While we drift through the hallowed land above the Institute, counting the days since Esaleaks’ own suicide note, written in reflection of an apparently broad resignation to the slow death of Esalen, a human being writes another perceptive call to action:
I find La ventana somewhat vague so I will try to interpret its meaning and add my own thoughts as a long-term staff member:
The “outsiders” mentioned may refer to Gordon Wheeler, Sam Yau, Chip Conley, Scott Stillinger, Tricia McEntee, Jan Sinclair, Eric Moya and Cheryl Fraenzl, and other members of the board of trustees and directors group not in this order.
The master of gestalt who was banished was the late Seymour Carter. His ability to teach workshops and lead open seats was taken away because of his outspoken criticism of the monopolization of authority by Gordon Wheeler and Nancy Lunney-Wheeler primarily. The other masters who are leaving either completely or in part (Dorothy Charles in part, Christine Price totally) in all likelihood are disheartened with the direction Esalen is headed; by Michael Murphy, most members of the board and the directors group who seem to be a self-replicating, ever growing, all-powerful unanimous force.
It is a stretch to assume these leaders have not faced their shadows but no stretch at all to understand that their radical vision for the future of Esalen is motivated more by fear of failure of their presumed mission then by love for what Esalen has traditionally stood for. So what is this radical vision? The answer is fairly mundane: The Mission of personal transformation supported by the current leadership team would dissolve without money to pay for these leaders. Attracting more high-priced private retreats and higher paying seminarians supports the executive suite and validates the roles of the top tier. By investing money and energy into Michael Murphy’s CTR think tank and staying in his good graces compels the present leadership to hope that their roles, justified by their conviction to personal transformation, will carry them to a comfortable retirement and popularity with the media.
Gordon Wheeler’s books are in the shelves of seminarian rooms, somewhat like L. Ron Hubbard or the Gideons bibles. This is one reason why the potential failure of Esalen is so complicated. Wheeler’s argument in favor of an unyielding leadership force is similar to that of Theodore Roosevelt in a speech he gave in 1910: “It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” Accordingly, Wheeler has been principal in diluting community and staff week meetings into watered-down versions of the discourse that once was so vital and inspirational.
Like most organizational leaders, Esalen’s leaders mean well. They love Esalen and believe in its mission so have logically re-visioned Esalen to serve as a revolving door for personal transformation. Many long-time staff and community members see this as a shift more in the direction of an expensive fast food drive-in then as a sanctuary where individuals are nurtured and valued with love and caring, one soul at a time despite the damage or disgrace they arrive with.
Who could fault the present leadership for their desire to retain power and security at the expense of the late Dick Price’s vision? Dick is dead after all along with other troublesome individuals like Seymour Carter. Who could fault the directors for neglecting future expensive calamities by failing to invest in vital, sustainable improvements to failing infrastructure or issues of energy conservation and sustainability? After all these leaders must prioritize problems like the need for staff housing in the wake of the fire at South Coast Center.
Self-preservation is a driving force behind the world’s present crisis, increasingly evidenced by our solipsistic romance with smart phones, virtual “communities” and increasingly complex technology- seducing our compulsion to disconnect from each other. Herein lies the miss.
In order for Esalen to reclaim its role as a guiding light and cutting edge learning center, self-preservation, clinging to the utopia of a leadership role at Esalen and fear of dissenting voices must take a back seat to the most successful time-tested Esalen traditions of community spirit, care for the most vulnerable — i.e., Gazebo children and elders who have given their energy and lives to Esalen — love, unity and sustainable visions which evolve from healthy dialogue and outreach to those considered the walking wounded. Today duality, anxiety and separation are the ground to Esalen’s leadership gestalt. The figure is pats on the back, nepotistic hiring and retention practices and rewards for those who are players in “the arena” who will do anything and everything to retain power.
In order to thrive the primary incentive for Future Esalen must be to continuously and with growing levels of integrity and ingenuity answer the cries of our suffering, damaged, disconnected society and planet.
This can be accomplished with a trusted leadership team who act out of love and equanimity, regardless of pay or status, prepared and grateful to surrender their roles when it is time for fresh new eyes and ears.
The time is now.