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The Personal Goes Political

November 25, 2004

Holistic education centers are shifting focusfrom changing yourself to changing the world

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 work.

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 Monologues author Eve Ensler, feminist icon Gloria Steinern, 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 trainingsincluding “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.”

Copyright Utne Reader Nov/Dec 2004




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