Episode 33: Passion of the Western Mind with Richard Tarnas

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In this interview, Richard Tarnas talks about his experiences and discoveries in studying history through an archetypal and astrological perspective. He discusses his writing the book "Passion of the Western Mind", so people could have a sense of the interior history of Western civilization, philosophy, religion and the ways they intersect. He also shares his experiences and what seeds were planted during his time at Esalen, in expansion of human potential and exploration of the body and deep psyche.

Richard Tarnas, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy and psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and founding director of its graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness. He is also adjunct faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, where he teaches in the clinical and depth psychology programs. Formerly director of programs and education at Esalen Institute, he is the author of The Passion of the Western Mind, a history of the Western world view that has become both a bestseller and a widely used text in universities. He is also the author of Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View.


Recorded on Sep 18th 2007 in San Francisco.

Beth Crittenden: Hello everyone and welcome to ‘A Taste of Sex’ guest speaker interviews. I’m your host Beth Crittenden coming to you from One Taste urban retreat center in San Francisco and on Personal Life Media you can find our shows at www.personallifemedia.com and every week we come to you live from OneTaste with a guest speaker in the realm of sensuality, or consciousness or spirituality you name it and we are interested in learning about it
      Tonight on our show we are pleased to present Professor Richard Tarnas, from California Institute of Integral Studies here in San Francisco. He actually founded the philosophy, cosmology and consciousness program at the school which also usually is referred to as CIIS. So, welcome to the show Rick.

Richard Tarnas: Thank you for having me.

Beth Crittenden: Rick also was formally the director of Programs at the Esalen institute in Big Sur which and we are a big fans of Esalen and we’ll be talking about that little later in the show and some of the information around their community there. But I am primarily on the show today we are going to be talking about Rick’s two books and the first was called ‘Passion and the Western mind’ and the second was actually called ‘Cosmos and Psyche. Intimations of a New World View’
       What was the interest for writing the books?

Richard Tarnas: Well, I had been at Esalen for several years at that point. I came there to essentially really do my graduate education but also part of my own life’s..was to explore the remarkable ideas that were being taught there and practice. So I went, you know, Joseph Campbell was the teacher there and Huston Smith and of course, Frizz Pearls and I learned lots. But when I went there, I was particularly interested in working with Stanislav Grof, Joseph Campbell, Gregory Bateson and Huston Smith. So they were kind of my teachers and eventually over the ten years, I became, that I live there and was on staff I got to become the director of programs and education as you mention and after I’ve been there a while and in my late twenties I got the calling , I suppose, kind of inspiration to write what I thought was just going to be one book but it turned into, at this point, two books and each of these had a particular mission and the first one ‘The Passion of the Western Mind’ is a kind of the history of  the western mind and spirit from the ancient Greeks and ancient Israel basically starting Greco Roman and Judaist and Christian tradition.. roots of west and we just follow path that whole journey that the European and then north American and then really much of the world has been shaped by the trajectory called the west and to follow that world view or that mind and spirit as it evolved from those ancient origins through the renaissance and the scientific evolution, modernity, right up to our own postmodern flux. So, that was the first book. and I wrote it partly so that, it’s like the interior history of Western civilization like the ideas that shaped the world view, the ways in which our philosophy, our science, our religion, our art, all intercept to create the world view, that really shapes how we experience life and I wanted to write this so that people could, I wanted people to have really the book that, available that I didn’t have but wished I had available, when I went to college in 60’s to university on these coast and would love to have a book that gave that kind of overview that context so that when an idea from I was taught about a Plato, or nature or whatever. I had a larger frame of reference to understand it, to make it intelligible. So, in seeking to write that book, I kind of had to prepare myself to write it and then in writing it became something I wasn’t expecting which is, it became used widely after I published it, in universities, at this point hundreds of universities use it in, or have used it over the 15 years since it’s published, in their courses. So, that was the first book

Beth Crittenden: And so what did you ask from the reader for the second book?

Richard Tarnas: Well ,that’s second book which is ‘Cosmos and Psyche’, it starts where the other book leaves off, all the way actually begin with the first 50 pages or so kind of does a quick recap of the overview of  Passion and the Western Mind,  but here, we are getting to the deeper reason that I wrote ‘Passion and the Western Mind’ for all the reasons that I said I also had another reason which is that I wanted my readers to have a certain foundation, a certain preparation for being able to understand and appreciate this remarkable body of evidence that started emerging and I worked at Eselan in the 1970’s  at least I started working in my consciousness and also in a community that I was part of, though it is in fact, a very ancient perspective and this is the fact that  what we might, my PhD was in psychology. We were very much working within the area of psychology, psychotherapy, unordinary states of consciousness, the use of sacred medicines, psyc , ecstasy and dna or even and so forth has mediators of  powerful, psychological and semantic transformations that could open people apart to a more fuller engagement with life. And, I was working in those areas with Stanislav Grof , who was one of the founders of transpersonal psychology and we were working with a kind of  riddle that had been a dominant focus of research for many people in the preceding years before that which is ‘why do different people have the same whoever, taking the exact same substance, exact same quantity such as say, what say, have such radically different experiences for the same person at different times radically and there were no psychological tests of any standard variety such as Rorschach, MMPI, TAT that had any predictive value for showing what kinds of experiences people have. But in the community at Esalen, people at Esalen many different ancient methods and it came to our attention that astrology had a reputation for illuminating what kinds of experiences people will tend to have at different times in their life according to medical transits which is where the planets are in the sky at any given time relative to where they were at a person’s birth. So, we were pretty skeptical about this though we had reason to think that we should at least look into it because Yuan, who was one of the major depth psychologists of the 20th century and certainly one of the admired figures at Esalen had taken astrology very seriously and written a number of things about it, so we thought, well when he said astrology has this capacity to illuminate the, what you call, the archetypal dynamics of  a person’s life,so...

Beth Crittenden: Give me a couple of examples on those.

Richard Tarnas: Yes, we’ll be interested in what transits were going at the time a person had a very powerful awakening experience, spiritual awakening, what transits they hve when they went through periods sustained pressure of could be like falling in love, a romantic awakening and so we started doing the, we learned how to do the transits and calculate personal computers we had to do by hand.. and we were astonished by the consistency and the precision of correlations with the transits that  people had and also in terms of things like sexual rebirth, or erotic awakenings and so forth. These two had in particular sets of transits that consistently seem to coincide with particular qualities of experience, not, it wasn’t concretely predictive though it was archetypally predictive  ..overall quality of experience but it didn’t say, you, get a job working in a magazine as a art design director on this date, in this city, it’s not like that, it’s much more, this period of time is the time when you are looking at, it is more likely this would be a period of intellectual creativity or psychological breakthrough of some kind. So, that was the kind of research that began this path and then, it opened up tremendously in the later 70’s and 80’s as I started exploring systematically cultural history and the whole history that I described in ‘Passion of the Western Mind’ and then I’ve been studying in all my years in college, graduate school, even high school. All those historical and cultural studies suddenly received a new dimension of understanding when I saw that the same transits, the same archetypal principals that seem to be connected to the planets that illuminated individual lives and individual experiences were also relevant for understanding the broad cultural sweep of history, and, like what was going on in the 1960’s something remarkable was happening, everybody who lived through the 60’s knows that something happened in that decade and that in 70’s, that had a unique dynamic transformable power that changed everything after that. And to see that what was going  planets conjunction of outer planets ,that will be, Pluto and Uranus that each time those two, that was only time in the 20th century they were conjoined from 1960 to 1972 , and see that type of principals that were involved in people’s awakening and deep transformations and so forth in individual lives when the whole earth got those two planets in alignment, that’s when the whole collective cycle went through that kind of experience In previous centuries when they were in alignment like the decade the French revolution was and again same quality of experiences as in the 60’s radical change, political turmoil, erotic awakening, tremendous impulse to make the world new and so forth. So, what ‘Cosmos and psyche’ sets out is a whole, broad overview of history, illuminated by this archetypal, astrological perspective in a way that sets out very carefully the evidence so that the open minded, skeptical or already initiated reader can follow the evidence in such a way that it would open up a new world, that’s what I call, that some type of intimation.

Beth Crittenden: What was the most surprising discovery you made as you were preparing for this book? What was the thing that you learned it and you are like, Oh my gosh! I can’t believe that, that here is the evidence?

Richard Tarnas: Well, there were thousands, honestly it’s just, there is a kind of luminosity once you start studying just like, the level of intelligence that seems to be at work in universe and with the kind of esthetic order that is an appreciation of almost like the beauty of things that seems to be built into the creative principle is such that you can’t but be knocked out time and time again. I have done most of the research before I started the book but one thing that opened up only after I could, when the computers became more developed and I could see very systematically where the planets were in like,2000 and earlier years ago and especially powerful sync was discovering the only time the outer most three planets that we have systematic evidence for, data for, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. There is only one time in recorded history were all in nearly exact line and that took place between the 590’s and 560’s B.C or B.C.E and that happens to be as historian, particularly cultural historian, historian religion knows precisely that several decades that, it’s called the axial period, that brought Buddha and birth of Buddhism, birth of Daoism, birth of Confucianism, beginning Greek philosophy with Pythagoras and theories, beginning of Petulism first began to compile it’s bible and the profits of and were transforming the idea vision theory at that point right across all the known civilizations at that time they sound very  profound transformation of consciousness was taking place and after that point you have many conjunctions of any two of those planets which regularly coincided with either major spiritual awakenings ,births of  new religions Christianity or birth of Islam or later than that so forth . That’s the Uranus-Neptune cycle. Or with the Uranus-Pluto cycle you would see this big periods of revolutionary, political and social transformations like the 60’s or somewhere, but there is only one time when those two cycles came together and that was in this period that I’m talking about and that’s when the globe went through this radical, revolutionary consciousness that we are still experiencing the waves. So, that’s certainly, that gave me a certain shiver of astonishment and appreciation and I know many other people who have similar experience. You kind of have to be prepared for it and then when you discover it, you go ‘WOW’.

Beth Crittenden:  We are about out of time for the show but I want to check in briefly about Esalen we mentioned earlier in the show and I heard you saying in the beginning that something is ending, we are coming to some sort of death and it seems like Esalen is especially for those people who are yet familiar with it as a place of birth we knew generation of something. In your time there what seed do you feel like Esalen has planted in the world?

Richard Tarnas: Well, from it’s beginning in 1962 and very strongly through the 60’s and 70’s and still carrying forward now though, not as perhaps as the cutting edge because in some of ways it succeeded, it already, it’s bought it’s seed into the culture but it served as, was a kind of vessel of the transformation of consciousness and the expansion of human potential that was awakening in the psyche and afterwards that everyone born since then, is participating in that revolution as if they were there, as if doped in their DNA and Esalen was the place where east and west were meeting, where the body was being attended to with new reverence and focus where everything from bio-energetic, laughing, massage and yoga and the honoring of deep psyche where  people could go into their debts and bravely face their shadow and recover those parts of themselves that have been lost through trauma and through the pain of life and to feel the pain, opening up themselves, body and soul, to their debts, to the larger reality of life, something Esalen was able to service  a place where that could happen and kind of morphic feel there, a kind of feel that when people go there, they can participate in all the work that’s already been done there and all the play that’s done so that their life can perhaps be catalyzed into a new vitality, and say physically. It’s a magnificent place, it’s right under the clouds, it looks out over the ocean, it’s got the redwood trees, it has the mountains behind and the hot springs blowing up from the womb of the earth, there’s waterfalls, it’s an amazing place physically and that magnificent beauty helps open up people to the drama of their personal life adventure and it gives them a kind of extra support for that courageous journey that is required of all of us to actualize what’s deeply in it.

Beth Crittenden: You mentioned early when we talking before the show that there is a community of 100 people living there. What do you feel like..

Richard Tarnas: They seriously are…

Beth Crittenden: What do you feel like that catalyzed with the new to be a part of  that community? What did it open?

Richard Tarnas: I went there almost out of college. I was in college at Harvard from 1968-72 and  Harvard at that time known ,as in Berkley, New York and Paris ,and nearly every college university center but, when I went to Esalen, I was blown away by the experiment that was happening there and the willingness to push the boundaries and to explore and to beat cutting edge was more pronounce there than I’ve ever experienced and it definitely gave me a place where I kind of felt almost like I was being born there and in some new way , my life’s work came out of there and almost being born there the joining together of ,for example, of the old and the new, the great western philosophical and religious traditions with the psychedelic kind of  culture and the transformation of the body that Esalen is so devoted to that it gave me a context for and a support for serving in that row and I think being, the friendships and the..to my children and wandering years in Big Sur and my love relationships that I have there and close friendships and many friendships and sort of that. Those all had a deeply transforming quality going out into the world, somewhere carrying that energy, so I am grateful to that and take a place like OneTaste is in some ways a kind of offspring of the energy that gave birth to Esalen. It’s, you could almost see Esalen as godmother of you know, of you know, of OneTaste.

Beth Crittenden: Thank you, Richard Tarnas.

Richard Tarnas: You’re welcome.

Beth Crittenden: If people want to find you online, what would be the best website to use?

Richard Tarnas: Go to cosmosandpsyche.com .I just spell out the words, but it’s one word, cosmosandpsyche.com or just do a google search for Richard Tarnas and they will probably get you there as well and then there’s lots of resources at their website.

Beth Crittenden: Great. Thank you.

Richard Tarnas: Thank you.

Beth Crittenden: And if you would like to know more about OneTaste, you can visit us at OneTaste.us. Thank you for joining us. This is Beth,A TasteOfSex ,guest speaker interviews on PersonalLifeMedia. For text and transcripts of this show with Richard Tarnas, you can visit personallifemedia.com and go to ‘A Taste of Sex’ guest speaker interviews. You can also email any feedback, or questions or comments to [email protected]. Thanks for joining us.