Aldous Huxley’s Influence on the Esalen Institute

Photo of Esalen by Brad Coy, Flickr

Although Murphy and Price [Michael Murphy and Dick Price, Esalen’s founders] actually met Aldous Huxley only once, in January of 1962 when the author visited them briefly in Big Sur shortly before his death on November 22, 1963 (the same day, it turns out, that JFK was assassinated), his intellectual and personal influence on the place was immense. His second wife, Laura, would become a long-time friend of Esalen, where she would fill any number of roles, including acting as a sitter for one of Murphy’s psychedelic sessions.

Aldous Huxley’s writings on the mystical dimensions of psychedelics and on what he called the perennial philosophy were foundational. Moreover, his call for an institution that could teach the “nonverbal humanities” and the development of the “human potentialities” functioned as the working mission statement of early Esalen. Indeed, the very first Esalen brochures actually bore the Huxley-inspired title, “the human potentiality.” This same phrase would later morph in a midnight brainstorming session between Michael Murphy and George Leonard into the now well-known “human potential movement.” When developing the early brochures for Esalen, Murphy was searching for a language that could mediate between his own Aurobindonian evolutionary mysticism and the more secular and psychological language of American culture. It was Huxley who helped him to create such a new hybrid language. This should not surprise us, as Huxley had been experimenting for decades on how to translate Indian ideas into Western literary and intellectual culture.

Jeffrey J. Kripal, writing about the founding of New Age retreat and spiritual center the Esalen Institute in his book Esalen: America and the Religion of No ReligionThe above excerpt comes from a chapter that has been reprinted on the University of Chicago Press’s website.

Read the chapter