A former Esalen executive writes of his experience:
“[T]here were persons on staff and on the board who were saw the pace of change as far too slow and a danger to survival. For them everything needed to move faster. I believe they failed to take into consideration the amount of progress that had been made and the need to respect the impact of change on the close Esalen communities.… I wish now that I had stood up… while I was at Esalen instead of knuckling under to the bullying from both sides and leaving quietly.… I wish there were a place for reasoned dialog about the future of Esalen.”
Esaleaks.org has emerged as a place for sharing information and experiences, and raising awareness, but not as a forum for the human dialog needed to map Esalen’s future. Our contributor discusses the need for that forum, and much more, in this excellent contribution:
Comments on current situation and future of Esalen
I only recently discovered esaleaks.org and have now read through all the postings and comments. I am saddened by the described division and acrimony. The disharmony that has long plagued the dream, community, and reality of Esalen appears to have substantially strengthened since my days as a member of the Esalen executive team. While I was only at Esalen for 29 months and did not live on site, I cared and continue to care deeply about the organization, its legacy, and its ongoing mission.
While at Esalen I believed that a middle path was the needed response to the challenges posed by the transitions that harsh economic realities were forcing. I also believed that in exchange for the privilege extended to Esalen to operate as a nonprofit organization, Esalen’s highest responsibility needed to be to its defined mission, and I believed that mission must be one of service to humanity — the wide, globe-encompassing community of humankind, not merely the narrower community of people who live and work at Esalen, nor the somewhat wider community of people who have, are, will be able to visit Esalen. I still believe all of the above.
When I came to Esalen in 2007, It was with many expectations. Not included in those expectations was the personal acrimony of many community members that turned potential discussions of Esalen’s future into soul-scorching verbal hostilities that obliterated civility, demonized individuals, and prevented vision. I thought that what was taught at Esalen would be at work at Esalen. It wasn’t, at least apparently not well enough to stave off the further descent into the culture war that now threatens 50 years of hope and a future of promise.
Early in my time at Esalen I was approached either directly or with thinly masked intent by many “warring clans” of thought about Esalen. On the one end of the spectrum were those pushing for rapid change to a business model that included within it the danger of Esalen possibly becoming an expensive “resort of the mind and spirit” accessible mostly to individuals of affluence. While that was not their intent, the rapid change they favored carried with it the possibility of such an outcome. At the other end, were those for whom Esalen was a semi-permanent home where they could take refuge from the outside world for perhaps the rest of their lives. To the most extreme on this side of the balance point, seminarians were a necessary evil at best.
I was being asked to declare my support of a faction in this Esalen civil war. And civil war it was with various groups and individuals pushing extreme agendas. When I refused to lineup with the more extreme of these cabals, one of which was actively working for a management change along the lines of what took place in 2010, I became by their definition an enemy of “their Esalen.”
A word here about the drive on the part of many community members to have Esalen remain unchanged. They argued for keeping Esalen as it was or even taking it back to what it once was. But there was a lack of agreement about what an unchanged Esalen would be. For individual “A” Esalen was one thing, for individual “B” another, for “C” something subtly, but importantly, different from the visions of both “A” and “B.” These arguments were made by members of the residential community and other “old hands” in opposition to the change they believed senior management and the board to be pushing.
I came to think of many of those who made up the residential Esalen Community as quite conservative — actually reactionary. Most of these individuals seemed to want to avoid change at all costs, and many wanted to turn back the clock to some golden era that resided in their memories or the stories they had been told. To me this is the classic definition of conservative on one hand and reactionary on the other.
I believed there was a middle path to change — a path that I saw occurring under the leadership of Gordon Wheeler and the team he was assembling. And yes, I was impatient. Part of me wanted to fight the two-steps-forward-one-step-backward pace of needed change. But I came to understand that change if it were to work had to be change within the context of the close Esalen communities. First the community of those of us who lived and/or worked at Esalen. Secondly the community of people who wanted to come to Esalen, but found conditions uncomfortable, unsanitary, and at times less than welcoming. And finally of course the community of people who had come and continued to come to Esalen and found everything just fine the way it was. However there were persons on staff and on the board who were saw the pace of change as far too slow and a danger to survival. For them everything needed to move faster. I believe they failed to take into consideration the amount of progress that had been made and the need to respect the impact of change on the close Esalen communities.
Today, reading what is appearing on esaleaks.org and what has made its way into the news media, it seems as if all involved have failed to live up to the ideals of Esalen. Were I still a part of the immediate Esalen community and still working for healthy change, I hope I would be calling for a middle path. I wish now that I had stood up and done so while I was at Esalen instead of knuckling under to the bullying from both sides and leaving quietly.
I wish there were a place for reasoned dialog about the future of Esalen — a virtual meeting room where all who hold Esalen close could enter to work and dialog in search of a middle path. Such a room would require that all be truly present. That all listen with their minds, bodies, and spirits. That all speak with civilly and respect. That all bring into it goodwill rather than grievance. And most importantly that all place mission and service to the global community ahead of personal desires.
I doubt esaleaks.org is the place where such a room can be built. I don’t even know if what I write here fits within the context of esaleaks.org. I simply know that there is no viable future for Esalen in keeping with its legacy, its informed intent, and the need the world has for what can come from an Esalen unless such a room can be found and unless there are people willing to inhabit it.
My challenge is to all of you who are part of the residential community, to those believe in what Esalen has and can continue to accomplish, to the board, to Tricia as CEO, to Gordon as president, and to all who take part in executive team decisions to make a true effort to build that room. The spirit and fact of Esalen is larger than any of you. It is even larger than the combination of all of you. Please, find that largeness of spirit within yourselves and resolve to build on the many diverse traditions that have become the strands that make up the rope that binds Esalen together.