At the Intersection of Counterculture, Spirituality, and Social Justice (Icarus at Esalen)Submitted by scatter on Wed, 05/19/2010 - 2:41pm
(i just sent this message out to a bunch of awesome folks all over the place.)
Hey friends - as many of you know, I'm spending the month of June co-teaching a seminar at Esalen on the history of the Human Potential Movement and what lessons and tools might be useful for a modern day radical mental health movement. That's not actually the full description of what the course is about, but that's the focus I'm bringing to the table from my years working with the Icarus Project and being involved in radical anti-capitalist organizing. It's pretty exciting: Brad and I are going to have a whole crew of Esalen work studies to bounce ideas off of for 15 two-hour sessions and I'm going to get to do a lot of reading and writing and strategizing about the past and the future.
Esalen is a complex place with a really interesting history: it was founded with the grandiose vision of creating a space for human growth and evolution. One of the founders spent a bunch of time institutionalized as schizophrenic and given lots of shock treatments, and that experience had a big hand in shaping the focus of their project. In the 1960s they stood at this incredibly fruitful intersection of Eastern spirituality and Western psychotherapy and all these interesting characters ended up passing through their doors, from Aldous Huxley to Joseph Campbell to Abraham Maslow to Alan Watts to Tim Leary to Fritz Perls. in the 60's it was the epicenter of a bunch of the interesting counterculture. But to be real, most of the history I've read paints the scene full of narcissistic white dudes and much of the Human Potential Movement ended up degenerating into what today we call the New Age Movement -- watered down, culturally appropriative, vapid ahistorical capitalist spirituality. Much of the interesting visionary ideas crashed and burned and got absorbed into the folds of the machine.
But somehow in that wreckage seems some glimmers of lessons and hope. At least that's the narrative I'm working with -- I'm convinced there are important tools to be learned and bridges to be built in 2010. As someone who was raised in a culturally straight left-wing political family and ended up feeling way more comfortable in the world of the anarchists and squatters, I carry both a commitment to social justice and a deep love in my heart for the freaks and outlaws and the strategic place of counterculture in social change movements. Much of the beauty of the Icarus Project for me was about developing the tools from the anarchist world into replicable community support structures and mixing up mental health support with community organizing and activism. Seeing ourselves: a bunch of folks diagnosed with serious mental illnesses, as people not diseased but dangerously gifted, carved open all kinds of space not only for higher self esteem, but recognizing ourselves as part of something larger, as part of a growing movement.
But I'm just not satisfied with the idea of a "Mad Pride Movement" in the traditional model of identity politics, the vision doesn't go deep enough into what we're really struggling for and doesn't carry the ideals that can bring together enough people without becoming another marginalized group of outcasts. I think there's something about COLLECTIVE Human Potential as opposed to INDIVIDUAL Human Potential that still rings of a future vision I would happily get behind, happily resurrect in the interests of social (r)evolution. I still find much inspiration in the Martin Luther KIng Jr. quote "Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted" and I see so much potential for visionary organizing coming out of resistance to the biomedical model of mental health that sees difference as deficiency. I still think challenging the social norms imposed by the DSM and the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful way to organize large groups of people. I see a lot of future in the work we've been doing with the Icarus Project all these years. That said, I think it would serve us well to be more tempered by the lessons of the past because there are a lot of lessons to be learned from what went down in the 60s and 70s.
Anyway, I'm approaching the project with an open and critical mind and hoping good things will come of it.
So if you're getting this message from me it's because I think you might have something useful to tell me or to point me in the direction of regarding the social and political movements of the 60s and 70s, the social and political movements of the 21st Century, the intersection between radical political analysis and humanistic/transpersonal psychology, the role of counterculture in revolutionary movements, or whatever you feel inspired to tell me before embarking on this crazy adventure. You could also just saw hi cause we probably haven't talked in awhile! My buddy Brad is coming from a background of cultural studies and postmodern philosophy. He's the one with the PhD credentials. I'm coming from my world of radical urban farming/social justice/Icarus organizing/yoga ashram living freakishness. We're hoping to infuse the beautiful environment at Esalen with some critical thinking and cross-pollinate. We might end up feeling like total weirdos in Big Sur, but it sure seems like a good time. I'm pretty sure we'll end up building some interesting bridges for the future. Help be a part of it with us!
Below is the syllabus that Brad has put together over the months of our strategizing.
Any kernels of wisdom, any directions to look in, any contacts to pass on, and notes of confidence, please send them my way.
Who else is doing this kind of work that I might not have heard of? Help me not to recreate the wheel. Hope to hear from some of you out there!
here's a recent article on similar themes: http://slingshot.tao.ca/displaybi.php?0103012
AND SUSTAINABLE FUTURES
ESALEN WORK SCHOLAR PROGRAM
Bradley Lewis and Sascha Altman DuBrul
June 6 to July 4
This work scholar month considers the relevance of Esalen and the human potential movement for today’s political and environmental predicaments. Our core questions will be these:
-- How might sustainable life-styles be practiced in today’s world?
-- What are personal and political dynamics of sustainable living?
-- How might we use the history of Esalen to help imagine ways of life which are in harmony with world and simultaneously a pleasure to pursue?
We start by looking outward for a diagnosis of today’s political/cultural situation and its effects on the environment. We then turn inward to consider the role politics and culture has on our personal structures of desire and consumption. We follow with a consideration of the history of Esalen and the counterculture. Our focus will be on the emergence of a blend of human potential practices might be helpful in the pursuit of today’s sustainable subjects. The practices and knowledges we look at most closely include mindfulness, meditation, creativity, gestalt practice, ecopsychology, Eastern philosophy, and humanistic/transpersonal psychology.
During the process of our work we will gather in the evening in a communal atmosphere that could be considered a cross between a Salon and an encounter group. Our more heady evenings will begin with short readings and film clips that will inform us and engage our intellectual conversations and debates. Our more experiential evenings will be devoted to learning many of the practices and skills of Esalen personal growth.
By the end, we hope to develop a clear sense of and a deep feeling for some possible links between Esalen, the human potential movement, and sustainable futures.
Mon June 7: Art of Mindfulness Introduction
Basic Practices (adopted from Plum Village)
1.) Tues June 8: Postmodern Thinking: Doing Cultural Studies
Video: Stuart Hall Representation
Hall: Circuit of Culture and Representation (excerpt)
2.) Thurs June 10: Imagine Nation: The Sixties Counterculture
Dead Kennedys: California Uber Alles*
Gloria Steinem: The Way We Were—And Will Be*
Knight: For Malcolm X*
Lee: For Martin Luther King*
Angela Davis: Reflections on Race, Class, and Gender in USA*
Theodore Roszak: The Making of a Counterculture Introduction
Maryline Young: Imagine Nation: Introduction Excerpts
Michael Doyle: “Debating the Counterculture: Ecstasy and Anxiety of the
Hip Alternative” (in Columbia Guide)
3.) Fri June 11: Guest Dorothy Charles—Gestalt I
4.) Mon June 14: What are We Fighting For Now?:
What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire
Crass: You're Already Dead
Brecher, Costello, Smith: Globalization and Its Specter
Collins: Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination*
White/Straight/Masculine? (four book covers)
Alienation: see Shaffer from June 17 readings
Kanner and Gomes: All Consuming Self
Levine: Common Sense Revolution
Icarus Project: Navigating the Space excerpt
Al Gore: Earth in the Balance
5.) Tues June 15: Guest Lillie Allen—Be Present
OPEN SEAT: Dorothy Charles 4-6 PM
6.) Thur June 17: Esalen and the Religion of no Religion
Carl Jung: letter to Bill Wilson (founder of AA)
Kripal: Esalen, Spirituality, and the Religion of no Religion
Esalen Practices Outline: Turn in, Turn East, Ecopsychology, Creativity
7.) Fri June 18: Turning In: Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology
Shaffer: Humanistic Psychology excerpts—Chap 1, Chap 3 (Maslow),
Chap 4 (humanistic therapies—existential, person centered,
Gestalt in Price mode*
Valle: Emergence of Transpersonal Psychology
8.) Mon June 21: Guest Christine Price: Gestalt II
9.) Tues June 22: INTENSIVE: Turning East: Buddhism and Yoga
Thich Nhat Hanh
Annabel Laity: If You Want Peace, You Can Have Peace
Thich Nhat Hanh: Touching Ultimate Dimension
David Loy: Dharma of Deconstruction
10.) Wen June 23 (Morning): INTENSIVE: Deep Ecology/Ecofeminism/Ecopyscholgy
Thich Nhat Hahn (continued)
Carson: Silent Spring
Naess: Identification as a Source of Deep Ecological Attitudes
Merchant: The Death of Nature
Buell: From Apocalypse to Way of Life
Sustainable Self Questionnaire
(Afternoon): INTENSIVE: Walking Meditation
Walsh: Meditation Royal Road to the Transpersonal
Thich Nhat Hahn: Walking Meditation
Kornfield: Even the Best Meditators Have Old Wounds to Heal:
Combining Meditation and Psychotherapy
11.) Thus June 24: Experiential—Guest: Permaculture
12.) Fri June 25: Guest Scott Von: Psychedellia—Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll
Wilber: Pre/Trans Fallacy
OPEN SEAT: CHRISTINE PRICE 4-6 pm
13.) Mon June 28: Guest: Creative Expression: Singing/Dance—Lisa Goettel/Katie Nash [?]*
Neal: The Black Arts Movement
14.) Tues June 29: Countercultural and Feminist Strategies/Capitalism/Postcapitalism
Century of Self excerpt
Frank: Conquest of Cool
Hall: Minimal Selves
Ness: The Apron Diagram
Elgin: Voluntary Simplicity*
Adbusters: Postmillennial Tension*
15.) Thurs July 1: Wrap up, Loss, and Aging
Ram Dass: Fierce Grace
David Loy interview
19.) Fri July 2: Work Scholar Party
20.) Sat July 3: Closing Circle