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Jean Houston

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 morning.

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 alternate version.”

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 things.’

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 prisons.

Margaret Mead 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 theirlives?

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 time.

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)

His book 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

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