How the Esalen Institute Changed the Way We Think About Mental Health

Feb 28, 2023
How the Esalen Institute Changed the Way We Think About Mental Health

Esalen is a state of consciousness as much as it is a physical place. It is a
pagan monastery, a school of the mysteries, where seekers of every description come
to find light.

Esalen is where the archetypal dimension of reality seems to breathe itself
visibly into our world. Somehow the magnificence of its beauty draws out the deep
powers of the human spirit. Esalen is a Kingdom of Death and Rebirth. It is a place
inside each of us.

-- Richard Tarnas


In the early 1960s, two young men met at Stanford University and struck up a conversation that would change the course of history. Michael Murphy and Richard Price were both interested in Eastern philosophy and had both been deeply impacted by their own experiences with psychedelics. They bonded over their shared vision of creating a space where people could explore alternative approaches to mental health and well-being. From that conversation, the Esalen Institute was born.

Esalen quickly became the epicenter of the human potential movement. Luminaries like Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Abraham Maslow, Fritz Perls, Ida Rolf, and many others came to Esalen to teach and share their ideas with the world. Esalen was unique in its embrace of both Western psychology and Eastern philosophy. It was also unique in its commitment to experiential learning. Visitors to Esalen weren't just there to listen to lectures; they were there to participate in workshops and classes that would help them transform their lives.

The ethos of Esalen was "no one captures the flag." This meant that no one ideology or approach was promoted above any other. Instead, all were welcomed with open arms. This inclusive approach helped people feel safe enough to explore new ideas and challenge their existing beliefs.

Esalen's impact can still be felt today. The idea that mental health is something that can be actively worked on and improved is now widely accepted. The popularity of meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness practices can be traced back to Esalen's influence. If you've ever been to a therapist, attended a self-help workshop, or read a book about personal growth, you have Esalen to thank.

Esalen Institute is a place that has changed the way we think about mental health forever. By embracing both Western psychology and Eastern philosophy, it created a space for exploration and growth that continues to impact us today. If you're looking for a place to learn more about yourself and expand your horizons, look no further than Esalen Institute.

And if you can't make it to Esalen, this website Somatopia is a small effort to re-create, in an online format, some of the magic that can be found therein.

Photo credit: Grant Durr @ Unsplash

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