support of Esalen donors and are licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Listen to the latest episodes here, and subscribe to Voices of Esalen on Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

Sravana Borkataky-Varma on Tantra, Subtle Bodies, Ritual, Prana, and Esalen
June 5, 2024

Sravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian, educator, and social entrepreneur. As a historian, she studies Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender, particularly in Hindu traditions (Goddess Tantra). As an educator, she is the Instructional Assistant Professor at the University of Houston. At present, she is a Center for the Study of World Religions fellow at Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University. In the past, she has taught at Harvard University, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the University of Montana, and Rice University.

Sravana is currently working on no less than four book projects: Divinized Divas: Superwomen, Wives, Hijṛās in Hindu Śākta Tantra, The Serpent’s Tale: Kuṇḍalinī and the History of an Experience, Living Folk Religions, and Religious Responses to the Pandemic & Crises: Isolation, Survival, and #Covidchaos. Details of her published works can be found on this website, under the “Written” tab.

As a social entrepreneur, she is the co-founder of a nonprofit, Lumen Tree Portal. Sravana invests in building communities with individuals from various faith backgrounds who believe in kindness, compassion, and fulfillment. We are proud to have her as a Board of Trustees member for Esalen Institute. She also serves as an Advisory Board member for Compassionate Houston.

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Joyful Justice, Fierce Compassion: Dr. Kamilah Majied on Black Wisdom Traditions & Buddhist Thought
May 24, 2024

Dr. Kamilah Majied is a contemplative inclusivity and equity consultant, mental health therapist, clinical educator, researcher, and internationally engaged consultant on building inclusivity and equity using meditative practices. After 15 years of teaching at Howard University, Dr. Majied joined the faculty at California State University, Monterey Bay as Professor of Social Work. She teaches clinical practice to graduate students employing psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, mindfulness-based, and artistic approaches to well-being, and authored a chapter in the second edition of Advances in Contemplative Psychotherapy, “Contemplative Practices for Assessing and Eliminating Racism in Psychotherapy.” Dr. Majied gave opening remarks at the first White House Conference of Buddhist Leaders on Climate Change and Racial Justice, where she also facilitated a dialogue on ending racism amongst the internationally represented Buddhist leadership. She is the author of the forthcoming book Joyfully Just: Black Wisdom and Buddhist Insights for Liberated Living (Sounds True, 2024).

In this episode we discuss her latest work, Joyfully Just: Black Wisdom and Buddhist Insights for Liberated Living, a book that not only challenges us to rethink our approach to justice but also invites us to engage with joy as a radical act of resistance. Through this discussion, Dr. Majied shares how interdependence and Buddhist insights, when blended with Black wisdom traditions, can offer rich perspective and possibility for both justice and joy. In this conversation, we explore how language and culture play pivotal roles in shaping our approach to liberation, and how art, music and contemplative practices can nurture joy as well as help us confronting the biases of our own intuition. So dig in, and get ready to build your discomfort resilience and stoke your fierce compassion.

Buy the book.

Music credits: Blue Dot Sessions tracks

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Grounded in Movement: Andrea Juhan on Encounter, Open Floor, and the Healing Power of Esalen
May 10, 2024

Dr. Andrea Juhan is a revered figure in the realms of somatic psychotherapy, dance, and yoga. With over forty years dedicated to exploring embodiment through diverse avenues — be it bodywork, somatic psychotherapy, or dance — Dr. Juhan has profoundly impacted the fields of mindful movement and therapeutic practices.

Andrea is not only a licensed Marriage and Family Psychotherapist but also holds a Ph.D. in Dance and Movement Therapy. Her commitment to the development of body awareness and embodied movement practices has guided hundreds of movement teachers, psychotherapists, and healthcare professionals.

As a co-founder of Open Floor International, Andrea has helped foster a global community dedicated to using conscious movement and dance to promote creativity, social justice, and well-being. Her journey reflects a deep devotion to the felt sense of life, blending the transformative qualities of presence, compassion, and spiritual union.

In our conversation, Andrea shares her experiences from those formative years at Esalen — how the dynamic and expressive environment fostered her deep interest in the embodied movement practices that would define her career. She reflects on the support of pivotal figures like Janet Lederman, Dick Price, Chris Price, Dean Juhan, Gabrielle Roth, her father, Dr. Jack Rosenberg, and the Esalen massage crew of the 1980's. We also get into catharsis, trauma, holotropic breathwork, Open Seats, the original encounter groups, the genesis of Open Floor, and much more.

Join us as we delve into a thoughtful discussion on the healing powers of movement and the continuous journey of self-discovery.

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African American History of the California Bay Area with Jan Batiste Adkins
April 5, 2024

In recent times, an essential piece of our nation’s history is facing challenges and censorship across the country, making it all the more crucial we reaffirm our commitment to honoring and understanding our shared narrative. Our discussion today is not just a journey through the past; it's a conversation about the importance of preserving these narratives in the face of attempts to erase them.

Historian Jan Batiste Adkin’s work meticulously documents the rich history of Black people in these regions, shedding light on the experiences of these communities. She is the author of African Americans of San Francisco, African Americans of Monterey County, and African Americans of San Jose and Santa Clara County and in this conversation she sheds light on the major trends and experiences of Black communities in the California Bay Area from the time of the establishment of the Golden State.

This conversation was recorded live at Esalen in late February of 2024.

Visit Jan Adkins at www.africanamericanhistories.com.

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Bayo Akomolafe on Tricksterism, Post Activism, and Artificial Intelligence
March 27, 2024

Bayo Akomolafe is an author, teacher, and modern philosopher whose work challenges the boundaries of conventional thought. Bayo was born in 1983 into a Christian home to Yoruban parents in western Nigeria. Soon after he was born, his family moved to Bonn, Germany, to accommodate his diplomat father. While in Zaire, Bayo’s father passed away suddenly, leaving a teenaged Bayo to grapple with the painful loss.

As a young, restless academic, Bayo studied psychology and notions of healing, eventually meeting with scores of traditional shamans in a quest to better understand the notion of trauma, healing, and well-being. His concerns for decolonized landscapes congealed into a life spent exploring the nuances of a “magical” world he describes as “too promiscuous to fit neatly into our fondest notions of it.”

I think you’ll find that Bayo's work is deeply rooted in the trickster archetype, which above all else encourages us to reconsider the solidity of things: of our understandings of reality, identity, and activism. He’s an advocate for a world beyond fixed boundaries, where his only clear allegiance is to emergence, to a perpetual becoming rather than being.

I had such a wonderful time talking to Bayo — and I’ll mention that his ideas, so rich in density and expressed with a true poetic grace — might not unfold their meanings upon first listening. Let the buyer beware. Yet, as we navigate this conversation, the layers begin to reveal themselves, and in the end, they present a convincing argument for reconceiving reality, not as a static entity but as a dynamic unfolding of relations.

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Stephen Dubner: Freakonomics, Feynman, AI, and the Future of Work
March 15, 2024

Stephen Dubner is the New York Times best-selling author and host of the podcast Freakonomics. I met Stephen when he and his Freakonomics crew came to Esalen for an on-site interview that centered around deceased Nobel Prize winner and occasional Esalen lecturer Richard Feynman. Feynman assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II; later in his career, he investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
During the 1980s, in Big Sur, three women who had experience with underground psychedelic therapy — Debby Harlow, Barbara Berg, and Cheryl Haley — initiated Feynman through the psychedelic experience. Now, the Freakonomics team was interested in interviewing these three women at Esalen, where they had initially met Feynman.

We gathered together in the famed Fritz room at the southern-most tip of the Esalen property, and I got to see Stephen do his work. He seemed fascinated with Feynman, not just as an intellect, but as a human being. And in many ways, as a person, Feynman exemplified the human potential project — he pursued expansion and fulfillment, right up to the very end of his life.

I am thankful for Feynman, if only because he linked me to Stephen Dubner, one of my favorite writers, thinkers and interviewers alive today. In our conversation, we delve into the life of Feynman, but save a little time to talk AI, job loss, storytelling, the future of work, and the critical role of community. In this episode, I play some short clips from one of the recent Freakonmics episodes: "Mr Feynman Takes a Trip — But Doesn’t Fall." I also play a few brief segments from one of Feynman’s talks at Esalen Institute in 1984, which he called Tiny Machines.

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Our Ancient Kinship with the Wild: A Conversation with Noël Vietor & Fletcher Tucker of Wildtender
February 2, 2024

In this particular moment, there is a call to reawaken our inherent belonging to the Earth and to cultivate a relationship with the land that is based on mutual respect, deep listening, and coexistence. Wildtender answers that call.

Noël Vietor and Fletcher Tucker are co-founders of Wildtender. They offer immersive wilderness programs that cultivate intimacy with the natural world, connect with wisdom traditions, and nurture human wholeness. In this conversation, Noël and Fletcher guide us through their philosophy, which is rooted in the ancient paths of kincentric animism, embodied awareness, and the deep, interconnected wisdom of living beings. They also dig into their history at Esalen Institute, including the deep influence that Gestalt had on them, and mention some of their most profound Esalen influences, including but not limited to the work of Dick Price, Dorothy Charles, and Steven Harper. Additionally, they acknowledge the Esselen Tribe. With great respect and admiration for the Esselen (ancestors and descendants alike), Wildtender vows to operate as reverent and respectful guests on their sacred tribal lands, and to honor them in action and intention.

For more information and to see all their current offerings, visit www.wildtender.com.

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Do you feel called?

Join Wildtender for Wild Pilgrimage: Backpacking Journey to Esalen, April 29 – May 5, 2024.

Embark on an intentional wilderness journey through the sublime and seldom-traveled backcountry of Big Sur, concluding at the coastal grounds of the Esalen Institute May 3–5. Among the fleeting gifts of Spring — free-flowing creeks, boundless wildflower fields, and vibrant wildlife — immerse in the wild with an intimate cohort (up to twelve participants), practice awareness and community, and learn fundamental skills to feel at home on the earth. Over the course of five nights and four full days on the trail, we will embody a contemporary form of pilgrimage, traveling as reverent guests through this sacred wilderness (historic Esselen tribal territory). Inspired by Esalen’s co-founder Dick Price, who found healing and transformation wandering the Big Sur wild, we will engage Gestalt practices from the Esalen lineage — including group check-ins to help us connect with ourselves, each other, and the land.

Learn More.

Vertical Vibrations: Laraaji's Dance with Time, Music, and Cosmic Laughter | Live at Esalen
January 16, 2024

Laraaji is often thought of as one of progenitors of new age music. He was discovered by Brian Eno while playing meditational music in Washington Square Park in the early 1980's. After studying classical composition at Howard University’s College of Fine arts from 1962 to 1964, Laraaji was initially drawn to the world of stand-up comedy, which he excelled in. He was featured in the movie Putney Swope, but though the career path of an actor did not blend well enough with his interest in spirituality, laughter remained a key trope in the composition of his life. His playful, trickster persona pleasantly offsets the meaningful koans of wisdom he gifts throughout his work.

Laraaji’s approach to creating music and to making speech is not just an art form; it's a deep, meditative process that invites both the performer and the listener into a state of present-moment awareness. In doing so, Laraaji bridges the gap between the terrestrial and the cosmic, awakening a dormant understanding that everything in the universe is interconnected, and playing out simultaneously.

Beyond his unique perspective, Laraaji is quite simply a musical genius, very very prolific, with more than 50 albums to date and a full 2024 performance schedule. His music provides a wonderful companion to meditation, to journeying, to walking, to breathing, to being.

Laraaji was at Esalen as part of Esalen’s inagural Go Within series, curated and hosted by Sadia Bruce, which also featured performances from Mary Lattimore and Snow Raven.

Laraaji and Voices of Esalen host Sam Stern sat down and did this in front of a live studio audience in late December 2023. We began with a beautiful micro concert, performed by Laraaji and Arji Oceananda.

See Laraaji's 2024 tour schedule and more.

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Harmonizing with the Uncanny: Sam Recaps 2023 and AI's Surreal Audio Innovations
December 29, 2023

Good gracious. 2023 was a heck of a year: Not only did Voices of Esalen pass the 1 million download marker, yes indeed, but we had a host of superb guests, and I managed to make friends with the AI and not get replaced — yet.

Beyond the walls of Esalen, 2023 was a little terrifying. By all accounts it was the hottest year in recorded history; according to European Union scientists, global temperatures have not been this high in 125,000 years. Ukraine’s counteroffensive fizzled, and in the United States, Ukraine fatigue set in among lawmakers who dug in their heels against sending more aid to Kyiv. Civil war broke out in Sudan. US China tensions rose. Israel and Hamas embarked upon a bloody conflict that threatens to spread further throughout the Middle East. India became the world’s most populous country — not China. Elon Musk bought Twitter, changed it’s name to X, tanked it’s stock price, and in the name of so-called free-speech absolutism replatformed a host of dangerous conspiracy theorists, including snake oil salesman and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting denier Alex Jones. Tucker Carlson got fired from Fox. Sam Bankman-Fried was charged with wire fraud, securities fraud, and money laundering as well as defrauding investors in his crypto exchange, FTX. Hawaii wildfires burned 17,000 acres of land in Maui, killing 100; in Canada, 68 % of the Northwest Territories were forced to evacuate to other regions of the country in their own enormous set of wildfires. Oregon rolled out the United State’s first legal psychedelic services program, while MAPS inched closer and closer to an FDA-approved MDMA therapy program.

But alongside this cavalcade of geopolitical news, AI made great strides. In this episode, we'll explore the AI tools that apply to audio, including voice cloning, voice translation, audio dubbing, automatic song creation, voice to voice chatting with Chat GPT for educational purposes, and voice to voice connecting with Pi for advanced emotive and brainstorming purposes.

Much love to you and to yours in 2024. Thank you so much for being on this Voices of Esalen ride. Your support and interest means so much to Esalen and so much to me. Peace.

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Terence McKenna, Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph Abraham: Trialogue at Esalen, 9/8/89 Pt. 1
December 21, 2023

Drawn from the prodigious Esalen archives, this delightful episode is actually part one of a really long, cool, strange conversation between Terence McKenna, Rupert Sheldrake, and Ralph Abraham that would eventually lead to a book authored by these three great minds titled Trialogues at the Edge of the West.

Please note that Terence McKenna spools forth a kind of complicated, highly erudite babble of text that is designed to be imbibed or absorbed in an almost osmotic fashion. His words don’t necessarily need to be decoded; they can simply be enjoyed, for their texture, for their sound, and absolutely for their message, though the message is often so abstract or so dense or so inventive as to render it difficult to comprehend. Here are his words, from a random Terence talk delivered at Esalen in 1992: “Our task is not to understand. It is to appreciate.” Yes indeed.

Rupert Sheldrake is a scientist and author, sometimes accused of being a new age author, who’s achieved some level of notoriety primarily due to his widely-debated concept of “morphic resonance.” Morphic resonance essentially suggests that there is a kind of collective memory in nature. According to Sheldrake, similar forms — or morphic units — resonate with and influence each other through time and space. For example, he suggests that if rats learn a new trick in one part of the world, rats elsewhere will learn it more quickly, as the morphic field of rats has been "tuned" to this new behavior. In Sheldrake’s words, natural systems ... “inherit a collective memory from all previous things of their kind." This collective memory is responsible for "telepathy-type interconnections between organisms.” Critics have cited a lack of evidence for the concept of morphic resonance, and noted the ways that it contrasts with established thought in genetics, embryology, neuroscience, and biochemistry. Yet this is precisely the sort of reasoning that a man like Terence McKenna, who was highly scientific and precise in his thinking yet wildly out of the box and creative when it came to systems of thinking, would be fascinated by.

Ralph Abraham is a mathematician and pioneer in the study of chaos theory. What is chaos theory? Simply put, chaos theory explores how any action, no matter how small, can lead to complex and unpredictable behavior in physical systems. Abraham founded the Visual Math Institute in Santa Cruz and continues to teach there now. His work, like McKenna’s and Sheldrake’s, examines consciousness, the nature of reality, and the intersection of science and spirituality. He is the author of a great number of books that tackle a variety of subjects, including the tome Foundations of Mechanics, the Evolutionary Mind, written with McKenna and Sheldrake, as well as Hip Santa Cruz: First-Person Accounts of the Hip Culture of Santa Cruz, California in the 1960s. Like the other two persons showcased in this episode of Voices of Esalen, he is undoubtedly a really smart person.

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