The Joys of Esalen

If humanistic psychology is a religion, and I think it is, then Esalen Institute is its Mecca. The founders of humanistic psychology were largely Jewish, by ethnicity if not by religious observance, and their endless speculations on the aspects of the soul recall the Talmud, that vast collection of commentaries on the Scriptures written over centuries by Jewish philosophers. Esalen Institute grew from the Beat culture, with its passion for Zen Buddhism, psychotherapy, modern and folk art, intellectual battles and moonlit frolics. Several characters from this era remain in residence. I met one, Mel Bogan, in the sulphur baths. The place is more conservative these days, he informed me; innovators replaced by administrators. What do you mean by conservative? I wondered. We used to have drumming and dancing every night, Mel recalled. What's so radical about that? I asked. Musicians tend to live on the edge, take more chances, said Mel. Funny, I thought, that's what people come here to learn. But the place has an Energy. Maybe it's the sulphur baths, inwhich the Essalen Indians bathed long before the earliest bohos arrived. Or the fact it's another continent from North America altogether.

Visiting teachers at Esalen offer windows onto the workings of spirit in abundant variety, as a glance through one of their catalogs will instantly attest. This week's offerings are on Gestalt Awareness Practice, Enneagrams (personality types), Brainwave Training, and Vocal Awareness, with some Feldenkrais Work classes, yoga classes, and a course on cleansing the body with a raw food diet as extra options. Every person I met in the dining room brimmed with enthusiasm for the workshop he or she was attending.

I was grateful to have no schedule today. I played all day, beginning with a walk around the property. I loved everything I saw.

On the left is the Art Barn, and, on the right, the Dance Platform, covered by a domed white tent.

Happy kids at the Esalen pre-school in Gazebo Park

The entrance to the Meditation Center, under the bridge that crosses a rushing stream of sulphurous spring water that bisects Esalen

Organic gardens provide produce for the healthful and delicious meals served in the Lodge...

...or outside of the Lodge, on the deck.

The buffet decor in the Lodge reflects the spiritual principles of the establishment.



However, Esalen is not without a sense of humor, as I discovered when I found this sign in the laundry room...


...or this sign on the door to the workshop.


The Lodge was not the only place to enjoy the organic plenty at Esalen. This week "Juicy Jane" Militich is offering an experiential course in raw food eating at the Fritz Perls house. Surrounded by trays of produce and growing sprouts, she and her staff whip up seed yogurt, sauerkraut, dehydrated vegetables, soaked nuts and seeds, soaked sea vegetables, plus a variety of marinades and salad dressings. Dinner was divine.

I found the famous hot springs baths irresistable and lingered there for hours.

There I met Leslie Drew, Robin Burnside and Iris Epstein, three midwives who had delivered a baby at Esalen earlier in the week. Leslie and Robin said my book had been their inspiration to live in the country, which they still do.


Esalen is famous for massage, and, for my upcoming birthday (Sunday), I treated myself to one.
Beautiful Ardell Hill, author of Spiritual Reflexology and teacher of a course by the same name, gave me
a wonderful massage indeed. You can find her book at

And, as if all this were not enough, at sunset we were serenaded by a bagpipe player.