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One Can Still Drop In, if Not Drop Out, at Esalen

During what became known as the hippie era of the late 1960s and early '70s, when it seemed like an entire American generation of young people and older college professors tuned in and dropped out of mainstream society, something called the human potential movement swept the country.

The idea was that people could get in touch with their spiritual essence, expand their awareness of nature, improve their creativity and find happiness. Critics called it touchy-feely nonsense.

One beautiful spot at Big Sur, where California's Santa Lucia Mountains dip dramatically down to the Pacific Ocean, was a locus of the movement.

At the nonprofit Esalen Institute think tank and workshop center, people studied philosophy, communed with nature nude in natural hot springs, meditated to the sound of barking sea lions on the rocks below, and tuned in to the music of their souls.

At Esalen, a favorite haunt of musicians like Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez and George Harrison, they encourage you to do whatever you want to do, one workshop participant told reporters It feels real pretty. Another said, "Sometimes we allow ourselves to let loose and be crazy."

Many vestiges of the human potential movement collapsed in a swirl of drugs and violence, and most hippies put their headbands and sandals into drawers and got mainstream jobs.

But even Americans might be surprised to learn that Esalen is still going strong. It offers more than 500 workshops and seminars that accent, in its words, personal growth and social change, in areas traditionally neglected by mainstream institutions.

Headbands are optional.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.