Honoring the Innate Potential

Author // Joseph Chilton Pearce

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Honoring the Innate Potential
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This remarkable talk at the 2010 Pathways to Family Wellness Summit was given by Joseph Chilton Pearce, who passed away in August. Joseph was a man who spent his entire life searching for the innate potential in mankind— which he found, as all great adventurers do, residing in the heart. This heart, a universal heart, was the focus of Joseph’s work, and it was illuminated when, in a Jesuit cabin house devoid of electricity and in the depths of despair trying to understand and complete his book Magical Child, he discovered that play is the purpose of life. We were born here to play! This is connected with the idea that before we enter into a mode of consciousness befitting our inner humanity, we must first become as children.

We see, so obviously, that a child’s entire being is in rapid growth. We cherish it in such a way that it never gets old to exclaim to a child, “You’re growing up so fast!” To be like children is to be in this mode of uninhibited growth. And from here we can understand the value of playfulness and how it is such a key to all this. Play provides the stage for growth to happen!

I imagine asking a seasoned scientist what it feels like to discover something new, or to be a part of a research endeavor such as the one undertaken by Stephen Porges in the discovery of the polyvagal theory or Pasko Rakic in his photographing of the neural tube. I imagine them saying it feels like being “on a mission” or like “being a messenger for the whole of humanity.” What playful concepts these are, and how similar they sound to the child who says, “I’m on a mission to save the world!”

Play fosters growth for the mind, and if we could only see that all our chances—to draw from within, to perceive what others before us have seen, and to dance across the threshold—rely on our willingness to play, we would do just that. —From the Editors. A special thanks to Chuck and Karen Robison at

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I have experienced a lot in my life, and I think I am really fortunate for that. I think other people probably experience a great deal more than they talk about. I just happen to talk about my experiences.

I will be talking about the only subject that is of importance in my life, and that’s the heart-mind connection. It’s been one of the main themes in my own life, and everybody’s, whether they know it or not.

Back in 1974 I was finishing my third book, Magical Child. I had been working on this book for quite a while, and part of it was bothering me a great deal— the issue of play. Somehow I knew that play played a principal part in the whole development of the child, myself, and everyone else...but exactly what part, I could not tell. I knew it was principal, but in what way? So I did a lot of study. For several weeks I gathered every bit of information I could find from anywhere about the subject of play. I got a lot of great stuff, and was very excited about this.

I was in a little cabin overlooking what is now Silicon Valley. The Jesuits had given me this little retreat cottage at the edge of the great redwoods next to a beautiful vineyard to finish working on Magical Child. It was a marvelous place; I only had lantern light, as there was no electricity. So I spread all my research out in stacks. I knew it was coming to a head—I would find what play is all about. But in spite of this new information that had come in, I couldn’t quite crack the egg on play. And this went on until finally, long after midnight, totally exhausted, I leaned back, head in hand, and burst out with this very genuine prayer: “Oh God, what is the issue of play in our life?”

Some of you may have heard this tale. It’s not a fairy tale; it was true. This great bolt of energy hit the soles of my feet and I found myself falling through the whole universe, stars and galaxies and everything else—this incredible, ecstatic joy filling me. It went on and on and on. In fact I could hear myself calling out, “God is playing with me!” Finally it began to fade, and little by little I came back to my ordinary self. And I wept. I literally wept the rest of the night with this huge, joyful gratitude of what I’d been given.

It was such an ecstatic experience. But that’s where my issue of play in Magical Child ended up. I never got exactly what I wanted in that section on play but I knew one thing: Play is the whole purpose of life. It is the message of the heart. As long as we play fully and completely, everything will work as it is supposed to.

The issue of play led me into all sorts of interesting things. Through an incredible out-of-body, semi-mystic experience, I met an Indian meditation teacher by the name of Muktananda. He introduced himself, among other ways, by blowing up my nostrils! And when he did, I went into that same spin I had gone into in play. Then he sent me his book, called Play of Consciousness. I learned that the way the teacher gave power to initiates was by blowing up their nostrils! That pretty much confirmed it; I said to my wife, “Wherever this Muktananda is, we’re going.”

To make a long story short, we spent 10 marvelous winters and two summers in Muktananda’s ashram in India, where all of the attention was on the heart. Everything was about the heart. We did these great, long, 30-day retreats in a darkened hall, meditating on the heart. Now let me tell you, if you spend that much attention even on the big toe you’d get results. But boy, with the heart it was fireworks! In the 10th century, a mediating monk named Abhinavgupta, in Kashmir, India, explained everything about the heart in a clear but astonishing proposal. He said, “There’s only one heart in the whole universe. The heart is universal.” Muktananda had said to me the same thing: “The heart beating in me is the same one in you.”

There is new information that’s been found with the electron microscope—pictures of the neural tube. Now this might be old hat to some of you, but the neural tube is the first thing to form in the mother’s womb. It’s actually like a little bent tube. We’re talking about microscopic stuff here. So, as the neural tube forms itself, something almost like a little spine forms behind it, and immediately out from it a little protuberance—like a sac—which becomes the heart.

That sac begins to produce loads and loads of heart cells. Now, what these photos showed was that very early on in that neural tube, this sac that forms from the spine starts creating neurons, or brain cells. All these neurons pour out of this new heart and are transported up to the high part of the neural tube where they will eventually form a brain. Truly magnificent! The neurons of the brain are first formed in the heart. Now, the neural tube is the seat of self. Self is indigenous to the human being. I think my friend George Leonard was probably right; the soul we have to create, educate, and take darn good care of if we want it to grow. But not the sense of self. Sense of self gives rise to the heart, the brain, and life as we know it.

What we find right off the bat is that self divides into self as a heart and self as a brain. The whole drama of human experience is this divided self between the heart and the brain and how perfectly they function. Now, why does the heart create the brain? To do its work for it.

The work of Roger Sperry pointed out how mind is an emergent property of the brain. Brain produces mind, just like heart produces brain— it’s the same thing, just once more removed. Roger said that around age 12 or 13, mind begins to emerge out of brain; the adolescent doesn’t settle down until about age 21, because he must find and deal with this new equation going on of mind keeping its attachment, you could say, to the brain, until it can stand on its own feet. This part of the brain we call intellect, and it can spin out whole worlds of creation, discover, and play.

But the intelligence, which is different than intellect, remains in the heart. It is the heart. And what is that self in the heart designed to do? Maintain balance and coherence and unity of all the actions that happen in intellect.

So, the connection between the two, the universal in the heart and the individual in the head, is the key to everything in our lives. What I’ve been involved with over the last 35 to 40 years is how that connection is severely compromised.

This happens, first of all, in the neural tube right after conception. It’s interesting to see that newborn infants, those that have been loved and nurtured in utero, are born with an open palm. Their hand is immediately exploring the open world, taking note of the information and making contact. But if they’ve had a rough time in utero, which means the mama has been unhappy, they’re born into the world with a clenched fist, and their learning is very slow because they’ve got to protect what they have and they can’t open to new learning.

I love the difference between the clenched fist and the open palm. How many of us go through life with a clenched fist? My friend Robert Sardello says, “The future always wants to flow into the present, but when we have a clenched fist the future can only come in as a replication of the past.” We wonder why it is that every knight in shining armor that rushes down to clean up the mess in Washington turns out, for some reason or other, to be the mess in Washington. The system simply replicates itself. The culture that represents danger, disaster, and being on the alert cannot be changed because it cannot let new information in. It has lost its faculty for that. Just like how the individual who’s been cut off from his heart can’t open himself up to love. Neither can afford the luxury of relaxing his defenses long enough.

A Dominican theologian called Meister Eckhart came along in the 13th and 14th centuries. Eckhart was a great meditation monk in charge of a huge plot of land in northern France and northern Germany; he walked long distances from one of his parishes to the next. Writing about it, he called these walks “a series of wondering joy” because he knew: He was the perfect balance between head and heart—between the active intellect and the universal intelligence within. The heart moves only for well-being, and he talked about the great joy in this relationship with the heart. The connection between the mind and the heart was the critical thing, and Eckhart made that clear.

People get into all sorts of trouble as they begin to run all of their intellectual processes and great creations without reference to the heart. Take science, for instance. Science became our god for the whole 20th century, and believe me, it’s a jealous god and it brooks no interference.

For instance, Mircea Eliade—a great anthropologist who spent many years with the lamas of Tibet before Tibet was destroyed—found that Tibetan monks, after their years and years of training, could completely reverse the ontological constructs of our world. Now, ontology is an explanation of how creation takes place, how our world forms around us. The ontological constructs are the ways in which we as a species have concluded that everything holds together. In Tibet they could reverse these ontological constructs. For instance, part of their graduation was an exercise to thaw frozen wet sheets in the middle of a frozen lake. If they couldn’t thaw these sheets by dawn, the initiate had to go back to school. But if he could, he’d go to the next test: He’d have to prove that he could reverse the ontological constructs of fire on flesh and not be bothered.

Back in 1956 I came across studies of the people in Sri Lanka. Leonard Feinberg, an exchange professor in the University of Chicago, spent several years in Sri Lanka.