Esalen And The Human Potential Movement

The Pacific Palisades at Esalen
Ruth Cunningham
Hugging the cliffs of the Pacific Palisades in Big Sur, Calif., is perhaps one of the oldest healing sites in continuous use. Archeological findings on the site date back some 6,000 years, left by the Esselen Indians - after whom the Esalen Institute is named. It's one of nature's most remarkable habitats for humanity. But the scenery is only part of what gives this place its magic.

Esalen is one of those places that seemed always stuck in my memory. I have no idea where I first heard of it. A few years ago while making my way to Hearst Castle in San Simeon by way of San Francisco, I passed a wooden sign along the road that said "Esalen Institute." "Oh, there's that place," I thought. "I have to go there one day."

It wasn't even in the back of my mind when a close friend told me about a workshop there, hoping I might like to go. This was my chance.

My journey began at the San Francisco Airport. Turns out my friend couldn't make the trip, so I went alone. I drove a rented car along Highway 1, the scenic Pacific Coast Highway that winds down along the ocean. This is a wonderful drive, but beware of the views: take time to pull the car off the road at one of the many observation areas to get a good look and some pictures. The winding road is not to be underestimated. Visitors to Esalen may also arrive at nearby Monterrey Airport, and take a shuttle bus offered for a small fee.

Once registered, I headed to my room. Or, I should report, to where I slept. I chose the economical option ($670.00 for five nights, food and lodging included) of bringing a sleeping bag to camp out in one of the meeting rooms. My roommate and I were the only guests here and we shared a complete private bath and even had an ocean view. A premium option for $4,310.00 per couple would be to rent one of the small "point houses," located right on the edge of the cliff with a private deck.

(Ruth Cunningham)
Intrepid explorers of the mind, body and soul may come to Esalen for any number of reasons, both apparent and mysterious. What people are looking for, says Gordon Wheeler, Esalen's president and CEO, is "the magic place, including the healing oceanside and natural hot spring baths; the transformational courses; and another thing that is more intangible: the fact that Esalen is a living residential community of seekers serving seekers, all living, practicing, eating, taking courses together, creating a unique field for everyone's growth and depth of experience."

In other words, the combination of all this community, history, water, air, and land catalyzes something extraordinary in one's inner landscape of ancestry, soul, body, breath and mind to deliver a shift that remains long after one returns home. I was hoping for just such an experience.