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Interview with Joan Borysenko
by Janice & Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publishers
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. is trained as a medical scientist and licensed psychologist. She is an Educator, Health Pioneer and best-selling author of such books as Minding the Body, Mending the Mind and Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson. Joan is the co-founder and former director of the Mind/Body Clinic in Boston and a former Instructor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Borysenko's work bridges medicine, psychology and the world's great spiritual traditions. A pioneer in integrative medicine, her work encompasses mind/body medicine, women's health and spirituality.The Share Guide: A few years ago you were in San Francisco at the Body and Soul Conference and I was fortunate enough to attend. You spoke on the subject of Cultural Creativity and in this interview I'd like to explore with you the concept of Holistic Education and how it relates to Cultural Creativity. First of all, I think we should talk about the term "Cultural Creative"--where it came from and how long it's been around.
Joan Borysenko: Cultural Creative is a wonderful term that was coined by sociologist Paul Ray. He's grouped people by their dominant beliefs and behaviors and come up with three categories: Cultural Creatives, Traditionalists and Modernists.
The Share Guide: I remember you said it was just under half the Americans are what you call Modernists, approximately a quarter Traditionalists, and a quarter Cultural Creatives.
Joan Borysenko: Yes, that's correct. The first group, Cultural Creatives, consist of about 44 million people or 24% of the population. What's interesting about this group is that it didn't exist before the 1970's. It's an outgrowth of what you're calling Holistic Education. This came from the Women's Movement, from the Humanistic Psychology Movement, and from the Spiritual Movement. These people are what Ray calls leading-edge thinkers--people who are capable of creating cultural change. They're very interested in the environment, spirituality, women's issues and education, and leaving a better planet for our children.The second group, the Traditionalists, have held on to some of the wonderful old-time values. For example, family values and community values. That's another thing that Cultural Creatives are attempting to do--to have more of an emphasis on community and family, which is really the heart of where stability and change can come from. The Modernists are very interested in technology and the economy. Their orientation is more towards money and personal success. Taking a look at Cultural Creativity, I think it's exciting because the data shows how people are actually changing their behaviors. When the Baby Boomers began to crest on the shores of mid-life, in the 1980's or late 1970's, what began to occur is all the mid-life biological and spiritual and psychological changes that are still unknown and that is the quest for meaning. The idea as Carl Jung said that if your own family grows up you turn more towards caring for the World Family. In my research on Women, I call mid-life the Guardian Years. That's when women develop a very fierce energy of wanting to guard the integrity of the planet; they want to guard the family. That's when women say, "Over my dead body they're going to cut off funding for Education, the Environment and the Elderly." Women in mid-life really find their voices. In my thinking that's a lot of what is fueling the Cultural Creative Movement. It's simply the enormous number of people entering the mid-life years.
The Share Guide: It appears that the Cultural Creatives are approximately two thirds women and one third men. So that means your two thirds of that Guardian Years movement is comprised of women.
Joan Borysenko: Yes. If you take a look, for example, in the rise of Holistic Medicine, it pretty much parallels the rise in Cultural Creativity. Back in the early 70's there wasn't much of an interest in Holistic Health and Medicine. In 1978 I had the very first National Institute for Health Scholarships Slot which helped me to retrain myself in Behavioral Medicine. Since then there's been a huge increase in acceptance of what's now called Integrative Medicine.
The Share Guide: Right, that and the Natural Foods Movement--they go hand in hand.
Joan Borysenko: Yes. I think it not only comes out of the Cultural Creative Movement, but also from women starting to get into their late thirty's early forty's...when they really start to wonder what is important, how they should really use their energies; what they could do to not only preserve the function of their own body, health and happiness, but how they could help other people. As women started to get peri-menopausal in great huge numbers we started to say "Wait a minute! do we need a prescription? Are we going crazy? Are there things we can do for ourselves? Is this a way that wisdom arises in me…these symptoms…am I really being rewired for wisdom?" So I must say that much of the Integrative Health Movement has also been driven by women approaching and entering mid-life.
The Share Guide: I was amazed to hear that what you've termed the "groundswell" had gotten to that number of people--44 million.
Joan Borysenko: Well, it's tremendous! I just want to stand and cheer. It's no longer what we would call a fringe movement.
The Share Guide: Do you think there are jobs for all of us Cultural Creatives? I think that's what a lot of people fear. They believe they have to get more traditional training and get a traditional career to make a living.
Joan Borysenko: Personally, I think that never before has there been such a choice of careers and jobs and people inventing new forms of livelihood all the time. Part of this lies in the phenomenal growth of the internet. It's a little like the Wild West. Everyone's out there saying, "Wow! what a wonderful opportunity!" People are going to have much more control over the way that they spend their time, being in many cases their own boss. So I think we're in for a huge renovation of the way that Americans think and work.
The Share Guide: We came up with the term "Holistic Education" by which we mean education of body, mind and spirit--a more well-rounded type of education. I wonder if you have used similar terms or what Holistic Education means to you?
Joan Borysenko: It's a global concept. It would mean everything to me, starting with how we educate our children in the classroom so that they have more full-brain learning that is more geared to different learning styles, and recognizes differences between kids. Some schools have programs where the Arts are an integral part of the curriculum, so that children's right brains can be stimulated as well as their left. That would be at a very basic part of Holistic Education.
The Share Guide: Starting with children. That's good. What else?
Joan Borysenko: I'd like to mention what Daniel Goleman calls Emotional Literacy. This is also something that begins in childhood. It's when you know that you are part of a family, and that you are loved unconditionally. The fact is that many of us did not have this, or we might have had good enough parenting, but there's still some wounding. So Emotional Literacy is not only something that we teach our children as they grow, but it's part of the human process. As we get older, we develop this ability to be in touch with what our emotions are telling us. Emotions are stored in the body. Since we're talking about body-mind connection, you have to be aware that the emotions are a very important part of us. So a part of Holistic Education then is healing the wounds of the past, and learning to attend on a month-by-month basis to what your body is telling you. I think another part of Holistic Education has to do with health. I mean not only the health of the individual, but the health of the planet--which is another thing that Cultural Creatives are very interested in. Paul Ray talks about two kinds of Cultural Creatives: what he calls the Core Cultural Creatives and the Green Cultural Creatives. The Green Cultural Creatives (which is around 10% of the population) are interested largely in environmental issues but not so much in the spiritual or personal growth issues. The Core Cultural Creatives (which is 14% of the population) are interested not only in the environment issues, but also in spiritual issues and community and global issues.
The Share Guide: More of the mind, body, spirit concept.
Joan: Yes, the whole ball of wax.
The Share Guide: I liked it when you said in your talk, "We have to work on healing our inner wounds and on our physical health, and as we heal ourselves then we are in better shape to work on healing the world through social change..."
Joan: One of things once again about mid-life is that you realize you can't just take your body for granted. It has to be cared for. As we get older, hopefully we get wiser, and we'll want to maintain ourselves to make a difference. That's because we'll feel better, our families will feel better, and also because we'll have the energy to really use the wisdom that we have acquired to help make positive changes in the world. The fourth level of Holistic Education has to do with the Spiritual. Certainly there is an enormous interest in America today in Spirituality--everything from the effects of prayer on health to the presence of Angels. That's because people are really looking at questions of meaning. Questions such as: Who am I? What's the nature of success? What am I doing here in this body? Am I this body only, or am I something else? If I'm something that survives bodily death, what's the reason that I'm here in the first place? These kinds of questions are suddenly very much present within the popular media and books and movies. That again is a Cultural Creative phenomenon.
The Share Guide: In India, they have four stages of life. After childhood, and education, and adulthood with family rearing, then comes the more contemplative, meditative social action period. This is when your family is raised, so you don't have to focus as much of your energy there. What I'm thinking of is how we're at this time of change…you had mentioned the roots of the changes we're going through going back to the American Transcendental Movement…and you said we are at a crescendo now of Transition. I'm thinking that choosing right livelihood (both for people coming out of college and for people in mid-life), which is what I did back then, is not only beneficial for your own family, but for society at large.
Joan: Well, absolutely. I think there's much more of an interest in younger people than there was with the younger people of my day. My kids are now in their 20's and 30's, and they look truly upon the entire world as their home. They really think about things like the impact of what they do on the environment. They really think about, "Is my work a path with heart?" I see an enormous difference, not only in my own kids, but within society itself.
The Share Guide: I think we were groping our way more in the late 1960's and early 1970's. We felt more like outlaws or rebels. Today for those in college I think one has many more options. You can despair about the environment unraveling, but there's also many more positive options that seem to be available.
Joan: Oh absolutely. We didn't have Environmental Sciences as a major when I was in school.
The Share Guide: Exactly. What I'd like to see is the whole pace accelerate. We're not groping. We really see we can make a difference. The natural foods are on the shelves at the local supermarkets, etc. Dr. Andrew Weil and the whole Integrative Medicine Movement is huge. Maybe we can accelerate the pace of the change. If more of us (both in mid-life career change and coming out of college) choose to make a difference and believe they can by the example of your work and mine and others, maybe we can enhance the change.
Joan: I think that's absolutely happening. I've been very interested in some particular American Indian prophecies that look upon this as a time of change and that say we're at that point where things can swing either way. Either we heal the Earth and we mend the Sacred Hoop or big Earth changes are in store. My husband, Kurt Kaltreider, is part American Indian. He wrote a book called American Indian Prophecy. That book has actually been very prevalent in my thinking--and Kurt's research in general. What he came across was a very interesting prophecy that came from a Lakota by the name of Crazy Horse back in 1871. In that particular prophecy, essentially, Crazy Horse went on a vision quest because his people were in such dire trouble with the European invasions. Their whole way of life was being stamped out. As he went to do this vision quest, to see how he could be more helpful to his people, he saw unfolding a series of events through the 1900's...he saw WWI, WWII, and the dropping of the atomic bombs, the building that was going on all over the earth, the pollution, the difficulties, cars, planes, you name it. The most fabulous part was that at the end of this vision, in the midst of these plains that were devastated...the grounds scarred and all replaced by roads and cars…he saw growing a small sacred herb which grew into the Great Tree of Peace and eventually he saw people of all four colors, from the four directions of the Earth, red and black and white and yellow coming together and dancing under the Great Tree of Peace. There are a number of other Lakota prophecies which say that this is the time for mending of the Sacred Hoop. Then of course there's the vehicle, the white buffalo, in 1994 in Wisconsin, that really was the sign for many Native people that the time of mending is upon us.
The Share Guide: I remember the prophecy of the white buffalo calf, and I remember that it had been fulfilled here in the early 1990's. What was the significance of that?
Joan: The significance was that the Sacred Hoop would mend when the white buffalo calf was born, and that eventually four such calfs would be born, and there have been 3 of them born to date. The first one was born in 1994 on a farm in Wisconsin. Not only American Indians, but spiritual leaders from all over the world have come to pay their respects. The Heiders, the owners of the farm where Miracle lives, have opened their farm to people who want to come to see her. There's a fence there where people have left little offerings and prayer objects and the Smithsonian Museum wanted the Heiders to donate the fence to the Smithsonian. They said no, because they felt it would only be on display for a few months and end up in a basement somewhere. They wanted to honor all the people who had made the pilgrimmage there, so it was quite an event worldwide.
The Share Guide: So the Sacred Hoop is the Circle of Life?
Joan: The Circle of Life, the Interdependency of all Life.
The Share Guide: And the mending of it would be the renewed reverence?
Joan: Yes, the renewed reverence for life that would be all of those levels of human we discussed...the human within ourselves, the human in our relationships, in our communities, the human in our Earth, because everything is interdependent, interconnected. As the Lakota would say, "We are all relatives."
The Share Guide: You have also mentioned that only once or twice a millenium do we build up to this point in time where the see-saw can change.
Joan: That's right. We're at this enormous pivotal point and what I like about the metaphor of the see-saw is that the see-saw may be evenly balanced but it takes just a tiny bit of pressure one way or the other for the entire see-saw to tip. It means that you don't have to get to the 100% point before change is possible, you only have to get to 50.0001%--just enough to shift the balance. That's very helpful because if we take a look and see the magnitude of the changes that are required we can get negative and hopeless about it.
The Share Guide: Yes--we despair and do nothing.
Joan: Right. If we think instead that we just have to make it slightly over the 50% mark and then the rest of the see-saw as God's Gift of Grace in return, it's easier.
The Share Guide: I guess the Earth Day Movement would relate to your Green Cultural Creatives. There is certainly a lot of spirit involved in that, and it's hopeful to see that even though global warming and other problems seem so very large that there are large levels of organization happening. It would also be nice to think that more people would think twice before they went into a career--not just for their own income goals.
Joan: I think that little by little that is really happening. I really do think that the whole environmental and healing movements have reached back all the way to very young kids, who are now reading all these books about the environment and who are brought up to care in a way that we were not. We just didn't know.
The Share Guide: Right. It just wasn't part of the curriculum.
Joan: That's it.
The Share Guide: In closing, one question about the future. We're at about the same place--I'm in my late 40's, you're in your early 50's. I basically envision being around until about 2050. How do you think things will go over the next half a century to a century as far as our transition into a more conscious society?
Joan: I truly have that vision of Crazy Horse always in my mind. I feel that we're going to make steady progress with an occasional enormous shift in consciousness. For example, who would have thought that the Berlin Wall would suddenly fall? I think we're going to see more of that. We are, however, at a time of change which is the New Time of Polarity. This means that we'll see the worst as well as the best. Every time I see something difficult I like to remind myself that what that means is that we have to mobilize and do something about it, not become paralyzed by it. At the same time we need to hold the vision that this is part of the process enjoined. But what I would like to avoid is what I see some people saying and that is, "Oh, just hold a positive vision and don't get negative and everything good will happen." Well, it won't happen unless we actually do something about it! I think it's important to do both, to hold a positive vision and to be socially active.
The Share Guide: Thank you for your positive vision, Joan. The mending of the Sacred Hoop is certainly something to work on and look forward to. Thank you for being with us.
Joan: You're welcome, and thank you for helping mend the Sacred Hoop with The Share Guide.
For more information about Joan Borysenko, please visit her website at www.joanborysenko.com
Daniel Goleman, Phd on emotions and your health
Cultural Creatives: The New Educated Consumer
Healthy People, Healthy Planet
Barbara Marx Hubbard on holistic education and healing the planet
Marianne Williamson on holistic education
Anita Roddick on a holistic model for business
Change Yourself, Change the World
Align Your Career with Your Heart's Vision
Holistic Health Educators as Agents of Transformative Change
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