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The '80s and Beyond

December 06, 1987|Alice Kahn

IF THEY'RE NO longer doing group gropes and public spankings and deciding communally who picks the tomatoes, how does Esalen plan to move into the future?

Founder Michael Murphy is currently working on a "mission statement," the first such declaration in the institute's 25 years. He sees the place "less dominated by the metaphor of therapy and more by the arts, contemplation, intellectual inquiry and social outreach."

The new direction will result in some additions to the institute's collection of bedrooms, houses and meeting rooms, including one or two large houses to accommodate invitational conferences. This will allow visiting scholars to share quarters while they brainstorm topics not usually covered at universities. Recent conferences have included one led by UC Davis molecular biologist David Deamer on "New Directions in Biological Research and Evolutionary Theory." Former Yale philosophy professor Jay Ogilvy is using a Laurance Rockefeller grant to organize a conference called "Dialogues on Philosophy."

James Garrison, executive director of Esalen's International Exchange Program and Democratic candidate for the 12th Congressional District, organized a Chinese-American forum on science and technology. Dulce Murphy (Michael's wife) led a U.S.-Soviet conference on behavioral and medical research. The program has been credited by Joseph Montville, a State Department foreign affairs analyst, with originating what he terms "track-two" diplomacy--people-to-people exchanges with the Soviet Union.

Lest anyone think that in all this intellectual yin Esalen has forgotten the physical yang, there are also on going certification programs in massage, clinical hypnosis, shamanistic healing and a new program, accredited by Antioch University, for health professionals in somatic studies.

Another physical realization of Esalen's new direction will be the addition of two buildings--a center for the arts and a new center for meditation. Murphy also hopes to improve the quality of life at Esalen, including the food and the rooms. He sees this as turning away from "another myth of the '60s, which was that simplicity is good, and therefore poverty is good, so the guests should suffer a little."

Although Esalen scouts are searching the United States and abroad for new seminar topics and qualified leaders, it continues to offer its "bread-and-butter" topics. These are meditation, psychotherapy, Eastern religion and massage. But, as seminar leader George Leonard points out, the catalogue claims have gotten more modest over the years. "We no longer say: 'You will achieve another state,' " says Leonard. "We say: 'There is the opportunity to achieve another state.' "

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