BIG SUR – For nearly 60 years, Esalen has welcomed those seeking a higher level of connection with themselves or the world around them. Now the institute is ready to reopen to guests next week with a renewed focus.

The wellness and retreat center has transformed its operation and purpose to create a safe environment for people to unplug, explore, contemplate and forge deeper connections with the self, one another and nature – and to bring that wisdom back to their community, said Esalen Institute leadership.

“2020 has been full of challenges for us all. For Esalen, we were impacted by two major events,” said Terry Gilbey, Esalen CEO. “COVID-19 starting in March and the Dolan Fire, which happened in September. Due to those two events, Esalen has had to remain closed for the majority of 2020.”

As the specter of COVID-19 continues to unfold, along with ongoing political polarization, and wildfires that have continued to ravage the state, people are facing external pressures and futures that are hard to plan for.

Esalen closed its gates in March due to the pandemic, reopened for two weekends, then was forced to close again due to the Dolan Fire, completely evacuating the property.

The institute has seen a silver-lining in its own challenges as it has been given the opportunity to take a look at how it operates and answer the questions of what is important to carry forward and what is no longer serving it.

Esalen is now ready to have its first day with guests on Oct. 26, with a renewed perspective rooted in its past.

“We are embracing the look and feel of the origins of Esalen,” said Gilbey.

When Esalen was founded by Richard Price and Michael Murphy in 1962, they agreed on the need for freedom and innovations in the academic, medical, sociological and religious arenas, creating a space where diverse views could be explored both intellectually and experientially.

“The focus remains exactly the same,” said Gilbey. “Our commitment to helping people explore their human potential in all of its forms remains our north star and guiding light.”

One way Esalen is doing that is through its new “Creating Connection through the Rituals of Esalen.”

The five-day program is an opportunity for two people to create rituals around important life transitions and is designed to help battle isolation, loneliness and social justice issues.

Esalen is known for its spiritual and creative offerings including workshops for personal and social transformation dating back to its early days.

Esalen is situated along the Big Sur coast about 45 minutes south of Monterey along Highway 1 and takes its name from the Native Americans that first called this land home – the Esselen.

Esalen will reopen next Monday after being closed for most of 2020 and is committed to helping people explore their human potential in all of its forms said Terry Gilbey, CEO. (Esalen Institute)

Today, the 120 acres of land, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia mountains, incorporates a canyon stream and hot mineral springs as a backdrop to the rituals of Esalen.

The institute has COVID-19 restrictions in place, is committed to operating safely, following the recommendations of Monterey County and the state, as well as relying on the best practices shared by scientists and medical providers.

“We luckily operate in an environment that allows us to take advantage of mostly being outdoors and easily social distanced,” said Gilbey. “We are running at a decreased capacity from when we are fully staffed and fully booked. When we reopen, it will feel like you have all of Esalen to yourself since it is half as full as it ever was.”

Gilbey said Esalen offers people the opportunity to pause and take stock of what is important in their lives.

“This is an exceptional time to regain a sense of clarity and empowerment, and a rare opportunity to rediscover and reawaken the change agent within each one of us,” he said.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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