The drive to Esalen from San Francisco was magical. The spectacle of the Pacific Ocean coast unfolded like a motion picture on a giant screen before my enraptured eyes. It was my pilgrimage to the source of America’s human potential movement that has had a global impact in the fifty-odd years that it has existed. Esalen started with its co-founders Michael Murphy and Richard Price in 1962. It quickly became a unique nexus of intellectual and spiritual energy attracting such stalwarts as Abraham Maslow, Joseph Campbell, Fritz Perls and George Leonard to name a few.

I was invited to be part of a week long corporate retreat by Jay Ogilvy, a man with a sharp wit and remarkable intensity in his eyes. He started the retreat in true Esalen fashion urging all of us to “listen to the ocean” before waves of ideas and insights flooded the Big House where we were staying. The theme of the conference was “Conscious Capitalism”. Brother David a well-known teacher said in jest as in earnest that trying to understand consciousness was like a boy trying to figure out the cause of a toothache. The boy experienced a toothache every time he ate sugar. He mistakenly thought that his pain is a result of the combination of tooth and sugar. So when his milk tooth had fallen off he took the tooth to a cube of sugar and wanted to see if that objective contact produced pain. How ridiculous you may think! How could there be a pain without consciousness of the human being who was experiencing the pain? One cannot therefore understand consciousness objectively by being impersonal about it like a scientist. It was evident to me that like the boy with a toothache, one has to experience TRUTH ache in one’s subjective self before one can understand consciousness.

Yet another big idea was that when computer programs run businesses rather than human beings capitalism becomes impersonal and unconscious. Much of the financial re-engineering that caused the financial meltdown in 2008-9 was a result of unconscious capitalism. Making money out of money without creating anything of intrinsic human value is the by-product of unconscious capitalism. When a business grows beyond the scale and scope of human subjectivity and human comprehension the world sees monstrous Frankensteins such as Lehman Brothers and Enron.

The answer to the problem of unconscious capitalism is authenticity. When we are authentic we take off the many costumes that our ego habitually wears. Unfortunately, business culture thrives on deal making and posturing. When we become conscious of our posturing we learn to drop our posturing ego like sweaty underwear and return to our naked authenticity. “To be really honest with you, I do not understand what being authentic really means”, asked a former CEO who was a part of the group. “Mark your words!” I urged him. “When you use the expression ‘to be really honest with you’, do you mean to say that you have been dishonest so far?” Besides, you don’t have to worry about ‘being authentic’ because pure BEING is authentic. When you are being this or being that to fake an identity for gaining some selfish advantage—that’s when you trade your authenticity for unconsciousness. That’s when you gain a contract but lose contact with your authentic self.

The Esalen pilgrimage in consciousness would not be complete without the mention of the Esalen massage and communal bathing in natural hot springs, popularly known as ‘hot tub’. These hot tubs spout out a few hundred gallons of mineral rich water every minute. It is an elemental, ecstatic feeling in being immersed in one of those tubs with blue sky above and a bluer ocean below. The surging of waves of the ocean hit your eardrums with primordial passion. You visit here to pay homage to the extraordinary human body without discriminating between colour, creed or class. It is here that you can acknowledge the sovereignty of the human body – white or black; woman, man or child—as an expression of the cosmic body without social stigma. Then, on the massage table you shed not just your clothes but also those customs and costumes; tags and titles that society attaches on you like postage stamps. Covered by nothing more than an austere white sheet you die to the world that paints you in many shades. It is only then that you awaken to the consciousness of BEING—just being without the stress of having to be this or that. For a while, you do not have to fit into a sick world in order to be considered healthy. If this is not ecstasy—tell me what is?

© Debashis Chatterjee, 2015