It takes just as long to prepare seventy strangers from all over the world to share authentic meals together than it does to prepare the food for those meals.

Here’s the feedback we usually receive at the end of the week: “Y’know, I just spent the best time of my life breaking bread with complete strangers and I have no idea what any of them do for work and none of them asked me what I do for work! It was amazing!”

This is the process:

First I have to deconstruct students’ current paradigms.

I propose that there are three entrance ways into the subconscious: magic, jokes and dreams. I don’t analyze dreams (it’s too speculative and unscientific) so I concentrate on magic and jokes. Both jokes and magic rely on set-ups, mis-direction, and pay-offs. This is why I refer to Derren Brown as the best psychologist in the world and show his videos in my workshops.

Jokes and magic demonstrate how easily we can be misled, fooled. The reason for this is because we did not install our own operating systems — our minds — and we weren’t even provided with proper User’s Manuals for them. That is why it is so easy for magicians to trick us: because they DO have the User’s Manuals for our minds.

Which leads us to discussing consciousness… thinking… and how it relates to language: could language be a cage? And is that cage even smaller if you only speak one language?

Could we all really be prisoners to our own prejudices, all of the things that we were brought up to consider to believe to be “normal”? And is my “normal” the same as what is “normal” for someone from the Ukraine, from Bora Bora, from Botswana?

What if many of the ideas that you consider to be “rational” and “reasonable” can be proven false or inaccurate?

If you told my grandmother in 1972 that a black man would be president, marijuana would be legal, gay people could marry, and there would be something called transgender bathrooms, she would have replied “Impossible!” So what will people in 50 years think when they look back on our paradigm?

Before the advent of the Internet, Thomas Kuhn proposed that paradigms shift every 25 years. But now paradigms are shifting at hyperspeed.

Could the priorities and interests that you consider to be important have been programmed into you when you were very young?

Are you living by someone else’s measure of success?

This initial part of the workshop I entitle “Loosening the soil.”

The next day we begin to discuss the “systems of thought” that have influenced the way we think and what we believe to be real, true or best. Those systems include capitalism, the myth of romantic love, democracy, banking, etc. And we even discuss how some originally beneficial systems — healthcare, education, social media, big agriculture, etc. — have become corrupted or have dire ramifications.

“I don’t know who discovered water but I doubt it was a fish” ~ Marshall McLuhan.

We have very little insight into why we think the crap (and most of what we think is nonsensical and even possibly maladaptive — so it needs to be flushed) that we think and most people don’t question their thoughts unless they have experienced a severe crisis or rupture.

Like those fish who are blind to the water, we develop “ways of being” in the world based on these liquid beliefs.

“We are blind to our own blindness” ~ Alan Watts.

So it only takes a few hours to prove that these “ways of being” for most people are inauthentic.

They are inauthentic because we did not consciously, pro-actively CHOOSE them. They were inculcated into us by our primary caregivers and our reactions to those caregivers.

And most of these beliefs are based on FEARS.

And many of those fears are today irrational.

An irrational fear is a prejudice. And it is inauthentic.

After loosening the soil, I start to plant seeds by modeling authenticity and teaching the path to it that I outlined in my book: Attachment, Atonement, Attunement, Presence and Congruence. I give students tools so that they can step into being vulnerable, shed their facades, cut through the usual chatter, and authentically connect with fellow human beings — at a long table filled with delectable and sumptuous food.

What a rare privilege! To authentically connect with fellow human beings with zero status symbols casually dropped into conversations! Yes, imagining that you are “crazybusy” and continuously talking about all of the stuff that you “do” is even an attempt at raising your status, self-importance.

“I want to be a human being, not a human doing.”

And who knows what could result from a festive meal? It could lead to dancing!

Languid, shared meals sans busyness are not only extremely healing, but many of us have made friends for life and continue the tradition when our paths cross again outside of Esalen. In summary, the magic of Esalen is its rare combination of workshops by leading intellectuals and psychotherapists combined with inclusive communal meals over delicious food and conversation.


  • Ira Israel

    Psychotherapist & Author

    Psychotherapist Ira Israel is the author of “How To Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re and Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening,” which is endorsed by Sting, Reverend Michael Beckwith, Marianne Williamson, Jack Kornfield, Shauna Shapiro, Warren Farrell, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Jai Uttal, Joanne Cacciatore, Lorin Roche, Fred Luskin and many many others. Ira teaches workshops on authenticity and happiness at Esalen and Kripalu and has written over 300 articles on psychology, philosophy, Buddhism, yoga, film, art, music & literature for The Huffington Post, Good Men Project, Mind Body Green, Thrive Global, and Medium.  Ira is also the producer, writer and actor of the best-selling DVDs and videos "Authenticity and Awakening for Lovable Idiots," "A Beginner's Guide to Happiness," "A Beginner's Guide to Mindfulness Meditation," "Mindfulness for Depression," "Mindfulness for Anxiety," and "Yoga for Depression and Anxiety.”  He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has graduate degrees in Psychology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. For more information please visit