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.
Dr. Brian Pace is a lecturer who teaches Psychedelic Studies at Ohio State University. He is trained as an evolutionary ecologist, specializing in phytochemistry, ethnobotany, and ecophysiology. He believes in grassroots drug decriminalization efforts and hopes to find alternative policies to the imperial drug war. For more than a decade, Brian has worked on agroecology and climate change.
Dr. Nese Devenot is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Institute for Research in Sensing (or IRiS) at the University of Cincinnati; an Affiliate Scholar at the Center for Psychedelic Drug Research & Education at Ohio State University; and the Medicine, Society & Culture Research Fellow with Psymposia. She also researches and teaches bioethical approaches to psychedelic medicine. She was a Research Fellow with the New York University Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Study, where she participated in the first qualitative study of patient experiences.
Dr. Pace and Dr. Devenot are authors of a paper entitled “Right-Wing Psychedelia: Case Studies in Cultural Plasticity and Political Pluripotency,” a piece they created to rebut the common cultural assumption that psychedelics have the potential to improve society because of inherent characteristics that tend to point their users to a liberal, free-thinking ideology.
In the discussion that follows, they suggest that psychedelics are non-specific amplifiers of their set and setting, which, they take pains to remind me, is within the capitalist realm, and that contrary to the de facto cultural credo, conservative, hierarchy-based ideologies are quite able to withstand the face melting effects of a few hits of LSD. They speak about many cases where psychedelic users either remained authoritarian in their views or became conservatively radicalized after taking psychedelics. We also get into conservative thought leaders who happen to be psychedelic cheerleaders, like Jordan Peterson, as well as the moneyed individuals who are central players in the corporate psychedelic world, like Peter Thiel and Rebecca Mercer. I have taken the liberty of importing some clips that I found on YouTube of these famous folks up for discussion, in the hopes of better illustrating the points being made. Hope you enjoy.
More information akin to this can be found at psymposia.com.
Emily Ladau is a disability rights activist, writer, storyteller, and digital communications consultant whose career began at the age of 10 when she appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about her life with a physical disability. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, CNN, Vice, and Huffington Post.
She is the author of Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally.
With co-host Kyle Khachardurian, Emily is the host and creator of the podcast The Accessible Stall.
Our interview touches upon representation of folks with disabilities in the media, how to make podcasts and other forms of media more accessible for all people, working from home and what that means in terms of creating inclusivity and equity in the workplace, how she feels about educating people about disability, and what people could do to meet her halfway, ableism and internalized ableism, tropes and cliches of disability inspiration, tokenization, intersectionality, and much more.
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Check out The Accessible Stall podcast.
Akuyoe Graham is founder of the Spirit Awakening Foundation, an arts-based non-profit dedicated to helping underserved youth in the juvenile justice system. Since its inception in 1995, SAF has been a pioneer in developing and offering restorative, trauma-informed, prevention and intervention programs to underserved, incarcerated, and systems-involved youth in Los Angeles County.
Akuyoe speaks about how difficult and broken the juvenile justice system is, what tools she gives the participants in her program to empower them, including meditation, writing, and dramatic arts, and how the young people of Spirit Awakening Foundation have come several times to Esalen Institute for a leadership retreat of their own. This episode contains bonus material from a recent conversation that is a follow-up to the original 2021 interview.
Donate now to Spirit Awakening Foundation.
Welcome to a Voices of Esalen archive edition. Our featured lecture was delivered at Esalen as a part of a weeklong training in 2018, by wise teachers Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman.
Jack Kornfield is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. He trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India, and Burma, and has taught meditation internationally since 1974 .After graduating from Dartmouth College in Asian Studies in 1967 he joined the Peace Corps and worked on tropical medicine teams in the Mekong River valley. He later met and studied as a monk under the Buddhist master Ajahn Chah. Returning to the United States, Jack co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California, with fellow meditation teachers Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein. His books have been translated into 20 languages and sold more than a million copies. They include A Wise Heart; Living Dharma; and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.
Trudy Goodman has devoted much of her life to practicing Buddhist meditation. She is one of the earliest teachers of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and co-taught with Jon Kabat-Zinn at the MBSR clinic at University of Massachusetts Medical School. In 1995 she co-founded the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, the first center in the world dedicated to exploring the synergy of these two disciplines.
From 1991 to 1998, Trudy was a resident Zen teacher at the Cambridge Buddhist Association. She then moved to Los Angeles and founded InsightLA, the first center in the world to combine training in both Buddhist Insight (Vipassana) Meditation and nonsectarian mindfulness and compassion practices.
After becoming a mother, Trudy co-founded a school for distressed children, practicing mindfulness-based psychotherapy with children, parents, teenagers, couples, and individuals.
She has trained a generation of teachers, mindfulness humanitarians who make mindfulness and meditation classes available for professional caregivers, social justice and environmental activists, unsung individuals working on the front lines of suffering – all done with tenderness, courage and a simple commitment to holding hands together.
(Side note: She is also the voice of “Trudy the Love Barbarian” on the Netflix series Midnight Gospel.)
This is an wonderful talk. They cover so much, including how we may misuse mindfulness, how thought is a great servant but not a great master, how we may navigate living in this life of 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Also, Jack and Trudy are married, for those who don’t know, and they comment insightfully on their relationship during the question and answer section of this talk.
A final note: at one point, Jack and Trudy comment on an Esalen community member who died unexpectedly in 2018. They are in fact referring to Weston Call, who was a friend to so many people at Esalen and in Big Sur. This episode is dedicated to his memory.
Dr. Deborah Egerton is a psychotherapist, Enneagram teacher, author, coach, and spiritual teacher. She brings a focus of inclusion, diversity, equity, and anti-racism to her enneagram work and uses that focus to help individuals and organizations release false historical narratives and open their minds and hearts to a more compassionate and connected approach to life. Her work with The Enneagram and Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-racism (IDEA) is designed to help heal our fractured society one connection at a time with compassion, respect, and awareness. Dr. Egerton uses the Enneagram as a mechanism for social justice and anti-racism to reconnect people across all dimensions of diversity, acknowledging and respecting the humanity in us all.
Reverend Erika Allison is a queer interfaith minister and the author of the memoir "Gay the Pray Away: Healing your Life, Love, and Relationships from the Harms of LBGT Conversion Therapy." We spoke about her personal journey of healing after being sent to conversion therapy as a teenager in Texas, the coping strategies she developed after experiencing the trauma of identity harm, the state of conversion therapy in the United States today, how few practices harm teens more than attempts to change their sexual preference or gender identity, how a search for her mother’s approval led to a string of serial monogamous relationships, her path to becoming an interfaith minister, how this book landed with her parents, and her current mission to empower the queer community through spiritual liberation.
D’Lo is a queer/transgender Tamil Sri Lankan-American actor/writer/comic whose work ranges from stand-up comedy and solo theater to plays, films, short stories, and poetry. His acting credits include: LOOKING, TRANSPARENT, SENSE 8, Mr. ROBOT and Issa Rae-produced MINIMUM WAGE. His solo show “To T or Not to T” premieres June 25th at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles.
Together we talked about trans masculinity and what it’s like being a trans man in a world dominated by toxic masculinity, his relationship with his mother and father, his journey from gender nonconforming to someone who passed as male, what cis gender folks should never EVER ask about being trans, who he makes his work for, what solo performers inspire him (Whoopi and Leguziamo!), how hip hop was his ally, how he became politicized as a kid growing up in Lancaster, California, and what is his secret superpower as a comic.
Mary Sanders is a founding board member of the People of Color Psychedelic Collective, an organization that provides psychedelic education to historically marginalized communities in order to foster empowerment and healing. She is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in exploring the depths of transgenerational trauma and, in her words, peeling off layers of oppression and cultural conditioning. She is certified in psychedelic-assisted therapies and believes that plant medicines can serve as tools to effectively heal trauma.
During our discussion we talked about her experiences as the only black person in psychedelic circles, and what constitutes a safe space for her as she attempts to explore her own healing. We also touched upon what kind of barriers have to be dismantled for BIPOC folks to access psychedelic-assisted therapy, why there’s often an earned skepticism in communities of color around psychedelics studies, how the war on drugs has affected people who might seek psychedelic therapy, what trends in psychedelic research and psychedelic training education she finds especially intriguing, and what she wishes a majority white populace might do to create a more easeful experience around psychedelic healing for folks of color.
Senti Sojwal and Tiffany Diane Tso are founding members of the Asian American Feminist Collective, a grassroots racial and gender justice group that works to interrogate and dismantle systems of racism, patriarchy, and capitalism, telling their stories through various modes of feminist media while providing spaces for identity exploration, political education, community building, and advocacy.
In our conversation we explored a host of topics, including the legacy of feminist activism that undergirds their work, the intersectional identities that inform the AAFC, how Black feminist thought has influenced them, their hashtag #ThisisAsianAmerica (on Instagram), how reproductive justice is key to understanding how colonial power functions, what tokenism is and how it differs from genuine inclusion, and how allyship can actually work in a useful, non-performative way. In their words, Asian American feminism in an ever-evolving practice that seeks to address the multi-dimensional ways Asian American people confront systems of power at the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, disability, migration history and citizenship status.
Check out their amazing zines and resource page:
Today we celebrate Bicycle Day, a modern semi-holiday (unrecognized by official governmental agencies yet observed by psychedelic enthusiasts across the globe) that commemorates Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman’s bike ride home from his lab on April 19th, 1943, after ingesting 250 micrograms of lysergic acid diethlymide, and in the process creating the world's first recorded intentional LSD trip. When Hoffman originally synthesized the compound in 1938, in the Sandoz Pharmeacuticals laboratory in Basel, he had deemed it next to useless, and put it up on the shelf to be forgotten — but five years later, something within him told him to take a second look. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today’s Voices of Esalen episode is a treasure drawn from our extensive archives — an interview with Albert Hoffman himself, conducted by none other than Stanislav Grof, sometimes known as the godfather of LSD psychotherapy. Grof was a Czechoslovakian psychoanalyst who was enormously influenced by Hoffman’s discovery of LSD; in his research in Czechoslovakia he oversaw tens of thousands of supervised therapeutic LSD trips. Grof would emigrate to the United States in the late 1960’s, a move precipitated by the Soviet invasion of his country. Grof spent more than ten years as a teacher in residence at the Esalen Institute during the 1970’s and 80’s, where he developed the practice of holotropic breath work and became one of the founders of the school of transpersonal psychology.
In this interview, Grof and Hoffman explore a host of topics, including Hoffman’s discovery of LSD and how on his first trip, Hoffman freaked out and thought he was going insane, then thought he was dying; how Hoffman then became aware that his new discovery would have immense significance to the field of psychiatry; why Hoffman believed LSD could be used as a model psychosis and a way to study schizophrenia; how Hoffman collaborated with amateur mycologist R. Gordon Wasson to create a synthetic version of so-called magic mushrooms, which would be known as psilocybin; how Hoffman traveled to Mexico to deliver this modern version of mushrooms to the famed curandera Maria Sabina, who had introduced Wasson to the mushrooms in the first place, and more. They end this interview by speaking about Hoffman’s reaction to the way LSD escaped the laboratory and infiltrated culture during the turbulent 1960s.
This interview was conducted at Esalen Institute in 1984 — just one part of the ever evolving and complex tapestry of history that unfolded here in Big Sur.