|Meditation Hut: Esalen Institute (photo by Judy Tart)|
Rice University scholar of religion Jeffrey Kripal (Authors of the Impossible: the Paranormal and the Sacred, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom) in his recent authoritative history of Esalen Institute has characterized Esalen as a center for "western tantra" and as seeking to promote "a religion of no-religion". One outstanding feature of traditional religions is the notion of superpowers, allegedly possessed by gods, angels, saints and miracle workers. Kripal is interested in superpowers too and, under the auspices of the Esalen Center for Theory and Research, has convened three SuperSymposia on superpowers at Esalen, examining how non-religious superpowers have been portrayed 1) in science fiction, 2) in superhero comics and 3) in metaphysical films such as The Matrix.
This month Jeffrey convened a fourth SuperSymposium on "Superpowers at Esalen", to examine investigations of deep reality that were either initiated or fostered at Esalen, including extraordinary performance in sports, "miraculous" healing and unusual bodily phenomena, mystical, psychedelic and other altered states, nonlocality (''voodoo connections") in quantum physics, reincarnation, mediumistic communication with the dead, ESP and other psychic phenomena, as well as some "miscellaneous maybes"--that defy ordinary categories.
Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy has had an abiding interest in extraordinary sports performance and bodily transformations. Golf in the Kingdom, Jacob Atabet, The Future of the Body and In the Zone: Transcendent Experiences in Sport are a few of Murphy's books on the expanded body. Besides exploring extraordinary body states, Mike and his wife Dulce have initiated several programs in citizen diplomacy. Their reciprocal visits with Boris Yeltsin and other Russians could arguably be said to have contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. This year Esalen is sponsoring similar citizen exchanges between the US and China and a Middle East exchange program called The Abrahamic Family Reunion. At this SuperSymposium, Mike and Dulce recounted many stories about their Russian adventures including tales of interactions with US presidents, CIA and KGB agents as well as with many, many ordinary Russian citizens.
Reinforcing the Murphys' accounts of their adventures in the Soviet Union, cultural scholar Birgit Menzel, from Mainz, Germany. shared her own research on Russian folk culture, focusing on the Russian mystical tradition of shamans, wandering monks and holy fools as well as describing her studies of contemporary upwellings of esoteric spiritual practices in Russia since the fall of the communist state.
Don Hanlon Johnson (Body: Recovering our Sensual Wisdom) a pioneer in the field of Somatics, gave examples of remarkable experiences that can occur during deep massage. Don travelled to Russia with the Murphys, his education as a Jesuit priest giving him privileged access to Russian priests and monks. During our time together, Don Johnson introduced me to two "proofs" of the existence of God by St Thomas Aquinas, that my teachers in high school had failed to impart.
Religious scholar Dana Sawyer drew from his many trips to India, studying and meditating with the Dandi Sadhus, a sect of Hindu Swamis in the Vedanta tradition, to speak of his encounters with various Indian holy men. The bulk of Dana's presentation centered on the life and thought of Aldous Huxley, an influential Western intellectual (Brave New World, Island, The Perennial Philosophy, Doors of Perception) who was strongly influenced by the version of Vedanta he learned from Swami Prabhavananda while the Huxleys were living in Los Angeles. Sawyer, the author of a well-received recent biography of Aldous Huxley, described the role that psychedelics and Eastern philosophy played in Aldous's thinking not too far from one of Esalen's main meeting rooms, named "Huxley" in honor of the part that Huxley played in coining the phrase "human potential" and in inspiring the directions that Esalen would take in its formative years.
Stan and Christina Grof (LSD: Doorway to the Numinous, Spiritual Emergency) talked about psychedelics, spiritual emergence through mental breakdowns and their own way of inducing altered states through Holotropic Breathwork. For more than a dozen years, Stan and Christina were scholars in residence at Esalen, and, like Aldous Huxley, had much to do with shaping Esalen's character. I especially enjoyed sharing time with Stan whom I first met at a conference in Iceland in 1972.
Psychologist Charles Tart (The End of Materialism) and physicist Russell Targ (Limitless Mind: a Guide to Remote Viewing) presented examples of "superpowers" from the field of parapsychology. Russell gave examples of successful remote viewing experiments with untrained subjects, related many remarkable stories of the achievements of talented remote viewers (such as ex-police chief Pat Price), and showed films of psychic experiments with Uri Geller and details of his research on remote viewing at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA.
|Nick Herbert explains quantum non-locality in Esalen's Big House|
Physicist Nick Herbert (Quantum Reality) introduced the group to the "quantum physics code"--Dirac bra-ket notation-- and described two modern "superpowers"--quantum superposition and quantum entanglement--powers possessed by many quantum systems but not even describable in an ordinary world made of "things".
Physicist Elizabeth Rauscher (Orbiting the Moons of Pluto), who has worked with Russell Targ on remote viewing experiments at SRI, presented her model of eight-dimensional spacetime that attempts to make sense of the mind's apparent ability, in certain special situations, to transcend the limits of ordinary four-dimensional experience (3 of space and 1 of time).
In the Wednesday night presentation in "Huxley room" attended by Esalen staff and seminarians, Elizabeth described her founding and hosting at the Berkeley Radiation Lab of a study group that eventually grew to become "the hippies that saved physics", as chronicled in a brand-new book by David Kaiser, professor of science history at MIT. Nick Herbert explained "quantum non-locality" as a kind of invisible physics voodoo, unveiled for the first time in the Esalen community his conception of "quantum tantra", and then ranted in public about something he called "tantric jihad".
Adam Crabtree (From Mesmer to Freud, Trance Zero) is a Toronto psychotherapist and expert on the history of hypnotic induction. He is a charter member of Esalen CTR's long-running Survival Seminars and along with Ed and Emily Kelly is the editor of Irreducible Mind. Ed Kelly is a research psychologist whose current interest is the study of altered states using modern neuro-imaging techniques.
The currently fashionable philosophy of reductive materialism holds that mind is entirely a production of (yet to be discovered) physical processes in the brain. Irreducible Mind by Kelly, Kelly, Crabtree et al is a collection of experiments and experiences which suggest that the mind is more than the brain. And this book of inconvenient facts is 800 pages long. Like Galileo's critics who shunned his telescope, many scientists will refuse to open this book. But the world left Galileo's critics behind and they missed the chance to surf one of intellectual history's biggest waves.
Scott Hulan Jones, an independent film maker, is producing a feature-length film based on Jeffrey Kripal's Esalen: America and the Religion of No-Religion. As part of that project, whose working title is Supernature: the Story of Esalen, Jones and Richard Lacey recorded all of SuperSymposium IV on high-quality digital video. Watch for it soon at a theater near you.
|In my mind's eye, the participants at Esalen SuperSymposium IV|