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 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 know.”
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 Cambell’s 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 Jesus Christ. 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 race.”
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 whatever.
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 abstract information.
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 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 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 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 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. News is old stuff–it’s habituated response.
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 Apollo astronauts?
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 epistemologies, the phenomenology and 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 future?
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. Freud said, “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 talking about.
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 development agencies.
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 is important?
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 blossoms. 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 tales.”