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Human Potential
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
This evening I joined 80 other people on the Berkeley campus for a free talk by George Leonard and Michael Murphy.

George & Mike were introduced to one another at a party 40 years ago next week, talked until 2:30 am, and have worked with one another ever since.

George was an award-winning reporter for Look magazine; Michael's family owned the land in Big Sur that is now the Esalen Institute. Esalen seeks to provide "ways to explore life." They described some of the visitors over the years, from Fritz Perls to the Beatles.

"Tell us about the hot tubs," asked a student behind me. George replied, "Everybody already knows about the hot tubs. How many of you have been to Esalen?" More than half the hands went up, mine among them. Years ago, I soaked naked with a bunch of strangers in steaming hot water in an open-air pool clinging to the side of a cliff overlooking the Pacific. It is serene. Native Americans did the same thing in the same place for hundreds of years. It is not Bob and Ted and Carol and Alice; it is bliss.

In 1968, George wrote Education and Ecstasy, two words you usually don't find in the same place. I just reread the first ten pages. It is eloquent. It brings tears to the eyes. The title of the second chapter became the label applied to the sixties' cults, believers, weirdos, and saints: Human Potential. George felt...and still feels...that most of us use at most 1 or 2% of our potential. He and Mike have spent the last four decades helping people realize more of their potential through integral programs that seek to build one's life, body, mind, and soul.

When George's Mastery came out, I read it in one sitting. The message was that mastery takes a lot of time -- much practice. You can't be impatient. Sometimes you'll hit a plateau; you feel stuck; nothing is changing. On the path to mastery, you recognize that this is part of the package. Eventually, you'll find yourself on a higher plateau. And so the cycle repeats itself. "Any significant long-term change requires long-term practice, whether that change has to do with learning to play the violin or learning to be a more open, loving person."

lifeIn '95, George and Mike came out with The Life We Are Given, a program for turning your life around.
"We believe that by the very nature of things, each of us carries a spark of divinity in every cell and that we have the potential to manifest powers of body, mind, heart, and soul beyond our present ability to imagine. We believe that a society could find no better primary intention, no more appropriate compass course for its programs and policies, than the realization of every citizen's positive potential. We mean the potential inherent in every aspect of our lives, from the most commonplace to the most extraordinary, the hidden capabilities that wait to be summoned forth, not just in the mind but also in the body, heart, and soul. Such a compass course might create clarity where there is now confusion and bring the human psyche into harmony with nature and the cosmos. At best, it could open the way to the ultimate adventure, during which much of what has been metanormal would become normal, and some who read these pages would be privileged to share the next stage in the world's unfolding splendor."
Someone suggested George let us experience some integral transformation. Everyone on your feet! Breathe through a spot just below your navel. Slowly move your arms in this fashion. Close your eyes. Shift your weight from one foot to the other. Open your eyes but don't look at anything. You get the idea. Part Aikido, part hatha yoga, some visualization -- the transformation process is eclectic in its sources.

Running Esalen, Mike says he sometimes feels like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, holding back cult members who are about to plummet over the edge. Other times, the synergy of practices is wonderful. Run on a treadmill; find your maximum capacity. Then say a mantra while running; the word "One" over and over will do. Your capacity increases measurably.

It's wonderful how people, even famous people, are open and friendly if you simply treat them as respected colleagues. I'm gathering material for my book on informal learning. George gave me his phone number and email address, suggesting I get in touch.

Why do these guys do this? They said they simply want to do what ever they can to make this a better world. Their next program seeks to understand and unravel religious fundamentalism.


Blogger Claire said...

Thanks for the books. I have an ever expanding wish list and may go bankrupt soon! :o)

4:35 AM  

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