The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege

By Marion Goldman | Go to book overview

4
Living Privilege: Four Esalen Men

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 in terms of their own primary concerns.

When I asked twenty-three respondents to identify a few people who embodied the Institute for them, individuals from the CTR, the EMBA, and the operations staff mentioned these four men because of Esalen’s centrality in their lives and their many contributions to the Institute. Their extraordinary dedication to actualizing their full human potential made them exemplars of spiritual privilege in Big Sur.

With the exception of Albert, whose brilliance in science and mathematics set him apart at an early age, none of the others was uniquely talented. Although they were bright and engaging, the men became extraordinary because of their passionate pursuit of spiritual privilege and not because they were gifted to begin with. Their focus on self-actualization throughout their adult lives set them apart and allowed them to shine.

Michael and Gordon came from wealthy families, and David and Albert were upper middle class. They assumed that they would always be able to support themselves in some way, so they focused on maximizing their full potential and making a difference in the world. Their confidence in their talents and survival skills also reflected their parents and other adults’ validation and encouragement while they were growing up.

They paid a high price for adult approval, however. As boys, Michael, Gordon, David, and Albert believed that they had to live out their parents’ hopes and dreams for them. Consequently, they often ignored their own feelings and desires (Miller 1981). When they left home as young men, they sometimes had staggering self-doubts about who they were and what they wanted (Goldman 1999:235–242).

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