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 individual.
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 optimistic.
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 human potential?
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 Virgin Mary.
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