In an article for The New York Times, Norimitsu Onishi writes about the challenges facing the legendary Esalen Institute with its glorious views of California's coastline. At one time it was the only game in town as far as spiritual retreat centers were concerned with its mix of courses on mind, body, the emotions, and personal growth. But nowadays critics are concerned that Esalen has not kept up with the times with a predictable mix of programs offered by other retreat centers across the country, not to mention all the yoga studios and street corner ashrams in major cities. Other supporters worry that only the rich will be able to attend when prices range from $405 for sleeping bag accommodations for a weekend workshop to $1,395 for a luxury room.
Gordon Wheeler, a Gestalt psychologist and the center's president, points to the timely programs and workshops which appeal to the spiritual but not religious crowd: "We've always said we're about personal and social transformation. If anything, we've stepped up the social. The world is more demanding now. The call of the world is more urgent. And we looked at each other and said we have to step it up."
We wish Esalen and other retreat centers well in these financially tough times; these places have served the spiritual renaissance well by providing venues for spiritual teachers to interact with their students and try out new concepts. But we also have noticed that the residential retreat or conference, while offering a unique experience for a weekend or longer, has an audience limited to those who have extra time and extra money. This realization has given rise to our own mission.
At Spirituality & Practice we are working with another model for the spiritual retreat experience. Through our "current e-courses and online retreats," we offer opportunities for learners to interact with teachers and with each other in online Practice Circles. We ask people to apply teachings they receive via email about personal and societal transformation to their everyday lives and report back on how they are doing. Compared to the cost of residential retreats, our prices are very low – between $21 and $49.95 – reflecting our hope and the intention that anyone who wants to can participate.