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Jean Houston

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 oneness. (laughter)

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 of culture.

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 different mind.

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.

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