Using The Offerings Of The World’s Greatest Growth Center To Build Your Own Integral Program For Personal Growth
By Hugh & Amalia Kaye Martin

A book-length study on the fabled human potential growth center, Esalen Institute, on Northern California’s dramatic Big Sur Coast. Chapters include:

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.

• Website

• Complete Document (pdf, 8.75MB)

For other excerpts from this study, and for detailed descriptions of other articles by Hugh & Kaye Martin, click here.



Hugh Martin remembers his early years at Esalen:

“I first discovered Esalen in the Spring of 1965, just three years after its founding. I had been diagnosed with advanced-stage Hodgkin’s Disease lymphatic cancer, and given just two years to live. To make the best of my last days on earth, I had dropped the intensive stress of grad school, and traveled via Berkeley to California’s rugged Big Sur coast in search of a new life. With my young wife (a ‘Joan Baez with curves’) and baby daughter, I settled in a little cabin in the Redwoods, only accessible in mid-winter by an undulating suspension footbridge over a raging stream. From there, my family and I commuted to Esalen Institute, for volunteer work developing the grounds of the new Growth Center. While there, we meshed with the Esalen community, and plunged into the Esalen experience ­ brutal hotseats with the the infamous Fritz Perls, soul-stripping encounter groups with the tough-but-caring Will Schutz, graceful Tai Chi ballets with Yoda-like Gia Fu Feng, exuberant dance, throbbing drums, soothing sensory awareness by the baths, searing acid mind-trips on windy ridge-tops, free sex, savage fist fights, and group hugs. Eventually, as my health and stability recovered, I was offered the position of Esalen general manager (by Esalen co-founder Dick Price) — and later, of Perls’ video cameraman ­ both of which I declined in favor of a life back in the ‘real world.’ Through the influence of Esalen, of Gestalt Therapy (Gene Sagan), of Reichian Therapy (Gerald Frank), of my third wife Kaye, and of a generous and forgiving God, my cancer completely vanished, and I went on to lead a happy and successful life. For the magic of Esalen, I’m forever grateful ­ and living proof that it works.”


From Esalen to ITP. Like many idealistic experiments of the 1960’s, Esalen began to unravel a few years after its founding. Things were too loose, too free-wheeling, too experimental. Spontaneity begat recklessness. Freedom begat irresponsibility. There were breakdowns and break-ups, bad trips and bad karma, collapsed marriages and collapsed fortunes — even a suicide limply floating face-down in the hot tub.

Both Mike Murphy and Dick Price, the founders of Esalen, were deeply disturbed by these developments. Each began in the own way to refine the original vision. Among other approaches, Murphy decided to develop a program of growth that addressed Esalen’s deficiencies by meeting four criteria. First, it must be safe: No more abrupt and violent disruptions of marriages, values, egos, and other wholesome, life-sustaining structures. Second, it must produce long-term beneficial results: No more ecstatic experiences, followed by a resounding thud of failed expectations. Third, it must be broadly applicable: No more elitist experiences accessible only to the privileged few. Fourth, it must be fully-diversified: No more one-note therapies that exercise only a single human faculty. Probably influenced by Wilber, the result was a program called Integral Transformative Practice (ITP) ­ a diverse set of activities and practices that produced demonstrable and measurable physical, psychological, and spiritual improvement. ITP was conceived as the first truly Integral growth program.

In our view, ITP is an outstanding Program, but is only one way to integrate the diverse strands of personal growth. In this article, we propose another solution which is adequately safe (although some risk may actually be desirable), can produce a richer blend of long-lasting benefits, has broad (though not universal) applicability, and exercises an even broader and more diversified range of human faculties. We view ITP as a welcome complement to our Program — one that can help give it consistency and staying power.

From ITP to ILP. For many years, Michael Murphy and Ken Wilber have been good friends, and have exerted considerable influence on each other. There are indications that Wilber may have had a number of Esalen or Esalen-like experiences in his own life. Murphy was a founding member of Integral Institute.

Ken Wilber views ITP as an important and effective set of practices, but (one infers) not sufficiently diversified and comprehensive. Therefore, he has developed his own program, Integral Life Practice (ILP) — similar to ITP, but incorporating a broader set of Modules and a broader range of Methodologies. Further, Wilber conceived a whole new growth organization, Integral Institute, which offers an array of growth experiences even broader than ILP.

As is the theme of this article, ILP is an excellent Program, but can be significantly augmented using our ADAPT model. Likewise, Integral Institute appears to be developing into an outstanding Growth Center, but still falls far short of Esalen in many important features.

Thus, Esalen is in the surging mainstream of the entire evolution of growth psychology, from Freud’s psychoanalysis to Wilber’s ILP. Esalen is the original showcase for Maslow’s Third Force, a foremost proponent of the extension of developmental psychology into all Arenas and all Stages of life, and the inception point for Murphy’s ITP, which leads in turn to Wilber’s ILP. Esalen has been central to all these developments, and remains even today at the pinnacle of the Human Potential Movement.



In the keystone article of this series, we posed several provocative questions and suggested some surprising answers:

Is Ken Wilber’s AQAL the best foundation for an Integral program of personal growth? We proposed an alternative model called ADAP2T (All Dimensions, All Processes, All Participants, Together) that is more complete and more differentiated.

Are there four essential Dimensions, as in AQAL — or really at least eight, as in ADAPT? Are there nine basic Process categories, as in ILP — or really at least 35, as in ADAPT? Are both AQAL and ILP sufficiently defined and articulated to be of optimal use as tools for personal growth? And are they sufficiently integrated and coordinated to deserve the title Integral? We described numerous ways in which ADAPT is an improvement on both AQAL and ILP.

Now, applying these premises to the real-world task of personal growth, we pose several more intriguing questions — and offer some unexpected answers:

Are Wilber’s Integral Institute or ILP the best sources or venues for an Integral growth program? As this article suggests, perhaps the richest, the most diverse, the most comprehensive, the most deeply-experienced — in a word, the most Integral — growth program can be constructed from the offerings of that grande dame of Human Potential, Esalen Institute.

For illustrative and dramatic purposes, we have sometimes set Esalen and Integral Institute (or, ADAPT and AQAL) against each other, as if in competition. In fact, the two Programs are valuable complementary endeavors striving toward a common goal of personal evolution.



For some very interesting background information on the history of integral life practices, you can listen to these programs on Integral Naked:

The Shot Heard ‘Round The World’
George Leonard, Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber, Michael Murphy, George Leonard

Part 1. Background (MP3)

Part 2. Understanding States and Stages (MP3)

Part 3. Putting the Multiple Lines of Development Into Play (MP3)