Linda Goes to Esalen

By Ellery Littleton

Linda is taking the energy back down south from a place where it has flowered in unique and powerful ways. How cool is that?” – Ernie McNally

Once in a while, some deeply satisfying sequence of important events comes full circle. When this happens, there is a movement forward, profound and far-reaching. Recently, such a turn of events has unfolded, involving The Haven and one of our most accomplished and experienced faculty members, Linda Nicholls. This November, Linda will be the first Haven faculty member ever to offer an original Haven program at Esalen, the “mother ship” of personal growth centers, in Big Sur, California.

It will be Come Alive, of course, The Haven’s best-known program; Bennet Wong and Jock McKeen introduced it to The Haven in the early 1980s, and it has established itself as one of the best, and most well-rounded programs available anywhere in the wide world of growth and education centres. It is a key component of The Haven’s unique interlocking curriculum.

Over the last 25 years, Linda has led and co-led an amazingly wide range of programs, including many Come Alives, often in partnership with Ben and Jock  and several other core faculty members. She has also held several management positions at The Haven (including General Manager). As Linda puts it, “upon reflection I spent literally thousands of hours working closely with Ben and Jock, running the business in the early days.  I took in every possible training workshop, and travelled and taught with them for many phenomenal years.”

Linda was also, she comments, “highly privileged” to have met and worked with many of the “masters” who have come to The Haven, among them Virginia Satir, Bunny Duhl, James Bugental, Carl Whitaker, Irving and Miriam Polster. And of course, Joann Peterson and Maria Gomori.

From the south to the north and back again

What then is this “full circle” reference all about? Well, back in the late 1960s, an earlier incarnation of the growth center, The Cold Mountain Institute, was established on Cortes Island, off Campbell River. Cold Mountain was driven by Richard Weaver, who was trained at Esalen, and who introduced many of the ideas and techniques developed there – such as encounter, gestalt, role-playing, body work – the whole group therapy process, in fact, such as it was then – to the west coast of B.C.

When I first went to Cold Mountain in 1971, most of the visiting faculty who cycled through in the course of a year were from Esalen. They brought new and tremendously exciting ideas about self-awareness, communication, relationships, energy – the whole dynamic process of becoming fully alive emotionally – to Cold Mountain.

Eventually these ideas were enhanced and brought to full flower, and to The Haven, by Ben and Jock – who first began working together at Cold Mountain in the early 1970s (it ceased operation in 1980). It’s important to note that Ben brought a host of new and original ideas and techniques to Cold Mountain, which were skillfully blended with those from Esalen to form the basis of Come Alive and the other nuclear Haven programs, Living Alive Phase I and II and New Horizons Phase III.

Now Linda Nicholls is closing the circle by taking the energy back down south, where it originated some sixty years ago. She will be offering a full Come Alive program there this November.

Linda has established herself as one of The Haven’s best-known faculty members since she began offering programs here in the early 1990s. She focuses on “personal transformation and strengthening relational skills,” and has presented her superbly engaging seminars all over the world, most often in China. In addition to leading Come Alive, she also leads (in conjunction with other senior faculty): Body, Breath and Energy; Teens Alive; Breathe!; Conscious Sexuality; Shadow Play; Depression: Conscious Alternatives; Grieving: Change and Growth; and Relationships Review and Renew.

“The perfect choice”

Jock McKeen is an unabashed fan of Linda, with whom he worked intimately over the years. She became one of Ben and Jock’s most trusted and capable assistants and co-leaders.

“Linda is not a passive passenger of life,” he says. “She’s a voyageur, an adventurer, one of a kind, distinctive, singular; she forges her own path. She’s charismatic, classy in a down-to-earth way.

“She’s accessible and inclusive, sensitive, caring, humorous, able to work smoothly with people of different cultures and persuasions. She’s the perfect choice to introduce the Haven philosophy and style to Esalen, and a wider world audience.”

Linda is excited about her upcoming journey to the home base of the human potential movement. “The program will be Come Alive with a difference,” she says. “To integrate into Esalen’s environment and time structures, the usual small group format will be different, and I may or may not have an assistant. I enjoy the creative challenge of offering the full flavor of Come Alives that are taught at The Haven. Participants will definitely experience the essence of Come Alive as I have come to know it.

“It’s a thrill to be offering the program that has been the crucible for Ben and Jock’s work – right there in the heartland, the mother ship of personal growth centres. I’m not a sentimental person; however I am deeply honoured.”

As Ernie McNally, much beloved Haven faculty member and long-time friend of Linda, recently observed, “So now Linda is taking the energy back down south, from a place where it has flowered in unique and powerful ways. How cool is that?”

Very cool indeed, Ernie. And on the heels of Executive Director Rachel Davey’s visit to Esalen in April of this year (which was documented extensively in the Shen blog), it brings awareness of The Haven to a huge new audience. They will begin to become aware that something extraordinary is happening on Gabriola Island, something with roots in the past and a dynamic vision for the future.

The joy of seeing people light up

It would be easy to write more about the remarkable Linda Nicholls. But it’s probably more useful to let her speak for herself, in a few following comments, culled from interviews and from her own excellent website:

“I find nothing more enlivening than going into a circle with people and engaging in intensely personal and inventive ways to facilitate individual and group transformation. People emerge with fresh insight, vitality, inspiration and well-being, prepared to thrive from a deepened sense of connection.”

“I celebrate the range of the life force, from still and calm to wild and unpredictable, dissonant to harmonious, gentle to rough. Diversity is a natural human resource which makes it possible for us to engage compassionately with the world from our highest and best self.”

“Breathing is far more than the unconscious functioning of our autonomic nervous system that we take for granted. In many languages the word for spirit and breath are the same, suggesting that breathing is the movement of spirit in matter. Breath is the chord that ties the soul to the body.”

“I have been inspired by Ben and Jock. I felt better about myself when I was in their presence. When I first met them, I felt immediately that they were offering information that made sense about being human, living daily life, relating with others in ways that enhanced personal and professional fulfillment.” 

“My life’s path has been living and learning about relationship, and offering that learning to others. It is a great source of joy to me to see people light up, lighten up, embrace themselves and each other with loving, acceptance and compassion.”

Check the Esalen website for more information about Come Alive with Linda Nicholls, November 10-15, 2013. 

Linda’s next program at The Haven is Breathe (October 26–27). 





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