Noetic Sciences, Worldviews and Wellness, An Interview with Marilyn Mandala Schlitz, PhD
Download and Listen to Lisa’s Interview with Marilyn
An Audio Interview with IONS President, Marilyn Schlitz, PhD
“Our research to date suggests the most powerful step people can take toward achieving their highest potential is the willingness and ability to understand new perspectives.” — IONS, Worldview Literacy Project
The below print interview with Marilyn Schlitz, PhD, of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, IONS, is part two of Lisa Reagan’s columns on Worldview Literacy and Wellness for Pathways to Family Wellness magazine’s summer and fall 2011 issues. The series was presented as part of the Institute of Noetic Sciences’ Worldview Literacy Project facilitator training on the Earthrise campus in August 2011. (Read part one, Bringing Light to the Dark Side of “Natural” Parenting.
In the hour-long, audio interivew, also below, Dr. Schlitz talks with Lisa Reagan about noetic science and IONS’ 40 years of consciousness research. Reagan and Schlitz discuss IONS’ Worldview Literacy Project and its focus on helping participants become aware of their worldview, understand others’ worldviews, and learn the tools for shifting and expanding our awareness to create a greater context for our lives.
As Dr. Schlitz says in the interview, “Becoming aware of your worldview is like asking a fish to become aware of the water it is swimming in.” For Kindred and Pathways readers, Worldview Literacy offers 21st century citizen abilites to consciously create the world we want our children to inherit.
An Abbreviated, Print Version of Lisa’s Interview with Dr. Schlitz
You probably have noticed, even if you just browse the Kindred website or flip through an issue of Pathways magazine, that we’re not your average parent advocates. As collaborating nonprofits, Kindred, Families for Conscious Living and Pathways state in our missions that we are here to support your exploration of wellness and individual, informed choices. In building our local wellness communities through our growing Pathways Connect groups, together we explore questions like:
- What is wellness?
- How can we discuss the many issues of conscious living and informed choice confidently and respectfully, and move beyond initial reactions of feeling overwhelmed or fearful?
- Can we learn to “see the forest for the trees”? Meaning, can we develop our capacity to see the Big Picture, the interconnectivity of life that naturally supports our wellness choices, and respect one another for our individual paths? (No How Crunchy Are You? Internet quizzes.)
- Are there simple practices to develop our capacities for connecting inner wisdom to outer wellness?
In the first part of this column, I shared the early years of my “natural” mothering aspirations and my realization that, while my intentions were good, I was operating out of a culturally conditioned blind spot that left me despondent and exhausted. As I wrote in part one: “My unexamined, unconscious programming of performance, evaluation, and production was a value system straight from my formal education and work world—which was now the dominant, unsustainable industrial paradigm I sought to undermine with my ‘natural’ parenting efforts. Yikes! Echoes of Einstein’s famous quote rang like tolling bells through this new thought, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ Oh. Right.”
As I shared in part one, a personal shift in awareness provided a foundation that allowed my “natural mothering” efforts to become “conscious parenting” insights. This ongoing and practical shift in awareness allowed me to make peace with my blind spot, or as I jokingly refer to it, my personal CNN: my Calcified Neural Network. Today, neuroscience shows us that 95 percent of our actions originate in our unconscious belief systems, which reside in our brains as physical ruts or calcified neural nets. These personal CNNs limit our ability to take in new information, and therefore limit our perception of reality.
Collectively, these blind spots converge into cultural beliefs that are unquestioningly passed down through generations and even blasted through airport terminals and restaurants via our collective source of sanctioned information—conveniently also called CNN! Consider Ina May Gaskin’s insights in this interview. As Ina May states, women in the 1950s and 1960s submitted themselves to brutal medical birth practices because “they didn’t know any better.” The obstetricians, who had built a medical culture around birth as being abnormal and in need of intervention, were in truth impaired in their judgments by an academically reinforced blind spot.
What happened when a few women, as Ina May says, shifted their worldviews and began to question the traumatic effects of the separating ritual of medical birth, and instead allowed birth to be the connecting and empowering event it could be? What would happen today if American culture woke up to the possibilities of “normal” birth? What other cultural blind spots do we share and reinforce with social acceptance or threats of social ridicule? Where does the path to wellness, for individuals or society, ever begin, if not with a shift in individual perceptions?
Simply put, the Big Picture, the interconnected one that supports our life-affirming pursuit of wellness, is always available to us. Acknowledging and illuminating our personal blind spots/CNNs not only frees our inner wisdom to align with this greater context, but inspires those around us, including our children, to take up this challenge of conscious living as well.
During the decade I spent as an activist for natural/holistic parenting, two of the coolest moms I have ever met were compiling their own research data into paradigm shifting, or, as they call it, Worldview Literacy. Clinical research scientist Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D., president of the Institute for Noetic Sciences (IONS), and the institute’s director of research, Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D., released the results of their decade-long study of the most “powerful force of change” known in their book, Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life in 2007.
The exciting revelations and insights of IONS Worldview Literacy Project (WLP) represent the true origin of the word education, whose Latin core educare, means “to draw forth that which is within.” Based upon the institute’s 40 years of research, the WLP’s purpose is to give individuals the practical tools to see the forest for the trees, to draw out the blind spots in awareness and to give us language to discuss this process with one another. The WLP currently works with teenagers, and has already experienced a successful pilot year as a drop-in course module in 15 high schools and four universities in California.
In the coming months, Pathways will be collaborating with IONS to bring to our readers and our Pathways Connect groups the insights and tools of the Worldview Literacy Project. In an exclusive interview with Pathways, Marilyn Schlitz shares with our readers IONS’ fascinating research into consciousness, including how we can break through our own calcified neural networks and open ourselves to our innate wisdom and transformative capacities for life-affirming wellness.
Lisa: What is noetic science?
Marilyn: The idea of “noetic” is really very old. It comes from the Greek nous, which means direct knowing. It is that part of our experience that comes to us through our intuition, our creativity; it involves our belief systems, our worldview and, in essence, our consciousness. IONS was founded in 1973 by Edgar Mitchell, one of the Apollo 14 astronauts and the sixth man to walk on the moon. Dr. Mitchell’s job was to man the lunar capsule that went from the Apollo capsule to the moon and back. He has said, after his part of the mission was complete, he had the window seat on the way home and had the opportunity to look out at planet Earth suspended in the vastness of space. He had a sense that the kind of suffering we experience in civilization on planet Earth is nothing inherent in the Earth, but something inherent in us, in our consciousness and our belief systems. His epiphany was that perhaps the great frontier wasn’t the exploration of outer space, but really a deep and systematic inquiry into the nature of our own inner awareness.
Lisa: IONS’ research over the past 40 years has tracked a global shift in consciousness—meaning thousands of individuals are discarding old belief systems. IONS’ Shift Reports succinctly lay out the hallmarks of the shift, from an industrial worldview to a holistic worldview. What is a worldview?
Marilyn: We are alive at a time of enormous complexity. What we are experiencing is many, many weapons of mass distraction that are competing for our interest and attention. We are also experiencing the unprecedented convergence of different cultures’ ways of knowing about reality. In that process it can be very confusing for people: so much new information, so much complexity, and so many different paradigms and models of reality are coming into contact. The work of IONS is really to understand how we can create the inner resources that will allow us to navigate these outer complexities. In this educational leg, we have the Worldview Literacy Project. The idea is that literacy is a skill set or competency, and worldview is that lens of perception through which we view ourselves and the world.
Lisa: In Pathways we have been exploring the worldview or paradigm of wellness for the past eight years. We’ve found that new parents are inspired to view the world differently and question their beliefs in ways they have not considered before, especially as parents who want to make healthy choices. In working with parents, and myself, I have found it helpful to talk about our worldviews and how they support or create obstacles to wellness choices. How does someone discover their worldview or personal lens?
Marilyn: This can be really tricky. It’s like the old parable about how fish swimming in water can’t see the water because they are so immersed in it. And I think that is true about all of us. We live in a culture— and subcultures—that characterize our daily experiences and we take a lot of things for granted. We were taught certain things in school and we are reinforced for those things through the media. So it is very hard, oftentimes, to take a step back and to question, “What are my beliefs? What are my views? What are my values? How are those values informed by the culture I am living in?”
There is some fascinating work that is done in the area of cognitive science and social psychology, looking at things like inattentional blindness, which shows that we see those things that we expect to see, and that it is much more difficult for us to see things that are not part of our expectations. What are all of the things that are going on in the world that we are missing because our worldviews are priming us to only see part of the story?
Our work at IONS is keenly interested in challenging those assumptions and looking at the tools and technologies that we might employ to help us to begin to transform our consciousness to live in a world that allows us to feel more nourished and supported by the environment and each other. The Worldview Literacy Project helps us through this process.
Lisa: What are the barriers that limit our capacity to make these kinds of transformations or shifts, especially toward wellness, in our lives?
Marilyn: Asking these kinds of questions leads to very fertile ground for people who are trying to understand what it means to be a 21st-century citizen. In this transformation process we need to begin to ask, where are we being reactive? Where are things pushing our buttons and causing us discomfort? Where is it that we’re just swimming along with the current and not pausing enough to question: Is this good for me? Is this good for my children? Worldview Literacy is, first of all, recognizing that, like the fish in the water, we’re all embedded in different worldviews or paradigms, and that there are ways that we can begin to open ourselves to a broader set of understandings about what is beyond the surface of the water that we’re swimming in. So we are exploring this at IONS.
Because your interest is in part around wellness, one of the ways we can see these worldviews or paradigms comes in our understanding of wellness. What does it mean to have wellness? What does it mean to be in a state of healing? Oftentimes we think of these as biological. Is our body self-correcting? Are our systems self-regulating? But it is often about the mind-body and the ways in which our consciousness and beliefs inform our biology and how our biology informs our consciousness. Recognizing the relationship becomes very important. For example, our response to stress is very much a consciousness-embedded phenomenon. Stress is something that is ubiquitous and inherent in life. It’s just there. What causes us discomfort isn’t the stress, it’s our response to the stress. Once we realize we have control over that, and we can have control over our own reactiveness, and there are tools and techniques to help us, that provides a kind of shift.
Lisa: How do our personal relationships and social environments figure into a desire to expand our worldviews?
Marilyn: There’s the idea of wellness as our embeddedness in our social environment, whether it is our families or our work base or the schools our children are going to and the kids they are hanging with—all of those are part of what we would define as a wellness component of our lives. So are we functioning in a way that is optimal, thinking about all of the violence we are exposing ourselves and our children to on television? All of this becomes part of the water that we are swimming in. All of those things influence our worldview. They influence our values and our goals and our desires in ways that we are often not aware of.
Lisa: What is the relationship between nature and a wellness worldview?
Marilyn: There is this sense of wellness in relationship to nature and the broader environment—recognizing that there are so many ways that we are out of right relationship, and that this is hurting our children.
You know, people talk about—in the context of the Holocaust, for example— that there are these ways in which successive generations carry the crisis that their parents and grandparents experienced. Well, there is also this way in which our children are experiencing that same kind of trauma around the relationship to nature. A lot of kids are really suffering in terms of what has happened with environmental degradation, and extinction of species. You know the kinds of conflicts that are happening there. Finally, I would say that wellness is also about how we hold our relationship to that which is greater than ourselves. You could call it spirituality or you could call it God. There are a lot of different names for it, but as people come into an awareness that our individual activities are embedded in something much bigger than ourselves, it allows us a tremendous set of resources that can help to facilitate that state of wellness and balance and health in our lives.
Lisa: Is wellness more possible with awareness of this lens that we wear— with less personal reactivity, an awareness of our social environment’s influence on our perceptions, a right relationship with nature and connection to the sacred, or innate intelligence? Ultimately, is worldview literacy necessary to create wellness?
Marilyn: I think that’s right. We did a 10-year project on looking at consciousness transformation and how it is that people can move from these limited perspectives to one where there is a greater emphasis on our connectedness, wholesystems thinking, and really looking at what is the basis of our assumptions. How is it that the paradigm we’re living in informs both the possibilities for us to grow into, as well as the limitations? First of all, we looked at what were the catalysts of these transformations. It can be almost anything. People describe something as mundane as washing dishes or as profound as coming back from the moon as facilitators that would allow a moment of reflection that says, “Wow, I just feel like there is something more here.” Maybe it is an out-of-body experience, a neardeath experience, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a divorce. All these things can be helpful in disrupting the steady state. I think it is beautiful when we can move a conversation about something that is traumatic into something that can help us to grow and evolve, because that is a worldview shift: how we define the situation. Is the glass half empty or half full? And, in truth, one person will see it one way, and another differently. How can we begin to own the power of our interpretation of that metaphor?
Lisa: Is there a practical process for changing our worldview?
Marilyn: In the book, Living Deeply, we interviewed 60 world masters from different world traditions to ask them what do their practices involve that would help to make life-enhancing transformations. We found commonalities across all of these different practices that we share in the book and the WLP training program.
There are four shared components of this process. The first is Intention: “I set an intention of coming into this place of interconnectedness and to see my relationship to the whole.” But intentions alone are not enough, as New Year’s resolutions show.
So the second step is Attention—as in, where is it that we are placing our attention? The vast majority of the traditions we looked at had a process for helping people to pay more attention to what they are [already] paying attention to, and then to become more aware of what they are not attending to. There’s a humility that comes when we realize that we aren’t seeing everything. These attention practices can look like meditation, contemplative prayer, walks in nature or turning off the TV and having some reflective moments with your family.
The third step is to build a new routine with Repetition. We know from neuroscience that our brains lay down neural pathways and those become grooves, the habit-making grooves of our brain. Neuroplasticity is our capacity to rebuild those grooves in the brain so we can begin to think in new ways and to respond in new ways: less reactive, more grateful, more forgiving.
And then there is the fourth piece which is Guidance. Guidance may be a teacher, or a book, or it is often some means of slowing down enough that we can shift our attention to our inner experiences and begin to trust our own guidance. To begin to listen to that voice, that noetic voice within us that can help us to calibrate what is true and useful for each of us.
I like to think of those four pillars as wrapped in the arms of surrender. Because ultimately, transformation isn’t about everything changing outside of us, but more about our capacity to respond with resilience to what is so. It may not be that everything is going to be perfect, but we can create new responses to the challenges of our times.
WORLDVIEW LITERACY AND WELLNESS COLUMNS, by Lisa Reagan
Lisa’s columns were featured as a part of IONS’ Worldview Literacy Project’s facilitator traning and certification program in August 2011. See photos of the WVLP 2011 Traning. Lisa is a facilitator of the IONS’ Worldview Literacy Project. Ask Lisa to speak at your event on Worldview Literacy by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Each of Us Holds a Unique Worldview. The convergence of our inherent characteristics and our unique history, including our life experiences, region, culture, religion, socioeconomic status, and family, creates our worldview. There are an infinite multiplicity of worldviews and more than one “right” way or perspective.
Worldviews Inform and Affect Our Reality. Worldviews, constellated by values, beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, and ideas, impact everything from how we understand the nature of reality to how we respond to the environment around us. Each person’s worldview influences their goals and desires, consciously and unconsciously shaping perceptions, motivations, and values.
There Is Value in Paradox and Uncertainty. There is value in uncertainty, in the capacity to hold paradox, and in learning to dwell in the mysteries of life and unknowns of the universe. It is from the place of not knowing that creativity emerges, and from which we can perceive the world around us from a place of awe, wonder, and reverence.
There Are Multiple Ways of Knowing. Perceptual lenses, including inner knowing, intuition, and direct experience, as well the insights of logic, reason, and scientific observation, inform our sense of value and knowing. Interpersonal dialogue and the open sharing of our experiences can help us to understand our own worldview and that of others, while also promoting an even greater celebration of our diverse perspectives.
We Are Part of an Interdependent Whole. We are each part of a complex, ever-changing, interconnected universe. What we do influences the world around us, and the world around us influences us, even when we are not aware of exactly how. Greater understanding of the interdependence of all life leads to a more complete view of reality.