Esaleaks The voice of the Esalen community and ancestors Sun, 10 Feb 2013 15:25:01 +0000 en hourly 1 The time is (again) now Sun, 10 Feb 2013 14:56:22 +0000 The Editors 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.

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La ventana Tue, 15 Jan 2013 11:44:44 +0000 The Editors
Esaleaks first proposed to place Esalen Institute back into the hands of genuine seekers by 2013. Has this taken place? Every day, seekers come to the Esselen land and find a piece of themselves, yes. But the Institute itself has lost its way under the rule of outsiders who have yet to discover themselves deeply, yet to face their own shadows, yet to open their own hearts, and yet to show an exemplary commitment to that work. They have yet to live the Esalen life, yet to touch the Big Sur life, yet to earn the right to control the gate at 55000 Highway One.

The masters of Gestalt have been banished. The extended Esalen community has failed to save the cradle of its own culture. Esalen Institute has failed. Only the Esselen land remains.

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Guarded Tue, 09 Oct 2012 18:56:21 +0000 The Editors A human writes:

My husband visited Esalen on 2004. He wanted to show me how beautiful and special it was on a recent trip to Big Sur — especially the organic gardening and food, as I am a chef. When my husband and I arrived this July (2012) we were greeted by a very rude “guard” who was barely going to let us turn around in the circle drive to get out. (We are both in our 50′s and definitely not threatening.) How can one possibly get a feel for a place of peace and personal enrichment they may want to join and support when greeted by hostility and suspicion? How about a pleasant exchange and a possible arrangement for a visit? We have been reading about the “resort company mentality” that Esalen seems to be moving toward, we are very sorry that Esalen may be losing its original mission and purpose for the gentle people among us. Perhaps your group can save the Institute, and restore its original spirit — but what about reincarnation and rebirth for another 50 years? Blessed be.

Three months before the event described above, Esalen fired the manager of its front gate, Eric Erickson, a veteran resident of the Institute and former student of Dick Price.

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Priorities Tue, 09 Oct 2012 18:55:41 +0000 The Editors A human writes:

The discord is not pleasing to the spirits of the land. I spent some time here very recently, and felt fear coming out and through many of the staff and “leaders.” As stewards of any space where the veil is thinner, and where the Source of creation is at your fingertips, then the priorities should be as follows:

1. Continue to maintain the free flow of honest and open dialogue. Do not allow fear to stifle your clear and heartfelt feelings.

2. staff: Connect the significance of the work you are doing to the rest of the community in a holistic way. You cannot influence those driven by budgets and cents without identifying the tangible connections between your outcomes and the enrichment of the tribe.

3. Mgmt: The egos must cease, because gratitude, not attitude, will mark your acceptance by this land. Those that walk those special paths and ways with heads high and eyes fixed should seek solace in the cities of the South.

4. Esalen will thrive with a flatter organizational structure with more interdepartmental collaboration (i.e. shadowing, comprehensive team building workshops). The diversity of intentions could be the salvation of the space, but is currently divisive.

5. Science and Magick are one and the same. Esalen must never forget that it is a place of healing, or magic, or connections and of immense power. Allot space for practitioners of Light Work and Healing and the strength and vitality of the rest of your endeavors will return seven-fold.

6. Continue to develop the land and grow in bounty. Seek financial gain in the fruits of your labors, not in squeezing those called for all that you can. The gods help those that help themselves, and organizations that continue to seek new revenue streams and demonstrate staff and management contributions to fundraising efforts are more likely to be helped by outside donors.

7. Treat one another kindly. Smile. Engage. Be good to anyone that crosses your path, not just the VIPs and beautiful ones. Every person I met in my time at Esalen was dynamic, deep and endearing.

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Surviving the next 50 Sun, 02 Sep 2012 11:05:41 +0000 The Editors A human writes:

Several years ago I participated in extensive committee work to plan Esalen’s future. As the process unfolded it was at times difficult and explosive, pitting long term Esalen community members against Management and their newly hired professionals who were unfamiliar with Esalen’s unique style of participation. As matters got more time consuming and polarized, a string of consultants and group leaders were brought in to save Esalen from itself. The hope was to restore good will, insure community participation, and create a shared vision by everyone high and low.

What emerged from these unresolved struggles was the new Esalen, redefined, reorganized, rebranded and deeply troubled.

Esalen had gone from “the me to the we” on to “the us against them.” A series of growing administrative blunders, clumsy layoffs, claims and counter claims, denials and harsh reactions have created an unprecedented contentiously litigious negative mood. The scandalous antics employed by all eventually provoked critical attention from local and national media as well as internet activity that won’t go away. It is a truly an embarrassing turn for Esalen as it approached its fiftieth anniversary.

The new streamlined version of Esalen has long time staff and faculty fleeing in despair or being laid off impersonally. As a result, a circle of honor meets daily to pray for fair treatment and reinstatements. Dramatic measures from those community members who feel sympathy for people dismissed, unheard and marginalized.

I have spent decades leading workshops and Work Scholar Programs, Esalen counted on me and I counted on Esalen. In the current management effort to fix things, I lost a great deal of my work. No warning or discussion. “It’s nothing personal, get used to it,” was suggested to me by an Esalen Board member.

I have witnessed other decisions that left loyal, capable people reeling and helpless and feeling bitter. Many long term staff and faculty that gave the place its quirky, lovable character have been let go or severely marginalized. For the last few years I’ve watched a growing silence and inertia emerge in the community fueled by fear and resignation. People were losing their faith and enthusiasm in community participation with mandatory meetings as the antidote. It isn’t the Esalen I once knew.

The leaked stunningly low grade management evaluations followed by the resignation of distinguished board and faculty people as a protest to the blind-sided firings by redefinition was enough to break my heart. If I’d gotten evaluations like those of the management, it could easily have been my finish as a teacher. I’d been punished for far less an offense, with no amends to be made.

The dog and pony show mentality of keeping up appearances to raise funds and the condescending spin doctoring I heard about untimely deaths, catastrophic fires, compliance and other hair raising financial and litigiously agonizing matters troubled me deeply. It was a time ripe for honesty and real courage to reach out and level to face the challenging troubles together. But management was in over its head and didn’t show up.

Unfortunately, the decision makers with power to inspire and lead were once again inept. They were, by turns, abject, dismissive and unyielding, all with the acquiescence of an Esalen Board that didn’t want to replace an already shaky organizational structure with other professionals. The learning curve was too steep,” we’re leaving it as it is and hoping for the best”. Since money was being earned and legal compliance was being dealt with, Staff morale problems were dismissed as just the same old perennial Esalen grumblings not worthy of consideration.

A defensive leadership strategy claiming the moral high ground was used to disparage any opposition to current policies. Management thought of themselves as Esalen’s responsible adults, dealing with the Community’s childish acting out. This attitude came off as fearful, narrow and mean spirited. It was early Esalen karma revisited when the founders struggled bitterly over purpose, emphasis and direction. Over the years I’d been told in confidence that there never was an intention to create a formal residential community with so much power. The Big Sur Esalen Community was, “collateral damage to a good idea,” the true community was a worldwide phenomenon.

The localized uniquely tribal, spiritual social experiment Esalen has also been, with its oral traditions and its reverence for the land has always had its own culture and practitioners and healers. It has coexisted with the nonprofit organization since the beginning. Informal, instinctive, and intuitional, it subtly and magically informed all of Esalen’s life with zest, originality and Spirit. It drew power from the ancient vision of the hot springs as an indigenous sacred land for healing and transformation.

Grounding myself with patience when I felt wronged, I took time to understand the issues as best I could. Esalen’s powers of survival are being tested. No shame in that struggle, unless you’re forced to shut up about it and pretend everything is all good no matter how troubling.

What will it take to restore the faith lost in Esalen’s ways? Everything necessary to clear the air and reveal the real impact of Esalen’s management. People everywhere who love Esalen have risen to the occasion. Not just locally but as a global community, to insist the Board and Management engage honestly, fairly and humanely, with policies and leadership that is competent and can be trusted.

Surely to survive nowadays Esalen needs to be efficiently streamlined, with a clear chain of command, fiscal soundness, regulatory compliance and a decent well maintained ambiance for its guests. However, sacrificing Spirit and emotional integrity to achieve this end will kill the very thing those measures are meant to support.

For fifty years people have come to Esalen to remember and honor their dreams and feel the courage to stand up for what they believe in. May Esalen continue walking its talk to survive fittingly for the next fifty.

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Magic waits for no circus Tue, 21 Aug 2012 19:45:16 +0000 The Editors A human writes:

Seems wherever there is a hierarchy of power at the expense of egalitarian community there must inevitably be discontent and dissent — and the reinvented freedom of speech (the leaks phenomenon is a refreshing step towards transparency). We all want to be seen and heard.

As above so below, and the tangled political farce of the moment.

There is much pain here and perhaps bias too. To be fair, I imagine it can’t be easy trying to herd the progressive, free willed, free thinking nature of what historically makes up Esalen and what it stands for — but then again, it would be presumptuous and a misinterpretation of the nature of the beast to try — looking at the big picture, seems the topgun hired managers and CEO’s fall as fast as they arrive. Top dog vs old dog and never the twain shall meet.

And yes, I have been offended by dysfunctional “elements” that hold sway at Esalen but the expectation that it, or they, sustain a higher level of consciousness, solidarity and due diligence, as though separate from the rest of us or the human drama, whilst lovely, was never apparent. But she’s still a darling isn’t she — the idea of Esalen.

I remember my disappointment at being betrayed in a spectacular and remote Thai monastery years ago until I realized that we were all darkly fucked up people attracted to the light, or the promise of light, simply trying to figure out our shit whilst acting out our pain, as above, so below, seeker, servant, CEO.

I have been blessed deeply by my experiences at Esalen, given and received freely, disingenuously dismissed, and felt pain — that of a jilted lover where there is a bitter taste replacing what was once so sweet — yet it was never really faithful or even entirely conscious — certainly never pretending to be an “intentional community” so much as a gestalt of the field of individuals that are present at any given time. Ephemeral. Ever changing. Therein lies the magic of course, even though some of us might try to hold on to shifting ground, or control/contain it’s movement. Yes, probably, Esalen the boutique hotel retreat will survive, but the free spirit of community…?

And after so many years watching the most inane new age twaddle pass as meaningful discourse and education in human potential, along with a direction short of true and wise vision, but lip service and hollow talk — the burgeoning of a mainstream and corporate mindset within the once simply wild and lovely womb of Esalen, has largely swamped the truly alternative, the authentically inspired.

Yet this is constantly being reinvented and reseeded by those who have moved on, isn’t it? even if having been forced to seek new (perhaps more fertile) ground. Those who have been dismissed likely have something to offer the world that will not be diminished by leaving Esalen. There are a handful of names mentioned throughout these discussions who i hold in the highest esteem and who I know will continue to do their work wherever they are to be found — and there are so many worthy places now — Esalen is no longer the lone torch bearer of the movement.

A shame certainly, because Esalen is such a potent and magical place, full of promise and possibility, but gentrification is in the mill, and I suspect magic waits for no circus — it’ll just take wing to the next power point of positive focus.

So I give thanks to Esalen and all it has borne me personally — for numerous memorable years, among many wonderful people, in a place of such wild and nurturing beauty, even among the “bad” seeds that were part of that experience, I am richer.

And fare well to the new ex-cons — may the wind be at your back…

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Transformative and precious Mon, 20 Aug 2012 15:57:53 +0000 The Editors A human writes:

Those overpaid stagnants at the top need to leave Esalen ASAP. As the author of May 24 meeting report states, Mac, David, John, Steve, Chris — and I’d add Eric Erickson — would steer Esalen light years ahead from it’s decline of the past 20 years. This is my first post here. I’ve attended and assisted many workshops over the past couple decades and worked at Esalen for time enough to understand the dynamics. Gordon and Nancy Wheeler have stifled creativity more and more and the past few years have really been proving the observations and concerns aware people have been stating for years. Esalen is so personally transformative and precious to many people, and while not all problems will magically disappear, a new leadership and community partnership will be tremendously positive and beneficial. I sure look forward to the day when I can visit (potentially long term) even for a few hours and feel the shift. May it be so! AHO! Many Kudos to Esaleaks people for keeping the flame alive.

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The Eight and a Half Mon, 20 Aug 2012 15:54:34 +0000 The Editors As a reminder:

[T]he Nine, channeled by Jenny O’Connor, were listed as members of [Esalen] staff… [S]uch was the influence of the Nine that they ordered the sacking of its chief financial officer and reorganized the entire management structure. (The Stargate Conspiracy, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, p.234)

Jenny O’Connor writes to us:

You may call yourself the eight and a half.

Thank you, Jenny.

The Eight and a Half

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Time to wake up Sat, 28 Jul 2012 16:28:32 +0000 The Editors A human writes:

Esalen Institute is now a venue for the peculiar ambitions of a detached minority. And it is also a way to observe the trajectory of humanity. The human species is so conflicted, so full of desire, and driven both by an urge for goodness as well as the satisfaction of misguided drives. As a result, we can look through our institutions as a way to begin to see ourselves.

By a process of “restructuring,” which may be reversible, Esalen has been transformed into a brand name for the exploitation of spiritual practice by means of commercial marketing. In order to accomplish this end, the institute has adopted inhumane organizational structures. But how is that different from normal human life? There is a natural movement from aspiration to corruption. Esalen has merely turned the mirror toward a darker patch of the human heart to show us the humanness of inhumanity.

Esalen is now managed by a codependent group of board members and executives who support each other with a set of mutual delusions about their shared ambitions. This has been a way of justifying harmful behavior. But they are not unusual people. They are just like you and me. And I believe that with timely eliminations and additions, they may be able to function in a healthy manner once again, much the way Hewlett Packard was able to right itself after a similar dislocation.

Initially, as a show of personal credit, I want to recognize the community representative, Michael Klein. I feel a certain allegiance to Michael because he is the perfect scapegoat. He is not subject to immediate injury, like Eric, Kathleen or Geno. He is not a voting member of the board, so he isn’t responsible for the injury that has been done. He is held in suspension, between power and powerlessness, where he is tortured by conflicting demands. These conflicts were most apparent at the community meeting that happened on May 24th at Esalen.

This is my personal report about that meeting. It was scheduled at 4pm. The initial rumor was that it would be held in Maslow, but at the last minute it was moved to Porter’s Yurt, because of the anticipated size. It was billed as an open meeting. Staff meetings have been reduced in number. They have taken on a military quality. They are restricted. Attendance is taken. Dissent is repressed. But this meeting was going to be different. The whole community could come and talk. So the meeting room was full. Upwards of a hundred people attended. Porter’s Yurt was overflowing. There were a half dozen or more people standing outside both doors.

I am not going to write a complete or neutral report of the meeting. This is not an instance for neutrality. Management has done something wrong – something that hurt Esalen and the community. It might be possible to rationalize the wrongdoing. But that wouldn’t make it right. At the meeting, a great deal was said, so I will try to cover the main points – the important developments. Let me add that I have had a fair amount of exposure to the issues surrounding Esalen restructuring, so I know what I’m talking about.

The meeting started promptly, and was facilitated by Mary Anne Will. Many important Esalen people attended, including Michael Murphy, John Murphy and Mac Murphy. Board members in attendance included Sam Yau, Mary Ellen Klee and Nancy Lunney. Gordon Wheeler, Tricia McEntee and Scott Stillinger attended. Noteworthy community members included Steven Harper and the veteran Esalen bodyworker Don Johnson. Many members of the staff and the extended community showed up to voice their concerns about the abrupt, misguided and ham-handed firing of essential long-term community members. As we all know, Eric, Kathleen and Daniel were abruptly fired. Although the reason given was restructuring, only the truly delusional believed it wasn’t a purge. Eric Erikson was actually present at the meeting. In addition, Geno Romano was present. For those who don’t know Geno, he is a medical doctor who has worked part-time at a normal job at Esalen, which allows him to attend to medical problems of the community. He has literally saved people at Esalen from death. A few days before the meeting he had been informed that he could either apply for an inappropriate job at Esalen or leave. Geno has been a critic of Esalen’s HR decisions, so the motivation for his treatment was obvious. At the beginning of the meeting, the atmosphere was charged.

Mary Anne began the meeting by asking everyone present to turn toward others sitting close by, in order to share a few words about their expectations. People used words like clarity, honesty, transparency and humility. Then presentations were made by Board members and executives, followed by questioning from community members.

Sam Yau, who is chairman of the Esalen board, spoke up first. I was prepared to be critical, but I ended up being impressed by Sam’s performance. He was animated. His open gestures reminded me of Al Huang, the T’ai Chi practitioner. Sam spoke directly and with conviction. Unlike other managers or directors, he said directly what was needed most. Sam said, “I’m sorry!” He said he was sorry for what had happened to the community. He asked, “How do we get the community to emerge again?” Later in the meeting Sam spoke up to add what seemed to me a crucial point. Sam said that Tricia McEntee, the CEO, had briefed the board about the upcoming restructuring actions involving Eric and Kathleen, but she had not explained the likely outcome. For Sam, the reaction of the community demonstrated a serious problem with the decision.

Michael Murphy spoke next. An experienced public speaker and story teller, Mike was relaxed and entertaining. He said that current events demonstrated that there was a need for better communication and feedback. Mike said that the last month had been tough, and that he cared about what happened at the institute. He asked, “Are we still going somewhere?” To answer that question he launched into a historical review of the Esalen board. His main point was that the board was disorganized in the 1980s and 90s before Gordon Wheeler became president. But now there was “coherence.” I wondered if that coherence had come at the price of good decision making.

Michael mentioned that he thought Esalen had a historical tendency to stay just one step ahead of the law on issues of regulation, taxation and environmental compliance. But the subtext was that he considered the community to be implicated in that kind of behavior. I got the feeling that the community in Michael’s mind is confused with excessive behavior that needs to be disciplined. Of course, Michael has no direct interaction with the community, so his views are detached and inaccurate. In any event, he said that he believed that other leaders are listening to the community, and that the board cannot micro-manage the executives. Essentially, this implied that the president, CEO, and HR manager were responsible for what happened.

Michael also spoke about his dreams for the future of Esalen. He said he had big dreams. But I wondered whether his dreams were appropriate for the traditions of Esalen. Specifically, he spoke about his dreams about “life after death.” At the time of the meeting, Michael was directly involved in an invitational CTR program in the Big House about the potential for an afterlife. I wondered to myself where the future of Gestalt practice was in that dream. Where was Dick’s legacy? In a more concrete vein, Michael spoke about the rebuilding of the units at Southcoast Center that had been destroyed by fire. There was a recent Memorandum of Understanding with the county designed to reinforce regulatory trust. Southcoast would be rebuilt in an ecologically sustainable fashion that could later be applied to the rest of Esalen. But I wondered how this grand gesture applied to the community that Michael has historically distanced himself from. Will those who rebuild Esalen merely be employees? Michael closed his remarks by saying, “There will only be progress if people feel good about it.”

At this point a community member, Jason Moore, spoke up. He works at the gate. He said about Eric’s firing, “My family at the gate has been torn apart.” Jason challenged management about the way they have treated community elders like Eric.

Tricia finally began to participate. She said that she had respect for Eric, and that her decision was difficult. However, at no point during the meeting did Tricia apologize to the community, the way Sam had. She appeared to be unrepentant. Several days later, after she got negative feedback about her performance at the meeting, she sent out an email saying, “I do sincerely regret that this action has caused much pain and upset in the community.” However, at no point did she admit how wrong the decision was. I was particularly impressed by this failure to take responsibility, because the damage that had been done was so apparent to me at the most superficial level. My interactions with both the gate and the office demonstrated a genuine lack of competence because of the recent firings. Tricia had done something genuinely damaging to Esalen, and she was unwilling to take responsibility for it.

This was the crucial aspect of the meeting. A leader is supported to take responsibility for mistakes. They need to say something like, “I made a mistake. I apologize. It won’t happen again.” In contrast, Tricia was simply oblivious to the damage she had done. And this was obvious to the community.

Tricia was asked why she did not participate in community process groups. In response she said that she did process groups with other managers, but her time was limited. She said that she would consider proposals, but she didn’t know how that would happen, although she supported the evolution of process. Then Tricia begged the community to support her, and tears came to her eyes. However, the room was not moved to sympathy for her. It was an embarrassing moment.

Understand what happened. The CEO had made a bad decision that harmed Esalen. Taking Sam at his word, although she briefed the board, she did not explain the likely outcome. Instead of taking responsibility and apologizing, Tricia was initially adamant, but then begged the community to support her. Then she became tearful. After the meeting, the general opinion was that the community had been insulted by their leader.

Scott Stillinger said that he was working on a compassionate termination policy, and that he needed support from the community. I wondered why compassion had not been a part of the terminations, even without an express policy. Is compassion such a novel component of Esalen’s culture that it has to be documented in advance? And therein can be found a major part of the problem. Scott is not part of the Esalen community. He was hired three years ago as an outsider, in preference to qualified community applicants. He does not understand the Esalen community, and he is generally disliked.

Gordon spoke up briefly. He seemed agitated and detached. He voiced what amounted to patronizing support for Tricia. I got a sense that his further participation was discouraged. He no longer provides leadership to the Esalen community. Of course, his connection is based upon his relationship with Nancy and Michael. He participates in process with managers and provides unequivocal support for Tricia and Scott, but he has no impact on the community beyond executive decision making.

The next person to speak was John Murphy, who is Michael’s nephew. John is an environmentalist who has taken leave from the riverkeeper organization that he created. John’s son has been living at Esalen, following a process of self exploration in keeping with the tradition of Dick Price. John himself has been spending a great deal of time at Esalen in order to understand and become part of the Esalen community. John regularly appears and speaks in the “circle of honor” at 1pm on the oval lawn, which was organized to acknowledge the termination of community elders. To my mind, John Murphy represents the hope of a better future for Esalen, and what he said at the meeting reinforced that hope.

John Murphy recognized the trouble that has been caused at Esalen. He said that the institute needs to be grounded. That begins by honoring the land. He noted with concern the amount of unsightly litter that has begun to accumulate, as a barometer of trouble. John called for increased environmental stewardship at Esalen. John recognized the reality of the decay of Esalen infrastructure. Money was needed and perennial pricing techniques weren’t adequate. There needed to be healing of the organization. There needed to be greater commitment to Gestalt practice. There needed to be better business practices. There needed to be better compliance with government regulation, beginning at the county level. And there needed to be a better relationship between the management and the community, which would have to begin with integrity and transparency. In contrast to the remoteness of Michael, John demonstrated intimacy. In contrast to the vagueness of Tricia and Scott, John’s words demonstrated competence. Esalen desperately needs new leadership. It does not need to look any further than John Murphy to find it.

There were other speakers. Mary Ellen said that what had happened in the preceding month had been a jolt to the board, and that they were committed to a process of learning. Brita said that she would have felt disrespected if she had been terminated in the way that it happened, and she asked if there was a way everyone could honor the terminated elders. Benjamin Fahrer commented that there was no direct access to the board, and that there needed to be a shift. He asked, “How do we open dialog? How do we approach you?” To that end, a letter to the board from the community requested that the community representative be made a voting member of the board.

Sam Yau spoke again, and assured the audience that the issue of promoting the community representative to a voting member would be discussed at the July board meeting. Sam expanded this remark to say that the board wants to build empowerment all the way down into the organization. He said, “We want dual purposes, namely to deliver services and to improve community relations.”

Daniel Bianchetta made an interesting point that is worthy of emphasis. Danny said that there needed to be the addition of different viewpoints on the board. This challenged the notion that total coherence is a good thing. New people with fresh perspectives would have helped to prevent the current disaster. Danny specifically suggested that Mac Murphy, Michael’s son, be added to the board. I have become well acquainted with Mac, now that he is an adult. Too many people think of Mac as the boy they met around Esalen. Mac has become a competent young man. In addition, the current problems have caused Mac to become even more engaged with and committed to the Esalen community. I had a couple of good conversations with Mac about current events, and I found him to be sympathetic and yet level headed. Mac regularly attends the “circle of honor.” I agree with Danny that the time has come for Mac to add his voice to the board, as an antidote to coherence.

Mary Anne reminded everybody that time was growing short. The meeting had to come to the end before well before dinner time. So only a few more people could speak.

In fact, Rachel from the kitchen asked that the recent increase in work time to 40 hour weeks should be reconsidered. But Mary Ellen responded that everyone should remember the time saved by being present on the grounds rather than commuting. Someone asked for more public disclosure by management before difficult decisions were made. Perry commented that he believe too much money was going to pay expanded administrative expenses at the top of the organization. Tricia responded that it’s not true, and anyway executive functions have a higher level of expertise that must be compensated.

Finally, Mary Anne brought the meeting to a close. She said that she believed that an encouraging shift had taken place because of the meeting. She also added that she fully expected a report of the meeting would appear on Facebook. I believe our eyes met…

Immediately after the meeting was over, while people were milling about the room, Nancy approached me to talk about Chris Price’s withdrawal. She was visibly moved when she spoke about how shocked she was to see someone she considered a long-term friend take such extreme action. I agreed that I was similarly shaken. But I told her that Chris was committed to her values, and it was my understanding that the violation of accepted community standards by newcomers like Scott, ultimately pushed her over the edge. In addition, I told Nancy that while I speculated that Chris’s decision was not totally immune to reconsideration, the changes that would have to take place would have to be very substantial.

On the way out of Porter’s Yurt I had a conversation with Sam Yau. I told him that I was impressed by what he said in the meeting. In addition, I wanted to explain to him that I had become interested by the similarities between what was happening at Esalen Institute, and what had happened at Hewlett Packard, before the restructuring of the HP board and executive team. I knew Sam was a very knowledgeable businessman, so I was not surprised when he told me that he was familiar with what happened at HP.

HP had traditionally been focused on hardware. From my youth I remembered the high quality of HP test equipment, then the famous HP calculators, then the printers, computers and laptops. The HP board was made up of top flight Silicon Valley technologists. But they hired a European software expert, Leo Apotheker, to be the new CEO. Apotheker announced that he would make HP primarily into a software business, and that he would discontinue the sales of laptops. Everybody freaked out. HP would be abandoning its traditions. And it was likely that an industrial giant would be destroyed. But just in time, everybody woke up. There were changes on the board. Leo Apotheker was fired. And HP is being gradually returned to its traditional business strengths.

The lesson from the HP experience for Esalen Institute is that the restructuring that needs to take place does not have to happen in the Esalen community, which is where the traditions of the institute live on. Rather, the changes need to happen at the level of the Esalen board and executive. Trish and Scott must leave. That’s obvious to anyone at Esalen except the codependent members of the board. So the board must be restructured in order to more accurately reflect Esalen traditions. The community representative must be a voting member. Mac Murphy should be a board member. Then a new board must select a new executive who has genuine commitment to traditions of Esalen. No more interlopers like Scott can be considered. A proven community leader like John Murphy must be recruited to save the institute from the damage that has been done. Somehow the Esalen board and executives must be made to wake up. Personally, I’m not sure this can be done. If Chris Price can’t make them wake up, then I’m not sure who can.

In closing this report, let me make a few additional comments. First, I have never experienced such a high level of dissent in the Esalen community. People who I consider moderate peacemakers are now vocal opponents of what management has done. When I met my closest friends they immediately launched into criticism of Trish and Scott. People who I only knew marginally came up to me to tell their stories and solicit my support. I’m not kidding. It was really surprising for me that someplace as peaceful as Esalen had become so demonstrative. Second, I noticed that staff members generally are put off by advice from outsiders about what they should be doing. They are particularly troubled by suggestions that they should go on strike or stage protests. There is a very high level of paranoia. And these days, people need their jobs. Tricia and Scott have demonstrated that they are capable of firing anybody at anytime for any reason. So nobody feels secure. The “circle of honor” that happens every day is a very brave protest. Staff members are vocal about their dissatisfaction. So telling them to take even greater risks does not sit well with them. This was something I was told directly more than once by staff members.

What will help is to support those who are working for change. Unfortunately, based upon his performance at the meeting, Michael is out of touch and immune. His concerns are with the prospect of “life after death” and his CTR. Similarly, Gordon is out of touch and immune. However, John Murphy has become the hope for Esalen. He is well informed, engaged and competent. John is the one person who can pick up the pieces of Esalen and put them back together, in my opinion. Similarly Mac Murphy is engaged, he has the right values, and in my opinion he is ready to take a leadership role in the community. Based upon my interaction with Nancy, she has woken up to the Esalen problem, and is accessible. And I was surprised and impressed by Sam Yau, who voiced genuine concern and regret for the damage that has been done.

The main problems with Esalen were clear at the community meeting. There needs to be some dramatic changes with top management personnel. But there is genuine hope. John Murphy knows that the way forward is difficult but do-able. And there are solid people in the community, like Steven Harper, who can be approached, in my opinion, if the intention to change course is clear. In my own opinion, I honestly believe that Chris Price can be persuaded to reestablish some kind of a relationship with the institute. But there must be dramatic change. Tricia’s weakness must be eliminated. Scott’s alien and inhumane practices must be abandoned. The time is short. It’s time to wake up.

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Coming back Wed, 27 Jun 2012 03:54:03 +0000 The Editors A human writes:

I came to Esalen in 1972, fresh from Yale and the Star Hill Road hippie goat farm. I helped Selig put in the garden. I had group sex in the old baths while tripping on acid. I took a 5 day psycho-something workshop with John Lilly where we dropped LSD twice, which John provided. I was 25. Dick Price Gestalt Workshops and transformations, Sweet Baby James playing in the background. I visited Esalen 20 times before I was 30. Living an hour away, that was easy. I could sleep in my VW Van. Esalen was magic. A beacon to the world. Truly the Human Potential Movement, ecstatically spiritual before the world had heard the words.

I came back to, well, being in a dinner line in 2008 and being criticized by Gordon Wheeler for joking with my wife and a friend in a mildly raucous non-PC way. We came and enjoyed ourselves over the next few years, tourists really, from Montana. At some point in time I got to reading an article by Trisha McEntee in the catalog, introducing herself and her vision to the community and the world. What pure utter unmitigated garbage, I thought, and I haven’t been back since. Good luck. She holds confused and primitive beliefs in the nature of reality. Oh, and that hotel guy on the board of trustees? While I’m not a huge psychic, the future is being mapped out. As with everything else these days from absurd wars to free passes for 2008′s financial criminals, follow the money.

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