The Personal Goes Political

TURN ON, TUNE IN, drop out. Timothy Leary’s immortal exhortation
prompted millions of countercultural baby boomers to turn their
energies inward, to explore the inner reaches of their psyches and
souls through psychedelics. As psychedelics gave way to other
spiritual pursuits, the New Age movement was born, and along with
it came a series of holistic educational centers — among them the
Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York; Esalen Institute in Big
Sur, California (pictured above); Manhattan’s New York Open Center;
the Hollyhock Retreat Centre on Cortes Island, British Columbia —
where seekers could go for classes in meditation, transpersonal
psychology, Eastern philosophy, healing, yoga, and the like.

In recent years, these holistic centers have begun to broaden
their focus from personal growth to transformation on a more global
scale. ‘By the late 1990s,’ says Joel Solomon, board president of
Hollyhock, ‘we realized that the personal growth workshop business
alone was not going to work, either as a business model or as a
satisfying enough mission for us.’ So increasingly, these centers
are broadening their educational missions to offer courses that
marry the personal with the political — teaching the spiritually
inclined how to be more engaged in political and social-change

This winter, for example, Esalen will offer a seminar called
‘Sustainability: Alignment, Lifestyle, and Leadership’ — in which
participants can learn how their personal choices affect the
environment as well as how to use political action to lead their
communities down more sustainable paths — alongside programs on
art, meditation, and massage.

In addition to workshops in prana yoga, Aztec traditions of
consciousness, and Persian sacred music, the fall program at the
New York Open Center includes a public lecture and discussion
titled ‘Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future’ with
Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich and a conference
titled ‘EcoMetropolis’ (November 12-14) that aims to connect
diverse communities to envision a sustainable New York City.

Omega Institute’s ‘Women and Power’ conference, held in
September, featured workshops and speeches by Jungian psychologist
Marion Woodman, theologian Joan Chittister, and tai chi master
Wasentha Young — and added edgy personalities like Vagina
author Eve Ensler, feminist icon Gloria Steinem,
and performance artist Sarah Jones.

And Hollyhock has broadened and deepened its educational
offerings, complementing its holistic health and personal growth
workshops with an array of social-change-focused conferences,
seminars, and trainings — including ‘Making a Difference for the
Earth,’ a class in the techniques and strategies of environmental
activism; ‘Spiral Dynamics in the Global Village,’ a theoretical
course exploring innovative ways of organizing and interacting for
planetary change; and the Power of Hope teen empowerment program
combining art, music, spirituality, and activism. Seminars for
professionals include the Social Venture Institute, a retreat
connecting social entrepreneurs and investors; ‘Media That
Matters,’ a conference for progressive journalists and filmmakers;
and ‘Web of Change,’ a personal development and networking retreat
for Internet professionals.

‘Now this vision is permeating all that we do,’ says Hollyhock’s
Solomon, ‘giving access options for the committed social-change
professional and anyone else who wants to find doorways toward
increasing awareness, involvement, and effectiveness in looking out
for society.’

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