• June 5, 2012

    A human writes:

    Exactly one year ago I found myself in the middle of an interview process for the then-open position of Manager, Marketing Communications at Esalen. I’m not a typical corporate marketing/branding person. I work mostly with non-profits and corporate philanthropy departments of large companies. I have direct experience with the kinds of seminarians that Esalen could be attracting — young, committed, mission-driven, smart men and women who could grow the mission of Esalen and take its many gifts back into the world.

    During my many interviews, I proposed multiple ways that Esalen could attract a new demographic while still maintaining its intellectual and spiritual legacy — new forms of digital engagement, marketing to socially conscious businesses, and an invigorated visual identity. However, I’m certain now that this is not what the current Esalen leadership wants.

    This was without a doubt the most dysfunctional, juvenile, and disappointing interview process I have ever been through. Time and time again, I found myself asking, “Is this really happening?” Weeks passed without any communication from the CEO, head of HR, or other personnel. My e-mails and phone calls were routinely ignored, and, when finally answered, were full of vague evasions and passive-aggressive avoidances.

    Another Esaleaks post made reference to the level of intellectual acumen displayed by the current CEO and other leaders. In case you’ve never seen it, here’s a YouTube clip of the current CEO talking about her Esalen vision. Remember, Esalen is the house that Murphy, Price, Maslow, and Rolf built. This video hardly needs further comment; it speaks volumes by itself.

    Nearly nine months after my initial interview, I was told that Esalen would not be using my services. I followed up by writing a pointed e-mail to four senior leaders, including the CEO and head of HR, to which none of them responded. This confirmed many things, the least of which is that none of these leaders has the constitution for direct communication, or the slightest hint of conflict. Which, ironically, makes moot the concerns that Esalen will become too corporatized — believe me, none of these individuals would last a day in a corporation.

    The current crisis at Esalen surprises me not one single bit. If you’ve read this book, it won’t surprise you either. In my aforementioned letter to the leadership, I came right out and said there’s a crisis of integrity at Esalen; the recently released leadership survey results bear this out.

    Imagine a new generation of socially-engaged, seminarians and teachers. Visionaries grappling with the mind/body issues of the 21st century, including the uneasy relationship between spirituality and technology (think Jaron Lanier). Next-stage sexuality teachers who embrace more than the white, heterosexual tantric ideal (think Nicole Daedone). Yoga teachers and scholars who challenge the status quo and ask hard questions about the challenges of assimilating yoga practice into Western lifestyles (think William Broad). Imagine economically disadvantaged teenagers and people of color, social entrepreneurs from community colleges and technical trade schools earning extended credit for leadership courses like those taught by Jamie Wheel. And don’t get me started on the study of the shadow side of intense spiritual practice — including spiritual emergency, for which, at one time, Esalen was considered an important, lifesaving resource (SEN, anyone?).

    There are those who will no doubt consider this letter sour grapes on my part. For several months, I did harbor quite a bit of resentment towards how I was treated during the interview process. However, it eventually gave way to a deep grief over what Esalen has become. A year later, I read about what has happened with the summary dismissal of its historical community leaders, and the results of the leadership survey, and I am concerned for the Institute’s long-term sustainability.