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Origins of the Ranch, 80th Anniversary


The Portal to Human Potential Turns 80

As Rancho La Puerta approaches its 80th anniversary, our debut in June of 1940 seems far far in the past.  Not only was the property in 1940 nothing like it is today (guests were asked to bring their own tents and camp under the oaks; $17.50 a week, with two and a half hours of helping with chores), but the very notion that its co-founder, Deborah Szekely, would still be lecturing and providing virtual chats in 2020 would strike anyone as wishful thinking.

Is 80 “old?” Not when you see The Ranch, nor when you meet Deborah, who is now 98. And not when you meet your vital, interesting fellow guests (who we hope can join us again soon), whose ages span all decades of life (most, however, are in the 30 to 65 range). The Ranch seems ever new, evergreen. Even our history often feels unvarnished and new: when we go to the library and archives here, we find a storehouse of modern thought—especially in the approach of our co-Founder Edmond Szekely.

From the beginning, the “Professor” relied on the wisdom of the ancients. In a spring of 1944 newsletter he found it amusing to list the current “staff” of The Ranch.

Here’s the Professor’s roll call of staff members:

(Note: back then we were located on a ranch called Rancho La Puerta, but the program was called The Essene School of Life. According to Deborah, “The Mexican Minister of Education told us that if we were going to use the word ‘school’ in our name, we had to use a standardized government curriculum. Although we gave up the name we continue today to teach the essentials of living the healthy, natural life.)

The Essene School of Life

Professors of Philosophy: Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Comte, Spender, etc.

Professors of Religion: Zoroaster, Moses, Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, etc.

Professors of Natural Science: Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, etc.

Professors of Literature: Home, Dante, Goethe, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc.

Librarian: Edmond Szekely

This brilliant “librarian” was the reason the guests came. Edmond Szekely’s reputation as a forward-thinking proponent of natural health was established in the 1930s through his book “Cosmos, Man and Society” and other writings, as well as his summer health camps—some in Mexico and Southern California—that drew guests from as far away as Europe.

His goal was the edification of mind/body/spirit, and the understanding of their interdependence.  The Professor’s daily lectures regularly brought home this message, but it was never so spectacularly and memorably presented as on the occasion of The Ranch’s 20th Anniversary in 1960. With help of his great friend, Aldous Huxley—author, philosopher, and one of the most original minds of the 20th Century. Rancho La Puerta launched the first “Human Potential Symposium.” To our knowledge, that was one of the first, if not the first, coupling of those words: human and potential.

Michael Murphy has credited his stay at Rancho La Puerta with inspiring him to create the Esalen Foundation, which he then made the center of the 1960s’ Human Potential Movement.

On our 30th anniversary in 1970 the second Human Potential Symposium here attracted psychologist Gardner Murphy, Ph.D., as its main speaker. He was director of research for the famed Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas.

Today the exploration of Human Potential is still in prominence (will it ever not be?). Challenging frontiers lie deep within each of us. As the Professor would point out, Human Potential is first and foremost omnilateral; one side cannot be ignored at the expense of the other. Humans are not simply a brain, or a body, or an organ, or a spirit: he or she are all of these things, and we each must be our own caretaker.

The Professor passed on in 1979, but in The Ranch’s 80th anniversary year we will safely celebrate his timeless wisdom, as well as all that Deborah has created here during and after their long partnership. The origins are still all around us. Even the original adobe hay-storing casita that Deborah and the Prof called home is still on the property.

When we are able to meet again, realize that The Ranch is one of the true portals to maximizing what Aldous Huxley and the Professor called “our human potential.” We’ll be there with you!

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