The business leaders of Esalen are afraid. Their fear is of Esalen losing its relevance in the face of a Western society that is becoming more class-stratified, luxury-focused, and anti-radical, even amongst liberal thinkers. In fear these business leaders are turning to conformist (albeit leftist) models of education, hospitality, environmentalism, and business, and blighting Esalen’s aspirations to rest on par with the corporate carcass of contemporary liberalism.
Esalen’s greatest legacy is that it is has made progress in the development of the human potential, by a process in which long- and short-term communities interweave their discoveries into decades-long threads of experimentation and learning. Esalen’s land supports this quest as a place of unique natural power. If Esalen’s governors aspire to re-make this profound institution and magical land in the image of millennial New Age spas and thought centers, they have quite simply lost their claim to the Esalen name, the Esalen land, and the Esalen people.
Esalen must consider not how it can fit into some new mold, but how it can cultivate its greatest and deepest assets.
Programs that support Esalen’s powerful tradition of “seekers serving seekers” are on the chopping block. Yet what obtains institutional protection is a strategy of expanding high-paid management structures, and one astronomically expensive program (CTR) that exudes elitism and strictly excludes community. Neither of these activities have shown any tangible benefits for the institution as a whole.
It is time for Esalen Institute to get its priorities straight.