R. D. Laing wore many robes in his career, including psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, philosopher, social critic, author, poet, and mystic, and at the peak of his fame and popularity in the 1970s he was the most widely-read psychiatrist in the world.

Arguably the most controversial psychoanalyst since Freud, Laing's meteoric rise in the 1960s was the result of his rare ability to make complex ideas accessible with such best-selling classics as The Divided Self (1960), Sanity, Madness and Family (1964), The Politics of Experience (1967), Knots (1970), and many others. Laing's impassioned plea for a more humane treatment of those in society who are most vulnerable catapulted him into the vanguard of intellectual and cultural debate about the nature of sanity and madness, and inspired a generation of psychology students, intellectuals, and artists to turn this disarming Scotsman into a social icon.

One of the most seminal aspects to Laing’s approach to the human condition was his exploration into how human beings treat each other: the ethical dimension to relationships. Laing was psychoanalyst, philosopher, and existentialist, with a no-holds critique of both the dark side of the human condition, as well as its virtue. Our workshop this year will explore what it means to be ethical from the broadest possible perspective, including secular, religious, and philosophical dimensions as conceived over the millennia, including the Greek era, Buddhism, and common wisdom.

This workshop, designed for those seeking answers to what is right and wrong, is a continuation of our previous Esalen workshops that focused, in turn, on Laing’s take about the nature of sanity and madness, the therapeutic relationship, altered states, the nature of love, authenticity, spirituality and, last year,

happiness. This workshop is best suited for those who are familiar with Laing’s work and who wish to explore it further. Our three workshop leaders will be joined by a dozen guest speakers (many of whom worked intimately with Laing), to assess the question of morality at the most fundamental level. The workshop will be comprised of theoretical presentations, panel discussions, and experiential exercises to demonstrate practical aspects of Laing’s legacy.

Among the questions we will explore:
1. What is the relation between the ethical and the moral? Or is there a difference?

2. How have our views about the nature of the moral evolved over the millenia?

3. Does the ethical person have a better chance at happiness? Does it insulate us from suffering, or increase it?

4. How does the Greek conception of ethics differ from the modern conception, rooted in the social contract?

5. Is it possible to transcend good and evil? What role does love play in our notion about morality?


Join us for five breathtaking days at Esalen Institute on the Pacific Coast to explore how we can promote more humane and effective ways of helping those suffering from extreme states.

–MICHAEL GUY THOMPSON, NITA GAGE, FRITJOF CAPRA