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The Esalen Institute is a Human Potential Movement think-tank and center in Big Sur, California, founded in 1962. They were central to the development of the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and are sometimes cited as a direct forerunner of the New Age movement. Esalen holds a number of courses, retreats, seminars, encounter groups, and lectures. Many early Esalen courses were of the encounter group sort, and Fritz Perls, the inventor of Gestalt therapy (a form of encounter group) lived at the center from 1964 to 1969 and became closely associated with it.
A rather wide range of people associated with later human consciousness movements are Esalen alumni either from teaching there or taking Esalen courses. They include psychologist B.F. Skinner and Carl Rogers, R.D. Laing, Werner Erhard, gurus Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (early advocates for the therapeutic use of LSD), liberal Protestant theologan Paul Tillich, Zen teacher Alan Watts, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest author Ken Kesey, counterculture figures Jerry Rubin and Paul Krassner, dolphin researcher John C. Lilly, and Buckminster Fuller. Esalen has also sponsored numerous arts festivals of folk music, poetry and dance.
The conspiracy nutters weigh in
Esalen sometimes turns up in conspiracy theories about the New Age movement claiming some nebulous ties existed between Esalen and the CIA or Department of Defense, hence leading to claims the New Age movement is a vast CIA experiment, such as in the conspiracy theories of Texe Marrs and Lyndon LaRouche. Another conspiracy theory, promoted in the book Beyond Jonestown: "Sensitivity Training" and the Cult of Mind Control by Ed Dieckmann, Jr. (Noontide Press, 1981) puts the Esalen Institute as well as Synanon and Jim Jones at the center of a Zionist/Communist plot masterminded by the American Jewish Committee, the National Education Association, and the Anti-Defamation League to bring Maoist criticism/self-criticism sessions and North Korean POW camp brainwashing techniques to the United States.