Soul Searching for the rich

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BIG SUR, Calif. — Silicon Valley, facing a crisis of the soul, has found a retreat center.

It has been a hard year for the tech industry. Prominent figures like Sean Parker and Justin Rosenstein, horrified by what technology has become, have begun to publicly denounce companies like Facebook that made them rich.

And so Silicon Valley has come to the Esalen Institute, a storied hippie hotel here on the Pacific coast south of Carmel, Calif. After storm damage in the spring and a skeleton crew in the summer, the institute was fully reopened in October with a new director and a new mission: It will be a home for technologists to reckon with what they have built.

This is a radical change for the rambling old center. Founded in 1962, the nonprofit helped bring yoga, organic food and meditation into the American mainstream.

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A nude group therapy session in 1968 at Esalen, which was once a storied hippie hotel where nudity was the norm. CreditRalph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

The leaders behind humanist psychology worked from the lodge, and legend has it that Hunter S. Thompson wandered the place with a shotgun. Nudity was the norm.

Esalen’s last year has been apocalyptic. Three landslides in the spring took out the roads on all sides, and participants in a massage workshop had to be evacuated from a hilltop by helicopter. While the institute was closed, flooded and losing $1 million a month, its board made big changes. When the road reopened in October, the place had a new executive director, Ben Tauber, and its new mission.

“There’s a dawning consciousness emerging in Silicon Valley as people recognize that their conventional success isn’t necessarily making the world a better place,” said Mr. Tauber, 34, a former Google product manager and start-up executive coach. “The C.E.O.s, inside they’re hurting. They can’t sleep at night.”

Mr. Tauber has some competition. A former chief executive of Juniper Networks, Scott Kriens, opened his own tech and soul center nearby in May, with construction finishing in February. The goal of the center, called 1440 Multiversity, is to “recognize that the blazing success of the internet catalyzed powerful connections, yet did not help people connect to themselves.”

Still, there is most likely enough crisis to go around. Mr. Tauber has stacked Esalen’s calendar with sessions by Silicon Valley leaders, which are selling out.

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