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The American Soul Rush

Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege

Marion Goldman

Publication Year: 2012

Yoga. Humanistic Psychology. Meditation. Holistic Healing. These practices are commonplace today. Yet before the early 1960s they were atypical options for most people outside of the upper class or small groups of educated spiritual seekers.

Esalen Institute, a retreat for spiritual and personal growth in Big Sur, California, played a pioneering role in popularizing quests for self-transformation and personalized spirituality. This “soul rush” spread quickly throughout the United States as the Institute made ordinary people aware of hundreds of ways to select, combine, and revise their beliefs about the sacred and to explore diverse mystical experiences. Millions of Americans now identify themselves as spiritual, not religious, because Esalen paved the way for them to explore spirituality without affiliating with established denominations

The American Soul Rush explores the concept of spiritual privilege and Esalen’s foundational influence on the growth and spread of diverse spiritual practices that affirm individuals’ self-worth and possibilities for positive personal change. The book also describes the people, narratives, and relationships at the Institute that produced persistent, almost accidental inequalities in order to illuminate the ways that gender is central to religion and spirituality in most contexts.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

Research funding from the Donald C. Davidson Library at the University of California at Santa Barbara and from the Summer Research Program at the University of Oregon made it possible for me to spend time in Big Sur, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara. When I could not be there...

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Introduction: Esalen, the Soul Rush, and Spiritual Privilege

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pp. 1-24

Millions of contemporary Americans search for personal and spiritual fulfillment through meditation, yoga, and other practices that engage simultaneously their bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits. Today, these activities are commonplace, unremarkable. Yet, before the early 1960s, they were rare options...

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1. Esalen’s Wellspring: Foundational Doctrines

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pp. 25-47

In the early 1960s, when the philosopher-poet Allen Ginsberg lolled in the hot springs with a group of visiting Episcopal clergy and their wives, he personified Esalen’s bedrock doctrine of spiritual inclusivity. Ginsberg was one of many well-known American intellectuals who became an informal...

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2. Esalen’s Reach: A Brief History

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pp. 48-71

California Highway 1 twists south between the Pacific and the jagged peaks of the Santa Lucia Mountains along the unincorporated ninety-mile coastal stretch of Big Sur that begins below Monterey. About forty miles down the highway from Monterey, Esalen’s small wooden sign marks a sharp downhill...

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3. Spiritual Privilege and Personal Transformation

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pp. 72-91

Esalen’s founders and most of their close comrades enjoyed enough economic security to devote their lives to spiritual and personal transformations. They have relied on combinations of family resources and fees for teaching, writing, and counseling about self-actualization. The Institute’s first generation helped...

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4. Living Privilege: Four Esalen Men

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pp. 92-119

Michael, Gordon, David, and Albert illuminate the dynamics of spiritual privilege and how it changes and combines in different ways. They responded to Esalen’s doctrines and practices because of their personal needs and hopes, just as other spiritual seekers select, revise, and combine their beliefs and practices...

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5. Gender at Esalen

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pp. 120-138

Men’s continued centrality to Esalen reflects the ways that spiritual privilege combined with their gender advantage to enable the members of the founding generation to shape the Institute for themselves and other men like them. Michael, Dick, and their comrades made internal policies, built external social networks...

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6. Esalen’s Legacies

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pp. 139-160

When Michael and Dick founded Esalen early in the 1960s, they sought guidance and support from spiritually privileged elites and intellectuals. Michael soon reached far beyond his friends and acquaintances in California, however, to create relationships with other privileged seekers on the West and East...

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Conclusion: New Beginnings

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pp. 161-171

Esalen has encouraged people to maximize their full potential for over fifty years. Because its founding generation popularized an amazing array of options for personal and spiritual growth in the 1960s and 1970s, there are now virtually unlimited ways for Americans to select, combine, and revise their individualized...

Appendix 1: Experiential Exercises: When Words Fail

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pp. 173-179

Appendix 2: The Walter Truett Anderson Collection

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pp. 181-183


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pp. 185-196


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pp. 197-205

About the Author

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pp. 207

E-ISBN-13: 9780814733387
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814732878
Print-ISBN-10: 0814732879

Publication Year: 2012