Even New Age Looks Old in Crumbling California

How’s this for irony: USA Today is reporting that the Esalen Institute, home of new agey spirituality, is facing a mid-life crisis.  Sort of like the welfare state itself, of which California is a prime example, having decided to adopt a Mediterranean fiscal policy to go along with its Mediterranean climate.

I’ll let USA Today tell some of the best parts:

But today, as this iconic hot springs spa and retreat center celebrates its 50th birthday, a bitter dispute has broken out over its future. Like the many “seminarians” who come here after losing a spouse or a job, Esalen now faces its own midlife crisis. . .

Big Sur was already known in the 1950s as a mecca for beatniks and other bohemians, and Esalen continued that countercultural tradition into the 1960s and 1970s. People came here to study yoga, meditation, and massage; to take psychedelic drugs; and to scream, cry and/or laugh their way through encounter groups with a series of avant-garde psychotherapists and other self-styled prophets of the New Age. . .

Much to the dismay of Murphy, who was the institute’s more intellectual co-founder, Esalen became infamous for hedonistic seminarians who to this day frolic buck naked at the co-ed baths, where outdoor massage tables overlook stone pools — all of it precariously hung over the left-leaning edge of the American continent. . .

What began with a burst of hippie idealism, they say, is turning into a spa for the 1 percent. There’s even some talk of an “Occupy Esalen” protest. . .

Now there’s one Occupy protest I think I’d be happy to join.  As it happens, I kinda sorta tried it once.  I spend a fair bit of time hiking around those parts of Big Sur in the summertime, and I recall being in the area back on the summer day in 1987 that had the whole New Age community in a lather: it was the day of the “Harmonic Convergence,” when the alignment of the planets in our solar system was supposed to herald. . . something.  It was never clear exactly what.  (This was before the Mayan calendar had been decoded clearly identifying 2012 as the end of the world.)

The gatehouse where we were stymied.

So I and my drinking buddies decided to try to crash whatever Harmonic Convergence ceremonies were going on at Esalen.  Naturally we didn’t get past the front gate.  But we did have the following conversation with the gatemaster:

“So—you guys doing anything special for the Harmonic Convergence?”

“No, we’re just observing it quietly from a communitarian perspective.”

“Oh.  Could we astral project ourselves inside, or would that be cheating?”

The gatemaster was not amused.  I think we harshed his mellow.


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