Esalen Archives
      photographs from Esalen in the 1960s
      by Pam Portugal Walatka

     

Photographs from Esalen in the 1960s

Copyright Pam Portugal Walatka

People say if you can remember the Sixties you did not experience them but I took pictures. I lived and worked at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California from 1967 to 1970. I have an archive of photographs and a few super-8 home movies.

Words and photographs fail to convey the essence of Esalen. To know Esalen, you have to make a reservation for a workshop and travel to Big Sur.

These photographs may not be reproduced or used without permission .

photo of PIONEERS POSE after football at Esalen

Esalen Photographic Archive: PIONEERS POSE after football at Esalen, 1969.

This is not a definitive group of Esalen pioneers; it is just a group of guys who posed for me after an exuberant game of touch football on the Esalen oval lawn in 1969.

Mike Murphy, front-row-center, co-founded Esalen after he inherited Big Sur Hot Springs Resort and teamed up with Dick Price, his friend from Stanford philosophy classes, to create an open forum for philosophy, psychology, and spirituality--available to anyone who traveled to Big Sur and signed up for the seminars. He is my favorite philosopher.

Will Schutz (1925-2002) back-row-right, was my boyfriend from July 1967 to June 1970. He made encounter groups famous and wrote a book--Joy--that touched the New York Times Bestseller list (yes, that was a ride). He and Mike were buddies. His concept--talking honestly about your deep emotions in a group--evolved into what we now call support groups. His talent was finding the energy in a group. I had been raised to be honest about everything except emotions, and I did not know how to solve interpersonal problems. I needed to learn emotional honesty. He needed to learn fidelity.

George Leonard (1923-2010) back-row-second from left, was a constant collaborator with Mike. His soaring philosophy and forward thinking had a great influence on the development of Esalen. He inspired us to be astronauts of inner space.

Jack Downing, back-row-left, was a very cool M.D. and Gestalt therapist.

Steven Stroud, front-row-left, was an Esalen Resident Fellow and member of the Esalen Flying Circus, a group of 11 dear friends who gave alarmingly energetic workshops, headed by Will Schutz. (I was the Flying Circus yoga teacher.)

Tom Allen, Ben Shapiro, and Dick Peterson were Esalen Resident Fellows. Tom was an artist and had his family at Esalen, including his young children.

Left-to-right, back row: Jack Downing, George Leonard, Ben Shapiro, Tom Allen, and Will Schutz. Front: Steve Stroud, Michael Murphy, Dick Peterson.

 

Esalen Photographic Archive: Charlotte Selver, 1967

Without Charlotte Selver(1901-2003) Esalen might never have become the fountainhead of mind-body-spirit. Before she introduced body work into the Esalen curriculum, Esalen was just mind and spirit. She taught us Sensory Awareness, the art of paying attention to the information coming from our senses. She would have us sit on the floor and notice how it felt to be touching the floor, pushed up against it by gravity. What exactly were the sensations coming from the parts of the body being squished? The process seemed trivial and boring at first, but changed my life--saved my life actually.

She took a delight in the passing details of existence--such as food--and was thus amazingly fun to have lunch with.

 

photo of Shogaku Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

Esalen Photographic Archive: ROSHI--Shogaku Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, 1967

I don't think Shogaku Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1904-1971) ever gave a public seminar at Esalen, but he came over to meditate with the Residential Fellows, and we hiked over the hill to his place, Tassajara Zen Center, to listen to him talk. He said, "Sit quietly and pay attention to your breathing. Focus your attention on the sound and movement of your breath, without controlling your breath. Thoughts of other things will come along; acknowledge them, but do not invite them in to tea."

 

photo of group hug

Esalen Photographic Archive: ENCOUNTER GROUP HUG, 1968

In encounter groups, people told their deep secrets, usually with emotion. After a person spilled their guts honestly, others were inclined to hug the person. Perhaps the group hug originated at Esalen--I had never seen it anywhere before. Here, clockwise from left, Esalen group leaders Seymour Carter, Will Schutz (1925-2002), and Steve Stroud hug Ben Shapiro, who has just finished "working."

 

photo of Fritz Perls, 1967

Esalen Photographic Archive: FRITZ PERLS at ESALEN, 1967

Fritz Perls(1893-1970) grandfather of Gestalt Therapy in America, on the Esalen pool deck, in his typical jumpsuit and with typical cigarette. His talent was bringing people into an awareness of the current moment--what they were actually doing--seeing the whole picture of the now. Fritz was nasty.

His greatest contribution--through Esalen--was the concept of psychotherapy for normal people. There are many kinds of workshops at Esalen; many of them have nothing to do with psychology, but the psychology workshops have been important. I don't think Fritz set out to invent psychotherapy for normal people--it was just that he was a psychotherapist at Esalen and normal people came to Esalen. Most of the people who attend psychology-based workshops at Esalen are already functioning well in their lives, above normal, and yet find help in group therapy sessions.

 

Esalen: What It Was, What It Is

My Esalen Story

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