Esalen Institute

Conference center and hot springs resort in Big Sur, California. Since the early sixties, the Esalen Institute has held many seminars on various esoteric topics, and has been a nexus of many various individuals. Topics explored at the Institute include psychology, gesalt therapy, body work, psychic phenomena, mysticism, religion, psychedelics, human potentiality, and quantum physics. Click here to visit their home page.
The Institute was founded in 1964 by Mike Murphy and Dick Price out of Murphy's family resort. Murphy and Price had been running seminars at the resort beginning in 1962, with speakers gathered through an expanding network of contacts, beginning with Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, George Bateson, Gerald Heard, and others.

(see Anderson, Walter Truett, The Upstart Spring, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1983 for an expansive history of Esalen)


Joe K. Adams and Dell Carson led an early conference on psychic phenomena. (Anderson, pg 59). In their first seminar on Human Potentiality, led by Willis Harman, every program leader was involved with LSD research: Adams, Harman, Gregory Bateson, Gerald Heard, Paul Kurtz, and Myron Stolaroff. (Anderson, pg 72)

Other drug-culture luminaries, such as Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, taught at Esalen, and various psychedlics were used by the staff and students, although drug-use was not officially endorsed. Strangely, the Institute was never raided by the authorities. (Anderson, pg 108)


Charles Manson and members of his family played an impromptu concert at Esalen three days before their massacre at the Sharon Tate house. (Anderson, 239)

In the late 1970's, Esalen became involved with an Englishwoman named Jenny O'Connor, who claimed to be in psychic contact with the Nine (probably the same Nine that Andriah Puharich claimed to be in contact with). Dick Price and other members of the Esalen staff became increasingly dependent on the Nine, to the point of listing them as program leaders and members of the Esalen Gesalt Staff in brochures. (Anderson, pg 302-4)


In the 1970's, Mike Murphy became interested in Russian parapsychology, and visited the country to meet experimenters in this field. This led to a close connection between Esalen and some Russian officials, who set up an exchange program. Lasting into the 1980's, this exchange was dubbed "hot-tub diplomacy". John Mack was reportedly involved in this exchange.
Esalen also held seminars in quantum physics, and was the birthplace of the Physics/Consciousness Research Group. Some results of these seminars are documented in Zukav, Gary, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Morrow Quill, 1979.
In May 1982, Elisabeth and Russell Targ held a workshop on psychic phenomena for twenty-five professionals. This was part of a program with Stanislav Grof, who was studying non-chemical alternatives for altered states of consciousness. The Targs goal was to show that psychic experiences did not require an altered state.
(Targ, Russell and Harary, Keith, Mind Race, Villard Books, 1984, pg 99)
Other individuals who have come to lead seminars at Esalen at one time or another include Carlos Castenda, Dutch psychic Peter Hurkos, Ira Einhorn, Rollo May, Jack Sarfatti, John Lilly, Terrance McKenna, Ian Wickramasekera, and Charles Tart. Werner Erhard was also close with Michael Murphy and Esalen.
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