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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 seventh 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 Growth Centers and Holistic Growth Situations
Can Support in Your Own Journey to Personal Transformation

Hugh & Kaye Martin

Copyright 2009


This section puts Esalen Institute in context.  It shows that Esalen is a prime example of a structured environment we call a Growth Center for Self-conscious Development.  Such Centers, in turn, represent one of five types of Growth Centers in general – which in turn are just one form of an integrated growth environment we call the Holistic Growth Situation (HGS).  Thus, we can see that Esalen is part of an understructure that supports and implements human growth throughout our society.

Let’s explain this from another angle.  Virtually any life situation can be used to implement our Growth.  At various stages of life, we grow by: learning to crawl, taking our first steps, mouthing our first words, learning to brush our teeth, going to school for the first time, meeting our first date, applying for a job.  However, Growth occurs best when it is intentional, focused, coordinated, and integrated.  Integrated and coordinated Growth is supported most effectively in special clusters of activities we call Holistic Growth Situations (HGS’s).  Of the many varieties of HGS, the Growth Center is especially effective for adult growth at the most advanced levels.  Among the five versions of the Growth Center, the type that most comprehensively supports the integral growth of body, psyche, and spirit is the Growth Center for Self-Conscious Development (often just called ‘Growth Center’ for short).  Among such Growth Centers, Esalen stands forth as the originator and premier example.

The first section on this topic describes the many varieties of Holistic Growth Situations.  The second section discusses the five types of Growth Centers – ending with the very comprehensive Growth Center for Self-Conscious Development, of which Esalen Institute is a prime example.


Holistic Growth Situations (‘HGSs’) are clusters of growth experiences unified under a single theme or objective.  By engaging in one over-arching activity that incorporates numerous interrelated growth-producing experiences, HGS’s leverage our time and effort to produce deep and lasting change. 

HGS’s have several features in common:  They each have a unifying theme or purpose – whether to build a building, or present a play, or obtain a degree, or to raise a child.  They each cover a broad range of Processes, Dimensions, and Participants. They are all deeply experiential – filled with rich array of physical activities and emotional interactions.  They’re all readily adaptable to an Integral approach.

Below are some of the most valuable Holistic Situations, drawn from everyday life.  (Numbers in parenthesis indicate which typical Processes[1] are included in the experience.)

{     Child-Raising.[2]  The Raising of Children is the original and prototypical model for the Holistic Growth Experience.  As we see it, the family (in some form) is the fundamental building block of civilization.  Civilization depends for its perpetuation and improvement on the raising of children.  Over the course of centuries, families have developed at least 35 distinct Processes to implement children’s growth.  Over time, these Processes have been extrapolated beyond children to encompass human growth at all levels of maturity and at all Stages of development.  Thus, child-raising is the original and preeminent source of all growth Processes, the most complete repository of such techniques, and the ideal basis for any growth Program.

{     Creative Grade Schools.  For most children, the Grade School is the child’s first Holistic Growth Experience outside the family.  It’s critical, therefore, as the child’s first major introduction to the outside world.  Children go to school for the explicit purpose of learning various Process-related subjects – reading (#24), math (#21), social studies (#16), and science (#23).  However, in the school environment they encounter many implicit Processes that are equally important to their growth: effective study habits (#12), physical activity out on the playground (#8), planning and orchestrating a wide variety of activities (#21), and the challenge of getting along with others (#16).  In addition, grade schools that are ‘creative’ may offer extensive supplementary Processes: art and music (#28), gardening and nature (#10), an emphasis on personal awareness (#30), and nurturing personal attention (#3) – all of which are important additions to the cluster of growth experiences.

{     Gardening.  As a growth experience, Gardening is especially valuable in ‘grounding’ our identity in the natural world and ‘growing’ our sense of self-worth.  Gardening is an especially gratifying Holistic Experience – because when you’re successful, you literally enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Before you begin, a garden requires lots of Planning and Structuring (#22).  Once your garden gets going, it entails a good deal of Physical Activity (#8) and offers Sensory Experiences (#7) with the Natural Environment (#10).  It’s a big job, so tasks naturally break down among members of the Family (#6) – involving new Skills (#11), Responsibility (#13), and Enterprise & Leadership (#14).  If you’ve planted the right things, and taken care of them properly, there’s the pleasure of sumptuous Natural Nutrition (#1) at the banquet table.

{     Building projects.  As a growth experience, Building Projects are especially valuable in linking socially ‘constructive’ relationships with a tangible product representing order, proportion, and permanence.  Building projects on all scales, whether a simple bathroom remodel or constructing your dream-house, draw together numerous activities and Processes.  Building involves lots of Planning (#22), Structure (#18), Technologies (#19), Skills (#11), and Physical Activity (#8) – but also entails teamwork (#6), initiative and Enterprise & Leadership (#14), and Communication (#24) – along with the creative ability (#28) to conceive a striking design or an appealing interior.

{     Amateur theater production.  As a growth experience, Amateur Theater Productions are especially valuable in giving us perspective on our Ego (#30) – a recognition that all life is a ‘stage’ on which we are mere players.  A huge range of elements is necessary to pull together a successful school or community theater performance: auditioning (#24), interpreting text (#19), delivering lines (#28), publicity (#14), planning expenses and gate receipts (#2), coordinating tech factors (#20), managing stress (#31), building group unity (#6), and peaking the cast’s energy just as the curtain goes up (#25).

{     Team sports.  Team sports are one the most familiar, pervasive, and effective of all Holistic Growth Situations.  Team Sports provide a challenging Physical Activity (#8) -- and teach useful Skills (#11), such as hitting a ball or catching a pass.  But success in the activity also involves a winning attitude (#14), cooperation and teamwork (#13), sportsmanship (#15), the nutrition (#1) and health (#2) practices needed to sustain maximum exertion, the stories (#26) that grow up around each big win, and the downright fun (#25) of playing a hotly-contested game together.  Done properly, team sports can grow vigorous, highly-motivated, socially-responsible adults.

{     Backpacking. As a growth experience, Backpacking is especially valuable in rearranging our priorities – focusing our attention on the fundamentals that give life sustenance and satisfaction.  Backpacking concentrates our entire life into one bundle (#22) – light enough to carried for several miles, yet substantial enough to sustain all our life needs for several days.  When we set out for a week in some secluded valley or back country lake (#10), we must carry all our sustenance (#1), our comfort (#9), our protection (#8), and our entertainment (#25).

{     Self-sufficient travel.  As a growth experience, Self-sufficient Travel is especially valuable at conveying the variety of ways in which satisfaction and fulfillment in life may be achieved.  Self-sufficient travel is tourism without tour guides or rigid itineraries (#22).  In its hardcore form, the traveler carries just enough cash to get by (#1), and makes his/her living on the move (#14).  Travel with minimal support enmeshes the traveler deeply in the culture (#16), thereby maximizing the learning experience.

{     The workplace.  As a growth experience, the Workplace is especially valuable in conveying how social groups can work together to accomplish remarkable things.  The workplace is a microcosm of life at large – and, at its best, a whole lifestyle that incorporates numerous interrelated activities and Processes.  Work places heavy emphasis on Skills (#11), Responsibility (#12), Enterprise & Leadership (#14), Structure (#18), and Planning (#22).  However, a harmonious and efficient workplace (#6) also incorporates all Dimensions and Processes that cause life to flow smoothly (#9), to accomplish objectives (#22), and to have meaning (#31). 

{     Growth Centers.  For adults in particular, Growth Centers are among the most important and meaningful of all Holistic Growth Situations.  They are described in the following section.


The Growth Center is a very special type of Holistic Growth Situation.  A Growth Center is a place where people with an exceptional interest in a particular growth activity gather together to develop those interests.  Over the course of centuries, at least five types of Growth Center have developed:

{     The Monastery.  A Monastery is a place where people with a special sensitivity to spiritual matters gather together to develop those powers.  The monastic tradition is common to many religions and philosophies – including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.  Spiritual development is implemented by specific Spiritual Practices (#33), like prayer, meditation, and chanting – but is also supported by the monastic lifestyle (#16), which may include communal living (#6), rules of behavior (#18), and self-sufficiency for material needs (#14).  A modern version of the monastery, intended to make the monastic experience available to people from the outside world, is the Meditation Center.[3]

{     The University.  A University is a place where young people (and others) with exceptional mental abilities gather to develop their minds and their character -- to equip them to apply those abilities to a particular field of endeavor.  The development of character is accomplished by exposure at a key developmental Stage to a broad range of humankind’s highest accomplishments (the ‘liberal arts curriculum’), and by intimate association with the best and brightest of their generation.  A university focuses on the explicit Processes of many academic subjects – primarily Formal Investigation Processes (#s 18-23) and Self-Expression Processes (#s 24-28).  However, numerous implicit Processes are included as part of University life – sports (#8), campus social dynamics (#6), adjusting to individual differences (#16), and helping others (#15).

Universities have in some cases degenerated into multi-versities (where one learns only one specialty) or into training schools (where one is trained for a particular occupation) – but the original holistic tradition is still maintained in the small Liberal Arts College.  A modern version of the growth-related university is the Alternative University – where growth-related subjects like psychology and spirituality are the prime focus of study, and where such personal practices are actively encouraged.[4]

{     Health Centers.  A Health Center is a place where people with a particular concern for their health and well-being gather to heal or revitalize themselves.  Derived from the traditional European health spa, modern Health Centers include a diverse array of detox centers, weight-reduction programs, clothing-optional retreats, and beauty spas.

{     Intentional Communities.  An Intentional Community is a place where people committed to a particular social, political, or spiritual vision gather to form a long-term community embodying those principles and values.  Such Communities have a long and important history in the United States – going back to the Amish, the Mormons, and even to the original Pilgrims.  The modern world has seen a proliferation of Intentional Communities of all persuasions – including communes, kibbutzim, ashrams, and cohousing.  Many of the Growth Centers of various types listed in this section are structured as Intentional Communities.

{     The Growth Center for Self-Conscious Development.  A Growth Center for Self-Conscious Development (commonly just called ‘Growth Center’) is a place where people with a particular sensitivity for growth gather to participate in Self-Conscious Development Practices (#s 29-33) and Self-Expression Practices (#s 24-28) for the explicit purpose of implementing their growth.  These explicit Processes are supported by a wide variety of implicit Processes inherent in the lifestyle of the Growth Center.  Such centers only became possible when Humanistic Psychology made Self-Conscious Development Processes available to normal people, at all Stages and in all Arenas of life.[5]  Esalen Institute was the first such Growth Center and still a foremost exemplar.[6]


Ken Wilber

{     Wilber, Ken 2006. Integral Life Practice Starter Kit.  Louisville, CO: Sounds True Publications.
Structured, easy-to-follow introduction to the major modules of ILP – consisting of 5 DVDs, 2 CDs, and 3 booklets.  Expensive for what you get, but much cheaper than a series of Integral Institute workshops.

{     Integral Institute.  866-603-9456. 
The Place to go for official, endorsed-by-Wilber Integral programs of all sorts.  Basic membership level allows access to Integral Naked recorded interviews, Integral Spiritual Center, Holons Newsletter, I-I Forums, and AQAL Journal.

Sociological analysis

{     Ray, Paul H. and Sherry Ruth Anderson 2000.  The Cultural Creatives – How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.  New York, NY: Harmony/Random House.
Valuable survey of the exciting transformation at work in today’s culture.  Includes chapter on the human potential movement (pp. 169-204).  Brief and somewhat unfavorable reference to Esalen.

Personal journeys

{     Schwartz, Tony 1995. What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America.  Bantam.
This story of the author’s four-year, human-potential odyssey through many Processes of psychology and spirit.  Extensive and laudatory chapter on Esalen.


{     Leonard, George B. and Michael Murphy 1995.  The Life We Are Given.
Introduction to Integral Transformative Practice (ITP) -- a balanced and comprehensive long-term program for personal transformation.  A major influence on Wilber’s ILP.

Histories of Esalen

{     Kripal, Jeffrey J. 2007.  Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion.  University of Chicago Press.
Extensive historical account of Esalen Institute.  Scholarly approach, emphasizing Esalen’s theories and socio-religious implications, rather than its experiential Processes.

{     Anderson, Walter Truett 1983. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the Human Potential Movement: The First Twenty Years Addison Wesley.
A charming, gossipy multiple biography of the curious gurus who spawned Esalen.  Captures the flavor of early Esalen effectively.

Schools of alternative psychology and spirituality

Colleges and graduate programs that teach Processes through alternative psychology and/or spiritual studies.

{     California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS), 
1453 Mission Street, 
San Francisco, CA 94103.  415-575-6100.

{     John F. Kennedy University, Pleasant Hill, California. 94523-4817. 800-696-5358, 925-969-3300.

{     Naropa University, 2130 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder CO 80302.  303-444-0202.

{     Saybrook Graduate School.  747 Front Street, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111-1920.  800-825-4480.

{     Fielding Graduate Institute, 
2112 Santa Barbara Street,
Santa Barbara, CA 93105.  800-340-1099, 805-687-1099.

{     Institute for Transpersonal Psychology (ITP), 1069 East Meadow Circle,
Palo Alto, CA, 94303. 650-493-4430.

Growth Centers

Places to experience a wide variety of Growth Processes in idyllic settings.

{     Esalen Institute, 55000 Highway One, Big Sur, CA.  831-667-3000.

{     Omega Institute, 150 Lake Drive, Rhinebeck, NY 12572.  845-266-4444.

{     Hollyhock, Cortez Island, British Columbia, Canada.  800-933-6339.

{     The Findhorn Foundation (and University),
The Park,
Findhorn Bay,
Moray IV36 3TZ,
Scotland, UK.  +44 (0)1309 691620.

{     Breitenbush Hot Springs,
P.O. Box 578
Detroit, OR 97342.  503-854-3320.

{     Harbin Hot Springs, P.O.Box 1132, Middletown, CA 95461.  800-622-2477, 707-987-2477.

Meditation centers

Places to receive guidance in meditation and other spiritual practices in idyllic settings.

{     Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, 39171 Tassajara Road, Carmel Valley, CA 93924.  415-865-1899.

{     Spirit Rock Meditation Center, P.O. Box 169, Woodacre, CA 94973.  415-488-0164.

{     Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, 1601 Shoreline Highway, Muir Beach, CA 94965.  415-383-3134.  www.sfzc/ggf.



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] See The Processes of Growth above.

[2] Our companion article The Processes of Human Development describes in detail how all 35 Processes can be used to implement each phase of a child’s growth. 

[3] For a list of modern Meditation Centers, see Resources section, p. 110.

[4] For a list of Alternative Universities, see Resources Section, p. 109.

[5] See Esalen and the Development of Integral, page 29.

[6] For the development of Self-Conscious growth Processes, see Esalen and the Development of Integral, p. 29.  For a list of Growth Centers, see Resources Section, p. 109.