An anonymous writer contributes:
I have been giving deep thought to the current crisis at Esalen, and here is the product of my ruminations.
We might consider the current crisis a fiery manifestation of an all-too-cliché dialectical relationship. On one end of a spectrum of positions we can conceive of an ideal philosophy endorsed by the Community Mind (CM). On the opposite end of the spectrum we might place the ideal philosophy endorsed by the Management Mind (MM). From what I have gathered, roughly, CM is concerned with creative experimentation, the expression of human emotion, a “harkening back to the old days,” and bottom-up leadership with an emphasis on those who are closest to the earth, soul, and history of the place. MM, on the other hand is pragmatic, and it focuses on preparing Esalen for the future in ways that emphasize fiscal responsibility, comfort for revenue generators (seminarians and personal retreaters generate the most profit), efficiency and consolidation, and top-down leadership by those who have expertise in corporate survival. CM fights for tradition at the expense of dollars and cents, while MM fights for dollars and cents at the expense of tradition.
Of course, as is often the case in political discourse, both positions are tenable. CM has prevailed at times, leading to periods of creative expansion, innovation, and healthy experimentation. At other times, MM has prevailed, guiding the ‘tute through periods of financial disaster, close calls with closure, and periods of CM-run-amok unhealthy experimentation. Both MM and CM have contributed in countless ways to the vitality of Esalen. We should be grateful to and wary of both of these personalities.
Though this recent rumbling does seem to be quite radically polarized, individual philosophies regarding the ideal culture and circumstance at Esalen likely fall somewhere in between the above poles. These opposites form a dialectic that gives shape to the continued growth and constant maintenance of Esalen as a force that pulls tradition into the future.
Keeping this in mind, it seems to me that the fundamental problem here is that the legitimacy of a position is quite distinct from the execution of that position. As we have all witnessed, both CM and MM have added to the ruckus by acting out in ways that are counterproductive to a healthy culture of dialogue. MM has chosen to consistently ignore the call for more transparency, community involvement, and openness. It has dealt blows to the pride and integrity of individual members of the community by surprising them with sad and disappointing organizational decisions, effectively ignoring the point of view of the CM. At the same time, the reaction of the CM has been less than pleasant. Vicious pointed verbal attacks on individual members of the MM, exaggerated statements, grimy condemnations, and childish tantrums have taken place.
The sum of these actions has resulted in an isolation of CM from MM, like a brilliant and stubborn child loudly stomping up the stairs and slamming the door in the face of an inexcusably abusive yet understandably frustrated and burdened parent.
The reality is that, though both sides have acted out in ways that may have been more effective if they were less antagonistic, only ONE side has the ultimate say in instigating or healing dissatisfaction. The MM controls the capital that makes the system run. Evidence that MM is in perhaps unbalanced control comes from observing that though there is widespread distrust and loathing of certain members on the MM side of things, these individuals remain in place. At the same time, MM can snap its fingers and terminate the positions of valued, trusted, and vital members of the community with agility and ease.
Rest assured, if Esalen were a micro-democracy, then there would already have been impeachments.
Some would like to think of Esalen as a bottom-up organization, but if this recent crisis has taught us anything it is that Esalen is through and through a top-down organization. It is certainly run more like a company than it is like a community. It is surely more like a community than a vast majority of companies (and rightly so), but it is currently still more of a company than it is a community.
Cheesily, a line from Spiderman is apt here; “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is to say that because MM has that final say it must be the first one to act with utmost grace. If the MM cannot temper its executive power with the values of the CM, it cannot perform a basic function of effective management, and the result is what we have witnessed over the past few years. There must be a foundational reevaluation of the way that the MM conducts its business. The CM must at the same time resist ugliness. The CM is pleading for complete transparency, open discussion about plans for reorganization before those plans are enacted, and compromise when it comes to tradition vs. dollars and cents.
At this point, I shift to my personal thoughts about how to repair things. My own vision for the future — one that I believe will address many of the problems on both sides of the debate — is simple.
We must transform Esalen from a resort where guests pay to be catered to by a community into a community where guests pay to be part of something special.
If steps are not taken soon, then there will be no one left to truly and radically explore human potential. Esalen will evolve into a pseudo-community of wealthy patrons indulging in a sacrality that has been bastardized by a (legitimate yet overbearing) need for financial security.