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 Using the Offerings of the Worlds Greatest Growth Center
To Build Your Own Integral Program for Personal Growth

This is the fifth in a series of eight excerpts from our book-length study on the fabled human potential growth center, Esalen Institute on Northern Californias dramatic Big Sur Coast.  The entire series (to be posted on successive weeks) is as follows:

1.      REPREIVE FROM DEATH: Hugh Martins 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 Wilbers 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 Wilbers 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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A Frank and Candid Evaluation
of the Strengths and Weaknesses
of Esalen Institute

Hugh & Kaye Martin

Copyright 2009


After all the glowing accolades, its only fair to balance Esalens strengths with some of her shortcomings.  In Appendix B, The Esalen Report Card, we will evaluate Esalen Process-by-Process.  Here, we summarize some of our main observations from that section:

{     Introductory experiences.  Esalen offers introductory experiences in a variety of psychological, spiritual, and artistic modalities.  Except for specific training programs, it is not in itself a long-term growth program, a substitute for therapy, or a complete spiritual practice (nor does it try to be any of these).

{     Feeling vs. thinking.   Esalen values the senses and the emotions immensely, but often fails to give adequate credit to the importance of the mind.

{     The present vs. the future.  Esalen people do wonderfully well at living in the present, but sometimes lack the ability to shape their own futures.

{     Coping with the world.  Esalen equips its people well to function within the Esalen system, but often fails to prepare them to be effective (or even functional) in the outside world.

{     Authenticity, not art.  Esalens artistic and creative Workshops develop spontaneous expression, but not necessarily quality art or literature.

{     Eastern vs. Western.  Esalen explores the Eastern and other non-European traditions extensively, but sometimes does not give adequate recognition to the contributions of the West.

{     Horizontal vs. vertical relationships.  Esalen is a tight-knit, relatively harmonious community.  However, it often functions like a society of siblings (much like the Lost Boys of Peter Pans Neverland) with little appreciation of the paternal role of authority and responsibility, or the maternal role of constancy and commitment.

{     Safety vs. depth.  Unlike the early days, Esalen is now a safer place to open up, to share feelings, and to grow relationships.  However, its more careful, conservative approach is less likely to produce deep breakthroughs and paradigm-shattering insights.

{     The Esalen vision.  Although Esalen continues as a force for social and cultural transformation, she may have lost some of the vision and passion that inspired her early years.

{     Innovation and entrenchment.  For all its innovation and creativity, the Esalen organization can sometimes act like an entrenched bureaucracy that has trouble growing and changing.

{     From Holistic to Integral.  Esalen is a rich smorgasbord of diverse experiences, but has the potential to become a truly Integral growth program.

Like many of its Workshop participants, Esalen is going through mid-life transition.  It is seeking an identity and purpose that will light a path into its mature years.  Will it become a feel-good retreat for grey-haired Cultural Creatives?  Or will it revive its former glory leading the new centurys explorations into the frontiers of human consciousness?  The decisions Esalen makes (or fails to make) over the coming months will determine that future.[1]

Despite the above reservations, Esalen continues to offer a fabulous growth experience that changes lives dramatically, inspires the vision of a better humanity, and sets the standard against which all other Growth Programs must be compared.  It continues to offer the very best of the Human Potential Movement, and is an ideal foundation for a truly Integral growth program.


As stated above,[3] Esalen is the ideal foundation for an Integral Growth Program -- primarily because it covers most of the major ADAPT Dimensions and Processes so admirably.  This section outlines which Dimensions and Processes are covered by the Esalen experience and how well.

Esalens Dimensions[4]

Esalen is richly and comprehensively represented in most of the eight Dimensions of the ADAPT Growth Continuum.

{     Stage growth & Transition growth.  As described in our section Esalen and the Development of Integral,[5] Esalen functions best as a catalyst, not as a self-contained growth program.  Esalen is a great source for peak experiences and break-through insights that can later be converted into permanent character changes by a Growth Coordinator perhaps with the ongoing support of an Integral practice like ITP or ILP.  Thus, Esalens strength is Transitions; Stage Growth is best accomplished elsewhere, once the Transition is in motion.  Grade for Transitions: A.  For Stages: C.

{     State growth.  Esalen offers a varied and diffuse range of spiritual experiences some within the Workshop format, and others as Open Sessions, private groups, or individual experiences.  The strong emphasis is on the Eastern spiritual traditions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism although Western and Christian traditions are occasionally honored.  Grade for Eastern: B.  For Western: D.

{     Realm growth.  Esalen is outstanding in all three internal Realms the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual.  For external Life Passages, Esalen offers a full range of on-site experiences through its Work/Study and Staff Programs,[6] but little to prepare one for the outside world.  Grade for internal Realms: A.  For on-site life experience: B.  For outside life experience: D.

{     Arena growth.  Esalen does not try to cover all the Arenas but what it does cover, it covers either admirably or adequately.  In the Arenas of Life Passages, for example, Esalen does not in most cases attempt to cover finances or career development, but offers some assistance in health, ecology, and community service and a wealth of programs in such Arenas as relationships and sexuality.  The most critical Life Passages Arena where Esalen falls short is Family & Children.  For an organization that glorifies the Inner Child, its ironic that Esalen offers almost nothing on raising actual children, and no way for most real children to take part in the Esalen experience.[7]  Grade for Esalens Arenas of concentration: B+.

{     Vector growth.  Esalen emphasizes the two left-hand Quadrants -- internal growth at both the Individual and Collective levels.  Little attention is directed to the external right-hand Quadrant, either Individual or Collective.  Regarding cyclic Directions, Esalens focus is primarily downward toward bodily wisdom and emotional authenticity.[8]  However, Esalen also gives adequate attention to the upward Directions of psychological insight and spiritual enlightenment.  Grade for Quadrants: B.  For Directions: A-.

{     Actualization Growth & Restoration Growth.  In the early 1970s, Esalen made a wise policy decision to concentrate on peak experiences, and leave the long-haul therapy to qualified and dedicated professionals.  Esalen is remarkably good at evoking peak experiences and life-changing insights in a period as short as a five-day week.  However, for people seeking to sustain or expand that experience by long-term residence (Staff or multiple-month Work/Study), the results are less impressive.  Grade for Actualization Growth: A-.  For Restoration Growth: C.

{     Coordination.  For processing the intense personal experiences that occur almost continuously at Esalen, the program offers some basic tools -- friends, group process, limited counseling.  However, these resources are often not sufficient to help participants to understand or cope with the massive dislocations that often occur.  For such work, the assistance from an outside Growth Coordinator and/or support group is almost mandatory.  Grade without Coordinator: C-.  With Coordinator: up to A.

Appendix B:

This Table evaluates how well the offerings Esalen Institute address ADAPTs 35 Processes of Growth.  The Processes of Growth represent all the techniques, therapies, practices, programs, activities, explorations, studies, and focused experiences that move us along the Growth Continuum.  For each Process, we show the following information:

{     Processes definitions.  A brief definition of each Process, and of each Theme that encompasses a set of Processes.

{     Corresponding Esalen Process Category.  The Esalen Workshop category that pertains to each Process.  (Figures in parenthesis indicate: the number and percentage of Workshops in that category, out of a total 260 for Spring semester 2009).  Elements of the Esalen lifestyle that implicitly support a given Process are shown in [brackets].

      Evaluation/Grade.  An evaluation and letter-grade, indicating how adequately Esalens Workshops cover each Process category.[10]

The Themes and their corresponding Processes are arranged from the simplest and most basic to the most complex and evolved.  To get maximum benefit, please read Table from bottom-to-top, beginning with Process #1 (the simplest). 

The Processes are as follows:

Process Number


[Please read this Table from bottom-to-top, beginning with Process #1.]




Comprehensive Processes are combinations of many interrelated growth Processes.  They enable us to pursue our growth simultaneously by numerous means within a single cluster of activities.  Comprehensive Processes create a profound sense of connectedness, a comprehensive perspective encompassing the full range of lifes possibilities, and an attitude that no dream is impossible.

       Theme Evaluation. Esalen offers one of the most comprehensive sets of growth experiences available on the planet.  With proper coordination, these experiences can be combined into a truly Integral program of personal development.  OVERALL GRADE -- Without Coordinator: B.  With Coordinator: A.


Integral Programs

Integral Processes are comprehensive programs or systems that integrate all 35 Processes with all 8 Dimensions (often with the assistance of a skilled Coordinator) into a unified system of personal development.  Whereas Holistic (#34) is a kind of smorgasbord, Integral is a unified meal containing all the essential nutrients.  Integral offers an immersion experience where all the Processes and Dimensions are experienced as part of one ongoing flow of development.  Integral Processes produce a profound sense of unity and order, a deep authenticity and groundedness, and a comprehensive appreciation of lifes meaning and purpose.

{     Esalen Process.  Integral Practices (9, 3.7%).

       Evaluation/Grade.  The Workshops categorized as integral by Esalen are valuable combinations of diverse Processes and Modalities, but are not Integral in Wilbers or ADAPTs more comprehensive sense.  However, as in the theme of this article, Esalens offerings can serve as the foundation for a relatively-complete Integral experience, when orchestrated by a skilled Growth Coordinator.  Grade: B-.


Holistic Activities

Holistic Processes are comprehensive activities or situations that offer the experience of numerous diverse-but-related Processes.  They allow undistracted immersion in these Processes over an extended period of time.  Holistic Processes produce an appreciation of our worlds abundance, a recognition of lifes enormous possibilities, and a glimpse of the potential unity of all human experience.

{     Esalen Process.  [Covered under #35 + The entire Esalen experience.]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen offers a world-class holistic experience.  As is demonstrated by this table, Esalen covers most of the 35 Processes of growth admirably.    Grade: A.




Conscious Development Processes are techniques, practices, and programs designed explicitly to resolve psychological problems, promote personal growth, and achieve spiritual enlightenment.  They enable us to work on our own development with conscious intention and purpose.  Such Processes take us beyond the non-intentional modalities described under the previous Themes allowing us to resolve deep-seated problems and achieve extraordinary States of Consciousness.

       Theme Evaluation.  Conscious development is virtually synonymous with the human potential movement, and Esalen is the foremost showcase for human potential techniques.  Aside from the new field of psycho-biologics, Esalen offers outstanding introductory programs in all fields of conscious development. Overall Grade: A-.


Spiritual Practices

Spiritual Processes are techniques and programs that use structured spiritual practices to achieve higher States of consciousness, and/or a connection with the Divine.  They provide a regular, systematic method for grounding oneself in enduring values, rising above daily concerns, experiencing profound contentment, and connecting with universal forces.

{     Esalen Processes.  Spirituality:
1. Contemplative/ Spiritual Studies (20, 7.7%).
2. Yoga (15, 5.8%).
3. Myth, Ritual, Shamanism (6, 2.3%).
4. [See Psychotherapies: Neuropsychology/ Neuroscience, #31.]

       Evaluation/Grade.  At Esalen, there is a pervasive awareness of some Higher Power that guides and orchestrates our lives.  Esalen offers a broad and eclectic introduction to many spiritual practices but heavily emphasizes Eastern and ethnic traditions and practices at the expense of Western.  Grade: B.


Psycho-biologic Techniques

Psychobiologic Processes are techniques and practices that use Natural Medicine techniques (#2) to achieve psychological (as well as physiological) balance and well-being.  They address inherited and acquired body chemistry issues that are at the root of many problems that appear psychological.  They promote well-being similar to that achieved through Psychotherapies (#31) and Body Therapies (#29).  Not to be confused with the symptom-suppressing drug therapies of mainstream medicine.

{     Esalen Process. [Limited awareness.  Covered to some extent in #2]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen Workshops generally attribute psychological problems to such influences as early childhood trauma, deprived social environment, entrenched ancestral patterns, and the like.  There is limited recognition that many apparently-psychological problems are actually genetic and chemical in origin.  Grade: D.



Psychotherapy Processes are sophisticated psychological techniques focusing primarily on Restoration Growth.  They are designed to resolve mental difficulties, promote psychological well-being, and develop ones inner potential.  They can increase self-awareness, dissolve blocks, promote the developmental flow, and provide satisfaction and fulfillment.

       Esalen Processes. Psychology & Relationship:
1. Psychological/ Transpersonal Process (41, 15.8%).
2. Neuropsychology/ Neuroscience (6, 2.3%).
3. [See Relationships & Marriage, #4.]
Evaluation/Grade.  For decades, Esalen has been a premier location to experience a broad variety of top-quality psychological techniques in a group setting.  Esalen offers introductory experiences, with few advanced programs (except professional trainings), and no deep therapy.  Esalen is a great place to try out a particular Modality or practitioner, before making a commitment to any long-term growth program.  Grade: A-.


Introspection & Self-awareness

Introspection & Self-awareness Processes are inner-directed explorations of our thoughts, imaginings, emotions, and physical feelings.  They connect us with our inner world to perceive and experience it, but not necessarily to express it (#24 & 28) or to change from it (#31). They promote, self-reflection, self-knowledge, and self-appreciation -- a conscious familiarity with our inner landscape.

{     Esalen Process. [Covered as part of #31, and implicit in all Esalen experiences.]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Both Seminarians and staff explore their own interiors very actively and openly, usually without excessive self-absorption.  Because the Esalen worldview is pervasive and entrenched, self-awareness is sometimes limited by stereotyped preconceptions and formulaic interpretations.  Grade: B+.


Body Therapies

Body Therapy Processes use sophisticated somatic techniques to promote physical, psychological, and spiritual transformation. They mobilize and align bodily energy patterns, dissolve physical blocks, release repressed trauma, and promote balance and wholeness.  They improve grounding, perceived body image, and boundaries.  They restore aliveness by opening all areas to oxygen and blood flow. They alleviate of physical discomfort, disentangle us from old attitudes and behavior patterns, and help us recover emotional responsiveness and spontaneity

{     Esalen Processes.  The Body:
1. Massage (20, 7.7%).

2. Somatic Practices (15, 5.8%).

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen put bodywork on the map, and continues to be a premier showcase for cutting-edge physical techniques.  As with many such experiences, Esalen is best at opening people up but less good at supporting permanent change, or helping people integrate their breakthroughs into daily life.  Grade: A-.




Self-expression Processes are activities that express our inner reality in an outwardly-perceivable form.  They enable us to understand and appreciate ourselves, to manifest our special gifts in tangible form, and to convey our inner qualities to others.

      Theme Evaluation. For the Self to grow, it must know and experience itself at a deep and conscious level.  Many qualities of Self are beyond verbalization, and can only be expressed using observable artistic media.  Except for recorded media, Esalen offers a diverse array of expressive experiences, and a sanctuary where expression is supported and encouraged.  Overall Grade: B+.


Expressive Arts

Expressive Arts Processes are activities that express our inner world of thought, emotions, and fantasy through tangible, observable media.  They help us to connect with our inner nature, to reclaim alienated parts of ourselves (our shadow side), to convey our inner self to others, and to communicate insights and convictions that are beyond the power of words.

{     Esalen Processes. Arts & Creativity:
1. Music, Rhythm, Dance (19, 7.3%).
2. Visual Arts (14, 5.4%).
3. Creative Expression (9, 3.5%).

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen is a great place to connect with, express, and enjoy ones innate creativity.  The arts are pursued as totally-engaging, highly-satisfying personal experiences with little emphasis on producing highly-accomplished art products.   Grade: A-.


Recorded Experiences

Recorded Experience Processes are activities that capture highlights and representative vignettes of quintessential life moments in permanent form. They enable us to retain and re-live the high points of our lives, and to integrate fragmented strands of memory -- thereby reviving, illuminating, and perpetuating those experiences and perspectives that make life precious.

{     Esalen Process.  [Private and Workshop-based journaling.  Occasional film or photo Workshops.]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Because of the need for privacy and spontaneity, recording media (cameras, camcorders, audio recorders) are discouraged except staff photography and designated Workshops.  As a result, Esalen experiences tend to be evanescent and fleeting with few tangible reminders to preserve those special moments.  However, introspective journaling is prevalent and encouraged.  Grade: C.


Stories & Literature

Story Processes are story- or literature-based illustrations of illuminating and instructive life situations.  Along with their literary value, they provide powerful role models, revealing perspectives, effective strategies, and inspiring themes that we can emulate in our own lives.

{     Esalen Process. [Included in creative Workshops especially film (#27) and writing (#24) and in Group Process (#s 30 & 31)]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen people tend to live life in the moment.  There is little book-reading, and little opportunity for story-based media (film or TV).  Even in Group Process, there is limited emphasis on telling ones life story, because personal history is viewed as a distraction from the here-and-now of direct experience.  Grade: C.


Humor & Fun

Humor and Fun Processes are entertainment activities that help keep life in perspective.  Humor activities point up absurdity and incongruity of life situations in an amusing way.  Fun is doing things just for pleasure, with no concern for their purpose or significance.  Humor and fun keep us aware of our foibles, reduce false pride, and teach us not to take life too seriously.

{     Esalen Process.  [Woven deeply into the fabric of Esalen life.  Culminates in the summer Arts Festival.]

       Evaluation/Grade. Humor and fun are at the core of the Esalen way of life.  Even pain and heartache are framed as highly-engaging forms of entertainment.  However, Esalen people sometimes have trouble taking themselves lightly, and recognizing that Esalen is not the center of the universe.  Grade: B+.


Communication & Language

Communication & Language Processes are the activities that enable us to formulate, articulate, and communicate inchoate thoughts and feelings through through language and other means.  They create a sense of identity, clarity, and order along with the ability to connect mentally and emotionally with others.

{     Esalen Process. Arts & Creativity: Writing (8, 3.1%).

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen is great at expressive writing, writing that arises from the core of ones being, but has little interest in writing designed to persuade, or even to inform.  Esalen does not necessarily produce great writers, but it helps nourish the capacity for authentic self-expression that dwells within us.  Grade: B+.



(Processes 18-23)

Formal Investigation Processes are experiences that engage our thinking and reasoning abilities.  They enable us to understand, arrange, affect, and utilize both material and abstract reality.  They allow us to rise above the world, to view it from a more comprehensive perspective, to live in harmony with it, and to make use of it for our own needs.  They create a sense of stability, congruity, cohesiveness, and empowerment.

       Theme Evaluation. Because we live in a society that thinks too much, Esalen emphasizes experience and feeling.  Because our society dwells on the future, Esalen brings us back to the present.  Because we are enmeshed in technology, Esalen helps us develop our own resources. Because we become enmeshed in structures and systems, Esalen advocates simplicity.  Overall Grades: A- (avoiding the ills of civilization), C- (utilizing the material and mental achievements of civilization).


Sciences and Proofs

Scientific Processes are activities that enable us to formulate and test systematic explanations for real-world phenomena.  Includes: Systematic observation, scientific method.  They promote a profound conviction that the world makes sense, that we can grasp and influence it, and that we can progress and evolve far beyond perceived limits.

{     Esalen Process. [Occasional public presentations.  Limited experimentation in garden and grounds.  Limited examination of underlying beliefs.  Covered to some extent under #19.]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen people are often more concerned about what feels true than what is true.  They often have no mechanism for distinguishing fact from supposition, and therefore are easily influenced by prevailing opinion or gut feeling.  Since Esalen people have no clear means of testing their beliefs, they have limited means of progressing in their worldviews.  Even practical, hands-on science (experimenting with heirloom vegetables in the garden, for example[11]) has little place in the Esalen experience.  Grade: D.


Planning & Orchestrating

Planning & Orchestrating Processes are the skills of anticipating, planning, and arranging the various components of some future event or activity.  They enable us to visualize and actualize any of several alternative futures thereby imparting a sense of perspective, a feeling of empowerment, and a confidence to act.

{     Esalen Process. [Found primarily in administrative functions & public planning sessions and to some extent in garden preparation and building projects]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Many Esalen people live totally in the present, so there is no future.  If there is no future, no planning is necessary.  Like the world of primitive tribes, the cycle of life at Esalen repeats itself season after season.  As a consequence, Esalen imparts very few Planning & Orchestrating skills.  Therefore, Esalen graduates and former Staff attempting to make it in the outside world are sometimes crippled by an inability to arrange their own lives.  Grade: D.


Logic & Reasoning

Logic & Reasoning Processes are the explicit skills of developing formally-reasoned explanations and arguments.  These skills produce a profound sense of confidence, competence, and empowerment by enabling us to create unified wholes from apparently disparate information.

{     Esalen Process. [Fairly rare.  Found in informal discussion groups and planning meetings]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Forty years ago, Fritz Perls taught Esalen people to get out of their heads and into their experience.  As a consequence, Esalen people tend to be very good at expressing their feelings and living in the moment, but not so good at clear thinking or breaking through conceptual stereotypes.  They connect well with their Inner Child, but give that child few tools for growing up.  Grade: D.



Technology Processes are activities that explain, examine, demonstrate, operate, or discuss the implications of, any practical device or mechanism.  They promote a sense of competence and empowerment, an expanded perspective, a mobilization of creative energy, and an optimism that one can function beyond perceived limits.

{     Esalen Process.  [Most unnecessary technology reduced or eliminated.  Minimal use of: TV, telephones, recorded music, computers, cars]

       Evaluation/Grade. Esalen advocates direct encounters with life whether with oneself, ones group, or ones natural surroundings.  Very rightly, technology is viewed as an interference or distortion, which obscures direct experience or communication.  Therefore, technologies are limited to what is necessary for basic practical functioning.  Grades: D (using technology), A- (avoiding technology).



Explanation Processes are activities that point out, discuss, clarify, give reasons for, or place in context any external or internal phenomenon we may encounter.  Covers the full spectrum from casual curiosity to focused inquiry.  Although informative, they may lack the rigor of Logic (#20) or the certainty of Science (#22). These activities instill a sense of curiosity, a spirit of inquiry, and a conviction that the world makes sense.

{     Esalen Process.  Philosophical & Scientific Inquiry (no current workshops).

       Evaluation/Grade. Since Esalen is by nature right-brain experiential rather than left-brain abstract, thinking is sometimes viewed as a kind of pathology.  Esalen people tend to live life, rather than attempting to analyze it or understand it.  Thought- or discussion-based programs are generally not popular here, and are more readily found in a university setting.  Grade: C.


Structuring & Order

Structuring & Order Processes are activities that promote a sense of order, and develop the capacity to structure increasingly-complex wholes. They enable us to coordinate, interpret, and make sense out of the multiplicity and diversity around us. They engender a sense of stability, of tangible relationship, of empowerment.

{     Esalen Process.  [Included in #28 (Creative Expression and Visual Arts), as well as #s 11-14]

       Evaluation/Grade.  For Seminarians, Visual Arts provide a variety of media for structuring complex wholes with aesthetic and emotional significance.  For W/S and Staff, the whole system of the Esalen operation is one vast lesson on structuring a complex organization.  In general, however, Esalen emphasizes feelings and expression, at the expense of structure and function.   Grade: B.




Socio-cultural Processes are experiences with human groups -- ranging from pairs, to teams, to workgroups, to communities, to whole societies.  They enable us to develop competence and effectiveness, to serve others responsibly and generously, and to appreciate the deeper significance of human culture.

       Theme Evaluation.  Esalen is good at developing basic skills for functioning in an organization.  It also develops an appreciation of the social, spiritual, archetypal qualities of diverse cultures.  Esalen is not so good at teaching their people to become self-sufficient, to cope with society at large, and to apply Esalen-related skills in the outside world.   Overall Grade: B-


Archetype & Myth

Archetype & Myth Processes are myths, legends, or creative works that illustrate and enact foundational and archetypal features of a culture including heroic characters and core values.  They allow us to identify with that culture, to emulate those heroes, and to take pride in their virtues and achievements.

{     Esalen Process.  [Included in #33 (Myth, Ritual, Shamanism) and central to the Esalen view of life].

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen honors many cultural traditions at a deep mythic level with Eastern, Native American, and Latino traditions emphasized over Western Culture.  For those of European descent, there is little opportunity to explore and appreciate ones own cultural heritage.  Grade: B



Acculturation Processes are experiences that expose us to and initiate us into the cultural practices and traditions of the broader society.  They also expose us to -- and allow us to participate in -- alternative practices and ceremonies from other cultures.  Acculturation Processes encourage flexibility, multiple-perspective thinking, and emotional generosity.

{     Esalen Process.  [Reflected in the diverse Esalen population, and the diverse cultural traditions from which Workshop material is drawn]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen is a multi-colored dream coat of nationalities, cultural traditions, socio-economic strata, and ideologies both among Seminarians and Staff.  However, Esalens all-pervasive ethos and mystique often undervalues, ignores, stereotypes, or dismisses traditional Western values, and other worldviews or ideologies not its own.  Grade: B+.


Ethics & Service

Ethics are the principles we derive from a system of values.   Service activities are the actions we take on behalf of others, as a result of our Ethics.  Ethics & Service Processes emphasize unconditional giving and sharing.  They allow us to express love, appreciation, and generosity without expectation of benefit and to give back to society for all the blessings we ourselves have received. They create a feeling of satisfaction, self-worth, and significance.

{     Esalen Process.  Social & Political (2, 0.8%).

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen was founded with a vision for changing the world.  Since then, hopes and expectations have diminished, but Esalen continues its commitment to cutting-edge social, political, and environmental issues.  Specific Workshops on such topics have generally not been popular, but many presentations and discussion groups address such issues.  Grade: B.


Enterprise & Leadership

Enterprise Processes are self-originated endeavors that provide goods or services in exchange for compensation.  Leadership Processes prepare us to guide an enterprise.  Includes going into business for oneself.  Also includes activities that prepare us to operate an enterprise competition, sales training, etc.  Enterprise Processes allow us to choose our own work, to regulate our own time and effort, and to take charge of our own future.  They create a sense of independence, security, self-sufficiency, and empowerment.

{     Esalen Process.  Economics, Business, & Workplace (9, 3.7%).

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen does well on structure (#s 11-13), but not so well on enterprise.  W/S and Staff can sometimes become group leaders, or massage therapists, or department managers but otherwise, there a few opportunities for increased leadership and virtually no career track.  Because Esalen has few mechanisms for structural change, the few efforts at initiative or entrepreneurship are often not adequately recognized or encouraged.  For Seminarians, there is little opportunity to develop group-leadership skills, or to take a leadership role in a group.  Grade: C-.



Responsibility Processes are reciprocal activities -- where we are accountable for the performance of duties or tasks, in exchange for certain privileges or benefits.  They allow us to achieve full membership in a group by contributing to its maintenance and development.  Responsibility gives us a sense of security, of belonging, of importance and significance.

{     Esalen Process.  [Seminarians learn to accept responsibility for their own psychological condition and the consequences of their actions.  W/S & Staff learn responsibility for meeting practical objectives.]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Mature acceptance of responsibility is a major reason Esalen has survived so long.  Seminarians learn not to play the blame game.  W/S and Staff learn to perform practical tasks at high competence, and to motivate other to do the same.  Practical responsibilities are clear and explicit, but often at a low skills level.  Opportunities for increased responsibility within the Esalen community are very limited.  Grade: B.


Habits & Programming

Habits & Programming Processes are activities that transform transient actions or skills into standardized, routine patterns of behavior.  Includes: Repetition, routines, practice, conditioned response, internalization, self-regulation.  They make mundane tasks more efficient, free attention for more interesting and important concerns, and engender satisfaction in the ordinary activities of life.

{     Esalen Process.  [Seminarians: Protocols of Group Process.  W/S & Staff: Learning the systems and skills of the Esalen operation]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen has outlasted many counterculture groups because it has learned the lessons of successful organizations the necessity for rules, structure, processes, and boundaries to support its ambience and vision.  W/S and Staff work within a very clear and explicit system of tasks and behavior.  Seminarians learn the patterns and protocols of effective Group Process.  Aside from these, few routine behaviors are learned to prepare one for the outside world.   Grade: B.



Skills Processes are activities that teach us how to make something, or to do something either at the physical or mental level.  They promote a sense of competence, confidence, and effectiveness.

{     Esalen Process.  Professional Growth  & Training (15, 5.8%).

       Evaluation/Grade. Both Work/Study and staff employment teach many practical, hands-on activities that develop particular skills and give a satisfying sense of competence.  The Workshops also provide invaluable self-awareness and communications skills, as well as limited career training.  Esalen offers few skills that enable one to function and prosper in the outside world, while maintaining ones own authenticity and integrity.  Grade: B-.



Physical-world Processes are encounters with material reality.  These experiences enable us to connect our inner mental processes with the external world of our perceptions and actions.  They allow us to perceive the world more accurately, to engage with it more effectively, and to appreciate its intricacy, multiplicity, and beauty.

      Theme Evaluation.  With its emphasis on the Now, Esalen is outstanding for any direct encounter with the physical world.  With its emphasis on the body, Esalen is great at anything that involves physical movement or sensations.  Through its W/S and Staff programs, Esalen is also good at life experience, so long as it does not involve coping with the outside world.  Overall Grade: B+.


Nature & Environment

Natural Environment Processes are experiences that allow us to observe, study, imitate, appreciate, and make use of the world of nature.  They allow us to experience and resonate with the rhythms, order, and harmony of all natural processes -- and to feel comfortable and confident in the natural part of ourselves.

{     Esalen Process. Nature, Ecology, & Sustainability (7, 2.7%)

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen is about as close as we will find to an earthly natural paradise sea, mountains, hot springs, waterfall, lush vegetation, succulent produce.  Only a few Esalen Workshops offer much connection to the surroundings, but every free moment is bathed in natures glory.  As you emerge from your Workshop cave, your stripped senses absorb nature with every pore.  Grade: A-.


Life Experience

Life Experience Processes are experiences that engage us with the situations and activities of real, everyday life.  Includes real-world exploration, trial-and-error, hard knocks, benign neglect.  Such experiences enable us to try things out, to learn by experience, to profit from our successes and mistakes.  They engender groundedness, connection, confidence, and empowerment.

{     Esalen Process.  [Major component of Work/Study Program and Staff employment]

       Evaluation/Grade.  A Seminarian in an Esalen Workshop is detached from the undercurrent of Esalen life the growing, the cooking, the serving, the cleaning, the building.  By contrast, the Work/Study participant (or Staff member) engages in the very fabric of Esalen life and therefore shares all its practical challenges and emotional ebbs and flows.  However, Esalen is not as good at preparing its members for the outside world, and offers few resources-- even during the often-difficult transition to the outside.  Grade: C+


Physical Activity

Physical Activity Processes are activities that engage the whole body in vigorous, natural movement.  At best, they arise from strong internal emotions, rather than superficial bodily actions.  They enable us to experience ourselves as present and real, and engender a sense of groundedness, self-confidence, and effectiveness. 

{     Esalen Process. [Key feature of most Esalen programs.  See especially #28 (music/rhythm/dance), #29 (all), & #33 (yoga)]

{      Evaluation/Grade.  At Esalen, experience arises from the body, and the body expresses its experience through movement.  Consequently, Esalen explores virtually every form of growth-related movement, and incorporates movement into virtually every form of growth.  Physical movement at Esalen generally arises from the exuberance and enjoyment of the event, rather than mere bodily activity.    Grade: A.


Sensory Experience

Sensory Processes are activities that engage our five senses in experiences with the physical and physico-emotional worlds.  They give us a strong appreciation of, orientation to, and connection with external reality along with the capacity to trust our own responses and perceptions.

{     Esalen Process.  [Core ingredient in most Esalen programs and in the Esalen way of life]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Sensory experience is a key building-block of the Esalen program.  It is the touchstone of Esalen authenticity, and is ingrained in every aspect of Esalen life.  Sensory experience is built into virtually every Workshop or presentation, and one is constantly surrounded by a banquet of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.  At Esalen you get out of your head and come to your senses.  Grade: A.



Foundational Processes are the fundamental experiences upon which all future growth is built. They are basic to our physical health, our emotional well-being, our capacity to relate to others, our ability to engage effectively with the real world, and our capacity to know and express ourselves.

      Theme Evaluation.  The Esalen community provides a rich and intricate network to support any kind of growth endeavor.  Esalens emphasis on both Nurturing and Sexuality provide a strong foundation for other growth experiences.  The absence of a fully-developed Family Model deprives that community of adequate guidance and direction, and secure long-term relationships.  Esalens commitment to natural nutrition, and its favorable though limited appreciation of natural medicine, provide a solid bodily foundation for growth.  Overall Grade: B.


Family Dynamics

Family Dynamics Processes are experiences that promote connection, appreciation, and mutual support among family members or family-like groups.  They provide a sanctuary of love and comfort, a pattern for future social relationships, and a set of role models for mature behavior.

{     Esalen Process.  Children/Families/Education (9, 3.7%).  [Also covered in #31 (Relationships) as well as in the Group Process of all Esalen Workshops, and Esalen life in general]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Many people come to Esalen seeking some form of family.  They may reject or feel alienated from their original biological families, and seek alternative structures where the family ambience can be revived.  Esalen people tend to form strong horizontal bonds of community, but very tenuous bonds of authority except with psychological or spiritual gurus.  As a result, the Esalen community sometimes reminds one of the Lost Boys of Peter Pans Neverland closely attached, but lacking the nurturing of a supportive mother or the guidance of a wise father.  Few Workshops are offered on family dynamics or child-rearing, and (except for Gazebo) children have very limited place in the Esalen growth community.  Grade: B-.


Sexuality & Sensuality

Sexuality is an intimate physical Relationship, where each party experiences intense arousal and release.  Sensuality is the pervasive experience of bodily pleasure in a moderate state of arousal.  Both Sexuality and Sensuality provide the most intense and all-encompassing experience of physical aliveness, pleasure, and intimate connectedness.  Gender explores the characteristics and behaviors of the male and female genders.

{     Esalen Process.  Relationship/ Communication (18, 6.9%)

      Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen Workshops on Sexuality are generally tasteful, but helpfully explicit.  The Esalen environment is highly-charged with an almost palpable aura of sexual and sensual feeling.  Most residents and guests are exceptionally comfortable with their bodies and evince that confidence at the zen-like hot baths, the frenzied dancing and drumming, the etheric yoga sessions, and the gritty garden experience.  However, the world of sex and senses is generally viewed as evanescent and fleeting so there is little opportunity for momentary pleasure to build into long-term Relationship (#4). Grade: A-.


Relationships & Marriage

Relationships are peer relationships between relative equals such as friends, teammates, co-workers, or lifelong partners.  Marriage is a formal agreement to remain in Relationship permanently, or for an extended time.  Relationships provide a reciprocal growth mechanism where each party is highly invested in the growth of the other, and where each participates empathetically in the others growth.

{     Esalen Process.  Relationship/ Communication (18, 6.9%)

      Evaluation/Grade. Esalen has far more respect for the marital or paired bond than in times past, and there is far less predatory behavior.  Although Esalen encourages long-term relationships, growth is conceived primarily as an individual process not as a partnership between complementary natures.  Relationships among Workshop participants are generally strengthened by the Esalen experience.  However, long-term or lifelong relationships among Staff or long-term residents are still the exception. Grade: B-.


Nurturing & Bonding

Nurturing and Bonding Processes are activities that satisfy our needs for basic emotional sustenance and intimate connection with loved ones.  They promote stability, security, and self-confidence.  They support the capacity for warm, open, intimate, and caring relationships later in life.  Nurturing & Bonding generally occurs between unequal parties, often a parent and a child one of whom is the primary Giver, and the other the primary Receiver.  (For Peer Bonding, see Relationships #4.)

{     Esalen Process. [Covered in #31 (Relationships subcategory) as well as in the Group Process of all Esalen Workshops, and Esalen life in general].

       Evaluation/Grade. Esalen has great care and respect for the Inner Child, and makes its whole environment highly nurturing.  However, since the parental role is weak at Esalen, few members of the Esalen community are qualified to provide adequate emotional support.  In Workshops, leaders are often good nurturers but both the nurturing and the group bonding tend to evaporate rapidly once the group disbands.  Grade: B.


Natural Medicine

Natural Medicine Processes are treatment practices that prevent illness and restore physical health - by mobilizing the bodys natural capacity to regulate and heal itself.   They produce the vigor, clarity, responsiveness, and harmony that support all other Processes.

{     Esalen Process.  Health & Healing (18, 6.9%)

       Evaluation/Grade.  Natural medicine is too broad and too diverse a field for Esalen to cover adequately.  Consequently, Esalen limits its medical Modalities to full-body healing techniques that are highly experiential.  Their introductory and professional Workshops in these fields are highly engaging and informative.  Grade: B-.


Natural Nutrition

Natural Nutrition Processes provide natural, whole foods containing all the chemical building blocks for physical and mental development, without the toxic residue. They produce heath, vigor, aliveness, responsiveness, and endurance.

{     Esalen Process.  [Daily organic produce from garden; natural, unprocessed, whole food in the dining room; many dishes made from scratch; fresh-baked breads]

       Evaluation/Grade.  Esalen has a strong commitment to natural, unprocessed, healthy and delicious foods.  Budget constraints sometimes limit expensive ingredients such as meat protein -- causing overuse of starches, soups, and other extenders.  Quality of cuisine can be irregular, depending on the skills and tastes of chef on duty.  Grade: B+



HUGH MARTIN.  Hugh Martin is listed in Whos Who in America and Whos 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] In her more recent Workshop offerings, Esalen is beginning to take positive steps in these directions.

[2] For a more detailed outline of the Processes offered by Esalen, see Table E in the Appendix.

[3] See Why Esalen?, page 27.

[4] For a more detailed evaluation of Esalens offerings, see Appendix B, The Esalen Report Card, page 80.

Here and afterwards, we assign grades to Esalens performance not because we feel qualified to pass judgment on such a venerable and respected institution, but because its an effective and attention-catching way to highlight the points we are making.  Obviously, nothing as rich and complex as the Esalen experience can be adequately summarized by a mere letter grade. 

[5] See EsalenShowcase for Human Potential, page 29, and Esalen to ITP, page 31.

[6] See Appendix A2: The Programs of Esalen, as well as the section Esalen Strengths and Shortcomings, page 25.

[7] Esalen is beginning to rectify this deficiency in the current catalog, where a whole new category called Children/ Families/ Education contains nine Workshop offerings.  In addition, Esalen does offer a valuable program for pre-school children called Gazebo. 

Esalens child-absent atmosphere is a contrast, for example, to the growth-oriented teen camps of her East Coast rival, Omega Institute.

[8] Contrast Wilbers upward emphasis on mental understanding and spiritual enlightenment.

[9] For a more detailed exposition of all 35 Processes as offered by Esalen -- showing representative Modalities and Topics, and sample Workshops -- see Table F, Esalens Processes of Growth.  For a thorough explanation of our original 33  Processes (two more were added later), see our companion article The Processes of Growth.

[10] As mentioned before: Here and elsewhere, we assign grades to Esalens performance not because we feel qualified to pass judgment on such a venerable and respected institution, but because its an effective and attention-catching way to highlight the points we are making.  Obviously, nothing as rich and complex as the Esalen experience can be adequately summarized by a mere letter grade.  See also, footnote 38, p. 33.

[11] The recent introduction of two Permaculture (sustainable gardening, etc.) modules into the Work/Study program is a very positive step for all Formal Investigation Processes.