Douglas Gillies
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an interview with

Jean Houston

author of

Jump Time and A Mythic Life

Jean Houston was interviewed by Douglas Gillies at "The Grail," an invitational conference hosted by Jean Houston and produced by East Beach Productions for La Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara, CA.

Jean Houston is a leading scholar in human potential Douglas Gillies: Do you think anything has changed as a result of this La Casa Invitational conference--The Grail?

Jean Houston: Maybe so, Douglas. I believe that when you put out a new thought and you have a whole group of people thinking and working intensively around it, it's not an innocent thing. It sends out fractal waves to the universe and the universe responds.

In my travels around the world, I've seen a greater interest in trying to find unique themes and stories that reflect the immensity of the changes. In America today, we are more aware of the wasteland than ever, aren't we? It's not just through media. It's through the extraordinary downsizing--that certainly is a wasteland; the extraordinary rise in violence--that is a wasteland; the awareness of abuse--that is a wasteland. People's pension checks being cut, salaries lowered, a lack of investment in people--that is a wasteland. And at the same time the yearning, burning passion to find new ways of solving these huge social conflicts.

We are asking the question, "What ails thee?" But we're also asking, "Who serves the Grail?" and "Where is the Grail of a new order of sufficiency?"

I will not necessarily say an abundance but it can be an abundance of spirit if not of material goods. I was addressing the Dakota County Health Association and its officials and working with mayors to look at new ways of connecting people. Businesses with young kids need to have new skills or need to have a skating place where they can meet and have a community. New orders of connectivity seem to be happening, but people need the larger story to be able to pull themselves into connectivity in ways that do not depend on resources within the community, not federal or state government.

The myths are changing. The myth is no longer about the lonely young hero battling his toxicities and hoping to rescue the princess. It's a much more complicated story now because now it's groups of people coming together across all ages--boys and girls, men and women, elders and infants, as we've had here in this conference. We've literally had from 3 months old to 81, and different races, people from every kind of background. It's the sheer diversity in the connectivity that is carrying us into the new story.

In the room where we were meeting, at one end was a magnificent picture of the planet Earth from outer space, at the other end someone had drawn a magnificent grail, and in the center was a sand tray, and around the edge were many scenes of legends in little figures.

We are between the Earth and its ultimate sourcing. In the center, what do we do for future generations? What do we do to keep the stories going? What do we do to give people a better story because to develop the passion for the possible and the momentum to acquire the skills, the friendships, and the opportunities, and to take charge of our time, we really need to be embedded in a story that will carry us. All over the world many cultures have begun to lose their story.

What you're doing here is a marvelous matrix out of which is engendered the passion of the new story based on an old story, the great story of the Western world--the quest for the Grail. In agreeing to be vulnerable and accessible to spirit, the great story forms that gives us the charge to carry into new life.

Douglas Gillies: So the process of finding the new story, which already exists at some level, is to go deeper and find something that was hidden. Is that right?

Jean Houston: All great stories are multiple screened. They are seeded and coded almost like time-release capsules, perhaps so that they appear one way to one generation and quite another to the next. For example, during the High Medieval Era they were searching for a Grail that was almost literally of Christ's blood. Now I think it is a search for the patterns and the solutions that will solve the extraordinary number of problems and answer the complexity of our time while speaking to our own inner sourcing. In the Upanishads it is said, "Abundance is scooped from abundance and still more abundance remains." And here we are. We are about to become members of a much larger universe.

This is jump time. In other times in history, they thought it was jump time but they were wrong. This is truly it. This is jump time and we're jumping off to the stars. In a few hundred months, we're going to be out there in the solar system becoming stewards of the solar system. Goodness knows what kind of cultures we will create or what we may even look like 200 years from now with what's happening in genetics. We have the power of psychogenesis. But we don't have a story that's adequate to take on this kind of stewardship. The Grail story tells us about our adequacies and our inadequacies.

In a few thousand months, we may be going into the cosmos, into other domains and dimensions, and into forms of a planetary civilization. The rise of women to full partnership with men, the rise in cultures of equality, we've never had that before. We are in an exponential growth in communication, communication of knowledge, communication of values, communication of ideas.

The nature of evolution, as I understand it, is that things grow, jump, twitch, and evolve by virtue of new connectivity. Those singular, encapsulated unicellular organisms were not very bright and it's only when they got together that they could spread their gene pool. Now we're spreading cultural gene pools and the gene pool of knowledge. New kinds of sharing of genius, not just genes, as my dear friend Barbara Hubbard said, is giving us a different mind. It's giving us a different body. It's giving us perspectives that we never thought we would have. It's preparing us in a very strange way for this time.

Part of the new Grail myth is that we are all Perceval. We are all pierces of the veil that used to be the membrane that separated us. In the other translation of Perceval, the German Parsifal, we're also total fools, bumbling, unpatterned, free, out there looking for meaning, and I think that we're beginning to find it. So, again, that story truly speaks to our condition. I can't tell you how many young Purcevil's I find on the Internet--15, 16, 17-year-old boys and girls who are asking questions of each other across thousands of miles. "What's it about? Who serves it? Where is it? How do I live?" They are finding a whole new communion of knights templar on the Internet waves, moving together to create new orders of knowledge and even new orders of society. That's the lovely thing about great myths. You can transpose it to another society because it always speaks to eternal verities. It always speaks to who we are, where we're going, and what is the meaning of it all.

Douglas Gillies: What is your story?

Jean Houston: Well, this year I published three books: a book on the creation of Iroquois Confederacy called Manual for the Peacemaker with Margaret Rubin, my book on Isis and Osiris which is everything you ever and never wanted to know about ancient Egypt through the great love story of Isis and Osiris, and my autobiography A Mythic Life. I've had a life of a lot of productivity. I've worked with people in very high places as a helper and support system and I've worked with people who society forgets. It's only with a larger story that you can have the vision and the passion to do the things that you have to do.

I think that we get so caught up with a muchness. Most of us now live anywhere between 5 to 100 times the amount of sheer experience of our ancestors of 200 years ago, but without the time for reflection that our ancestors had. "What does all this experience mean? What is the pattern that is connecting? What is it moving to?" You have to make sense of it. You have to make sense of radical economic change or a change in family structures. The world has become a kind of a gambling casino with money flowing around with no real meaning. You have to make sense of the breakdowns of cities and the breakthroughs of people. You have to make sense of people becoming responsible and communing with each other.

The ultimate new story, and I've never really thought of this before this moment, is the human being taking full charge to become what he and she can be. And it's not a few skills, it's many skills. It's the harvest of the human potential to become adequate stewards of this present social and perhaps even cosmic process. That's at the core of the new story and the old story. The knight had to learn certain skills and values. He didn't have to think deeply. Merlin did that. Nowadays we have much more upon us. We have longer lives but we are also given responsibilities that we never thought we'd have, including responsibility for stewardship of the Earth and being responsible biological and evolutionary governance. I think that's what the new story is.

That's what we've heard here this week. People are saying, "How can I answer these incredible problems that face me in my culture, my society, my community?" and people each having little pieces of the knowledge and coming together and gradually making a whole new organic form, which was the new story. It was done through love. It was done through heartfulness. It was done through criss-crossing. One member left our conference who belonged to another kind of a society. He said, "Where's the love? I don't see it. Where's the connectivity?" He refused to. And yet people were reaching out to help each other, giving each other massages, taking care of each other's colds, making connections, and being deeply available and listening. This is also a part of the story. There's always somebody who refuses to listen and wants to get caught in their old story, seeing things as pathos rather than as mythos of the new story coming through. That person was a very great value, his frozeness illuminated in the midst of so many people flowing together. That showed us where some of us have come from.

Douglas Gillies: He provided the contrast.

Jean Houston: He provided us with the necessary contrast. When you get a great story, all the archetypal elements will arise as they did here. The fools, the piercers of the veil, the questioners, the wounded ones, the fishing in the deeps, which is the Fisher King in the Grail story, and the ugly woman who's infinitely wise but who may on the surface appear to be someone that society rejects. They were all there, including the frozen one.

Douglas Gillies: It takes contrast in photography to see depth. To perceive depth, a person needs two eyes. Our brains have to wrestle with two somewhat contradictory images to achieve the sense of the depth. How does that translate into problem solving?

Jean Houston: The sense of the depth? Well, problems are not skimmed milk. Problems are thick clotted cream with berries and nuts in them and multiple levels. Problems are whole archeologies. As we enhance our perspective, we can see the complexity and the interwoveness of the problem. A problem does not have a cause, it has a causal weave. In my work, we increase the pallet, the spectrum of both what you can see, hear and act. With fluency of body, you can also increase the flexibility of mind--perception, relationship, emotional pallet--and then ultimately gain the ability to see problems on multiple levels. When you are cooking on more burners you can go deeper. That's why I interject exercises that give people access to a wider sensorium or a deeper sense of time and space. Then go to the problem.

Margaret Mead on her deathbed said to me, "Jean, forget about just working with the governments and bureaucracies." She had been training me for years, and I looked down at her and I said, "Now you tell me this. Now?"

She laughed and she said, "Yes, I've been lying here being an anthropologist on my own dying. It's a fascinating experience. There's no hierarchy to it." She used images from the wasteland, and she said, "If we are going to grow and green our time, it's a question of people getting together in teaching, learning communities to do your kinds of exercises, Jean, growing together physically, sensorially, psychologically, intellectually, and spiritually, and then taking on some of the great problems of society and community." And then she said, "So Jean, when the time is right, you do that."

I said, "Yes ma'am." And in my own small way I've tried to do that.

Douglas Gillies: We had some impatience here with the process of building community but we had to do that before we could go forward.

Jean Houston: You have a lot of high powered people who live extremely fast lives who come here to this beautiful setting, one of the most beautiful settings of any retreat centers in the world and they're still on (fingers clicking) rapid fire time. We want it now. We often lack the sense of process. We know the beginning and the end but we lack a sense of a middle. So here you have these rapid-fire people and they want it now. They say, "Oh my God, five days. I'm used to conquering the world in five days. I weave the whole corporation. I create the government in five days. I write the book--but you can't do that because you have to build from the soul up, making friends and reaching out. It wasn't fast networking, it was heart working and that takes time. But finally they get over it.

The story is part of the process. They know that they're not at the Grail on the first day. They are with Purcevil wandering in the wilderness, looking for answers, having encounters. So that by yesterday, the final day, they were able to network at a much deeper level and were able to connect, and many new projects as well as friendships were made. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear and I would have to extend that by saying that when the community is ready, the opportunity will appear. That is what's happened here.

That's also the beauty of using the template of great myth because a myth is something that never was but is always happening. The myth is the coded DNA of the human psyche that gives us the patterns and the pathways to our possible futures. We had people who were elderly and deep and wise and in prime condition. Everybody was in their prime, holding the little baby who became the symbol for us of the ultimate new story.

Douglas Gillies: So this type of conference is part of the new story.

Jean Houston: Oh, yes.

Douglas Gillies: We can take everything we've learned to tell a great story on Broadway, and everything we've learned to bring people to tears in Vienna listening to a concert and everything we've learned to sell Pepsi Cola and combine them together in order to bring ourselves to our potential so that we can cope with the problems that we're faced with, the challenges that are in our time. What is the story about how we can be in balance with our environment?

Jean Houston: You know, it may already be in our midst. As Jesus said, "The kingdom is in your midst." It seems to me that the Earth is a living being. All cultures have said that and now scientists like James Lovelock are affirming it.

In the early 1970's I helped some astronauts to remember what they saw on the moon. Finally, Ed Mitchell said to me, "You're asking the wrong question because it's not what we saw on the moon. It's what we saw coming back to Earth, because coming back to Earth we didn't have the same amount of busy-ness. We weresort of floating down hill and there was the Earth in all her glory, a beautiful blue and green and silver planet floating in the womb of of cosmic ocean." He happened to hit the stereo button and the music of Camelot came on. Camelot is the great myth about the once and future optimal society. He felt such nostalgia for what the world could be. In a sense he went up an astronaut and came back a psychonaut, devoted to inner space. He helped create the Institute of Noetic Sciences that has done so much to increase our perceptions of human possibilities. So I think it's the seeing of our mother. We went out as a kind of fetus and we came back as her child and her partner.

All over the world this awareness of our vulnerability and sensitivity and sensitivity to the Earth's cycles and our responsibility to the Earth is rising. A few hundred years ago, there wasn't much to throw away so we really couldn't destroy the environment. With the proliferation of material goods we have an awful lot to throw away so we are dealing with factors unique in human history, the muchness of it all. It's not just the complexity, it is the muchness. But what do we do with that muchness? The fact that we can destroy ourselves and our planet has caused a sense of guilt mixed with awe. The Earth is a living system. We are either becoming the cancer or the neurons of the planet, and by God we'd better be the neurons.

Do we really need this factory here? Do I really need to drink that junk when I have water? More and more people the world over are becoming aware of this. I have conversations in Australia with Aboriginal people who give us back our sense of sacred landscape and of the wholeness and holiness of the Earth. The Earth itself is giving us the impulses to protect her as we are part of her system, warning that we can't do this. The hound of heaven, woof, woof, woof, is barking at our heels. Ticht Nat Hahn talks about mindfulness. The Dalhi Lama talks of mindfulness.

Douglas Gillies: You said in the chapel the other night that what ails thee is forgetfulness. How do we remember?

Jean Houston: By being mindful you literally do re-member. Because of the muchness of present life, a lot of people forget. They even forget from moment to moment. I sometimes find myself not remembering from each five second clump and I have to stop, whereever I am, and say, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let me assume my existence. Experience it as a whole, or as a hologram, be part of the tree, be part of you, be part of me, be part of our memories, our shared suchness. That brings me back and suddenly I do remember because past, present, and future becomes a wonderful substance and not just a linear line. Beneath the surface crust of consciousness, all of us contain worlds within worlds. I've never met anybody who, if I can tap into the depth of their psyche, is not filled with all the great stories.

Terrell Arnold talked about how politically we have what we need. We know what we need to know. Some of us, including myself, challenged that, but maybe he's right. In a platonic sense I think that he is right. We are so coded with culture, with knowledge, with capacity that we all contain the fullness of what we need and it's an act of remembrance that begins it to the surface. Jesus, in the Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas said, "What you have within you that you express is what will save you. What you have inside you that you do not express will destroy you." So in this act of non-expression, we necessarily fall into forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is how we forget the other. That is how we forget our Earth and that's how we destroy our world and ourselves.

Douglas Gillies: Terry Arnold seemed to be saying that if you've done your soul work then you have to have your trust, and you have to stand up not quite knowing if you're ready, yet saying, "Even if I'm not quite ready, I trust what has brought me here and I will now step forward."

Jean Houston: As he has done so brilliantly in his life.

Douglas Gillies: We're all hesitating, it seems to me. We're waiting as if we think something else has to happen, but it's in us.

Jean Houston: I have an exercise that I do in which I put a lot of people, sometimes as many as 1,000 or 2,000 people in a room. The more the merrier in this exercise. It's called "Are You God in Hiding?" And it goes like this. Each person, eyes closed, and they don't cheat, they wander around toward the center and when they run into somebody they say, "Are you God in hiding?" And the other person says, "Are you God in hiding?" And then they go to somebody else, "Are you God in hiding?" "Are you God in hiding?"

One person is designated by the leader as God. Now suppose you run into that person. "Are you God in hiding?" That person is silent. And by their silence you become Goded too and you become silent. So you're wandering around and people are coming up to you. "Are you God in hiding?" You're silent, so they become silent. It takes less than a minute for a room of hundreds of people to come to complete silence.

Then you let that silence thicken for awhile. And then you say, "Open your eyes and look at all the Gods no longer in hiding."

Douglas Gillies: Social artistry.

Jean Houston: Yes.

Interview with Jean Houston © Concensus Designs, Inc. For permission to reprint portions of this interview, please contact East Beach® Productions.

© 2019 Douglas Gillies. | All Rights Reserved