Archive for September, 2013

Farewell to Elke

posted on: Monday, September 9th, 2013 by Ann Prehn

Elke and Neil Christmas 2005 copyIt will take some time to get used to Elke being gone.  No, she didn’t die, she just moved back to Germany to recover from the death of her beloved husband Neil and to be with her aging parents.  Not only do we miss her personally, we also miss her professionally.


Professional is the word for Elke Ney Murphy.  (So is sweet, sincere, and compassionate!)  For almost fourteen years, she has been one of the visible Managing Directors at Harbin.  It was she that sat in the Main Office and oversaw reception and guest services, as well as outreach to the public.  She had an impact on our history.  During her time Harbin morphed from an amateur operation to a world-known healing and retreat center, yet still maintaining its uniquely alternative character.  


Elke had been traveling the world when she arrived at Harbin as a guest twenty years ago, in August of 1993.  Back then Harbin had a work-exchange program and she worked in the Garden with Prem.  In October  the same year she returned to Harbin – this time to stay.  “I did not come to live in the United States, but in Harbin; the community, the waters and the beautiful nature were drawing me.”  


“I was glad to be accepted, and just wanted to contribute to this wonderful place.”  After one and a half years in housekeeping, and serving part time as a massage practitioner on staff, Elke got involved as a volunteer with organizing classes for candidates.  She also had a wonderfully romantic courtship with Managing Director Neil Murphy, and in March of 1995, at the Solstice, they were married.  In memorable Harbin style, the couple invited everyone at Harbin to their fabulously elegant wedding in the Conference Center.


Now thoroughly committed to being here, Elke threw herself body and soul into anything where she could make a difference.  And make a difference she did.  In 1995, there was a temporary manager, Grace Jones, in what would eventually become the Health Services Department.  Grace had been in the job for a couple of months when she handed a cardboard box of files to Elke – “She’s all yours, Baby!”  So without any training and no office, Elke took over massage management.  “I worked out of our home on Shady Lane.  Neil and I shared a one-room place, and I made one corner my office; meetings were held on the deck.  I even had a computer there (my first) – and learned Excel to make spread sheets.”  After a lot of cajoling, she finally got an office in the Redwood building.


During this time, Elke was also getting to know Harbin’s founder, Ishvara.  He and Ranjita (at the time) were on the testing committee for new therapists.  Her first impressions of him:  “He was smart and eccentric, and kept you on your toes.  His challenges were meant to expose your weaknesses and help you grow.  He could be abrupt, but he was usually right.  And over time, he got gentler.”


In approximately 2-1/2 years, Elke transformed massage.  The Redwood building was by now totally dedicated to bodywork, and is where guests and residents can get quiet massages near the pools from some 40 – 50 bodywork practitioners.


With such a stunning success in a previously impossible department, Elke was naturally asked to take over Reception.  Elke hesitated, seeing the job as going from the frying pan to the fire.  But Loren had left to take on the Workshops Department, Eme was poised to take on Health Services, and a new challenge was waiting.  Again, she was thrown in with no training (“I got a crash course from Steve”), into a department that she’d never worked in with different and unintegrated softwares at the Office and the Front Gate.


The first thing Elke did was get raises for the staff, treating them like professionals.  It paid off.  The Reception staff worked great as a team and the standard of service improved.  She remembers Ishpa and Janelle on the front desk , and Marilyn, Eric and Rosemary at the Gate (to mention just a few of the great staff).  The Managing Directors at that time, Sajjad, Julie, Neil Murphy and Steve, had offices in the same building.  Elke really liked her job and her team!  She hired Drew as her assistant and got the Reception software integrated with the Gate.  Within a year, the place was running smooth as hot spring water.


So of course, a few years later, Elke was invited to become a Managing Director.


Again, she hesitated.  Was she taking on too much?  That’s easy to do at Harbin, where the rule seems to be, “If you want something done, get a busy person to do it.”  When Neil Murphy quit to take over the Restaurant in 1999, and Loren declined the position, Elke Murphy became a Managing Director, in charge of electricity conservation among other tasks.  For two years, Elke was both Reception Manager and a Managing Director.  She’d been right – it was too much.  “Reception needs a full-time manager,” she said, and gave the job to her assistant Drew.


Her advice to her successor,  “Find a niche which you love and become good at it.  Then you can truly make a difference.”  For Elke, it was guest services:  “My goal was to lift our ‘service consciousness’ and still be authentic.”  She hired a guest services trainer, and now there is an ongoing, internal program in place.  Her responsibilities included marketing and PR – as well as researching alternative energy and conservation.


About energy conservation:  “We have over 40 different accounts, and we are constantly growing.  The highest usage is on Mainside, difficult to monitor.  I was in contact with many energy consultants.  We managed to make a difference in the office building by having thermostats and fans installed.  Most important is educating people to not waste energy.”


About alternative energy solutions:  “I had the place tested for solar.  That research proved disappointing.  We found that, since we’re in an East-facing horseshoe, there is no place that receives long enough sunlight to make a difference.  Solar needs a Southwest facing.  The best place is up high on the mountain at the Domes.”  Elke decided that something is better than nothing, and a trial array was put up near the warehouse.  Some years later, an array of solar panels was finally installed in the Domes parking lot.  “Solar was expensive at the time, so we kept it small to take advantage of a discount being offered.”  It is possible to extend it further up the mountain above the Domes, eventually.  For now, people are happy to be able to park their cars in its shade.


Hydro was not a feasible option.  “Not enough consistent pressure,” she says bluntly.  “What Harbin needs is more consciousness of consumption, that’s for sure.  It would be a good thing if someone took that on.”


Elke’s going to be a hard act to follow.  We still don’t know who her successor will be.  For whoever it is, Elke left some advice: 

  • “Sajjad is a good role model.  He knows how to prioritize. And he will take on whatever is needed: he becomes educated on the issue, looks at every angle (including consequences for the future), and weighs carefully any possible solution, before bringing the issue to the larger group for decision making. He sees the ‘big picture’.
  • “With power comes responsibility.  The more power you have, the smaller your ego needs to be. To me, working as a director is spiritual work.
  • “Forgive and forget and move on. There is the larger wisdom of the group and you need to respect each other. Everyone has qualities.
  • “Always do good. Coach people gently, help them to improve.
  • “Harbin is a soup bowl. We shouldn’t be isolated. Reach out to the larger community. Find out how others are doing it.
  • “The world is changing so fast – keep up with social media.”


“Community living is so important,”  she went on, “and needs to be thriving.  Harbin was intended as a transient community, but now residents want to stay.  The benefits of this are more stability in departments and higher quality of service.  Now the issue of aging needs to be addressed.  Maybe to think about a Living Facility of some sort.  Harbin could be a model.  All over the world, it’s an issue.”


Finally, Elke had some words to share about her own future.  “I don’t know what the future holds.  I’m grateful for having time to just be.”  At 89, her parents are still healthy but restricted in their activities.  “They are so glad to have me home.”


Elke says she misses us, too, and wishes Harbin all the best.  And she wants to assure us that for her,  “It’s all good.  I’m at the right place.”



HAI & Harbin: Deep in the Pools Together for 34 Years

posted on: Monday, September 2nd, 2013 by T ORourke

By Chas August


Have you ever noticed those people coming up from the Conference Center to the Harbin pools, happily talking and laughing and hugging each other? Wonder what’s making them so joyful? Those are HAI workshoppers enjoying the unique beauty, serenity, healing waters, historic grounds, and spirit-centered experience of Harbin.


HAI logoA Bit of History


Way back in mid-August of 1968, (before some of you were born, not as old as some of my neckties) a 39-year-old Chicago-area radio pro named Stan Dale noticed that his callers wanted to talk about sex and intimacy, but his bosses at the radio wouldn’t let him talk about those taboo topics on the air. Stan took the huge step to invite his listeners to join him for a weekend of informative, heart-opening, sex-positive celebration that he called “The Sex Workshop.” Part lecture, part exercises, part sharing, Stan created an event to help people explore, experience and talk about this very human, yet very hidden activity – SEX. 


Stan used to say it was as if he had found a big beautiful gem lying on the path in front of him and he picked it up and began to polish it. That gem was HAI, and we’ve been polishing it for 45 years.  


In 1972, after being pushed out of his radio show in Chicago for being too supportive of the anti-war movement, Stan picked up and moved to Santa Rosa, California. He brought his radio show to KIOI, then KSFO, and ultimately KGO. And he began looking for a home for his workshops. He needed someplace special — a place that would be open to clothing-optional workshops, conducive to deep personal exploration, with room to grow along with Stan’s expansive vision of “creating a world where everyone wins.” After a couple of years at Orr Hot Springs, Stan found Harbin Hot Springs and Harbin embraced Stan and HAI.


HAI, Harbin and Stonefront


“The Sex Workshop” came to Harbin’s Stonefront Building in 1979. From the beginning, Harbin staff graciously worked with Stan, and his wives Helen and Janet, to create a space for the workshops. Harbin knocked down walls and laid some carpet, enlarging the library area for the exercises and sleeping space for the participants and made small bedroom for Stan, Helen and Janet Dale and the team to sleep in and meet in.


Having a “team” to support the work was a relatively new development for the workshops. Stan had been concerned that having a team would take his attention away from the participants. When HAI came to Harbin there were only 6 Interns (volunteer team members). Along with HAI’s new home, the Intern “experiment” expanded to 12 volunteers, 6 Master Interns and 6 Interns, helping support the 20 or so participants at each of 12 workshops per year.  


Stonefront was homey and welcoming, but had its limitations. In 1979, Stonefront had only one bathroom available to the workshop, so everyone got pretty creative around biological functions. Workshoppers, team and participants became one big, happy family taking turns in shower and sharing the sink. In 1980, Harbin added a downstairs shower and toilet, but the space was still quite “cozy.”


Saturday nights of the workshop were (and still are) a time for everyone to entertain each other, then have a short dance party. If you’ve been in the Stonefront Building, picture the stairway landing (by the kitchen) as the “stage” with the audience sitting below. 


The Stan Dale Conference Center


Harbin was the perfect home for the workshops and HAI and the workshops thrived, quickly outgrowing the space available in Stonefront. In 1982 Ishvarra offered Stan the opportunity to hold The Sex Workshops in the then brand new and much larger conference center (recently named the “Stan Dale Conference Center”). Harbin and HAI helped each other to grow, and benefitted from each others’ growth.


Stan Dale was a man of boundless confidence and limitless good cheer, a man who loved life and loved everyone he met. According to his wife Janet, in his entire life he only had one nightmare.  The night before the first workshop in the conference center Stan dreamt he was standing in that big room and there were no participants. Fortunately, it was not a premonition.


HAI has grown from twelve workshops a year at Harbin to 30 or more per year, and more than seventy a year worldwide. The workshops have served countless Harbin residents and guests, and have brought thousands of people to experience Harbin. Harbin and HAI have continued to grow, and grow together.


Stan died in 2007, but his legacy lives on, as does HAI’s special relationship with Harbin. In 2008 Harbin erected a plaque naming the Conference Center “The Stan Dale Conference Center” in recognition of the man who brought so many people to this amazing place and brought so much love and growth and fulfillment to the people who have experienced HAI.


Not Just A Weekend, A Community


There are now nine levels of HAI “Love, Intimacy and Sexuality” workshops. As we have added new levels and new leaders, the HAI community has grown from a couple dozen curious people in a ballroom in Chicago, to tens of thousands of HAI grads that have shared a weekend with us at the Harbin Stan Dale Conference Center, to thousands more who have attended a HAI workshop at one of our other locations around the world. HAI communities put on events for HAI workshop graduates to continue to share the experience that many of them first had at the Harbin Stan Dale Conference Center.


If you haven’t experienced the love and connection of our HAI workshops, or if it’s been awhile since you were in our “room of love”, please join us for our “Love is a Miracle” weekend workshop at Harbin. You can find a schedule of our workshops on the Harbin website or at




About the Author

Chas August has been involved with the Human Awareness Institute since his first visit to Harbin and HAI in 1989.  He has volunteered with and worked for HAI in various capacities and is currently Director Of Marketing for HAI, NorCal.  Chas is also a personal growth coach and counselor, helping people experience personal growth and change in the areas of intimacy and sexuality, discover passion, heal anger, and improve communication skills.

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