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.

Big Sur Folk Festival 1969: Part Two
February 16, 2024

This is part two of the Big Sur Folk Festival that took place September 13–14 at Esalen Institute in 1969, as captured in the documentary film Celebration at Big Sur directed by Baird Bryant and Johanna Demetrakas — a great watch available on YouTube.

The set list for part two includes:

  • John Sebastian, formerly of the Lovin Spoonful, with Rainbows All Over Yours Blues.
  • Woodstock by Joni Mitchell, who accompanies herself on piano. There is also some audio of an audience member, a school teacher who identifies as "a freak."
  • Red-Eye Express performed by John Sebastian with Stephen Stills.
  • Malagueña Salerosa by Carol Ann Cisneros
  • An extended version of Down By the River by Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
  • Sweet Sir Galahad by Joan Baez.
  • Oh Happy Day by Dorothy Combs Morrison and the Combs Sisters, accompanied by Joan Baez, ends the show.

Some trivia about a few of the musicians:

Joni Mitchell was dating a member of Crosby Stills Nash and Young at the time, Graham Nash. Her song Woodstock was in fact inspired by the famous music festival, but she did not attend. Instead she opted to stay in New York City and appear on the Dick Cavett show.

John Sebastian was a founding member of the Lovin' Spoonful, known for hits like Do You Believe in Magic? and Summer in the City. The Spoonful imploded after a 1967 marijuana bust. In the 80’s Sebastian began writing and recording music for children’s TV, including 1983’s Strawberry Shortcake: Housewarming Surprise and 1985’s Strawberry Shortcake Meets the Berrykins.

Stephen Stills, a founding member of Buffalo Springfield, wrote one of the most recognizable songs of the 1960s: For What It’s Worth. Buffalo Springfield broke up in 1968, and Stills joined with David Crosby of the Byrds and Graham Nash of the Hollies to form early supergroup Crosby Stills and Nash. Neil Young wouldn’t join them until August 1969, just a few short weeks before the performance at Esalen in Big Sur.

Dorothy Combs Morrison won a Grammy in 1969 for Oh Happy Day, which ends this episode. The song reached #4 on the US charts and #1 in France that year. It was recorded in a church in Berkeley, California, a few hours away from Big Sur. George Harrison stated that Oh Happy Day was a primary influence for his 1970 hit My Sweet Lord.

Joan Baez dated Steve Jobs in the 1980s, when he was in his mid-twenties and she was in her 40’s, but the age difference didn't matter — she was Joan Baez! At the time the Big Sur Folk Festival occurred, however, she was married to an activist named David Harris, who was in prison in 1969 for refusing to serve in the armed forces. In part one of this podcast, we hear Song for David, written to her man behind bars. During this performance, Baez is actually seven months pregnant; her son, Gabriel, was born in December 1969. Baez's performance of Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome during the 1963 March on Washington is one of the most enduring images of the 1960s. In 1964, she publicly endorsed resisting taxes by withholding 60% of her income. In 1972, Baez traveled to North Vietnam, to address human rights in the region, and was caught in a bombing of Hanoi, North Vietnam that lasted for eleven straight days. Al Capp, the cartoonist for the strip Li'l Abner, created a character called "Joanie Phoanie" based on Baez — a communist radical who sang songs about class warfare but also rode in a limousine and charged outrageous performance fees to impoverished orphans. Beyond all of this though, Baez is a genius songwriter and singer with a magical voice. She performed at each of the Big Sur Folk Festivals, beginning in 1964 and going until 1971. She can still occasionally be seen in the Carmel and Big Sur area. Ms. Baez, if you’re listening now — come on back. There’s a space at the Esalen baths with your name on it.

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Big Sur Folk Festival 1969: Part One
February 8, 2024

Feast your ears on this little gem from our archives — a partial recording of the Big Sur Folk Festival of 1969, which was also captured in a documentary film called Celebration at Big Sur, directed by Baird Bryant and Johanna Demetrakas, from which this recording was culled.

The Big Sur Folk Festival occurred September 13th and 14th of '69, about a month after Woodstock, and it featured some of the same performers, including Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and John Sebastian, who had left the Lovin' Spoonful the year earlier. The lineup, while not quite at the Woodstock level was still quite impressive, including Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Mimi Fariña , the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Dorothy Combs Morrison, a gospel singer whose song All God’s Children Got Soul, reached number 95 on the Billboard top 100 in October of 1969.

Joan Baez, of course, has a long history with the Big Sur area and with Esalen. Before Esalen was even Esalen, when it was still Big Sur Hot Springs or Slate’s Hot Springs, she lived in Carmel and often came to the Hot Springs, where she could be heard playing her guitar and singing. She also had a friendship with the former Esalen gate guard Hunter S. Thompson. Baez taught her first workshop at Esalen in 1964, entitled The New Folk Music, which became the basis for the first Big Sur Folk Festival. The festival would reoccur each year thereafter until 1971. A couple of albums came out of the various festivals, including Celebration, from the 1970 festival, One Hand Clapping, from the 1971 festival, and Live at the Big Sur Folk Festival, featuring Kris Kristofferson’s performance from 1971.

This episode will comprise part one of the 1969 festival, and in our next episode we'll get part two. The setlist for this episode goes like this: Joan Baez singing I Shall Be Released , then Mobile Line by John Sebastian with Stephen Stills, followed by Song for David by Baez, and then All God’s Children Got Soul by Dorothy Combs Morrison and the Combs sisters. Then we have a nice Sea of Madness by Crosby Stills Nash and Young, followed by an interesting scene where a heckler interrupts the performance taking place down at the Esalen pool and ultimately gets into a fistfight with Stephen Stills. This scene is pretty wild and you might want to refer to the actual movie for this one; it’s available to watch on YouTube. Really a fun watch, especially if you’ve been to Esalen before and you want to see the property and how it looked in the late 60’s overrun by 10,000 friendly young people.

Then we get Stills doing 4 and 20, followed by a very young Joni Mitchell accompanying Crosby Stills and Nash with John Sebastian on Get Together. At this time Joni was dating Graham Nash. You’ll also hear her talking about spotting some whales off the coast. Then we’ll end with Dorothy Combs Morrison kinda stealing the show with her cover of Put a Little Love in your Heart. I really hope you enjoy this dip into Esalen history and a glimpse back to the days when a rock festival cost four dollars to attend. Yes indeed. It's true.

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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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Mindful Inclusivity: Rahshaana Green on Bridging Equity and Embodied Practices
November 27, 2023

Rahshaana Green is the Director of Equity and Contemplative Psychotherapy at the Nalanda Institute. After receiving her BA in Biophysical Chemistry from Dartmouth College and an MBA from University of Texas-Austin, Rahshaana combined her passion for science and business skills to spend 15+ years in marketing and business development for medical device and life science companies.

One day, a car accident helped her find her way to a yoga mat as a means of recovery, and it opened her eyes to the power of embodied practices as a tool for self-discovery, self-care and self-healing. Rahshaana got trained in Forrest yoga to help bring these tools to others. She then pursued personal study in meditation, mindfulness, and compassion practices to deepen her own growth and to empower others to cultivate well-being and resilience. When she’s not teaching or coaching, Rahshaana is a global explorer, continuously seeking new methods of movement to enrich her life and the lives of those she teaches.

In this conversation, we really drilled down into what makes diversity initiatives successful versus unsuccessful, potent versus ineffective. We discussed how and why code switching functions, what are some of the key traits of a truly inclusive leader, what she believes is the future of diversity and equity work, and how she’s able to stay positive, focused and radiantly alive while pursuing what can be a challenging career path.

Visit Rahshaana on the web.

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Neil Baldwin on Esalen of the '80's: Gestalt, Gazebo, and Psychic Phenomena
November 14, 2023

Neil Baldwin is a longtime Esalen community member and preschool teacher, first with Esalen's Gazebo Preschool, established 1977, and now with Big Sur Park School, still located at Esalen. Neil came to Esalen from England in the early 1980’s at the behest of a psychic named Jenny O’Connor. He would end up living at Esalen for more than two decades, working in a great many capacities over the years, and finally settling into his zone of genius, at the Gazebo preschool, where he held sway as a trusted and beloved park keeper and teacher. In this chat, Neil and I discuss the Esalen of the 1980’s, with its profound emphasis on many flavors of Gestalt psychology, as well as the influence of Dick Price before his untimely passing in 1985, Werner Erhard's est, the work of Paula Shaw, his friendship with Dick Price's son, David, the ways that Esalen assisted his own personal growth, his experiences with dolphins and whales, and much more.

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Sadia Bruce: Exploring the Synergy of Breath, Land, Yoga, Creativity, and Intimate Connection
October 27, 2023

Sadia Bruce is head of experiential programming at Esalen Institute, where she also teaches yoga in the tradition of Krishnamacharya but enjoys drawing from rich array of teachers, a panoply of movement modalities, and indeed the entire spectrum of human experience to share an understanding of yoga that is integrative, sensorial, and enlivening.

Sadia’s work revolves around creating energized, radically-inclusive learning environments that are guided by breath and driven by inquiry. She is also deeply committed to bringing yoga-based practices to non-traditional environments and underserved populations, to mentoring new teachers, and to reaching economically, ethnically and culturally diverse populations.

This interview was conducted live at Esalen on October 18, 2023.

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Terence McKenna: The Stoned Ape Hypothesis (8/22/92)
October 4, 2023

Today, we're taking a journey into the Esalen archives to explore the thought-provoking theories of Terence McKenna — an Esalen luminary if there’s ever been one — a thinker who's had a profound impact on modern culture, particularly regarding our understanding of altered states of consciousness.

For those of you who've been with us on this Voices of Esalen journey for a while, you'll know that this isn't our first foray into the world of Terence McKenna — he lectured at Esalen hundreds of times, and we've featured his insights in multiple previous episodes.

But I believe that the more you listen to McKenna, the more you recognize the layers of depth and significance in his body of work. It's a bit like the Talmud, or maybe the Grateful Dead, where every piece feels like a vital segment of a larger tapestry. There simply are no missteps or unremarkable talks when it comes to McKenna. It all matters. Thus, we venture on.

This episode is actually just part of a talk that McKenna gave in August, 1992 at Esalen, but in it, McKenna outlines one of his most popular theories, that which has been referred to as his Stoned Ape Hypothesis. (If there was a greatest hits album for Terence McKenna, this would certainly be on it.) The Stoned Ape hypothesis posits that the ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms had transformative effects on early Homo Sapiens communities, likely shaping the course of our evolution. McKenna believes psilocybin may have altered human behavior and societal structures, by suppressing male dominance hierarchies, enhancing communal values, improving hunting capabilities and in many cases fueling ecstatic orgies.

Plus, he just says some absolutely magical sentences. Like this: " . . . the book called 'Food of the Gods' was deliberately designed as a kind of Trojan horse... It is something left on the doorstep of anthropology, a foundling as it were . . and when they open the door, they will find this thing on their doorstep and it hopefully take it inside and then discover too late that the elf machines of hyperspace like Greek militiamen are inside, ready to pour out and take over the bastions of human emergence theory."

So sit back, relax, and savor the eloquence of one of the most compelling orators in the annals of Esalen history.

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