Dear Humans With Hang-Ups:

On a jagged outcropping of California’s breath-taking Big Sur coastline, the Esalen Institute offers experimental workshops to help free its well-heeled patrons of their hang-ups. Named after an Indian tribe that formerly roamed its 110-acre site, Esalen explores “trends in the behavioral sciences, religion, and philosophy which emphasize the potentialities and values of human existence.” A main objective: to break down people’s inhibitions and replace them with joy.

When I strode upon the institute’s grassy knoll, I saw three men and a woman huddled in one gigantic embrace with eyes closed and hands caressing one another’s heads and bodies. Nearby, a bearded man gently led a closed-eyed girl down a rocky path to the hot spring mineral baths. All were involved in new types of human encounter and sensitivity training. Such activities are a part of Esalen’s emphasis on touching and cuddling, exposure of one’s deepest secrets and dreams, psychodrama, sharpening of the senses, and exploration of the sexual, communicative, and mystical realms.

The seminars held in Big Sur and San Francisco draw heavily upon the meditative principles of Eastern religions and the interaction emphasis of Gestalt psychology. Most five-day workshops including lodging and meals cost $165; two-day, $65. The fall line-up of over 100 courses includes some dandies. “Psychological Karate” will increase one’s tolerance for conflict, anxiety, and frustration (a chop to the super-ego, a lunge at the id?). “Couples and Lovers’ Marathon” will involve participants in a 24-hour day-night group session. “The Scientific Study of Reincarnation” will study fifty reincarnation cases and disembodied consciousness. “The Hang-ups and Hopes of Emergent ...

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