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 Using the Offerings of the World’s Greatest Growth Center
To Build Your Own Integral Program for Personal Growth

This is the fourth 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:

1.      REPREIVE FROM DEATH: Hugh Martin’s Journey from Terminal Cancer to Personal Transformation.

2.      THE MAGIC OF ESALEN: The Special Features that make Esalen Institute One of the Most Extraordinary Places on Earth.

3.      ESALEN AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF INTEGRAL: The Key Role Played by Esalen Institute in the Development of Ken Wilber’s Integral Worldview.

4.      THE HEALING POWER OF PSYCHIC TRANSFORMATION: How the Processes of Growth offered by Esalen Institute Aided Hugh Martin in His Battle Against Terminal Cancer.

5.      THE ESALEN REPORT CARD: A Frank and Candid Evaluation of the Strengths and Weaknesses of Esalen Institute.

6.      ESALEN VERSUS INTEGRAL INSTITUTE: How Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute Stacks Up Against Esalen Institute.

7.      THE PHENOMENON OF GROWTH CENTERS: How Growth Centers and Holistic Growth Situations Can Support in Your Own Journey to Personal Transformation.

8.      TRANSFORMING 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.

For biographical background on the authors, Hugh & Kaye Martin, see the end of this excerpt and the end of the full study.

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How the Processes of Growth offered by Esalen Institute
Aided Hugh Martin in His Battle Against Terminal Cancer

Hugh & Kaye Martin

Copyright 2009


Perhaps, then, a change of lifestyle can cure you.  But how?  What can reverse an illness as virulent and malevolent as terminal cancer?  What is curative about change -- not only change in one’s outward activities, but change in one’s fundamental orientation toward life?  Since the doctors have no answer, perhaps we can venture our own guess.  From our own experience, from the wisdom of our own bodies, and from the advice of natural medicine practitioners, here’s what we believe happened.[1]

The Toxic Assault

As we conceive it, cancer is primarily a disease of toxicity.  Under extreme circumstances, toxins build up in the body so massively and so intractably that the body is overwhelmed in its attempt to eliminate them.  When that happens, the body falls back on an alternative mechanism of defense:  In addition to the on-going effort at elimination, the body will attempt to isolate the irritant – to build a barrier of defense against its effects.  Like an oyster building a shell of pearl around a grain of sand, like callouses or bunions, the body begin spreading down an insulating layer of inert cells to seal off the irritant. 

Unfortunately, in some cases the body perceives the layer of cells just laid down as another irritant – and begins laying down additional layers, each as protection against the last.  In a self-perpetuating cycle, new layers continue to produce new irritation, which in turn produce even more layers.  In a desperate effort to stem the rampant flood of perceived irritation, layers of cells are deposited ever-faster, in ever-greater quantities, spreading over ever-broader regions of the body.  A deadly cancer has been launched by the very act of self-defense.

In the true-story Julia Roberts movie Erin Brocovich,[2] the unfortunate residents of a small California desert community are afflicted by toxic contamination.  Exposed to toxic levels of hexa-valent chromium dumped by the local utility company into their drinking water, the whole community develops debilitating and life-threatening maladies – a rampant and mysterious epidemic of stress, chronic rashes, chronic nosebleeds, miscarriages, spinal degeneration, chronic fatigue, kidney and ovarian tumors, multiple forms of cancer (including breast, lung, brain-stem, and gastrointestinal cancers) -- and yes, Hodgkin’s Disease. 

In like manner, the initial build-up of toxins in Hugh’s body occurred gradually and progressively over a number of years. As a little boy growing up in California’s bountiful Santa Clara Valley fruit-growing region (later ‘Silicon Valley’), Hugh’s playground was the lovely orchards filled with ripe pears and plums, succulent apricots and cherries.  He and his friends spent their summer afternoons climbing through the branches, collecting the sweet fruit in ragged sacks, then wiping an unfamiliar white powder onto their shirts before sinking their teeth into each juicy bite.  Unfortunately, that white powder contained some of the most toxic pesticides known to man – with deadly chemical fertilizers and preservatives adding to the gruesome mix. 

Later, as an avid stamp-collector, Hugh would spend long hours on the living room carpet with a little tray of benzene before his nose, breathing undiluted toxic vapors into his system, while inspecting stacks of stamps for watermarks that might indicate a rare issue. 

Then, when Hugh undertook four years of intensive study at a prestigious Eastern college, wouldn’t you know:  He decided to major in chemistry.  He spent endless lab hours concocting exotic molecules -- inhaling solvent fumes from boiling beakers, gaseous compounds from frothing test tubes, and combustion products from Bunsen burners.  By the time Hugh graduated from Swarthmore, although he didn’t know it yet, he was a toxic wreck.  Undischarged toxic wastes had fried his nervous system and clogged his internal organs – especially his sensitive lymph system, the body’s natural channel for toxic elimination.

While the toxins were building up, Hugh’s capacity to eliminate them was declining.  In grad school, he no longer participated in competitive sports – so he no longer had a regular opportunity to sweat off toxic junk.  Furthermore, his career plans were in disarray, and his marriage was on the rocks.  The emotional tension resulted in physical clenching and rigidity, which in turn constricted the channels of toxic elimination. 

The Blessings of Breakdown

As a last line of defense, to precipitate a full-scale toxic dump, Hugh’s contaminated body engineered a massive structural breakdown.  The dumps occurred, but much too late: By then the cancer was too far along – mobilized on its relentless, but mis-directed effort to protect Hugh’s body by isolating what it perceived to be an invader.  The protective mechanism had itself turned enemy, converting healthy tissues into thickening inert masses in his neck, groin, and bone marrow.

The fever-ridden breakdowns were, in truth, a great blessing – a testament to the body’s unerring natural wisdom, its relentless drive to heal.  The breakdowns were physical – allowing a great toxic discharge, like pus expunged from a lanced wound.  They were also structural – allowing the release of deep muscular tension, so toxins could flow easily to points of exit.  But most importantly, the breakdowns were psychological – allowing the dissolving and melting of all the mental plans, obligations, and expectations that locked Hugh obsessively in pernicious and self-destructive patterns of behavior.

The Madness and Miracles of Esalen

Then came the transforming magic of Esalen.  Through Esalen, Hugh internalized the healing message of the Fever; he heard the Siren Call of the Growth Continuum; he decided to follow his Tambourine Man.  Once set on the right track, Hugh needed an alternative lifestyle to live, one that contained the seeds of his own regeneration. 

Lord knows, Esalen didn’t have all the answers.  In those early years of the 1960’s, Esalen was a zoo – and a circus, a freak show, a loony bin Shangri-la, a half-way house between hellfire and nirvana, a speeding train lurching along a wobbly, cliff-side track to ecstacy.  But through Esalen’s frenetic activity and hopeless idealism, Hugh found all the clues he needed to set him on his quest.  It catalyzed his future explorations, set him in motion along a deeply authentic path, instilled a dream that true health and profound happiness are a real possibility on this sometimes lonely and desolate planet.  Among all the Esalen Processes Hugh engaged in, here are those that most supported his victory over cancer:

Natural nutrition (#1).  The heart and center of Esalen is the dining room – along with everything that feeds into it: the kitchen, the garden, the farm.  Every activity at Esalen is built on healthy, natural, uncontaminated nutrients.  If Hugh was to recover from toxicity, he had to start by eating clean foods – and avoid putting yet more toxins into his body.

Natural medicine (#2).  Esalen has a very simple and basic understanding of natural medicine, but at least it emphasizes alternatives to traditional, sickness-based allopathic medicine.  Natural medicine techniques have been particularly helpful for Hugh in rebuilding organs damaged by prolonged toxic exposure – including the liver, the kidneys, and spleen, the nervous system, and of course the lymph system itself.

Nurturing & bonding (#3).  Esalen has a deep attachment, love, and respect for one’s Inner Child.  That attitude led Hugh to intensive therapies like Gestalt and Reichian that touch the very core of one’s psyche.  Releasing those foundational tensions opened an internal flow that discharged toxins held in the deepest recesses of his system.

Relationships & marriage (#4).  Although the early Esalen undermined marriage and other traditional institutions ruthlessly, there was always a genuine respect for the authentic, deeply-felt relationship.  Although the flaws in Hugh’s marriage were severely tested, Hugh did begin to learn how a healthy marriage might work.  That healthy marriage ultimately became the foundation for a ‘will to live’ that overcame all adversity.

Sexuality & sensuality (#5).  After a closeted existence in the dank corridors of musty graduate school libraries, the overt and pervasive sexuality and sensuality of Esalen was a disquieting but inspiring revelation for Hugh.  Through awakened physical pleasure, Hugh learned to build a lifestyle that combined external achievement with deep personal gratification.

Family dynamics (#6).  Although Esalen often lacks strong vertical relationships with parental figures, it does excel in close horizontal bonds among members of the community.  As time went along, Hugh translated this powerful sense of community into strong and enduring family relationships that have always been his source of strength and courage in times of difficulty.

Sensory experience (#7).  All Esalen’s Programs are built on a solid foundation of Sensory Experience.  Through Sensory Experience, Hugh learned to heed the wisdom of his body, and to respect its ability to heal and balance itself.  Even with cancer, Hugh found, it’s the body itself that produces the healing.  At best, doctors only preside over the process; at worst, they sometimes compound the problem with inappropriate interventions.

Physical activity (#8).  Through Esalen, Hugh learned that physical activity is not found just in competitive sports or programmed body conditioning.  The best physical activity arises from within out of sheer exuberance for life – in the throbbing rhythms of conga drums, in quiet walks by a dappled canyon stream, in the gentle healing touch of a heartfelt massage.  That type of activity, Hugh found, is most effective in releasing deeply-lodged toxins and enlivening the body’s organs and systems.

Life experience (#9).  After years of seclusion in cloistered academic settings, Esalen reminded Hugh that the most interesting parts of living occur in the grit and sinew of Real Life – in the clatter and steam of a bustling kitchen; in the shouts and sweat of a coarse, irreverent work crew; in an intimate and revealing conversation with a stranger you’ve just met.  Through such activities, Hugh rediscovered a zest for life and an urge to live life to the marrow.

Natural environment (#10).  With its melding of ravishing natural setting and profound inner exploration, Esalen reminded Hugh that nature is not just a place to visit on weekends, to see through your picture window, or even to appreciate through the landscapes of Claude Lorrain.  By immersing himself in Nature, Hugh discovered a deep resonance with the universal Life Force and a confidence to trust the natural wisdom of his body.

Acculturation (#16).  In the academic world, Hugh often got the impression that the only people worth knowing were either teachers or students.  Esalen opened up a whole world of unique people – carpenters and clinicians, outcasts and executives, precise Austrians and sensuous Brazilians, PhD’s and illiterates, motorcycle gangs and street people, gurus and groupies, seekers and suckers – each with their own special gifts and fascinating stories to tell.  These encounters helped Hugh break free of preconceptions as to who he must become, or what course his life must take.

Explanations (#19).  Beneath its fast-paced and multi-colored lifestyle, Esalen holds to a pervasive and intensely-felt worldview.  According to that worldview, life is a journey or quest in which we continually seek (like Maslow) to activate and actualize our highest levels of human potential.  That recognition gave Hugh’s life meaning and purpose, which in turn reinforced his will to live.

Humor & fun (#25).  At its silliest, Esalen is just community of big, overgrown children.  However, the great advantage of children is that they have few cares, shoulder few responsibilities, and basically live just to have fun.  By rediscovering the fun of life, Hugh was able to shed unnecessary burdens and learn to enjoy the moment. 

Expressive arts (#28).  Self-awareness and self-expression are the essence of the Esalen experience.  When we open creative or emotional channels to express ourselves, those channels actually correspond to neural networks through which thoughts and impulses and transmitted, to physical conduits through which nutrients flow, and to tributaries through which wastes are eliminated.  When Hugh connected through the arts to his deepest spontaneity and authenticity, those newly unblocked channels allowed physical and psychic purging along with the creative expression.

Body therapies (#29).  Body Therapies are a major emphasis at Esalen.  Although the primary focus is releasing body armor, an important side benefit of such work is the release of toxins through softened musculature and rejuvenated internal organs.  Hugh’s immersion in Reichian therapy, where the deepest physical and mental traumas are released all the way back to birth, was directly traceable to his earlier Esalen work.

Psychotherapies (#31).  As pointed out in #3, effective psychotherapy is critical for contacting and embracing one’s Inner Child.  As the Inner Child is recognized and nurtured, the physical tensions that build up around early disappointments and disillusionments are dissolved – and channels are opened for toxic elimination.  Esalen’s diverse and exotic workshops made psychotherapies of all kinds familiar, friendly, and appealing for Hugh.  As a result, he was always able to find the therapy that worked best in any given situation.

Spiritual practices (#33).  Esalen’s spiritual orientation is scattered and diffuse, but one message is abundantly clear in all her approaches:  There is a Higher Power beyond material reality that unifies, guides, and bestows meaning on human existence.  Hugh’s recognition of that Higher Power resuscitated and invigorated his Will To Live.  His acquiescence to a Higher Wisdom beyond his own limited understanding guided him in making the right decisions that saved his life.  


HUGH 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 Life Counselor.

AMALIA KAYE 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.

HUGH AND 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. 


WHOLE 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 [email protected].


Everyone in 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 hot baths.
Counter-clockwise from lower right: Kaye, Hugh, Pat Dobbins, Mollie Martin Dobbins, Livvie, Josh, Becky, and Sam.


[1] For the sake of clarity, we limit our explanation to that part of the cure that is most understandable to the lay person.

[2] Universal Pictures 2000 film starring Julia Roberts, which portrayed a small California community whose water supply was poisoned by toxic chemicals dumped by major utility company.