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This is an essay based on a conversation with Justin Michael Williams, motivational speaker and instructor at the Esalen Institute. This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
When I first came to Esalen in 2014, I thought: how does this place exist?
Esalen is located in Big Sur, California, which is a small mountainous stretch off the coast. It’s a rare place where water coming down from the mountains, hot springs water coming up from the Earth, and water from the Pacific Ocean all collide in the same place. During your orientation here, you will learn that the Esselen, a Native American tribe, have been coming to this place for years because of their belief in its healing powers.
It is therefore no coincidence that this place is spiritual. Years of intentions and prayers have gone into this country.
The stories about Esalen suggest that Silicon Valley executives are flocking to us to clear their minds and face the consequences of the technologies they’ve created.
But I wouldn’t describe Esalen as a place that exclusively offers people spiritual experiences. What we’re really trying to do is help people develop their human potential, which can help increase their productivity and improve their performance.
“I don’t meditate all day” Three bodies of water collide with the land of the Esalen Institute, which is why it has long been revered as a sacred place by the Esselen tribe. Justin Michael Williams
Esalen was founded in 1962 by Michael Murphy and Richard Price, two Stanford graduates inspired by the ideas of psychologist Abraham Maslow and writer Aldous Huxley.
The human potential movement – which posits that there is tremendous untapped potential in people – was born here.
Sixty years later, our goal is still to help high achievers reach their potential.
I would describe myself as a high achiever type A person. For nearly 11 years, I ran a marketing company called SketchbookLA and worked with clients like plastic surgeon Dr. Paul Nassif and Fox Studios. I wrote a book on meditation. I am also a Grammy nominated recording artist.
Now, I like to say that I’m in the business of “transformation”. I travel all over the world to give motivational speeches and I also teach. When I’m not at Esalen, or traveling, my home base is Los Angeles.
But I don’t meditate all day at Esalen – I focus on impact in the world.
I spend about 20 minutes every morning practicing a form of meditation called “Freedom Meditation”. Then I take a shower in the hot springs, get dressed and head for breakfast. A typical breakfast might be bacon, farm-to-table eggs, a fresh croissant, and a green salad. The food here is healthy, but so delicious it’s almost a sin.
I’ll probably give a class after that. Right now I’m teaching Come Alive: Meditation for People Who Can’t Stop Thinking. As you can imagine, this attracts a lot of thinkers.
I might have a few Zoom calls after that and teach an afternoon class. In the evening there is usually a bonfire, concert or hangout near the baths under the stars.
People come to us in transition
Because of our proximity to Silicon Valley, we attract people from the tech world. But they are not representative of everyone who comes here.
We have limited WiFi and there is no cell phone signal here, so naturally you have to disconnect a bit. What I’ve observed in those who work in technology is how they are taken to the physical world beyond the screen. They don’t even want to be on their devices.
A few weeks ago, a woman said she was putting her phone in a drawer for the first time in 10 years.
I’ve noticed that people often come here hoping to improve something in one of the six areas of life: their career, their creativity, their relationships, their health, their money, or their desire to be of service. to a larger community.
Right now, with layoffs haemorrhaging the tech industry, so many people are coming to see us in transition. The question that everyone is asking at all levels is:
“I worked in this job that I thought was safe. Now how do I determine a next step that is authentically aligned with what really matters to me?
A guest who was recently laid off from his big, big job in tech arrived here too scared to admit he wanted to start his own company. By the time he left, he had drawn up a comprehensive business plan.
People think they come to Esalen to disconnect, but what they discover when they get here is how to connect to a greater source of energy. Ultimately, we’re here to help people do the internal work to present themselves differently to the outside world.