Healthy people, healthy planet

Human Potential: From Esalen to Mainstreet

George Leonard is the former senior editor of Look magazine. Considered by some to be the “grandfather” of the human potential movement, Leonard is author of “Mastery”, “The Silent Pulse,” The Transformation,” and along with Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy, “The Life We’ve Been Given.” An aikido master, he has taught Leonard Energy Training, (L.E.T.) to thousands of individuals around the world.


DiCarlo: Please describe the origins of the human potential movement… What was your involvement and what sparked your interest in the exploration of human potential?


Leonard: In the mid-60s, I was a senior editor at Look Magazine, one of the most prestigious and award-winning magazines of its day. I was also west coast editorial manager and I had done lots of award-winning feature articles on education, starting in 1956 with “What is A Teacher?” I did a piece in 1964 called “Revolution in Education”. In the last paragraph I said something about “human potential”. As a result, we must have received at least one hundred letters from readers, which essentially said, “That’s what we really need to do, focus upon the human potential.” It occurred to me put in a request to do an article on the human potential and my request was granted.


Those were the golden days of journalism. Look writers had total authority to do anything they wanted to do. So I began criss-crossing the country. When I was finished I had interviewed 37 experts on the subject of the human potential. Psychiatrists, psychologists, brain researchers-even theologians and philosophers. Not one of them said we were using more than 10% of our capacity. In later years, I came to realize that was a very conservative estimate-we’re using about 1% I would guess. Maybe less.


During the 7 months in which I was criss-crossing the country, I had heard something about Michael Murphy and this little institute called Esalen in Big Sur, California, the programs of which ran under the banner, “Human Potentialities.” When I finally had the opportunity to meet Michael, we hit it off immediately. We went to the house of a woman we both knew to have dinner. After we had left, we kept on talking, till three in the morning. We’ve been talking ever since. I met Mike February 2, 1965 and it changed my life.


He was really into the subject of human potential and we had what you might call a dovetailing of interests. I knew quite a bit about various social movements, such as the civil rights movement, I covered that story from Little Rock, right on through Selma and Ole Mist-the whole thing. I also knew a lot about brain research and behavioral psychology from the work I had been doing on this human potential article. Mike was very well versed on Eastern philosophy and religion, humanistic psychology and some of the more frontier developments of the day, such as biofeedback. So when we started exchanging stories, everything seemed to go together. It made a complete picture. So we just immediately started brainstorming, saying what could we both do and what should be done. A number of the events of that time indicated to us that some sort of transformation really wanted to happen. Of course these were the 60s when such things seemed imminent. So we would just toss out ideas, which I would scrawl down on a piece of paper and throw onto the floor. The accumulated paper looked like a snowstorm, we were throwing so many things. At one point I said, “How about this….we’ve got a civil rights movement and we’ve got a free speech movement…how about a human potential movement?” So I just wrote it down and threw it on the floor. I guess that was the beginning of it.


We started talking about the human potential movement almost jokingly. And that was about the same time the national media discovered Esalen. I never did a story in Look specifically on Esalen, because I thought, “Maybe I’m too close to this and maybe I shouldn’t do it. Maybe somebody else should do it.” Sure enough, by 1967 and 68, the media was in full force, and they picked up the term “human potential movement.” About four years later, Mike and I looked around and said, “My God, this is not what we had in mind at all.” In the beginning, like a child who is attracted to the brightest toy on the floor, the media was fixated upon the mixed baths, hot tubs and encounter groups. So they assumed that the human potential movement must have a lot to do with people getting into hot tubs and crying or yelling things at each other. So we said, “Let’s un-name this movement.” We told others there was no such thing as the human potential movement. But we found that it’s much harder to un-name a movement than it is to name it.


Over the years we have come to accept it, and actually it’s a wonderful term. What we had in mind was not just the emotional side of human experience. We had the idea of integral transformation-of mind, body, soul and heart- from the very beginning. So that’s how the human potential movement started.

DiCarlo: In light of the many years you have been at the leading edge of the human potential movement, I’m wondering if you can help put things into their proper persepctive. More specifically, how have the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s set the stage for the new paradigm which is now emerging?


Leonard: First of all, I must say that a lot of people don’t want to take a look back at the 60s. All the big 60s books really haven’t sold well. We still haven’t come to terms with that decade. I think that many people are still afraid of the 60s and the ideas that were presented. Some people think the 60s were a period in parenthesis-a decade that really didn’t count-when our whole culture suddenly got out of step. But I don’t think that’s true. I think the activity of the 60s was a very much needed and long overdue reaction and at certain times over-reaction, to years, decades, and centuries of repressiveness and injustice. In think what the 60s basically did was set the agenda for necessary change that we still haven’t gotten around to. And I’m hoping the 90s can be a time when we get to work on that agenda.


Look at all the things that came up in the 60s-the whole idea of ethnicity, race, of gender. The women’s movement. The gay movement. The environmental movement. All of those things began in the 1960s. There was a sudden sunburst before the powers-that-be reacted by clamping down on much of it. There was a counter-60s movement. To use a body metaphor, it is true that many of us during those years were kind of short sighted, but we were literally ahead of ourselves. And a lot of things were done without too much wisdom. But it was a very euphoric and crazy time that clearly and powerfully set the agenda for change.


The 1970s, on the other hand, was a period of what I would call “cultural diffusion.” The ideas that had been circulating around college campuses-mostly in certain enclaves on both coasts but also scattered throughout various pockets in the country-began to diffuse throughout the whole culture. Some of the ideas were better absorbed than others. The sexual revolution, according to Yankalovich surveys in the late 70s, was the most pervasive. Certain sexual practices that were only being promulgated by hippies and the like on the West Coast began to show up wildly throughout the culture- in Des Moines and in Texarcana-wherever you wanted to look. Many have said, “Well, these ideas were co-opted. They have lost some of their fine purity.” Well, that’s OK. Compromise is part of change. But there was a tremendous cultural diffusion.


Also, the 70s was a period of rationalization and commercialization of a lot of good practices. Organizations like “est” took ideas from gestalt therapy and Zen, and so forth, and packaged it very neatly and put it out in hotel ballrooms. I think those organizations probably did more good than harm. But here again, it was a little too pro-forma, it was a little too pat. Of course some people who wouldn’t go to Esalen might go to a hotel ballroom where they could still wear their coat and tie where they could see there was another world and that other possibilities could exist. And we really are a bizarre culture in not recognizing these other spiritual possibilities that have been our birthright since the human race became human. Humankind emerged on this planet with vision, with tremendous vision of an unseen world, of a spiritual realm that held meaning and guidance for us all. The consequences of lack of vision are quite clear- “Where there is no vision the people perish” as the bible says. So all these things were part of the cultural diffusion. Some of these new, “old” learnings, which go way back yet seemed new in the 60s, spread. Ideas found in Eastern philosophies were introduced in the 1960s and spread widely in the 1970s.


Then in the 1980s, it continued spreading quietly, but at the same time, there was a tremendous backlash against it. The twelve years of Reagan and Bush presented much opposition. They were very, very opposed to many of the ideas. Of course, a lot of democrats were also opposed to the ideas of the 60s. It’s interesting, Reagan was elected to be governor of California on the basis of his promise to clobber the University of California. That was his primary platform. And he did it. He held back the free-speech movement. The Reagan administration sent helicopters to drop tear gas not only on the university but all over Berkley. I was over there during the People’s Park uprising and I was gassed-we were all gassed. All the Look people were trapped right in the middle of the campus. We were the only ones there on The Terrace who were watching this battle unfold beneath us. It was very bizarre. But there was that kind of backlash. So the movement entered into national politics in the 80s.


Now, during the 90s I think we are kind of teetering on the brink. We can go forwards or backwards, but I feel necessity will force us to realize that the old ways are simply not working. That repressiveness is not the answer. On the other hand, total license is not the answer either. Total freedom to do anything, the freedom to buy assualt weapons or do anything one wants, doesn’t work. There has to be some kind of long-term, disciplined practice. There has to be this understanding that that’s the way things work. I think there are quite a few hints that’s now happening.


DiCarlo: Do you think the 60s represented a kind of a “dress rehearsal” for the true transformation taking place in the 90s?


Leonard: The 60s certainly put the agenda for transformation up there. Now we’ve got to do it. There is so much more transformative activity going on now than in the 60s. Everybody thinks the 60s was radical. What was considered radical back then is kindergarten stuff compared to what’s going on now.


DiCarlo: What are some of the more hopeful signs that you see that we will move forward?


Leonard: A lot of things…. For example, never before in human history has so much of the great wisdom teaching of all ages and all cultures been so available throughout the world. It really is a global village. You can go to the corner drugstore and buy the Tibetan Book of The Dead. The easy availability is something new. Even a thinker as wise as Hagel did not have as much access to Oriental thought as an average college student does today. And of course a lot of information is being spread throughout the world via the satellites, through the communications network-the bad as well as the good. And that is something new. Very revolutionary. It contributed towards the downfall of communism. Havel said rock-and-roll caused the Berlin Wall to go down. That was his quote.


Another significant development is all the understanding we’re getting now on human evolution. You see new headlines constantly about the new male Lucy, the early ancestor of our species, for example, and the understanding of the power of the evolutionary process. One of the hallmarks of the project that Mike and I are working on, is the idea that evolution has not ended. The Future of The Body is about the next step. We are still evolving and I think things are really moving.


We have such a rich legacy of positive accomplishments. Just consider the Eskimo, Aruba tribesman, East Indian, Japanese Samurai, Christian Desert Fathers, the shaman, the Penitenti, Victorian Novelists, 20th century scientists…consider all the different kinds of governments, governance and philosophies that we have had. Embedded in this flamboyant richness, we’ve always had hints of further evolution. But now, all this diversity is becoming accessible everywhere on the earth. No one living before the mid-20th century-even the privileged king or monarch or greatest scientist of the time-has had as much access as we do today to the descriptions of metanormal capacities in people. Never before was there a medical science that could precisely measure the physiological changes produced by transformative practice. At no other time have so many people practiced so many different disciplines for growth and transcendence.


In public meeting places you find people practicing Sufi exercises that were once reserved for initiates. This stuff is really happening. Shamanic practices of Stone Age people are offered at workshops. It’s really spreading, more now than ever before. There’s a magazine called “Common Ground” published in the San Francisco area that has advertisements for literally hundreds of these activities. It is incredible. In the 60s this was simply not available. We have much, much more of this paradigm-busting lore now than we had back then. It’s not even close-it’s a thousand times more than what we had in the 60s.


Psychoneuroimmunology has had a powerful influence in the medical profession and is showing that emotions and feelings influence every aspect of bodily functioning. Ideas of the mind-body connection grace the covers of the news magazines now…The Bill Moyers Special, “Healing and the Mind” has had a very powerful influence on a relatively large audience. Not like Roseanne of course, but it doesn’t take all the people to make changes. It takes some of the people who are controlling the instruments of power, like those in the media.


A lot of experiments are going on, even though mainstream science is very loathe to admit it, which demonstrate that the minds of individuals can influence living tissue at a distance. They can influence bacteria, plants and other human beings. And these have been demonstrated in good, rigorous experiments, where the protocols and the procedures are much more closely monitored than they would be in a normal scientific experiment, where people are not so suspicious.


The anthropologists and sociologists have made so much progress too, in showing how our facial expressions, the way we walk, the way we move, how these things are influenced by culture. And how we can break out of these cultural traps.


Such martial arts as aikido, which I think is transformative, is now spreading throughout the world. It is a very transformative martial art that is based upon love and harmony. And that’s a very radical idea.


DiCarlo: Qi Gong also..


Leonard: Qi Gong and T’ai Chi continues to spread.


Very quietly the shift is occurring.


Also, the attitude of the media towards things such as Esalen has greatly shifted since the 1960s. In the very beginning before they knew what was happening, there were some wonderful articles about Esalen. Then by the 70s everybody who wrote about Esalen would talk about “touchy-feely” things while sticking their tongues in their cheeks. There was so much sticking of tongues in the cheeks that on Madison Avenue they had to develop a special operation to plug up the holes. But now, I have a whole press kit of articles that were written in 1987 about Esalen and every one of them is favorable. Part of the favorable response was simply a celebration of survival. Esalen endured and that’s pretty good. Nobody expected that. And when it hit its 30th birthday in 1992, there were even more favorable articles. It’s almost as if it’s now in the mainstream, an edge of the establishment. Recently Vogue and the New York Times all had very nice articles about Esalen. Today, Esalen is packed-you can’t even get in. So very, very quietly these “new/old” ideas are integrating into the very fabric of our society. It’s about something that appears to be almost essential to humanity. Without vision, without the understanding that there is the realm of the spirit that can give us guidance, that can give us meaning to life, I don’t think we can do anything. Life that is just consuming is totally an empty life. You can never get enough of what you really don’t want.


DiCarlo: Speaking of this realm of the spirit-Do you think there are beings that exist on different levels of reality that somehow guide the unfoldment of human potential?


Leonard: Well, I don’t think there is any question. What an impoverished universe it would be if what we see with our senses, and what we can pick up with our instruments of science represented all that there is in existence. Before the understanding of radio waves anybody who said you could hear a message from someone far away would have been labeled a kook. Are we arrogant enough to say that now our instruments have picked up all the emanations of life that exist? Of course there are more! Wherever you go, there is always more. And I don’t know what they are. I am not one of those who follows the idea of aliens and angels, but I would by very surprised, in fact, it’s unthinkable to me that our science and our senses have now picked up all the forms of life or energy that exist. There’s no question about it.


In my own L.E.T. work, Leonard Energy Training, we do exercises that are absolutely reliable, where average, untrained folks can wander around the room with eyes covered with cloth so they cannot see. When I clap my hands, the great majority of these people can point to the location of their partner who might be anywhere in the room or even outside the room. It takes a little induction to get people ready for this. One half hour-that’s all. But this is now routine. This is not special. This is not extraordinary. This is routine. We call this, “The Synchronization Process”.. I describe it briefly in the back of my book, The Silent Pulse.


So obviously, there is some kind of energy there that is not in the electromagnetic spectrum. We don’t want to be electro-magnetic chauvinists you know. There’s got to be more to the world than the electro-magnetic spectrum.


But there’s no question, there are other beings. There have got to be.


DiCarlo: Do you think scientists who are attempting to map and measure these other dimensions of “subtle” energies are heading in the right direction?


Leonard: Yes. Many years ago, myself and my ex-wife went to the University of California at Davis and were measured as we attempted to move our life energy from the right to the left hand. I still have the graphs. They were picking up electrical potentials off the back of each hand, and just by intention alone…we would say, “move energy right” and you would see the pulsations going up, up up, above the mid-line on the graph. Then we would say, “now bring the energy to the left” and you would see the line on the graph go down and over to the other side. Now, how is that done? I don’t know.


So I think, yes, let’s try to measure these things. You have to keep trying or else you’re not a real scientist. You’re not a scientist on the edge of discovery. I think it’s a wonderful idea.


DiCarlo: Could you elaborate on the integral practice for the development of human potential you have developed with Michael Murphy?


Leonard: Mike and I have written a book called The Life We Are Given. In a sense it is the follow upto Michael’s, The Future of The Body but it can stand totally alone. You might say that it is a book of instruction for the average person, which tells them what they can do to begin an integral transformative practice. Integral means, to integrate “mind, body, soul and heart.” Transformative mean that it’s based on positive change. Practice is a wonderful word, meaning something you do on a regular, disciplined basis. Not primarily for the goodies you get out of it, but primarily for the sake of doing it. A practice is the path you walk. You do it for its own sake. Paradoxically, the people who follow a practice for its own sake are the ones who get the most extraordinary results.


In part three of The Future of The Body Michael posits that the best way to achieve metanormal capacities, of perception, communication abilities, vitality, volition, etc. is through integral transformative practices. So for two years, throughout most of 1992 and 1993, we ran an experimental class. There were 33 people in the first group and 30 in the second group. We met for just two hours every Saturday but everybody had a number of commitments, things that they had to do every week. We kept very close statistics. We also had affirmations as to positive changes in their life and especially in their bodies. That’s something a lot of human potential workshops and experiments don’t do. They don’t keep close statistics which helps make things more understandable. We are offering a way for the average person to embark on this practice, just through reading this book and getting together with other folks.


DiCarlo: So this is a step-by-step methodology for individual transformation?


Leonard: Well, we have developed a step-by-step methodology for integral transformative practice. By doing that-and you can’t be sure-the odds are very good that you will get some positive transformation, because almost everybody, especially in the second cycle in 1993, got some very, very significant, positive changes. The amount of change is really quite spectacular. All sorts of wonderful changes in their body, some of which would have to be called metanormal and extraordinary.


DiCarlo: What would be some of the key elements of this practice?


Leonard: First of all, before we started these classes, I developed a less than 40 minute “kata”. Kata is just a convenient term in the martial arts which simply mean “form”. It’s a specific form where you go through a certain series of moves, always in the same sequence.


We asked that everyone in the course perform this kata at least 5 days a week. Some people did this seven days a week. It takes only 40 minutes because from the very beginning we wanted to make this a “householders path”. That is, a practice that can be engaged in by people who have jobs and a family. Not just people who live in a monastery or go on a retreat. So we wanted to do something that was feasible, and that was an important part of the experiment. These people all had jobs and families of sorts-they had a life other than this practice. But by doing the practice they got really remarkable results.


We asked all the participants to attend the class punctually and regularly. Also, we asked that everyone do at least three hours of aerobic exercise every week, in no increment less than 30 minutes. Everyone was also asked to be conscious of everything they ate, and a very low fat diet was recommended. We also recommended strength training but that was not absolutely required. We asked that everybody stay current in their emotional relations with all the people in the class, the teachers, and the people in their lives. We also did some emotional group work in the class, but we allowed people to do whatever they needed to do to handle that and report on it. Staying current in other words. Not letting things build up. Keeping the emotional information flowing to the appropriate people.


We also had affirmations. Everyone made four affirmations near the beginning of the class. These affirmations were written in the present tense, and went something like this, “I George Leonard, intend to see that the following circumstances have occurred by November 21, 1992.” Then, the rest is written in present tense, and for affirmation number one, we asked people to do things that are normal-not metanormal by any means. In other words, something that if you just did what you were supposed to do, you would achieve it and nobody would be surprised. It would be quite understandable through all the canons and concepts of present day science and medicine. For example, a person might affirm in writing, “My waist measures 32 inches” whereas it might measure 34 inches in the beginning.


All participants fill out a record of their affirmations, which is kept in a file. At the end, on November the 21st using this example, they would make note of their progress. If they have really watched their diet, and if they have done the aerobic exercises and perhaps the strength exercises, no one should be surprised that they have achieved this intended outcome.


The second affirmation for the first year was what we call, “exceptional”. Something that could still be explained by modern, mainstream science, but which would be an exception. Such as, “I measure 5 foot 6 inches” and your measurement right now is 5 foot 5 inches. Well, to grow an inch at age forty is kind of unusual isn’t it? I think most people can grow about a third of an inch or a half of an inch just by improving their posture. But to actually grow measurably a whole inch would be kind of exceptional.


We rated people on a scale of zero to ten to see how well they achieved their affirmations. We tried to make it as objective as possible with measurements. We didn’t restrict it to the objective because that would be too limiting, but we had people make it objective as much as possible. In other words, if a person were affirming an improvement in eyesight, we asked them to go to an eye doctor and have the eyes measured and have a record of it in the beginning and again, eleven months later. Incidentally, in that particular case we got remarkable results.


The third affirmation was the metanormal, something that could not be explained by traditional science and something that rarely happens to people. For example, a metanormal affirmation might be to grow two inches. And we got fascinating results. In fact, during the 1993 program, the success in achieving affirmation number three was 6.67 on a scale from zero to ten.


The fourth affirmation was the same for everybody, “My entire body is balanced, vital and healthy.” We wanted to cover this base because we didn’t want someone to achieve an unusual metanormal state at the expense of their health and balance. And that was one that we really excelled at with an 8.2 overall improvement in health on a zero to 10 scale.


Taking a look at all this gave us some ideas for some very practical applications. We cannot solve our health care crisis in a financially viable way. It is impossible to do it no matter what method we use, as long as we continue to use our present method of medical technology, which is sickness based and relies upon expensive drugs and expensive technology. The only way we can make it work is through a radical change in lifestyle. And if we can change the lifestyle of a group of ordinary Americans, improving their health by 8.2 on a scale of 0 to 10, we can save hundreds of billions of dollars in this country. So it’s very practical.


So we asked that everyone fulfill their affirmations. In other words, they continued to speak their affirmations in various ways. In practice we used focused surrender, which was one of our best methods and inductions for achieving these meta-normalities.


DiCarlo: Focused surrender? What’s that?


Leonard: While writing The Silent Pulse , I noticed there seem to be certain magical moments in life, which I call periods of perfect rhythm, where everything seems perfect. If you go one way that’s exactly the right way and you’ll find something marvelous there; if you go the other way that’s the right way, and so forth and so on. These moments of perfect rhythm generally come in a period where you have concentrated very hard on something. You are really focused. After this period of intense concentration, you surrender. You let go of that which you were focusing upon. Focused surrender is a combination of these two actions.


There’s a big debate going on right now: Is the petitioned form of prayer, where an individual requests something specific, like a cure from an illness, more effective than accepting prayer, thanksgiving prayer, like “Thy Will Be Done”. There has been research studying the effectiveness of various kinds of prayer on various kinds of organisms. The debate is still open. Some people come down on the side, “Thy Will Be Done” as the best way to go about it. In other words, surrender.


Now what I have done-and I did this way back in the 70s-is to devise a way where you really get both. A combination of the two. And it’s really at the point where you surrender that magical things might begin to happen. Extraordinary things. What I call this is a “mental-material interface”. In Integral Transformation Practice training we have an activity where we sound a gong. As long as the participant can hear the gong, they are to focus with all their power on making whatever state they want to achieve absolutely real in their consciousness. This is real in the present moment in this universe, because your consciousness is a part of this universe. If you want to experience yourself as being an inch taller, you see yourself as an inch taller. That exists in your consciousness and it’s real. Take the example of the wiring diagram of a little radio. The radio itself is real. No one would dispute that since it is concrete and exists in three dimensions. Of course, if you drop it and step on it, it won’t work anymore. It’s broken. There’s also a wiring diagram. That’s real too, it’s just on two dimensions primarily. Now, how about the diagram as it exists in the mind of the inventor, of the person who works on that radio. Is that real or not? My argument is that these represent three different forms of reality, but they are all equally real.


So next, the person is instructed to follow the tone of the gong down into the void itself, into the nothingness. When it reaches that void and nothingness from which all things arise-the creative void-they completely let go of whatever they are envisioning. The way we do it, you are lying on your back and you hold your left hand up over your abdomen as long as you can hear the sound. If you can no longer hear the sound, drop it. Say, “I give up.” What we have found-and we can’t prove this-is that at the moment of surrender, the mental-material interface somehow clicks in. In other words, what was real in the mental realm, to some small extent becomes real in the material realm. Of all the methods we have tried, focused-surrender has turned out to be our most effective induction.


The great warrior works to achieve control, then acts with abandon. In aikido, I have worked and worked and worked on certain techniques, but when I’m being attacked, if I think about the techniques, I’ve had it. You have got to let go totally. Just let it happen. Achieve control, then act with abandon. Many great sports achievements, and many great achievements in the world, I think, result from the combination of the two.


DiCarlo: I like that because then you get a blend between personal will and perhaps Higher Will. There’s no conflict, just a creative dance between the individual and the universe.


Leonard: Boy, you’ve got it exactly. It’s not one or the other. The idea of focused surrender in which the mental and material can touch, individual will finally letting go to grace. As Mike said in his book, “The winds of grace are always blowing, you just have to raise your sails.”


DiCarlo: What sort of metanormal capabilities have manifested for some of the people?


Leonard: There’s one woman in her mid-40s whose grandfather on her mother’s side went practically blind from cataracts. This was before the condition could be treated through surgery, and this man could barely see. Her mother had the cataract operation in her 40s. This woman has three older sisters, and each of them had the cataract operation while they were in their 40s. It was an absolutely genetic condition. When this woman in the class had achieved the age of 42, she developed cataracts, which was noted in her yearly examination and she assumed she too would have the operation since one of the cataracts was near the middle of the cornea.


So she made an affirmation in the 1992 class that her eyes were free of cataracts. Unfortunately, when she went in for the first examination, she told the eye doctor. He scoffed at the idea. He said, “well, you can change some things, but cataracts you can never change.” Still, she was a good student and did that work and every time she did the kata she would take the palms of her hand and place them three or four inches from each eye, kind of stroking the eyes with the energy in the palms of each hand, saying, “My vision is clear. My eyes are free of cataracts.”


When time at the end of the 92 cycle came, this woman just couldn’t face going in for her eye exam because the doctor had been so certain the condition could not be healed without surgery. If you’ve ever wondered why people don’t achieve their potential, this is one example. The cultural pressure of the current paradigm is extremely powerful and is enunciated in so many different ways by the experts and the acknowledged authorities in each field.


Although the woman had given up on it , she continued doing the affirmation every time she did the kata, which was five times a week. Near the end of the second year of the program, she needed some prescription sunglasses and her old prescription was out of date. She went to the same hospital as before and after she had the exam she waited for the usual cataract lecture. The doctor said, “Do you have any inherited eye problems?” She responded, “Don’t you know? How about my cataracts?” “What cataracts?,” said the doctor. They were gone.


DiCarlo: That’s an incredible example of realized human potential. I’m wondering, how does this potential, which is inherently in us all, get blocked? You’ve already mentioned cultural pressures…


Leonard: Let me give you some examples…. You know how as schoolchildren, we all worried that we didn’t have enough ability. We weren’t sure that we were going to do well enough on the achievement tests. Well, I really believe that the biggest threat to the establishment is not underachieving, but rather it’s the threat of overachieving.


When I was covering education back in the 1960s, I was going around the country doing an article on programmed education. In fact, it was that same story , “Revolution in Education” that gave me the idea for the human potential story. It was in Roanoke, Virginia, where I had heard about this student at a local junior high school who had taken a simple programmed course on solid geometry home for a long weekend. He finished one semester’s worth of work over that period, Friday until Monday. Now do you think the school system would cheer about that?


DiCarlo: You would think they would marvel at the accomplishment..


Leonard: No, they thought, “what the hell do we do with this guy?” What do you do with the kids who come into first grade reading very fluently? The system is set-up to keep everybody in lock-step. Those who are not in lock-step are a threat to the system.


I think that humans natural tendency is to learn. We are learning animals. We are put here on this planet to learn. We are genetically endowed to learn a great deal over a lifetime rather than having to wait through the mechanisms of evolution, of mutation and selection and so forth. Because of this, changes can be made during one lifetime. But unfortunately, there is actually very little positive reinforcement, and much adversive conditioning which is opposed to people achieving their full potential.


DiCarlo: Would you say that it’s a control issue?


Leonard: Control?


DiCarlo: In so far as certain people in society wanting to control us in certain ways…


Leonard: I don’t think it’s any conscious control. In my book, The Transformation I offer the whole idea of the human individual as being a component of society as an example of one of the inventions of civilization. The first pyramid building gangs you might say. We specialize and standardize components so they are reliable and predictable. A true learner is none of those things. A learner is eternally surprising. Unpredictable. Not necessarily reliable to do the same job the same way every time. So the entire system works against the full development of human potential. The system works against learning. Our present school system actually set-up to stop the human organism from learning in a really radical and deep way.


To learn is to change. Education is a process which changes the learner. How much are we willing for our students to change in school? You know, they see, “Two plus two,” and before they have learned elementary addition they will just look at it with a blank expression on their face. After being taught they can say, “four.” And that is a change. So that’s definitely a learning. Our children are learning certain amounts of symbolic manipulation and the memorization of a bit of the common cultural material, but in learning to be a learner, and learning to create, in learning to love, in learning to feel deeply, there is a tremendous constraint against learning, if learning is any kind of significant change. And if learning is not any kind of significant change, then what the hell is it? In other words, if you don’t change after a learning experience, if you are not different from when the learning experience started, you have not learned much. Learning is not truly respected. Education as it is now constituted really works against learning in the deepest sense. You don’t want people to change deeply because it would be very worrisome to the system.


I have often thought about this: Let’s say that learning is done in segments. I am not sure that’s even the right way to do it, but if learning is done in segments in school, at the end of each segment, the teacher should not be necessary. In other words, the teacher should fade from prominence. Maybe one of the jobs of a teacher is to set the learners on a course of learning, and then gradually fade himself or herself, so that the last day, the students wouldn’t even notice the teacher there.


DiCarlo: That would be a switch..


We need to cultivate a real respect for learning. You know, people’s thought of the human potential movement does not normally include calculus. I think it does include calculus. Mike and I both feel that way. Another requirement we had in our Integral Transformative Practice Club (ITP), was that everybody would agree to read assignments and write essays. That doesn’t sound very New Age does it?


DiCarlo: Not at all…


Leonard: But that’s integral transformative practice-it’s across the board. We feel that to neglect any of those four aspects of being human-mind, body, heart or soul-is a big mistake. People will do things if they know why they are doing them. If they have some kind of vision as to why they are doing them. We need vision. Every viable culture and every successful individual needs at least two guardian angels-vision and practice. Both of those have been totally lost. They have become endangered species in the culture of the freeway and shopping mall.


Vision is given away to obsession with short term goals; practice is given away to the quick fix. “The One Minute Manager”, “Total Fitness in One Week”. Almost all “how-to” books; New Age books are mostly quick-fix books. And you don’t learn anything by the quick fix. It takes long-term regular practice.


There’s an old Eastern idea that “where there is no practice, nations fall into ruin.” I think we have to get the idea of long-term, regular practice for everybody, rather than “10 Easy Lessons” or “Fast, Temporary Relief”-all the slogans you hear in this culture.


Just take a look at the areas in which we have our biggest problems: the economy; health care; politics; pharmacology; crime; and environment, the most important one of all. Look at each of these. The factor that is common to each problem involves long term versus short-term. In all of those, we tend to do what seems best on the short term, but what we are really doing is losing the long term. Almost always, the short term is inimical to the long term. Sometimes you have to do both, but we’ve almost totally neglected the long term. So I think that factor, long term versus short term is something people need to take a look at.


When you adopt a practice, you’re in it for the long haul. You work, and work and work on a thing. You diligently keep practicing the same thing over and over again. You are not getting anywhere- or so you think. But you are getting somewhere. It doesn’t show itself. Then finally when it clicks in, you have this little spurt of apparent progress. But where did the learning take place? It took place on the plateau.


Just think about all those years people worked against the whole communist system. Then in a period of a few weeks, the Berlin wall goes down. Then a few months afterwards most of the eastern satellites had given up communism. Some said, “My God, change occurred very fast.” But in reality, that change was occurring over the last 20 or 30 years. The change occurred because of long time learning. And the learning occurs on the plateau. So if I have any message, I want to preach the plateau…you have to preach the plateau to young people. Just hang in there.





Excerpted from the book Towards A New World View: Conversations At The Leading Edge with Russell E. DiCarlo. The 377-page book features new and inspiring interviews with 27 paradigm pioneers in the fields of medicine, psychology, economics, business, religion, science, education and human potential. Featuring: Willis Harman, Matthew Fox, Joan Boysenko, George Leonard, Gary Zukav, Robert Monroe, Hazel Henderson, Fred Alan Wolf, Peter Senge, Jacquelyn Small, Elmer Green, Larry Dossey, Carolyn Myss, Stan Grof, Rich Tarnas, Marilyn Ferguson, Marsha Sinetar, Dr. Raymond Moody, Stephen Covey and Peter Russell.


Russell E. DiCarlo is a medical writer, author, lecturer and workshop leader who’s focus is on personal transformation, consciousness research and the fields of energy and anti-aging medicine. His forthcoming book is entitled “The Definitive Guide To Anti-Aging Medicine” (1998, Future Medicine Publishing). DiCarlo resides in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Copyright 1996. Epic Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

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Russell E. DiCarlo Written by Russell E. DiCarlo