Living With the Contradictions: A Human Potential Visionary Talks About Our Infinite Potential and How We Also Block Progress
Last week I sat down for a telephone conversation with Joseph Chilton Pearce, an author who has had a big influence not only on my work, but on the way I have raised my children. He alerted me early on to the damage that hospital birthing, day care, television, and modern schooling do to the developing brain. A World War Two veteran, he could be considered one of the elders of the human potential movement, although he brings to it a sobriety bordering at times on pessimism. His books include The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, Magical Child, and many more. His most recent is The Heart-mind Matrix: How the Heart can Teach the Mind New Ways to Think.
Charles Eisenstein: I just wanted to tell you, your work has had a huge impact on me.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: Oh, thank you, thank you. It has me too. (Chuckles)
CE: I often feel like things I write are from a place that I haven't arrived at yet, and that they're coming from a field, and the writing of those works is what pulls me to that field, even if I'm not there yet when I write it. Do you ever experience that?
JCP: Very, very much so. Something very similar to it. In fact one of the things I have found most surprising is to pick up my last two or three books and re-read them, and be so surprised at what I had said. I think, my god, where did this come from? It's as though it was the first time I've heard that, whatever the particular thing is. In fact, I think the business of memory...I've been wanting to do a paper on memory and duration. I think we need to expand our term "duration" to include an awful lot. Its a great extension and far more creative than our notion of the Akashic Records. And there really is something very similar to the Akashic Records. And that is involved in duration. Duration is really the source of all creativity. What I've been calling duration. We have no real term for it....If I could I would certainly try to get that little essay down about creativity and duration and what duration really means.
CE: I have just been looking at your book, Heart-Mind Matrix. I've been reading your books for decades now, and there are always two feelings I get that are somewhat contradictory. One is the tremendous possibility and latent potential that is in all of us, and when I tap into that, I have the feeling that everything is possible. On the other hand, there is kind of a feeling of doom around your writing: nature's plan has gone awry, humanity is degenerating, we have lost the capacities we once had, and these trends are, if anything, accelerating. I wonder, what about you? How do you resolve this contradiction? Do you just live with this contradiction? How do you feel about it now, personally?
JCP: My feeling for most of my life has been that we have an absolutely unlimited possibility within us, and an equal amount of self-imposed limitations. For every possibility, we have a self-imposed limitation. This is the story of our species; we have infinite potential, and yet we also have incredible impositions just blocking everything. From about ages 5 to 7, I had the idea that the sky was the limit, but then all of a sudden school came along, and with it came this enormous weight of restriction. Again, that's kind of the general story of our species.
My dear friend and great supporter Michael Mandisa had an essay about just that, infinite potential and self-imposed limitations. All the things that limit us are imposed from within. I've mentioned that in states of total suspension of fear and anxiety, I've been able to accomplish things that ordinarily would have been totally impossible. That's gone on for a long time, but in short amounts, because with the great weight and limitation of public opinion and the limitations of within, we backtrack, chicken out. Then, it comes in kind of a sweep and we realize who we really are, what we are really about.
My big concern in recent years has been the living earth, which is just fact now, there's been too much excellent, excellent research on it to ignore. We have betrayed the earth to the point that all of it is now, little by little, getting out of balance. Not that the earth is out to punish us, it doesn't have that kind of intelligence, but we're throwing it so raggedly out of balance that earth is going to be a very difficult place to be in the future. I'm thinking of the mountain top removal, the great, huge damage to the Appalachian mountains in search of cheap coal. There was a big article in one of the major magazines that put together all the damage ever done to this earth, but nothing can equal the damage that's happening right now to the Southern Appalachians as they remove whole mountains that have seams of coal. We don't seem to realize that the living earth itself is seriously damaged by all this.
CE: So, do you think the potential or the self-limitation is winning out, or ascendant?
JCP: Oh, the limitation is winning out. We simply give up on so many of our potentials because of the enormous pressure sustained from the public in general. That seems magnified everywhere I turn. I will finally say that I'm rather pessimistic.
CE: A few years ago, I listened to an interview with one of your elders, Pete Seeger, the singer, and he's nobody's fool. He's no soft liberal; he's really very radical. He said, on his 90th birthday, "Something is really different now. We've turned the corner, and I believe that the future is going to be much, much better." That kind of stuck with me, and then just last year, I happened to have a conversation with one of his elders, Grace Boggs. She was an elder figure in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. She's almost 100 now, and I told her about Pete Seeger, and she said, "Oh yes, I agree. I've become in the last few years incredibly optimistic." And again, she's not somebody who is ignorant of the problems facing our planet and society. The fact that these two great beings were optimistic kind of told me, "Charles, you're not crazy." And I wonder if I can somehow transmit that to you, or what do you have to say about it?
JCP: It all depends on what extent to which we're looking at this. I'm quite convinced that there will be a saving remnant among us, but its likely that the ranks will be pretty thin. There are certain movements now that cover the entire earth that we've never had to face before simply due to technology. There are certain problems our children are having that children have never had before, all because of technology. To my way of thinking, technology has brought with it far, far more damage to things than it has benefits. I'm not a lover of physical science, particle science, any of that stuff. The word itself simply means knowledge, but this knowledge is now based on particle science or material science; its become the new religion of material science. It rules our mind, and this religion has a very, very bad god behind it. Certain patterns of thinking are now being induced electronically over the whole earth.
I like business; I went into business. One of the things I was working on, it used to take quite a bit of time for bad news to get from one country to another. And now suddenly, take for instance 9/11 in this country, when that calamity happened it was immediately known all over the planet, and it caused great, strangely great, concern all over the planet. And all the things that happened with 9/11: the videos of it that kept showing over and over on the news and the reaction of people, even over in Australia. So we had a single negative reaction that affected the entire global population all at once, which is the great power, the tremendous force, that never could have happened before because the news would have taken too long to move from one place to another and would not have carried that force of unanimous action and emotion. There's a great, huge power that emotional energy carries.
CE: Theoretically it could work for positive emotions too.
JCP: Well, of course. It could, but it just is not doing that, and the only ways in which this unanimous energy is ever positive are in ways that influence us, like in our buying habits, or our voting habits, or things like that.
CE: There is this disastrous trend of separation that is reaching its extreme. For anything to turn or change, it has to fulfill its extreme. The current ideology, the cultural story, that we live in has to finish its telling before a new story can be born. Perhaps the intensification of all the trends you have written about for decades that is happening now with technology, perhaps this intensification is kind of the extreme of yang before it gives birth to yin, and from the breakdown that is generated by all the things you write about -- the social breakdown that's generated from the cut-off of nurturing and child hood play, the environmental breakdown that is caused by our technologies of control -- from that breakdown, when things fall apart, then the field is clear for something new to arise. That's what I see happening.
Sometimes I meet people who, by all rights, should have no access to the more developed functions of mind you write about. From their prenatal experience on, they didn't have any of it. They weren't breast-fed, they weren't held, they missed out on all of it, and their lives were therefore a ruin, but then at some point, something magical happened. They had some kind of spiritual experience, some kind of breakthrough. Despite having been bereft of all that nature intended, they have access to these hidden potentialities anyway. What do you make of that? Because really, I meet people like that all the time. What do you make of that kind of miraculous transformation and healing of all that was lost?
JCP: There's no way you can ever account for the movement of the spirit. There is a healing spirit always in movement, and there's no way to account for what can happen in that realm. In fact, I'm just reading about the idiot savant, Kim Peek. He has no left hemisphere at all, only a right hemisphere, no corpus callosum to connect, and as a result he has virtually no physical capacities; he can't tie his shoes, or do any of that. And yet on the other hand, we find he has done a number of extraordinary things that he otherwise could not have done because the very hemisphere that's missing would have gotten in the way of what he's doing. The human being is of a caliber that nothing can really change the basic structure of a species, but I think that we can get it through some rather difficult periods in time. There's no guarantee that we're all, as a great marching unit, just going to waltz right through. When I look back on World War II and the unbelievable horrors that went on, and yet, we had incredible minds and incredible people emerge who did magnificent things against overwhelming odds. I take all that into consideration; a saving remnant is probably always there. We don't make this thing up to begin with; this is our given. Life is given us by an incredible and as yet never really fully named power. There we get into some pretty spiritual aspects. Not religious, but spiritual. The same is true for our capacity as humans, but I don't think as we are turning our forces now that we're doing ourselves any good whatsoever. I feel rough times ahead.
CE: I think its undeniable that we have some rough times ahead. My perception is that its precisely these rough times that will liberate our untapped capacities. I'm thinking of one of your books, maybe 2 or 3 books ago, where you wrote about your episode of unconflicted behavior when you were just back from the war. The precipitating event for that episode, during which you were capable of what, from our perspective now, looked like superhuman feats, was receiving a letter that made your world fall apart. Perhaps these rough times we are facing are going to be the equivalent of that letter to people on an individual level where life just stops working, life just falls apart, and all of our operating assumptions, beliefs, and ideologies are revealed as being useless. This can work on a collective level as well. It's almost like our culture, our civilization even, is receiving a letter like you received when you came back from the war. A letter from the cosmos, a letter from Gaia, a letter that's not saying "I'm not in love with you anymore," but is delivering some bad news. Could it be that kind of breakdown, that kind of dissolution, and nothing else, could be what enables us to turn the corner? Maybe not just remnants of us, but maybe this is the event that this millennia long course of separation has been leading up to?
JCP: Well, of course, that makes for a perfectly good argument.
CE: But you believe it?
I don't know. I believe what I experience. I don't believe much of what I hear. I believe what I experience. I limit my beliefs to that which I have experienced personally. That's the only safeguard I can see. We had a gentleman here the other day, a neurosurgeon, who had came down with a rare form of spinal meningitis in his 40s. Very rare, especially as an adult, and very few people ever survive it. He was out completely; they kept him alive intravenously and all sorts of different ways. He had no reason for his body to keep going. It was a very strange affair. But after about a week of being out completely, he came to, and he had this incredible, magnificent story to tell of the experience. He had experienced pure, blissful eternity itself, just the most interesting thing you could imagine. The interesting thing was he wanted to tell that story and he loved to tell that story because, I could tell, every time he told that story, he relieved it. The first time I heard that story, I was very flattered because I could not help but think he was the most incredible human I've met yet. He's gone right on, he's gone right back to his medical job and so on and so forth. When he told me that story I was at a very, very low place, just one of my real rock-bottom times. I was only about half conscious when they brought him by my house. I was just flaked out in a chair and just trying to go along to be polite, but when he started telling his story, I began to see the most incredible play of color I've witnessed. And it wasn't one color coming in from anywhere, it was what was happening inside him. I picked this up from his story; I felt a wave of color flooding into my system from his story. It's one of the most beautiful things I've known.
CE: I would love to hear that story.
JCP: Yes, and it occurred to me that he loved to tell it because through telling it, he was reactivating the entire thing. And at the same time, he was holding down his medical duties, and he had a family, but he had this other thing going on right there. To me, it was just wonderful to hear because it showed me the incredible capacities of a human being. Just awesome capacities.
CE: I think really, its going to be the stories that save our species.
JCP: Oh indeed, there again, its people's experience and the human capability. I think of my friend Bob Monroe down here. He journeys out of the body. You just can't read things like that and hold to a narrow image of who we are. We are, again, unlimited potential. I find it all very exciting.