The Supernature Journal

Supernature: Esalen and the Human Potential

SUPERNATURE: ESALEN AND THE HUMAN POTENTIAL is a documentary film about the influential Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and the Human Potential Movement it spawned. Esalen was founded in the early 1960s by Stanford grads Richard Price and Michael Murphy as a place to explore and nurture what Aldous Huxley had named the “human potentialities,” his expression for the fantastic reaches of mind and body hinted at in the altered states of mystical literature and psychedelic experience. Drawing on the ideas of Huxley, Abraham Maslow, and many others, Murphy and his colleague, journalist George Leonard, named this new initiative “The Human Potential Movement.” The result was a new visionary school that fostered techniques to actualize these human potentials and delved, enthusiastically, into questions about the latent or secret nature of reality and the human being that were, and still are, considered out of bounds in the universities and religions.

At a time of unprecedented political, social and ideological conflict, we believe the world would benefit from a broad, beautiful, and sophisticated exposure to the ideas and practices fostered by the Esalen Institute, particularly those that move us beyond the present schizophrenic split between religion and science. We believe that the world is presently “without vision,” and that it cries out for positive, even ecstatic models and ideas that can embrace the best of our religious pasts without being bound to those pasts; that can celebrate the discoveries of science without equating these discoveries with a materialism of despair and meaningless; and that can finally envision the human being as a conscious embodiment of the evolving cosmos. With SUPERNATURE, we hope to bring exactly this vision to a much wider audience and so play our part in the transformation and future of American culture.

SUPERNATURE is based on Jeffrey J. Kripal's definitive history, ESALEN: AMERICA AND THE RELIGION OF NO RELIGION. Filmmaker Scott Hulan Jones optioned Jeff's book in 2010. Principle photography began at Esalen in May, 2011, when we shot interviews with and presentations by a number of Esalen luminaries: Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy, Track-Two Executive Director Dulce Murphy, Experimental Physicist Russell Targ, Theoretical Physicists Nick Herbert and Elizabeth Rauscher, Neuroscientist Ed Kelly, Historian of Psychology Adam Crabtree, Professor of Religion Dana Sawyer, Psychologist Charles Tart, Transpersonal Psychology Pioneers Stanislav and Christina Grof, Professor of Somatics Don Hanlon Johnson, and German Professor of Slavic Literatures and Culture Birgit Menzel.

We will be shooting additional interviews in Saulsalito, California in January 2012. Among those to be interviewed will be Fritjof Capra, Steve Donovan, James Fadiman, Michael Murphy, Mac Murphy, Claudio Naranjo, Chris Price, Nancy Lunney-Wheeler, and Gordon Wheeler. Additionally, we will be shooting b-roll at Esalen throughout the month of July 2012. This will include extensive nature footage shot on the Esalen grounds, to be used literally and metaphorically in the film, as well as footage of various people and facilities. These scenes will include the large organic garden, people working at Esalen as part of the work-study program, participants in various workshops, and the famous clothing-optional hot springs baths.