Forging the Possible Human
"There is a revolution going on! We're
moving towards planetization within one century."
with Jean Houston
When the search was on to find the girl to play Joan of Arc in the
Hollywood movie, she was second in line for the role. It was eventually
given to Jean Seberg, but Jean Houston is a mover and shaker with an
epicenter of equal mission and purpose. it's easy to believe that she has
well over a million ex-students scattered around the globe, and that her
plans and strategies are listened to by heads of state and other
government officials in over forty countries.
A past president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, Houston
is the co-director--with her husband, Robert Masters-of the Foundation for
Mind Research in Pomona, California The foundation has been running for
thirty years, and her work has inspired over 1,000 teaching learning
communities. She received the Distinguished Leadership Award from the
Association of Teacher Educators in 1985, and in 1993 she received the
Humanitarian of the Year award from the New Thought Alliance. She is the
author of twelve hooks, including The Possible Human and The Search for
the Beloved. Holder of two Ph.D. 's, a psychologist, scholar philosopher,
and teacher; she specializes in a multi-level approach to education that
blends various learning techniques to elicit the potential within each
Houston works both at the grassroots and government levels, offering
her skills to local and international development agencies as they attempt
to bring about cultural growth and social change. Most recently she has
been collaborating with UNICEF and other NGOs in Bangladesh. Of all the
people in this collection, Houston is the most intimately involved with
the organizations and institutions engaged in the day-to-day running of
planetary affairs. She is also, perhaps surprisingly, one of the most
For someone who moves around the globe at a rate of a quarter of a
million miles a year; Houston is remarkably present--a mountain with
wings, a dynamic combination of philosophy and action. She carries her
six-foot height with the grace of a person at ease with being larger than
life. She is an ancient Greek philosopher ruminating on the hidden
mysteries of the universe, yet in the same glance she is a rudely peasant
girl, gazing with delight at the wings of her first butterfly.
She has an uncanny ability to unearth potential. We interviewed
Houston on May 27, 1994, but I had seen her speak at a conference a few
weeks before, At the conference’s end she conducted the entire audience in
singing Pachabel's Canon in
rounds-and in tune! When someone congratulated her on the remarkable feat,
she just shrugged Like the protagonist of a Wagnerian opera, her voice
resonates with ancient Teutonic tones. Her eyes beam a millennial come-on:
"Won't you come on board? " And as she speaks about the hidden potentials
of the mind you feel a bit like a jury, listening to the defense lawyer 's
impassioned plea for clemency for her client, the human race.
David: What was it that originally inspired your interest in awakening
Jean: Well, when you ask questions of origins, one necessarily has to
go way, way back. In a sense I was born for it. I am a person of a very
great deal of hybridization. My father comes from an old American family.
Sam Houston was my great-great-great grandfather, Robert E. Lee was my
great-great grandfather. And there's also a Jewish Indian
great-great-great grandfather, whose name, so help me, was the equivalent
of Scarecrow Rose and Blood. My father, Jack Houston married Maria
Anunciada Seraphina Graciella, a Sicillian. So I came into an enormous mix
and match of cultures.
My father was a comedy writer who was writing for people like Bob Hope
and Edgar Bergen. I went to 29 schools before I was twelve. Often I would
go back to the same school after a year and half absence, and I would
notice that in the first grade, everybody was full of potential and
capacity. If you could have plotted from the first grade what those
children would be, you would say that you had an extraordinary band of
geniuses. Then I would come back in the third grade and about half would
have fallen off and then in the fourth grade, another half.
So this began to trouble me even as a child. I was being educated on
the road by my parents. Geography was something that went by at eighty
miles an hour.(laughter) My mother decided that the way to put muscles on
the brain was to learn huge sections of Shakespeare and poetry and sing
Italian opera. So, I was allowed to stay quickened and not to fall into
habitual learning patterns. I asked myself, why is it that we have a
million keys within ourselves and we learn to play only twenty? Why is it
that the child plays about 400,000 and gradually there is that cutting
back and down?
My father had to become a Catholic to marry my mother. He and the young
priest traded jokes instead of theology, and finally the priest said,
"Jack, you're just a natural born pagan. I'll give you a learners permit
so you can get married, but any kid comes along, you make sure you bring
them up Catholic."
When I was five I entered the first grade of Catholic school. My father
gave me questions to ask the poor little nun every morning. "Sister
Theresa, I counted my ribs and I counted Joey Mangabella's ribs, and if
God made Eve out of Adam's ribs...." I had thirty little girls and boys
lifting up their undershirts all at once. (laughter)
Or, "Sister Theresa, when Jesus rose, was that because God filled him
with helium?" She got angrier and angrier. Finally I asked a question I
had thought of myself. "Sister Theresa, did Jesus ever have to go to the
bathroom?" She blew up. She had this bad lisp and she started screaming,
"blasphemy, blasphemy!" She showed me a piece of paper and at the top it
read, `Jean Houston's years in purgatory.' Every time I had asked a
question there was a big X, and each X represented 100,000 years.
At the end of the first grade, on my birthday, we had the great
addition. It came to 300 million years in purgatory. I went home crying
and my father found it hilarious. He picked me up and put me on his
shoulders and ran down the street saying, "you think you've got problems?
Hah! Wait and see what they did to a real saint!" He took me to see The
Song of Bernadette which was about a little girl who had a vision of the
The whole theater was packed with rapturous Sicilian Catholics - old
ladies sitting next to me going, "aaah, Santa Regina!" every time Jennifer
Jones would show up on the screen. Then came the great moment, one of the
most religiously luminous moments in motion picture history, when the
Virgin Mary appears in the grotto.
Suddenly this horrible whinnying mule-like laugh fills the theater.
It's coming from my father. I say, "daddy shush, this is the holy part!"
He says, "but do you know who that is playing Mary? That's the movie
starlet we met at that party in Beverly Hills who was coming on to me.
That's Linda Darnell - hot damn!" And the Sicilians are turning around
saying, "diablo! diablo!"(laughter)
As I was going home after the movie, I was heady for purpose. I knew
that I could see the Virgin Mary - the real one, not Linda Darnell. I went
home and up to the second floor where we had a closet. Chicky my dog had
just had her pups so it was a dog nursery. I pulled the dog and the pups
away and I got down on my knees and I prayed, "please Virgin Mary, please
show up, I want so much to see you."
Then I remembered that Catholics tend to bribe the saints. "If you show
up, I'll give up candy for a week - two weeks, okay? I opened my eyes and
Chicky had brought one of her pups back. So I tried again. I said, "I'll
give up candy and cannelloni and ricotta pie.(laughter) I kept
counting to higher numbers each time. I counted to 167 and opened my eyes,
sure she was going to be there - but she wasn't. Chicky had brought all
eight pups back into the closet.
So I gave up. I walked to the window seat and looked down at the fig
tree in the garden that was blooming. Suddenly it happened. I cannot say
that reality outside changed, but suddenly I was part of a seamless web of
kinship with all of reality and I knew absolutely that I and that fig tree
and the pups in the closet and my idea of the Virgin Mary and my chewed up
pencil, and fish off Sheep's Head Bay, and old ladies dying in Shore Road
hospital, and new wheat in Kansas, was all dynamically related to
everything else in symphonic resonance that made for an extraordinary
unified cosmos. It was very good.
This went on forever. Lifetimes went by, but technically it was
probably only two seconds. Then my father entered the house laughing (he
was always laughing) and immediately the whole universe began to laugh -
great, huge, joy. Years later when I was able to read
Dante in Italian, I
recognized the truth in the line deriso de l'universo - the joy
that spins the universe. I was regrown out of the field of that experience
- it became the template for everything in my life.
Rebecca: So the studies that you developed after that
were to allow people to reclaim this kind of experience?
Jean: Yes, to reclaim the experience and all of
its implications; that we have the sensory systems to be part of a much
larger sensory universe and that we have the psychological systems to be
not schizophrenic or uniphrenic, but polyphrenic.
I've talked to many people who've had similar experiences to this as
children, but unlike many of them, I was encouraged to reflect my
experience in language. My father came home and asked me what had
happened, so I told him and he said, "hot damn! That's really good!" He
didn't knock it. That was not my only experience, but key
experiences tend to recur as fractal waves throughout one's life.
When I was eight years old I had another huge opening. My dad was
writing the Edgar Bergen and Charlie MaCarthy show. We went to deliver the
script and Edgar Bergen was sitting with his back towards us and talking
to Charlie, his dummy. There was nothing unusual about that, I was used to
seeing ventriloquists rehearsing with their dummies.
But as we listened my father said, "I didn't write this." Edgar was
asking Charlie ultimate questions. What is the nature of life? What does
it mean to truly love? Where is the mind? Where is the soul? And this
little block of wood with clacking jaws and head full of sawdust was
answering with the wisdom of the finest thinkers of all the millennia.
Edgar himself was listening and you could see part of his mouth moving,
but his eyes were in complete astonishment.
Finally my father, the agnostic Baptist, couldn't stand any more and he
coughed loudly. Edgar turned around and his face went beet red. He said,
"hello Jack, hi Jean, you caught us." My dad said, "what in the world are
you doing?" Edgar replied, "I sometimes talk to Charlie, he's the wisest
person I know." My father was saying, "hey Ed, that's you, that's your
voice, You've just read a lot." Edgar replied, "yes, I suppose ultimately
it is, but you know, when I ask him these questions and he answers, I have
no idea what he's going to say, and what he says is so much more than I
Again, it was like someone walked across my future. I knew that I was
being reintroduced to the cosmos within. It was as if we lived in the
attic or ourselves with all the floors relatively uninhabited and the
basement locked, except when the plumbing explodes. I knew that part of my
job was to help reinhabit those floors.
Rebecca: What were some of the early influences that
helped to formulate your understanding of consciousness?
Jean: Around my eighth or ninth year I became interested
in the world's religions. I was mathematically retarded but theologically
precocious. I began to correspond with seikhs in India. After about the
third letter they would ask about job opportunities in America. After the
fourth letter, I would get a proposal of marriage and I would angrily
write back saying that I was only ten years old and they would say, that's
the perfect age for marriage! (laughter)
Then I read a book which just spoke to my soul - it was Joseph
Hero with a Thousand Faces. It set me off on all kinds of
metaphysical quests. When I was fourteen I was sent down to Texas in the
summertime, and I got a band of boys to follow me. I set myself up as a
teenage messiah and we went on the road with motorcycles. At first we had
`saving booths' but people got bored with our preaching so we then
branched off into healing.
So, I had a double life. In the summer I was a teenage messiah with an
old Harley Davidson and cowboy hat and cowboy boots, and during the rest
of the year I was taking walks with an old man who I had literally run
into. I knocked the wind out of him and he said with a thick French
accent, "are you planning to run like that for the rest of your life?" I
said, "yes sir, it looks that way," and he said, "well, bon voyage." The
following week I met him again. He had a long name but he asked me to call
him by the first part which to my ears was something like Mr Tayer.
He had no self-consciousness whatsoever. He had leaky margins and he
was falling into lovingness with things all the time. He would fall to the
ground in the park in ecstasy to look at a caterpillar with his long
gaelic nose raking the ground. "Oh Jean look, a caterpillar! What does a
caterpillar become, uh? Moving, changing, transforming - metamorphosis.
Can you feel yourself to be a caterpillar? What is it to be a papillon, a
butterfly? The butterfly is within you! What is the butterfly of
Jean in ten, twenty, thirty years, uh? I replied tentatively, "I think
I'll be flying around the world meeting different peoples and helping them
to be what they can be." This question was my adolescent initiation.
He was something. He had all kinds of strange ways of relating to
reality. He'd talk to trees and rocks, addressing them tu, toi, thou. We
would lean into the wind and say, "this same wind was once sniffed by
Alexander the Great - very interesting,
Genghis Khan - not so good.(laughter)
Here it comes,
Jean d'Arc - be filled with Jean d'Arc! Be filled with the tides of
history - same molecules." People followed us around, not laughing at us
but with us. He created a kind of conversational gestalt. He would look at
you as if you were God in hiding and I would leave my littleness behind
when I was with him.
We walked together twice a week for a year and half. The last time I
saw him was on April 7th 1955. He was very pale. He went off on this
extraordinary riff about spirals. It began with a talk about the floor of
Chartres Cathedral and brains and intestines and galaxies and evolution.
He said, "Jean, the people of your time at the end of the 20th century
will be taking the tiller of the world, but they cannot go directly, they
must touch upon every people, every culture - you must do that Jean. It
will be a great field of mind, we will be turning the corner on the human
He said, "au revoir Jean," and I said, "goodbye Mr Tayer, I'll see you
on Tuesday." My dog Chicky didn't want to go and was whining. The next
Tuesday he didn't come. For eight weeks I went to meet him but he still
didn't come. He had died that Easter Sunday but I didn't know it. Years
later in graduate school somebody handed me a book without a cover called
The Phenomenon of Man. I read it and the words were very familiar.
I asked where the cover was and my friend showed it to me with the photo
of the author. Mr Tayer had been Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Rebecca: (laughter) That's great! What have you
discovered about the different ways that children learn and how a child
who is having difficulty with the traditional system can be helped?
Jean: Every child has difficulty with the traditional
system, it's just that some have certain mindsets that are appropriate to
the limited dominant system of the time - linear, analytic, verbal or
I've been engaged in educational experiments for thirty years, setting
up alternative programs in schools and now programs in whole countries
where art is central to the curriculum, not off at the periphery.
There is no such thing as a stupid child, there are just incredibly
stupid systems of education. Often I feel that I was educated for around
the year 1926, not for the immense complexities of today.
Some people think in images, some in words, some think kinesthetically
like athletes. People like
Proust have a
sort of interior imagery activated by the senses. People from different
cultures think differently. I was in Brooklyn in a largely black and
hispanic neighborhood. I was brought in to observe very fine teachers
trying to reach these kids, and they weren't. The kids couldn't care less.
They were dull and apathetic.
I followed the kids out into the playground and they were brilliant.
They were coming up with complex ideas and developing a whole Byzantine
intrigue. Then they would go back into the classroom and bam! dead again.
I couldn't stand it. I pulled a boy over and I said, "Tommy, what's five
plus three plus two?" He said, "oh man, get lost." I said, "Tommy, what's
this?" and I tapped out the problem with my hands on the table. He said,
"that's ten." "Why didn't you say before?" "You didn't ask me." You see, I
was asking in terms of northern European notions of intelligence of
I went home with him. His father had been a jazz musician and he had
grown up with rhythmic patterns related to everything. So I went back to
the school and began with the basics - spelling out `cat'. I said, "let's
make a C with our bodies, then an A, then a T and close your eyes and see
a cat." I played it out on many levels and of course they got it. Well,
you might say what about rhododendrons? (laughter) But once you
heal the wounded learner by finding the particular frame of mind, then
kids will learn.
As you go along, you realize that we are really state dependent in our
learning. If you begin to change the whole frequency domain of brain and
mind and you play the orchestral symphonic form of different states of
consciousness, you will find talents just laying there in wait.
I was brought to the home of a child who was an inventor. He invented
upside-down lighthouses for submarines, revolving goldfish bowls for tired
goldfish, easy-off whisker remover - the man puts the paste on his cheek,
it causes his whiskers to grow inward and he bites them off the next
But this child was flunking at school. When we tested him, we found out
that he just couldn't do the ordinary mathematics, but when I asked him to
work out the problem his own way, he began to sing and dance and make
movements and he gave us the right answer. I said, "what are you doing
kid? Are you thinking in images?" and he said, "yes."
We took this boy to the University of Michigan and gave him an IQ test.
He did terribly - 85. I said, "never mind Billy, do it your own way." He
said, "that's not possible because this test was made for people with your
kind of mind. Can you make the question sing and dance?" I tried. Next
question. "Jean, can you make it look like a building by
Frank Lloyd Wright?"
I tried. We got through this exhausting process and his IQ was scored at
135 - it would have been higher if I had been smart enough to know how to
ask the questions the right way.
Then working with the teachers we began to create new forms so that
these kinds of children could be educated in many ways. And they stopped
failing. Not only that, they became very creative. Billy never got beyond
a B- until he got to graduate school. I asked him why and he said, "there
were too many questions A,B,C,D. I couldn't help it, I always saw E, an
What we have done in our western reduction of intelligence in
marshaling industrial and economic progress, is that we have greatly
shrunken the mind's domain. We have placed an enormous over-emphasis on
certain styles of thinking that has resulted in the ecological holocaust,
for example. It's what
Francis Bacon referred to as `extending the empire of man over
What I try to do in my work is to give people access to the richer
levels and frames of consciousness and also the autonomous personae who
are there. If a child is learning math through dance, if a child is
learning culture through drama or fractions through weaving and has many
modes of tie-ins of mind and body into the educational framework - they're
not going to fail.
Rebecca: What was the nature of the foundation which you
and your husband Robert Masters set up, and what understanding did your
work there lead to?
Jean: After the LSD research ended in 1965, my husband
and I went on to create The Foundation for Mind Research in New York to
explore, in non-drug ways, the breadth, the range and the depth of human
possibilities. Over the years we had something like 3,000 research
subjects. We explored thinking in images, thinking in words, thinking with
the whole body, and we began to apply our work to schools, hospitals and
became the president of our foundation and she sent me out into the world
to explore other cultures. Our associates and I have found it necessary to
work both intra-culturally as well as trans-culturally. In our
trans-cultural work we try to speak to the potential in every human being,
regardless of local and cultural conditioning - the perennial human,
whether a rickshaw peddler in Delhi or an oil company owner in Dallas.
If possible, we always try to use techniques embedded in a story. We've
found that people go much farther, faster and deeper if they have a story
upon which to unfold their developing selves, and a story, like a great
piece of music, will take you over the difficult passages.
We show them that they have a natural access to capacities like being
able to think with many different frames of mind: visual, verbal,
kinesthetic, inter-personal, subjective, intuitive, logical, mathematical
- capacities which improve the physical use of the body and that enhance
memory, creative expression and problem-solving.
David: What about the people you come across who are
really poor and haven't received any education - how are you able to
influence their lives?
Jean: Given the education and given the opportunity, we
find that most people are able to make remarkable improvements in their
functioning and learn new ways of being in a relatively short period of
Rebecca: Do people in third world countries really have
the incentive for all of this? Aren't they busy surviving and trying to
emulate the Western trip?
Jean: It's even more true in so-called third world
countries. We find that people there are closer to their potentials
because they have not yet been shattered by education and social
objectives that inhibit and coerce their natural capacities into approved
tracts and templates. Wherever we have worked we have found the possible
human just beneath the surface crust of local culture and the
consciousness of a possible society is not far behind.
Rebecca: Could you tell us about the influence of Aldous
Huxley on your work, particularly his final book, Island?
Jean: In 1963, when I was just barely out of my teens, a
friend called me to tell me that Aldous Huxley wanted to meet me. I
couldn't figure out why except that I had the only legal supply of LSD in
New York City. (laughter)
The Doors of Perception and
Island had become virtually scripture for me, but I was quite
unprepared when I opened the door to discover a man who looked like one of
William Blake's archangels or perhaps the average man from a distant but
optimal future. He was very tall and very beautiful. His eyes were misted
over with near-blindess, but he seemed to be gazing into other worlds.
He had the gift of being interested in everything - and being able to
talk about it. But you never dreaded the extraordinary range of his
knowledge because he also brought you into the conversation and made you
partner to it. I can't help comparing the conversation we had together
that day to one of the conversations in his novels.
We began by discussing the phenomenon of looking at flowers in the
psychedelic state and he asked me to read out loud the relevant passage in
The Doors of Perception. We talked about the mythology of flowers,
the garden of Eden and the meaning of paradise. As we continued to talk,
we were no longer a young girl and an elderly man. We were comrades in
speculation - co-adepts in the mysteries of visionary vegetables.
I plucked up the courage to question him about Island. In this
book he had carefully created a society based on optimum education and
enlightened inter-relationships. It was the Utopia that stood in absolute
contrast to the distopia he had created in
Brave New World. It inspired much of my own work in the education
of the possible human and was his consummate vision of what human beings
and their societies could be.
At the book's conclusion, this ideal society is utterly destroyed as
the fascist military forces take over. Try as I might, I could not contain
my resentment over this ending and I asked why he had permitted the book
to end that way. He said that he had thought of having a longer book with
a different ending but that there had recently been a fire that had
destroyed all his manuscripts. He said that as he hadn't been feeling
well, he had wanted to get the book out.
I persisted, saying that the ending discouraged people from even making
the attempt at creating the experiments that could lead to a better
society. "Well, then," he said, "you must do something about it, mustn't
you?" And once again, I could feel my whole future rising. I never saw him
again. He died later that year, the same day JFK was shot.
David: Tell us about you work in Bangladesh.
Jean: Huxleys' Island population came from
Scotland and Bengal, which now of course is Bangladesh. In the world's
eyes this is considered the most tragic of countries, a nation
relentlessly afflicted by flooding, poverty, illness and futility. But
Bangladesh is also a world of metaphor, of high and low theater, of great
poetry and music. You talk to a rice farmer and you find a poet. You get
to know a sweeper of the streets and you find a remarkable singer.
I went and worked with thousands of leaders there. In the various
meetings and seminars that we gave, we found that the participants were
very responsive to our methods of learning and they spoke to us about how
for the first time, they were being affirmed in what they had long sensed
and already knew.
Rebecca: You don't mean reworking their original
educational style, but the one imposed during colonial times?
Jean: Yes. It was as if the imported culture from the
West - mainly England - had dropped a curtain over their more natural,
artistic thought processes and modes of expression. One fellow told us
that he'd always felt that in his studies he'd been made to operate as if
he'd had his hands tied and his lips taped up, and that now he felt free
for the first time.
I go into a culture and look for the genius within it. How Africans
think and move, how Chinese paint, how American Indians speak to the land
- this is all coming together and making for a new cultural context.
Some years ago I was in West Africa investigating a tribe that had had
no warfare for a very long time and very little neurosis as we understand
it. They also had some of the best problem-solving capacities that I have
ever seen in my life. They sang and danced and dreamed around the problem!
They were simply cooking on more burners. (laughter) Now you may
say that that would never work in the University of California - but you
would be wrong.
David: How did your experiences with Margaret Mead
influence your perspective?
Jean: Margaret once said, "you're just like me." I said,
"no Margaret, I'm much nicer than you, just not as smart." (laughter)
I was her adopted daughter - it's no great secret. She lived with us off
and on for six years. I watched her work and saw that she was doing what I
had been studying for years. She was thinking in images, she was thinking
with her whole body. She had these tremendous explosions and then she
would go and hug you hugely. She had one of the richest, deepest and
widest personalities that I had ever seen. She was the smartest human
being I had ever met - not the nicest, but the smartest.
We were eating together at a women's conference one time, and I said,
"Margaret, you have the most interesting mind, I would like to study it."
She put her fork down and paused. Then she said, "that's wonderful. All my
life people have been interested in what I think. You're the first to be
interested in how I think." She called me up a month later and
asked why I hadn't been in touch with her. I said, "well, you're so busy
Margaret, I didn't want to intrude." She said, "Oh Jean, don't you realize
that people have to pursue me, please call me."
She calls me up a month later. "Jean, remember that mind of mine you
wanted to study? Well, it's going, you'd better get over here fast. Today
I called a typewriter a bicycle." So I went over and indeed she was making
verbal ellipses. I had seen this before and I said, "Margaret, you know
what? I don't think it's your mind, I think it's your body. When was the
last time you did any exercise, I bet you don't remember? "Yes, I do. It
was August 24th 1964." (laughter)
I thought that if we could get her body-image restructured, these
problems would disappear. She was 71 years old and she had a body-image of
an eleven year old girl. So, she came to my house and my husband worked on
her using mainly Feldenchrist techniques. After two months of her yelling
like mad, she had her body back and the mind ellipses went away. And then
I began to study with her.
She was a genius for process. Most of our ancestors knew process all
the time. They planted the seed, they chased away the birds, they
nourished the plant, they harvested the plant, they baked the bread. We
just stand in the supermarket line. Maybe much of our social pathology is
a lack of process - we have no sense of the moral flow of things. She
would give me incredible tasks such as writing a complete forty-page
report on stress in two days. She would call up President Carter and say,
"Now, Jimmy, this is what you have to do…" I was in my early thirties, and
I thought I was running the world!
Rebecca: I’m interested in how you’ve been able to take
your ideas which are considered quite radical in circles even outside the
mainstream, to the levels of governments, bureaucracies, and industries. I
find it hard to imagine the managers of Chevron visualizing universal
Jean: You know, I've never really thought about that.
Maybe that's it:
I've never become self-conscious about it. I also have two
Ph.D.'s--that helps. But when you work at the highest levels with chief
executive officers or heads of countries or institutions, you will find in
many cases--though not always, of course--that they are very innovative
people who have played upon the panoply of mind and body.
You find this at the top and the bottom. The problem is with middle
management. (laughter) Margaret always told me never to go in as the
expert within the structure of expertise. You come in like a crab, from
the side, within another form of expertise. My way of being in the world
is to call people forth; it's not to put forth an idea.
Rebecca: Your preaching days are over. (laughter)
Jean: Yes. The ideas are secondary to the primary premise
of people's potential. I'm always in wonder and astonishment.
Rebecca: Is there an example you can give us of real
positive change at governmental levels that you feel represents some sort
of a turning point?
Jean: There are so many, but one of the most interesting
was in 1979. It was during the Carter administration, which was wide open
to these things, by the way. It was a kind of golden age for new ideas,
and it attracted remarkable people. I was then president of the
Association for Humanistic Psychology. I'd probably taught a million and a
half students, and they were scattered throughout high levels of
government. They asked me to come in and do something, so I set up a
conference on policy alternatives.
There was a very large number of all the assistant secretaries of
commerce, of health, education, and welfare--all the heads of various
agencies. First there were good, fine speeches by solid, substantial
people, and then very intensive small-group work using some of the most
advanced procedures of how to envision and dream. Then we had aikido with
George Leonard, including living without hurting the other. It went on and
on until I had all of these people, more or less in trance on the floor,
going to the possible society and coming back with real ideas about how it
could happen. During the Reagan administration, all those people left, but
they went into corporations, into companies, into setting up new designs,
and they began to make differences all over the world.
On her deathbed Margaret Mead said to me, "Forget everything I've told
you about working with governments and bureaucracies." I said, "Now you
tell me?" "Yes. I'm lying here being an anthropologist on my own
dying--fascinating experience, there's no hierarchy to it. If we are going
to grow and green our time, it's a question of citizens and volunteer
groups. Growing in body and mind and spirit and ideas, and testing each
other, and challenging the growth, and then going out and making it. You
take care of it, Chief ."I said, "Yes, ma'am."
Rebecca: So the other aspect to teaching is the
continuation of learning.
Jean: I write a small book every month. I have to read a
book practically every day. I'm on this constant learning curve. If you
are repeating the same thoughts and feelings that are 90 percent the same
as the day before, you are in trouble.
Rebecca: What are some of the frustrations you experience
in your work?
Jean: You know, my frustrations are not around the world.
If I were to be desperately honest about it, I would say that my
frustrations are more centered around my own family. My mother is very old
now, and I wish I could spend the time doing for her as I'm able to do for
other people. She's very fey and happy, and she's being well taken care
off, but I know that if I could work with her every day, we could reverse
the aging process. That's a frustration. There are everyday frustrations
that you run into with your health, your life, your family, and with old
ways of being always trying to rise up and reassert themselves.
Rebecca: So you're not finding as many frustrations at
the institutional level?
Jean: No. I travel about 250,000 miles a year, and I can
tell you that the world I see out there is very different from the one
that's being described in the media. There is a revolution going on! We're
moving toward planetization within one century. Not a planetary culture,
but more cultures becoming more of what they are. The term planetization
is not as simple as it sounds. It isn't one happy, homogeneous
brave-new-world society. On the contrary, it involves a high individuation
When you walk through a jungle in Orinoco and you see a naked Indian
coming out with a transistor radio clapped to his ear, you realize just
how linked we are becoming. People are going to be able to tune in with
almost anybody. By the year 2000 we will have information banks, small
enough to be held in the hand, that can download anything. This is a
David: Do you work a lot with the Internet?
Jean: Oh, yes. I'm one of these computer nerds. I'm very
glad that I wasn't born fifteen years ago, because I would weigh four
hundred pounds, have bottled glasses, and be eating twinkles in front of
the screen. (laughter) Every night when I'm home, I'm talking to the
world! I'm playing Dungeons and Dragons with fifteen-year-old boys who
think I'm a fifteen year-old boy with a weird vocabulary. I also work with
Green parties around the world. It's an extraordinary confluence of
consciousness. Teilhard's noosphere is alive and well.
Rebecca: What are you discovering in your visits outside
the Western hemisphere about the changing social role of women?
Jean: I've witnessed the rise of women to full
partnership with men. But it's not always even partnership. In parts of
Africa, the women are just moving in and saying, "Enough of this!" and are
taking over the welfare and education of whole villages. There are so many
things happening at such profound levels that the media barely cover at
all. It's not considered "news" because it's new. News is old stuff--it's
We're in this town a hundred miles from Nairobi, and I'm working with
the Institute of Cultural Affairs. The women have spent 80 to 90 percent
of their time going down to the river and getting water. They have a rich
tradition of doing this, talking and sharing stories and information.
Somebody builds them a water tank, and suddenly they have access to all
this time. "But, sister, what about our side-by-side, our exchange, where
we told our stories, our ways of healing our kids? What shall we do?"
They asked us to help them build a tea house. That change of
perspective brought in a whole new energy. They sat around facing one
another. "Our men are drunk on palm wine in Nairobi, and they're not
sending money home." They're drumming, and they have a big feast, and they
start talking about what's on their minds, and they say, "This is what we
can do about sanitation. Let's bring in a new school ... "
This place is becoming a model town--it's the rise of a whole new way
of thinking about the world. The rise of women is the most important event
in the last five thousand years, because of women's emphasis on process,
on making things cohere, work, and grow, and not simply on product. I
think that the tragedy in Rwanda represents the absolute end of the
patriarchy and the old isolated warring tribes.
David: Could you tell us about the work you did with the
Jean: I was one of those who was fortunate enough to work
with NASA at the time of the moon landing. I was doing work that had to do
with helping astronauts remember what they saw when they were on the moon,
because they didn't remember a great deal. I tried everything: I
hypnotized them, I did various kinds of active imagination exercises, I
taught them to meditate, I yelled at them--that's what worked. (laughter)
Finally, one of them said, "You know, Jean, you're asking the wrong
question. It's not what we saw on the moon, it's what we saw coming back
to earth. Seeing that beautiful blue and silver planet gave us a feeling
of such nostalgia for what the world can be. My hand hit the stereo
button, and the music of Camelot came on."
I have seen that picture of the earth from outer space in a leper's hut
in India. I was present in China when a Chinese peasant took a photo of
Mao off the wall and replaced it with a photo of the earth.
David: How did your experience with psychedelics
influence your work?
Jean: Psychedelics gave me a perspective on the human
psyche that would normally have taken me a hundred years to gain. There I
was, this young kid, and suddenly I have access to the whole psychodynamic
dimension-the sensory levels, the mythic levels, the psychological levels,
the spiritual levels, and all the frequencies within.
David: Another play on the fractal wave. What do you
think happens to consciousness after biological death?
Jean: I've nearly died four times. Once was when I was
nineteen. I used to jump out of planes, and I had an experience of my
chute not opening. My whole life went by. Not every pork chop, but all the
major events at their own time. The adrenaline rush turned on life again.
Another time, I nearly died of typhoid fever in Crete. It was very
pleasant. I found myself leaving the fifth-class hotel and the room of
this reality, and going into the next. A light went out here, a light went
up there--and there was my car waiting. But I was a young kid, and I said,
"I'm not ready, no!" and there was this tremendous psychic effort to pull
myself back. I'm convinced of continuity--I can't say reincarnation,
because the universe is so complex. We have many different agendas and
opportunities, but consciousness, at some level, deeply continues.
When I was in one of Professor Paul Tillich's courses, he kept
referring to a word that was central to his theology, and that word was
wacwum. We theological students met afterward, and we would spin out
the existential roots of the wacwum. And we had a whole book by the end of
the term. Finally, they asked me to ask the great man a question, so I put
my hand up. When he said, "Yes?" I forgot my question, so I asked him one
of blithering naiveté. I asked, "How do you spell wacwum?" "Yes, Miss
Houston," and he spelled on the board "v-a-c-u-u-m." (laughter)
That's what we are! If you take a body and scrunch it together and get
rid of all the empty space, what have you got what for every human being?
A grain of rice!
David: What is your perspective on God?
Jean: Nicholas of Cusa said that "God is a perfect sphere
whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." I believe
that we are always available to the omnipresent grace, and that part of
our life is about discovering that we contain the God-stuff in embryo. I
like to use a little bit of metaphysical science fiction and say that
where we are on this planet is the skunkworks at the corner of the
universe. We're in God school, learning to become co-creators.
David: How do you see consciousness evolving in the
Jean: I think it's going to evolve on many levels. I
think civilization is going to get to a point where we suddenly become
responsible, stewards of the whole evolutionary process. This requires
domains of consciousness, not just levels and frequencies. We have psychic
structures that are going to be emerging and becoming conscious.
"All the repressed is unconscious, but not all the unconscious is
repressed," and I think that a great deal of latencies of body/mind/psyche
are about to emerge.
People are mythologizing this experience as ET's or channelings. I
don't think they're necessarily beings from outer space, or because
they're dead that it necessarily means they're smart, but a lot of this is
part of the psychic continuum that we don't quite understand. We're using
the medium of older civilizations and older cultures to explain it.
Rebecca: The resistance to this process is really
formidable. There's a lot of fear and a desire to jump back into the old
ways, even though they don't work. In view of the evidence that many
people are becoming more entrenched than ever in their belief systems, how
do you justify your optimism?
Jean: Because I see more of the world than what is being
promoted through the media. It's true that on the surface fundamentalisms
are arising, and they're arising because we're on the edge of this immense
breakthrough-in fact, we're already there. The dreadful and the wonderful
has already happened, and we're in this age of parentheses.
We're at the end of one totally different time, and we're almost at the
beginning of the next one. This is the juicy time when the future is
coded. People are terrified. "No thanks, I'd rather go back to ideological
fortresses of truth." It's the old reptilian brain. "Warning! Warning!"
But 10 percent of the creative minority will always make a difference.
Rebecca: It seems that you see this potential as
something like an attractor, pulling us toward it.
Jean: Yes, the "omega point" that Teilhard de Chardin was
David: What projects are you working on right now?
Jean: So many, I don't remember! I have a book on Isis
and Osiris coming out next year. I'm doing a series on American
archetypes, and I'm doing projects with UNICEF and other international
Rebecca: There must be times when your spirits get low.
When that happens, how do you turn it around?
Jean: I don't, necessarily. Margaret Mead would have a
ten-minute depression every day and yell and scream and carry on, and then
she'd have freedom from load. I had a lot of projects that fell apart
recently and a lot of friends dying. Recently, I've just had too many
negatives to support the ecology of a happy spirit.
I think you have to keep your sacred and spiritual life open, to keep
your strength during times of adversity. I try to do that, but I don't
always succeed. You need to keep your connection going, to the larger self
that is always there, even though the public display may belie that there
is a larger self. (laughter)
Years ago, I was the guilty culprit who first talked about "the inner
child." I'm very sorry about that. I'm getting a little tired of it. But
we have so many different selves within us, and by educating all of them,
we begin to bring together the trans-historical crew that can make such a
difference in our present life.
David: Why do you think that gaining a mythic perspective
Jean: We are mythic beings. We contain these great
stories of death and resurrection and rites of passage--it's the totemic
structure of history. Suppose that all of the meanderings and wanderings
of your life were not due necessarily to cause and effect--what your
mother did to you, what your father didn't do--but suppose it was a tale
told by a master to orchestrate a larger life, unfolding from the mind of
the maker, the daimon?
Look at Winston Churchill, dyslexic and stuttering until he was
fourteen or fifteen years old, and then writing those great, luminous
books of history and speaking the words that charged a nation. Was that
compensation? Maybe not. Maybe the daimon knew he was going to be Winston
Churchill and was shoring up his tongue.
What about Manolete? The greatest bullfighter that ever lived, who was
scared to death of everything and hid behind his mother's skirts until he
was fourteen years old. Compensation? Maybe not. Maybe the daimon was
shoring up his courage.
Instead of looking at developmental psychology, which says you're born,
you have these problems, you get all kinds of wounds, you make some kind
of adjustment, and then you die--it's very melancholy isn't it?--maybe
there are these great passions and purposes that are encoded in us, and
then unfold in and through time.
A myth is something that never was but that is always happening. It is
the DNA code of the human psyche. It is
available for one generation, and again, in a different twist, for
another. It has multiple, myriad facets. It drops into a culture like a
crystal seed in a supersaturated solution, and then it blooms and
Einstein said, "If you want to make your children brilliant, tell them
fairy tales. If you want to make them more brilliant, tell them more fairy