Offering

Reimagine your intentions with Begin Again: The Dancing Path of Renewal Jan. 5-10.

About

  • Who We Are

    A community of practice. A place of pilgrimage. An integral learning environment devoted to pioneering deep change in self and society; in heart, spirit, and bodymind. Esalen is where seekers serve seekers, and where the veil between what is actual and what is possible is as thin as mist.

  • Everyone is capable of the extraordinary.

    Unleashing latent capacity, individually and collectively, infuses everything Esalen does--both in the wildly alive environment of Big Sur and in our research, initiatives and conferences around the world. With a playful spirit and fierce intellectual honesty, we pursue greater adventures of consciousness and a new “metanormal.”

  • Doug Ellis

    We wear dogmas lightly.

    At Esalen we walk away from orthodoxies and gurus. We ask big questions of each other and of the world in a spirit of optimism, good-heartedness and a tenacious belief in human progress. People from every walk of life tell us it’s the freest, most creative environment they’ve ever experienced.

  • Transformation is messy. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Esalen is not where you find flashy , easy-to-digest “self-help” packages. This is not where you say, “Esalen, tell me what to do.” Whether you come for a modern day vision quest or to process personal pain, we offer you the crucible and catalyst, and world class workshop leaders whose integrity and skills embody the highest standards of practice.

  • Kodiak Greenwood

    Lovingly imagined and intensely relational.

    We are small design; transformation can’t be mass-produced. But our approach to teaching, learning, and growth is expansive and ever-evolving. Ultimately, everything at Esalen nourishes one goal: to make your experience here revelatory with each visit, no matter where you are on life’s journey.

  • Chris Franek

    This is not a quiet place.

    We are, strictly speaking, a holistic learning and retreat center.  But Esalen at times can be conspicuous and rambunctious. People tell us that their capacity to listen multiplies, their ability to think vaults, and their willingness to consider other possibilities comes alive here.

  • You can take it with you.

    Whether you come to Esalen as a seminarian, conference attendee, work scholar, or workshop leader, you leave knowing you can put yourself and the world together in new ways.  You gain a newfound willingness to “lean in” and a bigger, richer toolkit of communication and leadership skills.

  • Esalen DNA and the public conversation

    Many of the most interesting and innovative ideas in progressive mainstream culture started with thinking that emerged at Esalen--from the broad acceptance of yoga and meditation and the integration of ancient Eastern medicine into Western medical practice to the growing body of science proving the existence of a mindful universe where science and mysticism live in harmony.

About

About Esalen

Our Story

Esalen Hot Springs at Sunset

Esalen. The word itself summons up tantalizing visions of adventure, of unexplored frontiers, of human possibilities yet to be realized. There is the wonder of the place itself, 120 acres of fertile land carved out between mountain and ocean, blessed by a cascading canyon stream and hot mineral springs gushing out of a seaside cliff. There is the delicate and subtle Big Sur air of a late afternoon in May, the midnight mist of July, and the drenching February rain. There are October nights so clear the Milky Way can light your walk along the darkened garden path. And always there is the sound of the sea.

And then there are the people — the people who live there and love the land, and the 750,000 more who have come from all over the world to participate in Esalen's 50-year-long Olympics of the mind, heart, body, spirit, and community, committing themselves not so much to “stronger, faster, higher” as to deeper, richer, more enduring in the fellowship of other seekers.

They come for the intellectual freedom to consider systems of thought and feeling that lie beyond the constraints of societal norms. They come to re-discover ancient wisdoms in the rhythms and tides of the body, and poetry in the pulsing of life itself. They come to rediscover the miracle of self-aware consciousness. Often they come away inspired by a fierce desire to learn and keep on learning through all of life, and beyond.

Esalen is a place with a global reach. In the words of Thomas Wolfe about America, It is a place where miracles not only happen, but where they happen all the time.

Welcome to Esalen
Big Sur, California

For a longer and more complete version of the Esalen story, please read Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal.

Executive Leadership

The Esalen Leadership Team

Terry Gilbey, General Manager and CEO  

Terry Gilbey is a seasoned executive who has worked in both for profit and nonprofit organizations leading change, bringing stability, and empowering organizations to step into their full potential. While his primary focus has been solving complex problems within organizations and teams, he also has started companies from the ground up. Terry retired from the corporate world 10 years ago and first came to Esalen as a work scholar. He later returned as an extended student, and then remained on with a handful of community members during the Institute's closure. At that time, he worked in the Esalen Kitchen and supported the management team as they worked through the complex task of re-opening. Terry was named General Manager to oversee and support daily operations and, in January of 2018, took on the additional responsibility for Programming, Human Resources, and Marketing and Communications. 

Terry strives to maintain an attitude of continual learning, leadership trustworthiness, and personal authenticity. He has experience and a proven track record in transforming organizations, projects, and people through a focus on continuous improvement, integration, and adoption of industry best practices and processes, effective team-building and collaboration, customer satisfaction, financial responsibility, and cross-functional relationships. Having lived and worked in multiple regions of Europe, North America, and Asia, Terry also values how geographic and cultural diversity can broaden perspective and strengthen a team.

Gordon Wheeler, President

Gordon Wheeler is a licensed clinical psychologist with extensive experience in his field along with a history in teaching and consulting with nonprofits on such topics as mission development and strategic planning. The author of numerous books and articles in the field, Gordon is noted for his work integrating the Gestalt tradition with relational and developmental psychology. His focus includes child and lifelong development and education, individualism, gender issues, and the dynamics of intimacy and shame. Gordon's writings also have centered on values and cultural psychology, including multi-cultural issues and post-Holocaust studies. His work has been translated into more than a dozen foreign languages. He teaches and trains clinicians around the world, and also serves as editor and director of GestaltPress (a logo of Taylor & Francis publishing group). Together with his wife Nancy Lunney Wheeler, Gordon has pioneered Gestalt Relational Constellations, integrating Systems Constellations work with Gestalt-based client experiments. Nancy and Gordon have seven children and numerous grandchildren. When not at Esalen they make their home in Santa Cruz, California.

Douglas Drummond, Director of Healing Arts and Somatics

Douglas Drummond brings more than 15 years of international hospitality experience to Esalen in his role as Director of Healing Arts and Somatics. A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, he is also a certified health coach as well as a certified teacher in Heart of Yoga and 5Rhythms. Prior to joining Esalen, Douglas was the Director of Wellness at Amanyara in Turks & Caicos and previously served as a General Manager and Business Development Director for Lumeria Maui. He is originally from New Zealand and currently makes his home in Big Sur with wife, Lucia Horan, and their daughter. He holds a senior red belt in Kung Fu/Tai Chi and enjoys free diving and surfing.

Cheryl Fraenzl, Director of Programs   

With a strong commitment to personal growth and social transformation, Cheryl Fraenzl has served as the Director of Programs for Esalen Institute since 2006. Cheryl has work in a leadership capacity supporting emerging ideas through the Wellbeing Project, Esalen Program Ambassadors, the Holistic Centers Network, and numerous other strategic partnerships. Prior to Esalen, Cheryl focused on transformative education as well. For more than five years, she worked as the Central States Regional Manager for Programs Abroad for AFS International Exchange Programs. For more than three years, she was the Director of Volunteer Development for the Girl Scouts of San Francisco Bay Area and for more than five years she served as the Program Coordinator at the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce Business/School Partnership program. Cheryl resides in Carmel, California, where gardening, beekeeping, and meditation play a major role in her life.

Ian Johnson, Manager of IT

Ian Johnson provides vision and direction to the use and integration of developing technologies into Esalen’s core purpose and activities. He is responsible for managing all aspects of information technology, telecommunications and technology physical plant at Esalen. After getting his first taste for technology at the dawn of the personal computer revolution in the late 1970s, Ian has focused his professional practice area on building the technological capacity of the organizations he’s worked at with an eye to endless possibilities. He has worked as an IT and leadership professional for more than 30 years, working in nonprofit, corporate, private consulting and government sectors, but focused on public service organizations and the societal good. He has worked as Director of Technology for the world’s largest airport management consulting firm, IT Director for a mid-size public school district in northern California, and as an analyst, developer and network engineer for several software and hardware companies. Personally, Ian has been involved in public safety and community emergency preparedness for more than 20 years and is a volunteer firefighter and emergency manager in California.

Stephanie Lewis, Director of Guest Services

As Esalen’s Director of Guest Services, Stephanie Lewis is committed to providing exceptional service for the more than 12,000 seminarians and students who visit the Institute annually. She is the former Director of Rooms at Sanctuary Beach Resort and has a breadth of experience working for Monterey and Carmel area hotels such as the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa and Bernardus Lodge. Stephanie returns to Big Sur having previously served as Ventana Big Sur’s Director of Guest Services. In this position, Stephanie played a leadership role in helping the hotel re-open after the area’s closure in the 2017. 

Lori Putnam, Director of Marketing and Communications 

A highly skilled communicator with a proven ability to align creative and innovative concepts with clear strategy, Lori Putnam manages all aspects of Esalen’s marketing efforts including executive communications, branding, donor relations, and workshop enrollment. She has more than 20 years’ experience working in the higher education, nonprofit, and technology industries where she honed her skills in storytelling and stakeholder engagement. She is a former speechwriter with extensive experience in crisis communications. A graduate of the University of Southern California, Lori earned her bachelor’s degree in Journalism and her master’s degree in Communications Management from the Annenberg School of Communication. She is an advocate for neurodiversity and supporting the integration of social skills training and mindfulness practices in elementary and middle schools.

Tatyana Sanikovich, Director of Human Resources 

Tatyana Sanikovich is an accomplished human resources professional with 10 years of experience in the hospitality and nonprofit industries. As Director of Human Resources at Esalen, she has served as a proactive change agent to help lead positive culture change and help grow the organization through innovative practices and staff development. Working in collaboration with the leadership team, Tatyana has also led the development of new Human Resources practices and policies to support healthy employee morale for a nonprofit that features a residential staff community. She formerly served as the Human Resource Manager at Carmel Valley Ranch and Human Resources Coordinator at the Quail Lodge Resort and Golf Club. Tatyana is a supporter of Waldorf education and experiencing the larger world through traveling.

Camille Wright, Chief Financial Officer

Camille Wright has more than 30 years of experience in providing insightful fiscal management including budgeting, long-range strategic financial planning, financial forecasting and establishing financial controls and procedures. Prior to joining Esalen, Camille served as Director of Finance and Operations for The Brandeis School of San Francisco where she restructured the organization’s business office and operations and oversaw multiple renovation projects to the campus. She previously served as the Chief Business Officer for The Alexander Dawson School in Las Vegas, Head of School and Chief Financial Officer for Fox Chapel Country Day School in Pittsburg, and was a Founding Principal for a start-up school by Challenger Schools.  She has a MBA from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from CSU Sacramento, and she is active with Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

 

Board of Trustees

  • William Donius

    William Donius

    William Donius facilitates Ideation sessions based on the unique methodology described in his New York Times best-selling book, Thought Revolution. The book is about breaking through complacent, conventional thinking to think differently about the problems faced in life.

    Read the full bio.

  • Bill James

    Bill James

    Bill James is a recognized leader in financial counseling for high net worth clients including investment management, estate planning and charitable tax planning. His driving vision is to see Esalen thrive for future generations, update its buildings, and become self-sustaining, while preserving its special culture.

    Read the full bio.

  • Mary Ellen Klee

    Mary Ellen Klee

    Mary Ellen Klee has been involved with Esalen Institute since 1965 and has served as a trustee since the mid-80s. Her particular interests have been with the Citizen Diplomacy work of  Esalen's Center for Theory and Research as done through Esalen's former Soviet-American Exchange Program, now the Russian American Partnership, and the International Abrahamic Network.

    Read the full bio.

  • Jeffrey Kripal

    Jeffrey Kripal

    Jeffrey Kripal, chairman of the Board of Trustees, is a historian of religions by training, receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1993. He currently holds the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought in the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University, where he also chairs the department.

    Read the full bio.

  • Nancy Lunney-Wheeler

    Nancy Lunney-Wheeler

    Nancy Lunney-Wheeler, M.A., is known around the world as a pioneering leader in lifelong and integral education for personal and social transformation. From 1981-2010 she served as the director of programming at Esalen, where she continues to serve as a senior advisor.

    Read the full bio.

  • Anisa Mehdi

    Anisa Mehdi

    Anisa Mehdi has served on the board of the Esalen Institute since 2005 and is actively engaged in its International Abrahamic Network. She is an Emmy Award-winning reporter, producer, and filmmaker who has covered religion, the arts, and global affairs in mainstream American media. An Arab-American Muslim, she has helped broaden the scope of reporting on the Middle East and its religious communities for programs such as 60 MinutesNightline, and Frontline.

    Read the full bio.

  • Dave Morin

    Dave Morin

    Dave is an entrepreneur. He is co-founder & CEO of Sunrise whose mission is to cure depression. Focused on bringing together genomics, therapeutics, spirituality, therapy, technology, and design to revolutionize how humans experience depression. He serves on the boards of Esalen and Dwell. He served on the board of Eventbrite through IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, the United States Ski Team through two Olympic Games, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through the three-year, $300M Snohetta expansion.

    Read the full bio.

  • Michael Murphy

    Michael Murphy

    Michael Murphy is a graduate of Stanford University, co-founder of Esalen Institute, founder of Esalen's Center for Theory and Research, and author of numerous novels and non-fiction books.

    Read the full bio.

  • Annabel Teal

    Annabel Teal

    Annabel Teal is a writer and filmmaker. She believes in the power of the arts to challenge conventions and remind us all to pause and bask in moments of candor and beauty. She is particularly interested in envisioning new ways for Esalen to engage with storytellers, to both enhance and facilitate their personal journeys as well as to challenge and aid the way their work can impact the world. In addition to her work at Esalen, Annabel is a longtime supporter of Teach for America, The Tipping Point and charity: water.

  • Gordon Wheeler

    Gordon Wheeler

    Gordon Wheeler is president of Esalen. He is a licensed clinical psychologist with extensive experience in his field along with a history of teaching and consulting with nonprofits on such topics as mission development and strategic planning.

    Read the full bio.

Esalen Founders

Michael Murphy

His zest, energy, humor, and insight have fired up generations of personal reformers and social reformers. To those who know him by reputation he is merely remarkable; to those who have had the pleasure and privilege of knowing him personally, he is transcendent.

Robert Reich

Michael Murphy is cofounder and Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Esalen Institute, and serves as Director of Esalen’s Center for Theory & Research (CTR).

Born and raised in Salinas, California, Murphy graduated from Stanford University in 1952. He lived for a year and a half at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India before starting Esalen Institute in 1962 with his fellow Stanford graduate, Richard Price. In Big Sur, Price and Murphy co-created a magical and magnificent living laboratory on land owned by Murphy’s family. Michael insisted that Esalen focus not only on the wonders that happen for the thousands of people that come to be healed and made whole, but that it also work for social advance in various fields and support fundamental research into the potentials of human nature.

In the 1980s, Michael and his wife Dulce were instrumental in organizing Esalen's pioneering Soviet-American Exchange Program, which became a premier vehicle for citizen-to-citizen relations between Russians and Americans. In 1989, Esalen initiated Boris Yeltsin's first visit to America -- a trip that contributed to Yeltsin's change of heart regarding the United States, capitalism and the future of the Soviet Union. This success led to Esalen citizen diplomacy programs with China, an initiative to further understanding and healing among Jews, Christians and Muslims, and further work on Russian-American relations.

Murphy is director of the Center for Theory & Research (CTR), the groundbreaking research center for Esalen Institute. In addition to serving as Director, Murphy leads a number of CTR initiatives, including one that explores the empirical evidence of post-mortem survival, another to explore encompassing visions of evolution that reconcile scientific and mystical perspectives, and one on meditation research.

Preparatory work for Murphy’s The Future of the Body began in 1977 through the building of an archive that includes more than 10,000 studies of exceptional functioning, which is now housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Murphy's and George Leonard's Integral Transformative Practices (ITP) program has been researched by Stanford’s Medical School and it was this program that inspired their nonfiction book The Life We Are Given. Murphy also co-authored God and the Evolving Universe; In the Zone, an anthology of extraordinary sports experiences; and The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation. Murphy’s novel Golf in the Kingdom was released as a full-length feature film in 2011, and is still a best seller 30 years after it was published. He also wrote three other novels: The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, Jacob Atabet, and An End to Ordinary History.

 

Richard Price

Even though the single principle of how everything happens is great, those who follow the principle know that they are ordinary.

John Heider The Tao of Leadership

Richard Price was co-founder of Esalen Institute with Michael Murphy.

From a Chicago family of business men and women, Dick graduated from Stanford University the same year as Michael although the two did not meet at that time.  After a year of graduate work at Harvard, Dick left due to the lack of clinical emphasis. He joined the Air Force and was stationed in the San Francisco Bay area where he simultaneous studied at the Academy of Asian Studies with Alan Watts and actively explored eastern practices in the midst of the North Beach Beat scene. In the course of this he had a psychotic episode/spiritual emergence, depending on ones point of view, and was hospitalized by the Air Force. Dick emerged from this experience feeling healed and renewed but his parents then maneuvered his commitment to a private institution where he was kept against his will for a year, undergoing electroshock and insulin shock treatments. Finally discharged, deeply affected by the damaging nature of conventional mental health treatment, Dick set about restoring his body and spirit. Moving back to San Francisco, he and Michael met at East-West house, a communal living situation founded by students of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.

With combined resources, shared interests, and mutual respect, Michael and Dick founded Esalen Institute. Agreeing on the need for freedom and innovations in the academic, medical, sociological and religious arenas, they created a space where diverse views could be explored both intellectually and experientially and where no approach would “capture the flag”.  When Michael moved back to San Francisco and established the city branch of Esalen, Dick stayed in Big Sur, continuing to provide core direction to the operational, programming and community aspects of the Institute. His enthusiasm and support helped establish the work of Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, Fritz Perls and Stan Grof. Among others. He was instrumental in bringing Julian Silverman from NIMH and, in collaboration with Dr. Jack Downing, supporting significant research regarding drugless intervention in first break schizophrenia. These diverse interests led to Dick’s formation of Gestalt Practice, a communal approach to developing awareness, which synthesized eastern meditative principles and gestalt structures with a somatic emphasis, which continues to develop and expand through his long-term students.

Dick died in 1985.

Esalen Institute Co-Founders Richard (Dick) Price and Michael Murphy

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Esalen is a major catalyst in the transformation of humankind, working with individuals...

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Esalen is a pioneer on the leading edge of consciousness, where spiritual possibility, intellectual rigor, somatic practice, and sustainable living converge toward an integrated realization of the human potential.

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