A Mythic Life/Peripheral Visions/The Way of the Explorer

A Mythic Life, by Jean Houston; HarperCollins, New York, 1996; hardcover, 340 pages.

Peripheral Visions, by Mary Catherine Bateson; HarperCollins, New York, 1994; hardcover, 243pages.

The Way of the Explorer: Art Apollo Astronaut's Journey through the Material and Mystical Worlds, by Dr. Edgar Mitchell, with Dwight Williams; G. P. Putnam: Sons, New York, 1996; hardcover, 230 pages.

All three of these books present what could surely be called mythic lives. All three authors have ranged in their lives across expanses of experience decidedly uncommon in one life.

Jean Houston's career has ranged over psychology, philosophy, anthropology, the new physics, and embodied all of these interests in explorations of human potential. But she is perhaps best known as an extraordinary storyteller in workshops and mystery schools aimed at transforming participants' lives.

Mary Catherine Bateson is a professor of anthropology and English and a prolific author, another profound storyteller who writes movingly of the effort to "construe continuity" in a life that may appear extraordinarily diffuse and scattered in its explorations.

Former astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell's life, beginning on a Texas ranch during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, included training at MIT, walking on the moon, and then exploring the outer dimensions of human consciousness.

Mythic lives, all.

Mitch ell begins his tale this way: "In January of 1971 I boarded a spacecraft and traveled to an airless world of brilliant clarity. The soil there is barren and gray, and the horizon always further than it appears. It is a static world that has only known silence. Upon its landscape human perspective is altered."

By the end of the first page he makes the key point of his book: "What I experienced during that three-day trip home [from the moon] was nothing short of an overwhelming sense of universal connectedness."

A visionary moonwalker, he went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which under the direct ion of Willis Harman has become the leading institution in the exploration of consciousness. Mitchell's book is an adventure across space and deep into inner space culminating in his declaration that the gods of the mystic and the theologian have been too small. "They fill the universe. And to the scientist, all I can say is that the gods do exist. They are the eternal, connected, and aware Self experienced by all intelligent beings."

Mary Catherine Bateson's stories draw on experiences living in many cultures Israel, the Philippines, Iran, America. She promotes the idea of lifelong learning and, in a delightful chapter called "Construing Continuity," speaks of how in looking back over a life of seeming discontinuity one can discern or at least "construe continuity."

She writes that:

Often those who have made multiple fresh starts or who have chosen lives with multiple discontinuities are forced by the standard ideas of the shape of a successful career to regard their own lives as unsuccessful. I have had to retool so often I estimate I have had five careers. This does not produce the kind of resume that we regard as reflecting a successful life, but it is true of more and more people, starting from the beginning again and again. Zigzag people. Learning to transfer experience from one cycle to the next, we only progress like a sailboat tacking into the wind. (p.82)

We can, she says, write the story of our lives as continuity or discontinuity. One version of the truth, she says, is that "Everything I have ever done has been heading me for where I am today," and the other version is "It is only after many surprises and choices, interruptions and disappointments, that I have arrived somewhere I could never have anticipated."

Those who have participated at one time or another in one of Jean Houston's workshops will already have heard some of the stories in her book. But all of them bear "rehearing" in this summation of her life to date. Perhaps we should say" lives to date," for Houston's life is characteristic of Bateson's description of the wide-ranging life. From the Hollywood of the forties, where Houston's father Jack was a writer for many of the great comedians, to travels to many countries, to the Parliament of Religions, to the United Nat ions, Jean Houston's life is rich with stories

. All three of these authors, by taking readers on their own mythic journeys, show how to draw out the mythic strands in our own lives.


Autumn 1996