By Prabhath P
Founder of esalen, the world famous institute for human transformation, author of several paradigm-shifting books and creator of a personal growth programme, Michael Murphy has helped raise consciousness in the us significantly
Mention the Esalen Institute or Michael Murphy and the name is bound to ring a bell among most seekers. Esalen for many, is the Mecca of personal transformation and the human potential movement, and Murphy, the founder, is its presiding deity. Says Jeffrey Mishlove, Director of the International Intuition Network that promotes human potentialities, “I have enormous respect for Michael Murphy. He is a pioneer in many areas. He is one of the prime movers of the human potential movement in the United States. His scholarly contributions are far-reaching. His work has a deep spiritual orientation.”
Eighteen months spent at Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India, imbibing the spirit of evolutionary spirituality, shaped Murphy’s life’s purpose. “I was on fire with Sri Aurobindo’s vision,” Murphy recalled during his lecture on his book, God and the Evolving Universe, at India International Centre, New Delhi, in March this year.
Murphy relived his odyssey of consciousness in a free flowing interview. He wanted to chat in the open space of the lush lawn at the India International Centre and not inside the grand building. An inkling of his inclination towards expansive evolution rather than confining spaces, however cosy. He looked much younger and more energetic than his age would indicate. Murphy came across as a mystic, an open-minded scientist and above all, a humanist. He believes his major achievements are the founding of the Esalen Institute, the research on human potential described in the book, The Future of the Body, creation of Integral Transformative Practice with George Leonard, influencing sports psychology and the contribution to citizen diplomacy beginning with the facilitation of Soviet-American relations and now Middle Eastern relations. Not bad for one man.
The very name Esalen is synonymous with adventurous exploration of uncharted frontiers of the body, mind and spirit, beyond the constraints of contemporary mainstream thinking. Murphy and Dick Price co-founded the Esalen Institute at Big Sur, California, in 1962, heralding an unprecedented initiative to foster personal and social transformation. About 10,000 people converge on Esalen every year to participate in its programmes that include almost 500 seminars and workshops. Esalen has raised the American consciousness through its catalytic effect on wide-ranging fields like education, psychology, citizen diplomacy, economics, globalization, evolutionary metaphysics, esoteric renaissance, holistic medicine, intuition, psychic phenomena, creativity, imagination, environmental studies and women’s issues.
The integration of science and spirituality has been one of the main projects in Esalen. “In so many ways, smart people are finding connections between science and spirituality,” says Murphy. Another aim of the mission of Esalen is to sort out the good and the bad products in the New Age movement.
Indian spirituality has had an intense impact on Murphy. Sri Aurobindo is Murphy’s primary inspiration. “I share his vision of an evolutionary unfoldment of the world,” he said. The Upanishads, the Gita, Vedanta and Tantra have also heavily influenced him. Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Ramana Maharshi are the other Indian spiritual luminaries that Murphy reveres. He keeps pictures of Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi in his room so that everyone who comes to see him has to see them.
Murphy proposes that evolutionary panentheism is the emerging worldview that holds the key to humanity’s future. Panentheism is the ancient view that the Divine is both transcendent to the world and immanent in the universe. What is new is the evolutionary aspect that shows the universe as a whole, and the evolutionary process itself as evolving.
Murphy elaborated on this perspective in his book, God and the Evolving Universe, co-authored with James Redfield (author of The Celestine Prophecy) and Sylvia Timbers. In his lecture, he outlined the essential features of this view. History is not merely cyclical, but going towards higher ends. The cornerstone of evolutionary panentheism is that “we and the world are unfolding from the same transcendent source and are secretly moved to manifest more and more of our latent divinity.”
There is a process of both involution and evolution. The Divine is involved in matter itself and evolution is gradually making explicit this divinity in course of time. We are all part of the same omnipresent reality and are responsive to the same indwelling spirit. We should encourage this evolution through our active and conscious participation. “If we are secretly aligned with the source of this evolving universe, then we must to some degree share its all-encompassing power of transformation. We are capable of radical evolution,” Murphy emphasizes.
Though evolutionary panentheism is almost 200 years old, it is still in its adolescence and in the margin of the world awareness. The Esalen Institute has initiated an enterprise with professional philosophers to look at its history and possible future. Evolutionary panentheism faces tremendous challenges before it coalesces and produces the new life and philosophy. Materialist reductionism that considers consciousness as an accidental byproduct of matter is a major threat.
Post-modern deconstructionism is another challenge that creates suspicion about all philosophies. The information overload triggered by globalization and specialization trends that make people confine themselves to small compartmentalized knowledge, also stifle the emergence of the new world view. In reaction, many forms of fundamentalism have risen like Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Hindu fundamentalism. The Esalen Institute is conducting a project called The Roots of Fundamentalism to address this serious issue.
Murphy acknowledges the importance of planetary consciousness at a time when the world is facing an ecological crisis. However, he cautions that he is not a Gaian (Gaia refers to the belief postulated by James Lovelock that the earth is a living entity.) fundamentalist, since there are many who hold different and narrow views on Gaia. But he believes in the reality of Gaia consciousness as a shared and connected awareness within the whole. He cites Sri Aurobindo’s assertion that apparent nature is secret God. Matter itself is slumbering Spirit. Even inanimate matter, even the stones, have a degree of subjectivity. He says, “Obviously, if the North Pole is melting, it raises the level of the ocean. It affects people tens of thousands of miles away. If the whole atmosphere is warming, every creature on the planet is affected. So everything is affected by everything else. Gaia is one interconnected entity of the earth. It is connected to the sun. It is connected to the entire cosmos.”
Murphy, in collaboration with George Leonard, developed Integral Transformative Practice (ITP), for realizing the potential of body, mind, heart, and soul. Philosopher Ken Wilber calls it “a powerful, compelling, comprehensive approach to individual transformation and community enrichment.” It evolved from a two-year experimental class in human transformation that began in 1992, which included group support, discussion of assigned readings, transformative work in Leonard Energy Training (LET), and a 40-minute body-mind-spirit series of exercises called the ITP Kata.
The Indian edition of Murphy’s book, The Life We Are Given, co-authored with George Leonard, released during the lecture at the India International Centre, describes the principles of ITP in detail. ITP combines physical exercises, vegetarian diet, meditation, affirmations, visualization, philosophical/spiritual study, and community work. ITP Kata includes Balance & Centre – GRACE, The Water Series, Articulation, The Floor Series, Mini-Yoga, Deep Relaxation, Transformational Imaging and Ten-minute Meditation.
ITP has produced amazing results. One woman reversed her cataract. Another woman has not suffered from epilepsy since 15 years of practicing ITP. The effects were not entirely physical. Some results showed the role of mental intentionality in positive human change. The focus of participants while trying the ITP Kata proved more important than the number of times they did it.
Murphy is most famous for his pioneering contribution to the research on extraordinary functioning of the human body. In a project that lasted 15 years, he collected material on extraordinary human functioning, which grew to over 10,000 documents. From this was born his magnum opus, a book of nearly 800 pages: The Future of the Body: Explorations into the Further Evolution of Human Nature.
He was inspired by Sri Aurobindo’s idea that the body was the densest part of the soul, though undervalued by the great religious traditions. The puritanical attitude among many religious teachers that one should stay away from siddhis is shortsighted, he affirms. Such supernormal capacities are the limbs and organs of our future nature trying to emerge. But mainstream scientists and academic philosophers also deny this human potential.
Murphy and his colleagues collected evidence for the proposition that the body sometimes achieves levels of supernormal efficiency and functioning. The strategy was to collect enough evidence for this, from enough fields. It was a natural-history approach, collecting not specimens of structure, but specimens of behavior and of the consciousness that accompanies it. People from almost every culture and every walk of life report these phenomena. There is vast data from psychical research and parapsychology. Murphy wrote once that when you talk to people, it’s hard to find anybody who hasn’t experienced something quite extraordinary in their lifetime.
Murphy encountered incredible instances of such functioning. Japanese Ninjas traverse 300 miles in three days over mountains. People with multiple personality disorders do not experience their allergies when a particular personality is in control but the same person suffers allergic reaction when a different personality dominates. Some people can contort their body to get through very small openings. Expert climbers scale a 12-feet high glass wall with only one or two holes. Through biofeedback one can control even involuntary bodily functions by bringing them into awareness. One Dr. Basmaijan controlled the firing of a single nerve cell. The stories of amazing psychic healing that reverse even incurable diseases abound. One’s psychic influence can stimulate the immune system of others as in distant healing. The power of prayer affects even plants.
Two thirds or more of the American public believe that they have had exatraordinary experiences. Murphy believes that all of these meta-normal capacities are glimmering in all of us. He calls them meta-normalities of everyday life.
In a television interview with Jeffrey Mishlove, Murphy had said, “You know how many of us have had this extrasensory intuition that somebody is watching us and you turn around and you see somebody… or sensing that a phone call is going to come to you and a minute later it comes… I developed an inventory actually of more than a thousand of these meta-normalities of everyday life…in every human attribute again you can find these kind of glimmerings of the extraordinary in everyday life.”
In his book, In the Zone, Murphy documented experiences of sportspersons who experience the state called the ‘zone’ which has mystical and extraordinary physical characteristics. Murphy has integrated his faith in bodily potential into his own life. He participates in track meets and looks much younger than his age. Murphy’s book Golf in the Kingdom revolutionized the field of sports psychology. “It is the best-selling fiction ever about the game of golf. It was written 35 years ago and I am making a feature film of it now. It has its own following and influenced sports psychology,” he explains.
Enduring testimony of supernormal potentialities is there in all religious traditions. The ecstatic walking in Roman Catholic mysticism and the reports of levitation by Saint Theresa of Avila during her mystical ecstasies are like the siddhis of eastern Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Saint Theresa had hyper-flexibility of the body during her mystical states, which helped her manifest anatomically impossible physical postures like India’s hatha yogic feats.
In the context of evolutionary panentheism, will the human race evolve further to a post-human species? “Well, it could! I won’t use the word will. It is up to us. God helps those who help themselves. It will come with certain inspirations and breakthroughs. But it will be very gradual,” says Murphy.
He is not ready to make any guess on a time frame or whether it could even ever happen on earth because this prophet of human potential is acutely aware of humanity’s paradoxical potential to mess up our civilization and the planet.
“We could blow ourselves up. We can melt the North Pole and half of India could go under water! It is up to us. We have to solve a lot of problems. Before we have supramental transformation of the body, there is a lot of work to do. I would like to quote Aldous Huxley: ‘Nothing less than everything will do’. We have to develop on all fronts,” he concludes.
Michael Murphy conveys this message to the readers of Life Positive: “Life is blossoming always with adventure. If we engage in transformative practice, Grace will be given. We live only a part of the life we are given.”
Contact: www.esalen.org, www.esalenctr.org, www.itp-life.com
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Balance & Centre–GRACE
Stand in an upright stance, without shoes, feet shoulder-width apart, eyes open and soft. Spend a few seconds on each letter of the word:
Shoulder rotation, 4 forward, 4 back
Head rotation, 4 each of 3 variations
Arm swing, 12
Pelvic rotation, 4 left, 4 right
Knee rotation, 4 left, 4 right
Sun salutation, 2
Spinal twist (left & right)
Practise ITP Kata protocol completely instead of doing isolated sections of it.