What is the spiritual retreat in the Mad Men finale?

Mad Men Six


The last time we see Don Draper in the very last episode of Mad Men, he’s meditating on the California coastline and smiling as the sun rises to meet him. For perhaps the first time in the run of the show, he seems truly happy. And he’s found that happiness by letting go of everything he held close to him about his identity and his notions regarding the world. He’s done it all in a remarkably short period of time.

The location is as important to this scene as it is to the entirety of the Mad Men finale. While it’s never given a name, it appears, based on the fact that he’s on the northern California coast and surrounded by well-meaning, meditative folks, that Don visits the Esalen Institute, a non-profit retreat center in Big Sur CA. Founded in 1962 by Michael Murphy and Dick Price, Esalen is a spiritual retreat aimed at unlocking human potential by way of meditation, yoga, organic living, and the study of Eastern philosophy.




Among Esalen’s many celebrity clients are Joan Baez, George Harrison, Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley, physicians Dean Ornish and Andrew Weil, and psychotherapist Abraham Maslow. And, according to noted religious scholar Jeffrey Kripal of Rice University,


Esalen tried to carve out a way of being religious without being religious. So, today, we have this phrase, ‘I’m spiritual but not religious.’ Now, that’s the largest religious demographic for people under 30. Esalen pioneered that concept in American culture.


As co-founder Murphy points out, there is a fundamental difference between the way we look at philosophy now and the way the discipline was looked at at the time of the institute’s founding:


Back in 1955, my Stanford professors were in direct opposition to me, looking at me like I was crazy because I meditated. Philosophy then was a branch of science, based in logical positivism. There was no character training–that was considered purview of the family or the church. It was such a long way from the Indian philosophies I was studying.


In short, then, Esalen is a place to go if you’re interested in finding out more about yourself, by way of the calm, careful study of the connections to be drawn between your mind and your body.

How much can you expect to pay for such study? According to the San Francisco Gate, the bare-bones approach–which consists of a weekend-long stay, and a sleeping bag on the conference room floor for your bed–will run you $405. If you want to spend more time in more comfort, a week in a private room goes for $4,645.


(Photos: Mad Men via AMC; Esalen via Wikipedia)

website statistics