EXPLORING CONSCIOUSNESS WITH EDGAR MITCHELL
By Robert Yehling
(Appeared in Science of Mind Magazine, April 2003)
Edgar Mitchell joined millions of men in the history of humankind by embarking on a vision quest. It’s a quest he continues to live every day in his Florida home, and at lecture podiums throughout the world. On his particular odyssey, the defining journey, he realized a number of things on the spiritual and mental dimensions, and formed his life’s mission from them. Like his predecessors on mesas, open plains, Outward Bound adventures and deep Amazon forests, Mitchell’s quest confirmed many perceptions and hunches, and changed many others. Unlike those others, his particular experience took place a world away—literally.
In 1971, while walking on the moon as lunar module pilot of Apollo 14, Mitchell began to experience the revelation that would lead him to create one of the greatest works in our world today. He stared at the blue and white circle above the horizon, Earth, and felt a connectedness to the people and the universe. As the resident astrophysicist of the mission, he dutifully completed his collecting of rocks and science experiments, but the feeling built.
Mitchell and commander Alan Shepard blasted off from the lunar surface and rendezvoused with command module pilot Stu Roosa in lunar orbit. The feeling built. He spent the next three days and 250,000 miles staring out the window of the command module, traveling deeper and deeper into the feeling that linked his mind and body cells to the void of space and interstellar light that he saw.
The feeling overwhelmed him.
“It was an epiphany in space, the transcendent expression, that I later learned was samadhi. I didn’t know it then,” Mitchell explained. “It was the experiencing of unity, of feeling at one with the universe, of recognizing that I was star-matter, literally a physical construct of the universe; that was the key thing. I had studied stellar formation and how the furnaces of the stars and galaxies created our chemical elements, but I suddenly realized that those were my molecules being manufactured and prototyped in those stars.
“As I looked at the planet from the moon, and from our spacecraft, it was kind of a signal event in human consciousness, a symbol that we were evolving into a new level of humanity. The pictures that we took of the earth are the most published pictures in the history of humankind. They’re enormously widely published pictures. Why? It’s because they speak to us at a rather deep, emotional level and they beg the questions, ‘How did we get here? How do we fit into all this?’ Those are the questions I was asking when I came back to earth. Instead of being an intellectual experience, it became a very deep, personal, emotional one, a knowing.”
Mitchell experienced sabikalpa samadhi, which, according to Indian yoga master Paramhanasa Yogananda in his book Autobiography of a Yogi, is the realization of self, others and the universe as divine beings connecting with divine consciousness — and recognizing the relationship of all things to each other. It’s a realization that permanently changes one’s perception of all living things. Meditators and spiritual beings spend entire lifetimes trying to achieve samadhi; Mitchell experienced it during a magical week in space. He also caught a vital break: As a lunar module pilot, he was basically a space tourist for the return from the moon. His job complete, he sat for three days, looked out the window, contemplated, and integrated the vastness of what he’d felt and experienced.
As an open-minded man, Mitchell accepted the profound impact of his samadhi as it transformed his life, but as a scientist, engineer, astronaut and Naval officer, he wanted to explore it, get to the bottom of what it meant. He wanted to develop scientific proof for the intuitive, ageless spiritual truths he experienced a quarter-million miles away.
That’s been the former astronaut’s mission since. The transcendent experience in space and Mitchell’s training as a scientist alchemized. Today, Mitchell smiles with a sense of achievement as he sees the organization he founded less than two years after his lunar experience, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, celebrate its 30th anniversary with 50,000 global members and an outreach program that attracts many others. IONS is renowned for its exploration of human consciousness, cosmology, integrative healing, energy medicine, sustainable living, education and other issues of enormous importance to humankind in the 21st century. At its pulse is a man who believes that we are doomed as a civilization if we continue our current course of destruction, but that we’re destined to realize our vast creative potential if we just understand who we really are.
“Any great mystic will say, ‘If you want to understand the universe, you have to understand yourself.’ Buckminster Fuller said, ‘If you want to understand yourself, you have to understand the universe.’ They’re both right,” Mitchell said. “You know, space exploration and going deeper into the universe is our destiny. But at the moment, we’re trying to save ourselves. Civilization is in deep peril. We have to reverse this.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom winner has spent the past three decades digging deeply into the understanding of self. Along the way, he co-founded the Association of Space Explorers and wrote a pair of books: Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science (1974), a book that radically changed the way science works with consciousness; and Way of the Explorer (1996). In the course of working with the body-mind dynamic and the exploration of human consciousness, he’s also realized the fundamental problem that lies at the root of most conflict on the planet. It threads back to his transcendent experience in space, when the innate teachings of all religions revealed themselves to be a single collective root that fed the core of his divine being—as well as billion of others on the blue sphere he observed from Apollo 14.
“For the last 30 years, I’ve been trying to bring our science and understanding of our innate spiritual nature together,” he explained. “If you go into esoteric experience that is the essence of all religions, the core that lies beneath all of them, the transcendent experience is common. We can’t express it; we have to experience it. It is the interpretation of the experience that is exoteric—that is religion. Most of what we fight over are our differences. We use exoteric experiences for justification to impose greed or power over each other, even though at the mystical core is interconnectedness, which has been around since the first mystical shamans transcended their minds.
“Understanding that and bringing scientific and traditional ideas to a common, evolved understanding is what Noetic Sciences has been about. Will we make it in time? Is it achievable? I don’t know. I hope we come to the understanding that we are one.”
As Mitchell sought to scientifically explain his experience—and to build the base of IONS as a research institution devoted to studying such matters and integrating the findings into society—he ran into concrete roadblocks in the fields of human consciousness and cosmology. He knew that everything was connected and that our divine inheritance was to live and thrive collectively on Spaceship Earth. He innately understood that science and spirit belonged together, just as the body and mind belonged together (for example, the science of yoga was built on this relationship thousands of years ago). However, he kept crashing on the theoretical vehicle that has hampered science and society for three centuries, the Cartesian Plane. “The biggest hurdle we have to overcome in all of this is that science has divided knowledge into two parts—material and spiritual,” he said. “It’s the Cartesian division of body and mind, and that is simply not true.
“When one has these esoteric insights, it leads to a feeling of interconnectedness, to a feeling that we’re all brothers and sisters. Which we are. However, this goes against the grain of the Cartesian notion that we’re all independent of each other. Unfortunately, so much of science has resisted this whole notion of consciousness; they’ve always seen it as a division between church and science.
“The ancient, traditional religious texts did not have today’s scientific understanding of cosmology, how vast the universe is. Jesus, Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed and Lao-Tse were all brilliant, realized mystics, but they didn’t have the scientific proof of the cosmos we have today to convince their followers of what they knew—that we’re all interconnected and we’re all divine. So, their followers built their teachings around very limited concepts of the material world. Unfortunately, Christian fundamentalists and Islamic fundamentalists still adhere to these beliefs, and you can see the result.
“It’s very well known that the matter of the universe is created in star systems. Science and cosmology has a handle on that. The real question is breaking down this Cartesian duality that the body and mind are two separate realms; really, they are two faces of the same thing—energy. We’ve been working on helping people evolve into an energy consciousness for 30 years; now the science of consciousness is just coming into its own.”
Mitchell sighs with sad amazement when the discussion switches to the current developments in the world, and the dangerous and archaic “you’re either with us or against us” mentality that dominates national and global politics. It is particularly grating to a man who participated in the most visionary and scientifically advanced political ploy ever—the United States’ race with the Soviet Union to “fly a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth,” as President John F. Kennedy said in 1961. What happened to all of that forward thinking? What happened to the sense of scientific and spiritual vision, of foresight that the NASA scientists practiced, the astronauts exercised and millions experienced throughout the 1960s and 1970s?
“What we had in the 20th century was an explosion of science and technology, more than anything humankind had ever seen,” Mitchell said. “It brought dramatic changes in our worldview; it shrunk the globe. We became aware of the global village, global warming, overpopulation, regional wars threatening to explode into global conflict, oceans dying. These jumped up and caused us to have to rethink the question, ‘What is this really all about?’ Such things as civil rights and women’s liberation challenged our old precepts of traditional thought. What’s happened along with that is an increased education about nature, our universal frontiers and going out to space.
“The traditional world was turned upside down by the discoveries of the 20th century. Of course, traditional minds want to keep it the way it was. Right now, we’re seeing an (presidential) administration that thinks like that. They’re not concerned with a creating a peaceful civilization; or, if they are, it’s a matter of power, control and economics to them.”
In response, Mitchell travels the world to speak at conferences and discussions on everything from UFOs (he’s a big believer) to sustainable societies and the outer frontiers of human consciousness. He remains as busy as ever, especially in these times when he feels we need to fully protect ourselves from our greatest enemy—ourselves. The organization he founded, IONS, is putting immense energy into programs on 21st century education and what Mitchell calls “a global wisdom society.” Mitchell is also working on a concept he calls “quantum entanglement,” a scientific term for the divine interconnectedness he experienced on Apollo 14. These programs, he believes, will lift us from the current dangerous state of global affairs—especially as they catch on with the 45 million or so “cultural creatives” in the U.S., to use the term Paul Ray coined at the 1997 IONS Conference. While recognizing our divinity and expanding our consciousness are individual acts, the real change comes when it happens collectively. Mitchell is hopeful that critical mass will be achieved—before it’s too late.
“I feel humankind is expressing its creative potential very well; unfortunately, in too many of the wrong directions,” he said. “For example, we’ve discovered the secret and enormous power of atomic energy, but we keep using it in a military or threatening way. That shows a profound lack of wisdom and concern for humankind. Our morality has come from religious institutions, but because religious institutions are rooted in ancient cosmologies, we’re in danger of throwing our the baby with the bathwater. We need to get rid of the cosmology and keep ourselves. Because our fundamental religions and this current Administration insist on old traditions instead of evolving our understanding and knowledge, we’re in danger.
“There is no real assurance that this civilization is going to survive. We have free will, we have the power of choice, and we have the seed of divinity within us. Whether we use it creatively to sustain us remains to be seen.”
What can an individual do in the face of such a test? Mitchell advocates regular meditation practice as a way to connect with our inner divinity, expand our consciousness and strengthen the relationship with God in the most meaningful, truthful way. In so doing, he believes, the work he’s spent 30 years developing will find a populous base of enriched minds and souls that will supersede current affairs and lay out a conscious, energized, sustainable civilization that will more ably reflect our divine potential as homo sapiens sapiens. “Meditation in its various forms is the time-honored path to transcendent knowledge,” he said. “If we could get everybody to actually practice their meditation, we’d be taking a big step forward. It’s a matter of numbers; we’ve got to get a critical mass here of people who meditate. Finding peace in one’s self is what it’s all about—the sense of happiness, love, compassion and comprehension. That goes with transcendent experience. Individuals have to work and they have to want this experience.
“There are two verses in a most traditional text, the Bible, that say it: ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all shall be added unto you;’ and ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.’ We all have God within us; collectively, we’re all Gods. There’s a Hindu saying that goes, ‘God sleeps in the minerals, awakes in the plants, walks in the animals and thinks in man.’”
The potential results of that thinking drive Edgar Mitchell to continuously push forward in his quest to promote real vision on Earth—the attainment of a society of love, compassion, wisdom, service and divine intention. When that happens, his lunar mission will finally be complete.