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Silicon Valley executives are paying thousands to fix a ‘crisis of the soul’ at a luxury retreat — here’s what they’re learning

Esalen Institue
Esalen Institue

Esalen Institue/Facebook

  • Silicon Valley executives are descending on a bohemian retreat center in California to come to terms with the technologies they created.

  • Workshops focus on things like tech addiction and fostering social good.

  • A weekend for two can costs upward of $2000 for organic meals and rustic accommodations.


Facebook's fake news problem and talk of smartphone addiction have caused some tech workers to realize that the apps, social networks, and smart devices that made them successful may have some serious downsides. 

So Silicon Valley executives are heading to the Esalen Institute, a historic retreat center in Big Sur, California that once attracted the hippie crowd to fix their "crisis of the soul," as The New York Times puts it.

 “There’s a dawning consciousness emerging in Silicon Valley as people recognize that their conventional success isn’t necessarily making the world a better place,” Esalen executive director Ben Tauber told the New York Times.

Esalen has been hosting workshops on meditation, healing, and yoga since 1962, but with Tauber at the helm, it's reworking the curriculum to cater to Silicon Valley's executives with workshops on everything from internet addiction to depression and tech.

In Tauber's former life, he founded a celebrity-tracking tool called JustSpotted before joining Google in 2011. After a trip to Esalen, he realized he wanted something more. In 2015 he joined Esalen's board and took over as director last year.

In November, Esalen hosted a weekend session called "Connect to Your Inner-Net: Mindful Practices for Life and Work." Attendees began their days with dancing and chakra meditation before diving into practices like mindful emailing and listening. It was led by Gopi Kallayil, the leader of brand marketing at Google Social and Mirabai Bush, a contributor to Google's workplace mindfulness initiatives.


Esalen Institute/Facebook

During a "Digital Raign Reality Summit" earlier this year, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, artists and others descended on the resort to explore positive uses for emerging technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence. According to Esalen's website, this year's program set out to explore "...the depths of emerging technology, neuroscience, and development of positive mind states in the digital age."

Another session called "Consciousness Hacking: Meditation + Technology" took place in November. It was led by Mikey Siegel, founder of an organization called Consciousness Hacking, and Dustin DiPernia, an ancient meditation expert. The event was described as a "technology-augmented meditation retreat" and combined traditional meditation with a technology designed by the duo that monitors heart rhythms and provides feedback. 

Like many activities involving the tech crowd, Esalen's weekend retreats don't come cheap. A standard all-inclusive rooms runs at $845, while a double costs $2310. Participants are fed meals like roasted delicata squash, baked polenta, and spicy marinated cauliflower. The rooms have heated floors, enhanced sound, and of course, an internet connection.

The new programs are a departure from Esalen's old ways, but it seems like Silicon Valley is having an awakening, and just as it did in for the hippies in the '70s, Esalen is there to lead them through it. 

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