Many of us in this season are living in a state of numbness or grief from the bruising events of this election cycle – so marked has it been by accusations, hateful speech directed at our fellow citizens, and a corrosive level of accusations and threats. In all this the larger idea of shared belonging, which the aspirations of democracy rest on, is menaced or directly denied. At moments like these it can feel, shockingly, that our world is devolving into old tribalisms of nation, religion, race, ethnicity, and gender, inflaming ancient divisions we thought we had left behind.
And yet we know that beneath and beyond these agonizing regressions lies a deeper and more meaningful unity. In truth we are one humanity, one America in one common and ever-shrinking world. We all of us share a common ancestry and a common fate, reaching back only some 5,000 generations to a single small human troop, and forward into an uncertain future. We know, too, that fate is now ours to determine.
Our shared challenge now is to find and create ways of living together as a whole human family, sharing our human abundance justly and with loving kindness across nations, classes, and sects, and in the process releasing our limitless human potential for creativity, abundance, and joy. We cannot find these ways and this spirit separately, as only separate tribes, each speaking a separate language with no regard for the experience and perspectives of each other.
Esalen was founded in another such time of wrenching divisions: East against West, young against old, race against race and much more, under the menace of immediate nuclear annihilation of civilization and perhaps life itself on this fragile planet. In those dark times our founding vision was the beacon light of a limitless human creative potential, with the future always in our own hands, never completely determined or limited by the past.
Our methodology has always been to go wherever there is a wall, a conversation in the culture that is not happening – within ourselves, in our society, between one human cultural sect or belief or culture and another – and to open a conversation across that divide, reaching deep into new relational capacities for listening, deep inquiry, and openness to the perspectives of the other. By taking down these walls, the outcome, over and over, has been a release of new creative ideas and energy, sparking new practices and new networks – and then flowing out to influence and often transform the larger culture.
In this way this small, precious Institute perched on the edge of the Western world, has reached out and impacted our wider culture in psychology, family relationships, education, ecology, politics, business, spiritual and religious practice, even international relations. Today we need these attitudes and these deep personal and societal practices more than ever. We must turn now to each other, without exclusion, and ask “What am I not hearing, that you are trying and failing to get me to listen to?” and then “Where is it that I’m only comfortable in my own world, my own ‘tribe’ – and failing to query myself in those deeper areas of discomfort or disowning? What is my own shadow – and tell me yours, so that we can bear and transform these things together.” In this way, as Gandhi taught, we ourselves become the change we want to see in the world. As Thich Nhat Hanh admonishes us, the guru, the teacher of the future, “is the sangha” – which means us, the community of seekers, committed to transforming ourselves and our world.
Our future is in our own hands. We are the ones we have been waiting for. All we have to work with, in the end, is one another – each of us an avatar, an embodiment of our deepest, most sacred human spirit, each of us connected directly to our deepest common Source. And that resource, in the end, is enough.
Gordon Wheeler, President
Esalen Institute, Big Sur California