The Human Potential Movement: Then and Now

Mike Murphy Cognitive, Deep Transformation, Intrapersonal, Lifestyle, Spiritual 1 Comment

“With Esalen, life has given me this marvelous laboratory.”Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy, author, co-founder of the world-famous Esalen Institute, and pioneer of the Human Potential Movement starting in the 60s, relates a wealth of intimate experience, knowledge, and wisdom covering his decades of living at the leading edge of transformative practice and the realization of human potential. Mike talks about Esalen’s latest research, our current crisis of belief, and the anchoring question that has guided Esalen (and Mike) all along: how best to serve? Mike has watched the developmental process of transformative practices themselves, such as somatics and psychedelics, now circling around after a period of purgation, and talks about current efforts to add research on the mystical and the ecstatic to meditation and mindfulness research in order to better understand what’s going on.

This podcast is a wonderful mix of tales from the past—including Mike and his wife Dulce’s achievements and adventures with Soviet-American citizen diplomacy towards the end of the Cold War—the present, and what’s coming up at the Esalen research center now, e.g., asking what is happening on “the other side,” and discovering the truth about subtle body phenomena. On a personal note, Mike shares about practicing agnosticism, his respect and admiration for the quality of wonder, and about the magic of reading subtle cues and being increasingly in tune with “the algorithms of his heart.” Friendly, relaxed, and humorous, Mike is one of the world’s leading lights on self-transformation.

Recorded on February 16, 2022.

Topics & Timestamps: Part 1

  • Introducing Michael Murphy, Human Potential Movement pioneer, author, co-founder and director of Esalen Institute, co-creator of Integral Transformative Practice (01:20)
  • Esalen’s “scouring of the Shire” (05:51)
  • Forging a deeper marriage of the two parts of Esalen: public programming & the Center for Theory & Research (07:19)
  • The realization that atman = Brahman and how Michael came to be a yogi (08:29)
  • The anchoring vision and worldview of Esalen: evolutionary panentheism, embracing the whole in an evolving world (11:33)
  • Our current crisis of belief: living between the death of the old gods and the birth of new gods has prompted more conflict, more divergences than ever before (16:37)
  • How best to serve? Should Esalen continue? Most transformative practices (like somatics and psychedelics) have had to go through a period of purgation and are now coming back into play (21:34)
  • The explosion of psychedelics in the 1960s through the psychedelic renaissance today and owning the immensity of its shadow side (27:47)
  • Tanya Luhrmann, critical of the unwarranted hegemony of modern Buddhist influence on meditation research, researches contemplative, transformative, yogic, shamanic practices, including the evangelical Vineyard Movement (33:14)
  • Tanya is now studying the uniqueness of people who have attended Esalen (37:28)
  • On absorption capacity, its differentiating effects on our evolutionary capacities, and the concept of porosity, an attribute involving both the sensory and the extrasensory domain (38:29)

Topics & Timestamps: Part 2

  • What are the practices that are the most important to Mike? (01:07)
  • Exploring what happens after we die and the richness of the subliminal mind (02:57)
  • The nature of thoughts, their texture, their capacity to take over (06:28)
  • Mike’s crap detector, his favorite skeptics, and his skepticism about reincarnation (09:29)
  • Reincarnation studies at Esalen (15:39)
  • Tacit knowing: Mike reads the “algorithms of his heart” (18:16)
  • Agnosticism is a practice in the face of empiricism (20:38)
  • The nature of the subtle body and building fellowships around this at Esalen (24:40)
  • Central to what goes on on the other side is “degree of agency” (29:59)
  • Merging the gnostic and agnostic at the same time (32:31)
  • We need more language describing particular aspects of mystical to understand what’s going on (33:00)
  • Back to reincarnation: yes—but it can be scary (34:03)
  • The most surprising things that have happened to Mike over the years: people’s need to play the Game of Thrones (40:50)
  • The Russian front, American hypocrisy, and Yeltsin’s conversion in 1989 (45:04)

Topics & Timestamps: Part 3

  • The magic of reading subtle cues and developing increasing discernment to the subtleties of one’s own internal psychic mechanism (02:26)
  • Paul Ekman’s nonverbal cue study and how aging correlates with greater capacity to discern subtle social cues (06:03)
  • The capacity for childlike wonder is one of the things Mike admires most (08:15)
  • The human potential movement and the complexity of human beings (16:09)
  • Spies, innocence, and transparency (19:08)
  • Mike’s suspicions about developmental maps and schemes, especially in the spiritual world (23:37)
  • There is no such thing as a single virtue: for example, you can’t have courage without prudence (28:38)
  • Integral Transformative Practice: does it really work? Does it help us grow in virtue and character? (30:18)
  • Mike’s calling to continue the inquiry: What’s going on on the other side? What is the truth about the subtle body phenomena? (32:33)
  • Mike’s general advice: enough good habits, meditation, and tailoring your practice to who you are (33:59)
  • The problem of suffering in this world is only going to be answered with an adventurous, experimentative embrace exploring what’s going on here (40:00)

Podcast produced by Vanessa Santos
Image created via MidJourney

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Mike Murphy

About Mike Murphy

Michael Murphy is the co-founder and chairman of Esalen Institute, and co-creator of Integral Transformative Practice. During his long involvement in the human potential movement, Murphy and his work have been profiled in the New Yorker and featured in many magazines and journals worldwide.

Roger Walsh

About Roger Walsh

Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D., has spent nearly a quarter century researching and practicing in the world's great spiritual traditions. His critically acclaimed book, Essential Spirituality, is a summary of that wisdom, outlining the seven spiritual practices common to the world's major religions.

John Dupuy

About John Dupuy

John Dupuy is co-founder and CEO of iAwake Technologies, a company that creates cutting-edge, high-tech brainwave entrainment soundtracks that support the healing of emotional/shadow issues, deepen meditation, mental focus, creativity, and flow states, and enhance a daily integral transformative practice. John has been working personally and professionally with brainwave entrainment technology since 2004, and travels internationally to teach and inspire on the subjects of Integral Transformative Practice and Integral Recovery®. John is also the author of Integral Recovery: A Revolutionary Approach to the Treatment of Alcoholism and Addiction (SUNY Press, 2013), winner of the 2013 USA Best Book Award, and co-host of the popular Journey of Integral Recovery podcast. John also hosts the online series Spiritual Tech Talks 2.0, in which he converses with leaders, pioneers, and inventors on the current wave of emerging spiritual technologies.

Notable Replies

  1. I thought this was a wonderful series of conversations, and like the convenience of them being presented in 45-minute segments. At 91-years-old, Michael Murphy is younger in spirit and heart than many people a third of his age. Having once lived not all that far from Esalen, I attended events there off and on, and whether a weekend event or a 10-14 day one, always had remarkable experiences and loved the grounds and gardens, the baths, and the site itself, and the food! I took advantage of resources outside the particular events I was registered for, and there too, whether meditating with staff or having a rolfing session, was surprised, pleasantly, by the offerings. I remember a few trainers/leaders of events I attended dissing Esalen as being a too “self-indulgent” environment for any serious learning to take place. I disagree. The only complaint I ever had was the occasional snobby attitudes of the literal gate-keepers, people staffing the entrance gates, usually young guys either paying for a long-term residence, or interns, and even this was not a big deal. So I was really interested in hearing Michael’s update on Esalen, its focus now on the ‘afterlife’ and subtle body phenomena, and its work in conjunction with the Harvard Divinity School, and I hope the weather spirits are more kindly to the place in the future so that it may be sustained.

    This was such a far-ranging conversation and I appreciated Roger’s “distillations” and summarizing, which I think makes the content more easily grasped and personally contemplated and applied by listeners, and John’s follow-up questions helped in not letting a thread get lost. I had/have an intimate relationship with some of the material presented, being somewhat grounded in the shamanic-yogic traditions, and for some strange reason, feel a little tearful right now, in appreciation, I think, for that opportunity of relatedness through this podcast. So thank you Michael Murphy, Roger Walsh, John Dupuy. Some very personal history was touched in me; I am just so grateful! (Time out for a little cry, as in the Yiddish proverb “when the heart is full, the eyes overflow.”) …

    …Something I wanted to say about Michael’s comments about a “degree of agency” being central to what goes on “on the other side.” This is a concept that even primitive belief systems of yesteryear, and many current indigenous peoples throughout the world, endorse in a round-about way through the practice of one’s meaningful personal belongings–tools, for instance–being buried with the deceased. It’s interesting to me that the idea of agency, the need to act on one’s behalf in the after-death realms, has carried through, albeit in different forms.

    Michael’s off-the-cuff brief remark about maybe being “too forgiving,” and the topic of forgiveness itself in general, would be a good future discussion, I think. Forgiveness, when examined, involves a set of myriad skills and perspectival abilities, some of them highly complex, and to break it down into its parts would probably be a fruitful conversation. As would another brief comment he made: how suffering is state-dependent.

    Once again, my thanks to the illustrious Michael Murphy, and to the podcasters. This was for me a great show.

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