An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
THE PROCESSES ACCORDING
the Offerings of the World’s Greatest Growth Center
Build Your Own Integral Program for Personal Growth
This is the first in a series of
eight excerpts from our book-length study on the fabled human potential growth
center, Esalen Institute – on Northern California’s dramatic Big Sur Coast.
The entire series (to be posted on successive weeks) is as follows:
FROM DEATH: Hugh Martin’s Journey from Terminal Cancer to Personal
MAGIC OF ESALEN: The Special Features that make Esalen Institute One of the
Most Extraordinary Places on Earth.
AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF INTEGRAL: The Key Role Played by Esalen Institute in the
Development of Ken Wilber’s Integral Worldview.
HEALING POWER OF PSYCHIC TRANSFORMATION: How the Processes of Growth offered by
Esalen Institute Aided Hugh Martin in His Battle Against Terminal Cancer.
ESALEN REPORT CARD: A Frank and Candid Evaluation of the Strengths and
Weaknesses of Esalen Institute.
VERSUS INTEGRAL INSTITUTE: How Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute Stacks Up
Against Esalen Institute.
PHENOMENON OF GROWTH CENTERS: How Growth Centers and Holistic Growth Situations
Can Support in Your Own Journey to Personal Transformation.
YOUR LIFE IN SEVEN STEPS: How You Can Use the Offerings of Esalen Institute To
Create a Life-Changing Program of Personal and Professional Growth.
You can view or download an MS Word or PDF
version of the full study.
For other excerpts from this study,
and for detailed descriptions of other articles by Hugh & Kaye Martin, click here.
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REPREIVE FROM DEATH
Hugh Martin’s Journey from Terminal Cancer to Personal Transformation
Hugh & Kaye Martin
Comes to Esalen
Hugh Martin remembers his early years at
“I first discovered Esalen in the Spring of 1965, just three years
after its founding. I had been diagnosed with advanced-stage Hodgkin’s Disease
lymphatic cancer, and given just two years to live. To make the best of my
last days on earth, I had dropped the intensive stress of grad school, and
traveled via Berkeley to California’s rugged Big Sur coast in search of a new
life. With my young wife (a ‘Joan Baez with curves’) and baby daughter, I
settled in a little cabin in the Redwoods, only accessible in mid-winter by an
undulating suspension footbridge over a raging stream. From there, my family
and I commuted to Esalen Institute, for volunteer work developing the grounds
of the new Growth Center. While there, we meshed with the Esalen community,
and plunged into the Esalen experience – brutal hotseats with the the infamous
Fritz Perls, soul-stripping encounter groups with the tough-but-caring Will
Schutz, graceful Tai Chi ballets with Yoda-like Gia Fu Feng, exuberant dance,
throbbing drums, soothing sensory awareness by the baths, searing acid
mind-trips on windy ridge-tops, free sex, savage fist fights, and group hugs.
Eventually, as my health and stability recovered, I was offered the position of
Esalen general manager (by Esalen co-founder Dick Price) -- and later, of
Perls’ video cameraman – both of which I declined in favor of a life back in
the ‘real world.’ Through the influence of Esalen, of Gestalt Therapy (Gene
Sagan), of Reichian Therapy (Gerald Frank), of my third wife Kaye, and of a
generous and forgiving God, my cancer completely vanished, and I went on to
lead a happy and successful life. For the magic of Esalen, I’m forever
grateful – and living proof that it works.”
Hugh describes the transforming moment during
his early years at Esalen:
“On a chilly, misty morning I approached the rickety little
farmhouse on the bluff. The Esalen yard crew had just left for their day’s
chores, and the little building was deserted. From the eaves, god’s-eyes
twisted in the wind, and Tibetan prayer flags fluttered in the breeze. The tinkling
of wind chimes welcomed me as I stepped cautiously across the creaky porch.
Inside, a weathered oak dining table littered with the remains of
breakfast – half eaten sausages, scraps of cinnamon roll, a syrupy plate. On
the chair, a gauzy tie-die shirt and one scuffed huarache. A tattered poster
of Gentle Wilderness high country by the fridge, snapshots of a gaudy party
with faces pressed toward the camera -- a faint, lingering smell in the air of
damp leaves, and soil, and sinsemilla. Despite the clutter, the scene
bathed me in warmth. I felt a glow of excitement, of anticipation, of
mystery. Driven by who knows what urge, I sought to experience at least vicariously
a lifestyle I’d been too timid or too fearful to adopt.
By the wall, on an album cover next to the phonograph turntable, the
chiseled monochrome face of a cool, hard-edged young man stared out at me: Not
challenging, just waiting for me to make my move. When I flipped the switch,
the turntable began to spin, the needle scratched, and the speakers began to
croon a hollow, poignant, nasal sound – echoing as if from a far distance:
Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy
and there is no place I'm going to.
Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.
I listened and lingered, becoming more and more transfixed. I was
ravished, entranced, exhilarated, enchanted, enthralled. My eyes watered, and
my lungs released in a burst of pleasure. Chills ran up my spine and flowed
out my fingertips. I continued to listen, as the sound gushed through my
system, soaking the parched landscape of my soul, awakening buried longings, kindling
my spirit. I felt a surge of aliveness, a chorus of hope, a great welling-up
of the Everlasting Yes!
I didn’t know it at the time, but that of all Esalen experiences was
the pivotal moment that changed my life. For the first time, like Odysseus
tied to the mast, I was hearing. . .
THE SIREN SONG
OF THE GROWTH CONTINUUM
Unknown to myself, I had decided to toss caution to the soft sea
breeze, to follow the Tambourine Man deep inside me, to take the chances
necessary in the quest for true happiness, to yield myself to change and growth
when every fiber of my being yearned for it. In that short moment, my cancer
began a grudging retreat, and I had decided to live.”
Blessings In The Shadow
Hugh recalls his life-changing encounter with death:
“When the Great Fever came, it came with a violent, torrential
rush. A raging, searing fever that brought agonizing groans for relief. When
it hit, I’d been recuperating from a grueling graduate semester at the home of
a dear aunt in tree-lined suburban Chicago. It wasn’t a good place to get
sick. My aunt was already distraught. My dear 97-year-old Gramp – for all his
life the mighty oak that uplifted and supported the family – was crumbling and
fading fast in the upstairs guest bedroom.
With Gramp dying upstairs, I began to die below. When I became
sick, the only place for me was my aunt’s dank basement – filled with dusty
boxes, chattering pipes, and an old ringer washing machine that throbbed in my
ear. There I lay – tossing, and sweating, and moaning – with Susan (my first
wife) trying to comfort me, while tending our one-year-old baby. With the
fever raging at 105 for almost two weeks, and the dawning recognition this was
no ordinary flu, they finally checked me into St. Luke’s Hospital for extensive
When the results were in, Susan sat gravely by my bedside. It
didn’t look good. The lymph node biopsy had revealed cancerous tissues –
virulent Hodgkin’s Disease. Worse yet, the lymph nodes were engorged and
corrupted throughout my whole body – indicating that the cancer had spread too
far, and was incurable. I was given two years to live.
“Once I got over the shock of my situation, and went into temporary
remission, I began changing my plans. If I had only two years to live, I
certainly wasn’t going to spend them in the stacks of some musty library – and
I certainly wasn’t going to suffer through any more icy Midwest winters. Anxious,
confused, and desperate, I groped my way toward a new path: With whatever
moments I had left, with whatever strength and hope I could summon up, I would
learn to drink deeply of the best life had to offer.
Susan and I moved back to Berkeley – certainly the most happening
place on the planet in swirling years of the mid-1960’s – then on to the even
more electrifying and turbulent world of the fabled Esalen Institute on
California’s rugged Big Sur coast. We jumped headfirst into the river of life,
and tried out everything the emerging paradigm of California had to offer. As
opportunities presented themselves, we (Sue and I, along with my later
partners) tried out psychology grad school, Beatnik painting with gobs of color
on vast oil canvases, Ginsberg howls of poetry, weaving natural-dyed
lanolin-soaked wools, drama improvs and African dance, sacred circles of pot,
peyote, and LSD, non-possessive marriage, Dr. Spock, contentious T-groups,
excruciating Ida Rolf massages, gestalt dreamwork, bioenergetics, primal
scream, backwoods ecology, organic farming, survivalism, the latest fads of
natural and holistic medicine, whole-grain organic foods, Zen, Tantra, free
schools, Hindu communes, radical politics, sexual liberation, Christian
fundamentalism, Gary Snyder’s San Juan Ridge, and so much more I can hardly remember.
Much of it was a blowout or dead end, but some of it stuck. Gradually,
impulsively, obsessively, tumultuously, we totally transformed our interiors
and our lifestyles.
In the process of that transformation, something miraculous
occurred: The cancer went away. When I would go back to the Stanford Medical
Center for my quarterly checkup, the doctors were mystified. Since I was
obviously pretty healthy, maybe I’d had a ‘spontaneous remission.’ Or maybe
the diagnosis had been wrong in the first place. Or maybe, just maybe, a
healed psyche and an authentic lifestyle can cure even the most malevolent
Two years stretched into three, then five, then ten, then twenty. I
had received a reprieve from my sentence of death. Whether through blind luck,
or timely redirection, or through the benevolent intervention of a Greater
Power, I had been given a second chance at life.
“However, even though I was by then perfectly healthy, a strange
thing had happened: I was different from other people. For years after my
harrowing escape, the angel of death sat on my shoulder -- warning me not to
get too cocky, or too complacent, or too trivial, or even too hopeful. No
matter how long the reprieve, I continued to live life as if I had only two
years left. I chose activities, interests, companions, and occupations that
gave me deep and immediate satisfaction. Every moment seemed fleeting, and
therefore immeasurably precious – sweet, fragile, evanescent, and poignant
Susan and I continued our explorations for the five years we were
granted together – parting only when the weight of failed life experiments
finally collapsed the love we felt for one another. I continued the explorations
for another five years with another lovely lady, Bonnie – until that relationship
collapsed from more blind folly. Then, with Kaye, I finally got it right – in
a sometimes turbulent and tempestuous relationship that’s lasted 30 years, and
keeps getting better.
Throughout that time, Kaye and I have continued to live life on the
edge – as if each new experience might be our last. We have suffered and
rejoiced through 13 pregnancies – including numerous miscarriages and two baby
boys that died at birth – and finally birthed and raised five lovely and
talented children. Our last was a one-pound preemie that doctors gave up for
lost – a tiny girl who has now grown to a vibrant and gifted teenager. As Bonnie
We’ve had a lotta kids, trouble,
But, oh Lord, we’d do it again!
Oooo-ooo. Kisses sweeter than wine.”
Hugh concludes with the lessons he
learned from his near-death experience:
Dawn Over Half Dome
“The story, of course, has a happy
ending. I’m basically healthy now. I visit a chiropractor more often than
most, and have some odd food sensitivities – but otherwise, I’m far more
vigorous and energetic than most men my age.
beginning before daybreak, I hiked 20 miles with a hefty pack through
Yosemite’s High Country – from 9000-foot Tuolumne Meadows, up the peak of Cloud’s
Rest – just in time to catch the first rays of sunrise kissing forehead of Half
Dome. From there, I scrambled cross-country to the summit of Half Dome itself,
then down the steep stone stairs by Vernal Falls to the 4000-foot Valley below
– a total elevation change of 10,000 feet. As dusk began to settle, I hitchhiked
65 miles back to Tuolumne to join my family in time for campfire. God is good.”
“My story is a dramatic tale of life-threatening illness,
transformation, and redemption. But the story is not just about me. It is
about you, my dear reader and listener.
You are terminally ill. You too
are sentenced to die. Not just someday – but within a specific, limited period
of time. The chances of me dying within two years at age 24 were set at 80%.
What are your chances? If you are 25, there’s an 80% chance you will die
within 50 years. If you are 45, you most likely will die within 35 years. If
you are 65, you’ll probably be departing within 20. None of us will be alive
100 years from now.
We are all under a certain, final, unappealable, ineluctable
sentence of death. Not just someday – but soon, in the ultimate scheme of
things. No way out. We’re toast. We’re history. We’re destined to be a
minor cipher in someone’s future genealogy tree. The wisdom of all the ages
tells us this:
As for man, his days are as grass:
As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone;
And the place thereof shall know it no more.”
“The awareness of our own immanent death. It’s a major bummer. But
it’s also the beginning of Wisdom. Once we recognize and accept our own death,
we stop avoiding life, or wasting life, or taking life for granted. We begin
asking the important questions: If I’m going anyway, am I making the most of my
few precious moments here on earth? Am I taking care of myself – so that I
don’t cut into the few years allotted to me? Is the quality of my life
as rich and satisfying as it might be? – free from pain and trouble, filled
with close friends, a loving family, genuine success, and happy memories?
We begin to consider the really big questions: What am I here for?
What is life all about? How can I live a life that is more meaningful and
fulfilling? How can I map out a path – and take my first steps? What can I do
now that will make the whole long journey worthwhile?
When we’re on our deathbed, what treasures will we have to look back
on? Who will be holding our hand? Whose eyes will we see glistening with
tears as we slip away?”
Do you have an ‘Esalen-of-the-Mind’ you
need to visit? A Tambourine Man you need to follow?
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by circus sands. . .
With the thundering black waves of your
mortality rumbling on the horizon, with your life so long yet so near its end,
with all options for escape now cut off, with all shallow diversions now
rendered hollow – with all these voices urging you forth, with so much to gain
and nothing to lose, will you now listen to the call of that deep, wistful,
poignant voice within you?
Far off, on some rocky, windswept beach,
the Siren Song of the Tambourine Man calls out to you. Won’t you harken -- and
heed his song?
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me.
In that jingle, jangle mornin’ I’ll come followin’ you.
MARTIN. Hugh Martin is listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the
World. He has appeared on numerous talk shows, led seminars at many colleges
and corporations, and spoken at numerous professional conferences and
colloquia. Mr. Martin is president of the FINRA-registered securities
brokerage firm, Hugh Martin Securities, and of the California-registered
investment advisory firm, Hugh Martin & Co. Hugh is also an experienced
MARTIN. Amalia Kaye Martin (‘Kaye’) is a
‘clairvoyant’ Life Counselor, gifted natural medicine practitioner, and early
education specialist. Kaye is also a dedicated homemaker, full-time
mother, instructor in natural medicine and nutrition at Bauman College, certified
natural foods chef, and dynamic community organizer.
KAYE MARTIN. Hugh and Kaye are primarily qualified
as Integral theorists and practitioners because they have led Integral lives.
Both Hugh and Kaye have extensive experience in personal transformation,
natural medicine and health, early and advanced education, societal change,
natural and cultural environments, and high-level academics.
Hugh and Kaye
have been married for over 30 years. They have five highly-independent,
multi-gifted children with strong family ties.
LIFE COUNSELING. Hugh and Kaye Martin are the
founders and co-directors of the life planning and counseling firm Whole Life
Counseling. Whole Life Counseling is a comprehensive program for personal and
professional growth, which empowers clients to achieve success and fulfillment
in 12 key arenas of life -- education, career, marriage, family, community,
emotions, sexuality, finances, health, recreation, nature, and spirituality.
For more information, please contact the
authors at WholeLifeCounseling@Gmail.com.
the Martin Family has attended an Esalen Workshop or Festival, participated
in the Work/Scholar Program, and/or enjoyed the sunset from Esalen’s steamy
lower right: Kaye, Hugh, Pat Dobbins, Mollie Martin Dobbins, Livvie, Josh,
Becky, and Sam.