My first and only attempt at interviewing Joseph Chilton Pearce was a spectacular flop. Either he was tired, or I was, but very little that he said made sense to me. I was disappointed, because I’d heard remarkable things about this former professor of humanities, best known for his book, Magical Child, which is about the natural development of children and society’s cruel violation of nature’s plan.
So when I read this recent interview with Pearce in Mothering magazine, I was a little envious as well as fascinated. Pearce’s ability to synthesize insights from many different intellectual and spiritual traditions is obvious, and his ideas about childhood provocative to the extreme.
At fifty-nine, Pearce is the father of four grown children — two daughters and two sons — and a four-year-old daughter. He lives part of each year at the Gurudev Siddha Peeth Ashram in Ganeshpuri, India, with others who practice Siddha Meditation; he was a follower of Swami Muktananda before his death.
Pearce’s other books include The Crack In The Cosmic Egg, The Bond Of Power, and, most recently, The Magical Child Matures.
Our thanks to Mothering magazine for permission to reprint this interview. (Mothering is a top-notch quarterly that recognizes the immense importance of parenting; subscriptions are $12 a year from Mothering, P.O. Box 8410, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87504.)
Pearce will give a seminar July 27 and 28 at Duke University’s Bryan Center in Durham, North Carolina. For information, call Dwight Jessup at (919) 929-8299.
MOTHERING: To what do you attribute the demise of childhood that we see in modern-day society?
PEARCE: There were several major things that happened to children within a single generation, beginning around World War II. Novel obstetrical practices disrupted the bonding process between mothers and infants. At the same time, we violated the first seven years of life as the absolute sacrosanct period for leaving the child alone and allowing him to be a child. There are virtually no cultures on earth that have ever violated the period of the dream of the child — that is, the intuitive, emotional period of the child, the prelogical state of the child. Starting about fifty years ago, we began to encroach upon this period of the first seven years with academic training. Rudolph Steiner predicted that this would lead to severe difficulties such as premature sexuality, but no one paid any attention to him.
One reason for premature sexuality is prematurely activating brain processes connected with adolescence. Formal operational thinking, abstract logic, and semantic thinking are adolescent developments; when you force them on the child too soon, you also inaugurate signals connected with adolescence and puberty. Then those signals mix in with those designed to unfold from age four to seven, the child receives mixed signals and is in a state of extreme confusion.
The development of a metaphoric, symbolic language structure in the midbrain unfolds from four to seven, and only through the development of this structure can the child transfer imagery from the reptilian brain to the high roof brain and bring about operational thinking, later, at age eleven or twelve.
If the majority of our children stopped producing twelve-year molars, we’d be in shock; yet they’ve stopped producing twelve-year mentality. Operational thinking fails to take place in seventy percent of our children, and no one pays that much attention. Instead, we do what we are doing to our children earlier and do more of it. We put them in school earlier and earlier, and keep them in school longer and longer.
We disrupt the preparatory periods of development when we force abstract learning on the child prematurely. Instead of taking the models that the child must follow, the models of the parent and of the society, we have taken models that are applicable only to later stages of development and forced them on the earlier blueprint of the child. The brain can’t imprint to abstract models, so we adopt things like behavior modification and motivation to force the child to adapt to patterns which do not match the biological stage of the child’s developmental process.
MOTHERING: What does your understanding of the child’s developmental process tell you about the effect of television on children?
PEARCE: People think it’s the content of television that is harmful. The content of television certainly affects the child dramatically, but it’s not the content that does the major damage. Television furnishes the brain with a synthetic counterfeit of a particular response that the limbic structure of the brain is supposed to make. Throughout human history, children have been told stories. You’ll find social myths all geared toward children in order to explain to them the whole cosmology of the culture. There has never been a society that hasn’t told their children many, many stories. We find that almost all those stories are of animal characters. The child’s dreams, up until about age seven, consist predominantly of animal characters. We know that these are all metaphoric and symbolic of humans and human situations.
Throughout human history, stories were told and the words entered the brain as an essentially motor process. The brain produces an internal image in response to the word stimulus. Through this process, the capacity to transfer imagery coming in from the world “out there” to the high-level brain is developed. The intellectual brain has no connection with the outside world at all except that given it through the midbrain (limbic) metaphoric structure.
Television floods the child with both the sound and the image on the sensory motor level. TV floods the system with a synthetic counterfeit of that which the system is supposed to create. The first seven years of a child’s life is devoted to this development of the symbolic, metaphoric language structure in the midbrain since all future development rests on this imagery functioning. TV disrupts this development of an inner imagery by furnishing that imagery from an outside source. As a result, the capacity of the child to deal with high-level imaginative, metaphoric structures never develops.
We violated the first seven years of life as the absolute sacrosanct period for leaving the child alone and allowing him to be a child.
MOTHERING: What is the importance of play for the child?
PEARCE: Play is the exercise with the metaphoric, symbolic language structure in the midbrain. The child abstracts images from the adult world that are unavailable to him or her through the high-level intellectual brain; then the child projects these metaphoric, symbolic images of the midbrain on handy targets out here in the world. Playing is the first level of great creative thinking. This is a learned process. The child can never learn to play without the parent playing with the child. Play, like anything else, is a huge creative potential built within the child, which goes dormant and never develops unless it is stimulated by the outer model, the parent.
MOTHERING: What is the significance of bonding?
PEARCE: If you bond a mother with an infant, you can’t keep her from responding to her own instinctual processes. For instance, we know that the bonded mother will breastfeed her child for two to three years. The unbonded mother, the one separated from her infant at birth, literally can’t breastfeed her infant successfully. The whole biological system falls apart. Mothers are heartbroken, but they can’t do it.
The whole bonding process is directly connected with that same limbic structure that is damaged by television and damaged by premature schooling. This same limbic structure must be activated during the bonding period at birth. Unless it is activated, the relationship between the heart and the midbrain area breaks down. From then on, this heart-mind relationship is compensating rather than functioning, and there is a serious dysfunction in the way the person can relate to others.
By our intellectual process, we try to make up for this lack of the bonding; we read books on mothering and go to conferences on mothering. At issue, however, is the fact that the natural, instinctual process has itself been disrupted by intellectual interference of the natural genetic encoding. Hospital childbirth has disrupted bonding in ninety-six percent of the whole population of the United States. You then find that the ongoing series of bondings are also disrupted, because if the initial bonding is broken, all other bondings are impaired severely.
MOTHERING: Is this something one can compensate for later?
PEARCE: Unfortunately, later compensations for it are only compensatory, and that means a very weak functional system in which the bonds between the child and society will be very weak and easily disrupted.
MOTHERING: Do you have any suggestions for people who feel hopeless and guilty because they were not properly bonded themselves or their children were not properly bonded to them?
PEARCE: I am the father of five children who were born in hospitals. Their mother was drugged and strapped up in the stirrups like everyone was at that time. We took it absolutely for granted; we were children of the age of the professional. My wife would come home from the hospital and weep that “Something was supposed to happen and it didn’t.” She would go through all sorts of fantasies in those first couple of weeks that they had given her the wrong child or that the child belonged to the doctor.
Following the death of my wife twenty years ago, I had four little children in the house and I raised them myself. I began to run across all this information then, and it was very difficult. When I was giving Magical Child seminars, they became so emotional I sometimes had to excuse myself.
But I had no answer for the damage done. We can change the birth process, but what about those of us who can now see what has happened to our children? At that point I dropped out of the world and I swore I would never deal with this issue again because it was so painful. That’s when I met my spiritual teacher, Swami Muktananda, and he bonded me to my own heart and repaired those connections that had been broken. He brought me back to the recognition of this huge archetypal biological process within me.
MOTHERING: Would you describe a scenario in which a good birth situation and bonding would occur?
PEARCE: Bonding occurs when the child is given back to the mother for skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth. And then, of course, the contact must be continuing and ongoing. The human infant is designed to feed between forty-five and sixty times a day. Human mothers’ milk is very weak and watery. The human newborn’s metabolism is not equipped at all for heavy protein or fat so the human infant needs to feed forty-five to sixty times a day. The reason for this is the need for ongoing interaction between the mother and child, which is necessary for the development of intelligence. The breastfed child is always more intelligent than the bottle-fed child. The longer the breastfeeding, the more intelligent the child is because of the constant interaction with the mother.
The child must be returned to the mother on a regular, biologically rhythmic basis throughout the whole day. He can stand increasingly longer separations as he approaches age four, and after four he can be separated to some extent. After age seven, he can be separated fairly successfully.
MOTHERING: You have said that between the age of four and seven, the child shifts from the mother and the family as a model, to the earth and society as a model.
PEARCE: Yes, it takes nature about three years to prepare for that shift from parent to society. Then the child emerges as the social ego, ready to imprint to the whole society’s image of who the child is. The enormous susceptibility to social suggestions of idea structures of who we are and of what our relationship to the world is opens at age seven through fourteen as the child opens to the bonding to society. The child then belongs to society. There are millions of years of genetic encoding built within us to shift us over to the society and away from the family. The society is providing the child with models every single second. Every billboard and every magazine is the child’s model of who he is.
MOTHERING: If a family chose to protect itself from society in some way, by creating its own subculture, living in a community, or creating its own personal society with extended family, would that make a difference?
PEARCE: You would certainly give a child more security and the ability to remain whole and less fragmented, but we find that in communities that are set up that way, once the children hit a certain period, they are strangely subjected to the same problems that the children in the outer society are. For instance, back in the Sixties our educational observers said that at a sudden point, within a year or two, there was a sudden shift, some kind of downhill drop, of the whole student body in America. Then in the early Seventies, it happened with the five-year-olds. I really couldn’t understand this until I looked thoroughly into two things.
The first is what Rupert Sheldrake calls the morphogenetic field. This ties in directly with what the quantum mechanics term the “fields of compatible variables” that consciousness generates out of. The brain-mind structure is a kind of tape loop between these fields of genetic variables out of which all our consciousness is emerging.
So although we protect our children during the early years, by the time they reach age seven, they are operating not out of the family pool, but out of a universal pool that is shared by the bulk of humanity. Unfortunately, there is no way to protect our children from the larger spheres of influence to which they automatically open during the period between seven and fourteen.
The other thing is what the yogis call the theory of sanskara. In the New Testament there is a statement, “It rains on the just and the unjust equally.” We all reap what one another sows. Reaping and sowing is a universal process. We are all operating out of a common pool that is constantly being enlarged by our own activities. “What’s loosed on earth is loosed in heaven,” and what’s loosed in heaven is loosed on earth because you have this tape loop between the three brain structures and the pools of potential out of which those brains operate.
MOTHERING: You talk about the heart as having a consciousness. Could you please explain this?
PEARCE: I use nothing in my talks except syntheses of current brain research, and this concept comes from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Their research revealed something that has been known by the majority of all cultures throughout history: that there are unmediated nerve connections between the heart and the limbic structure, that metaphoric, symbolic area of bonding. The midbrain area (or limbic structure) collates all the information from the exterior world with what we call “intuitive information” coming from nonsensory sources. The midbrain sends that information to the heart instant by instant. The midbrain then receives instructions from the heart as to the response to make to the world out there. How one relates to the world is determined by this connection between the heart and the brain. NIMH calls it the “conversation between the brain and the heart.”
Our physical pumping heart is the translating mechanism for consciousness, and the subtle heart is the generative force itself. The heart is the translating mechanism. The heart translates and sends its signals to the brain of a real, underlying conscious response to the world out there. This is earthshaking news!
The infant bonds — imprints — to the heart in the fifth to ninth month in utero, and this genetic encoding requires that he be returned to the immediate proximity with the mother’s heart at birth. All mothers from time immemorial put their babies to their left breast at birth because that puts the child’s heart in proximity with the mother’s heart.
Schools were set up to try to train the child to be an economic integer in an economic machine. This radically violates the evolutionary processes of the growth of the brain structure.
MOTHERING: What is your opinion of contemporary education?
PEARCE: Tax-supported, widespread compulsory education is extremely new, less than a century old. It’s the newest single flicker of an idea in human history. In 1963, the Carnegie Institute, after a massive study, said that the American educational system was ninety-five percent ineffective. This has nothing to do with the ill will of teachers, or with administrators, or with anyone else. It has to do with the fact that the whole system was set up on a wrong model of who the human is. Schools were set up to try to train the child to be an economic integer in an economic machine. This radically violates the evolutionary processes of the growth of the brain structure.
The educational system was based on a totally erroneous idea of how the brain operates. We know the brain does not learn by quantitative, additive processing of information which finally can build up to a workable body of knowledge. The brain operates by imprinting.
First of all, the only operation it can make, given the final and perfect image or model that it must have, is to imprint to that in a very rough form. The brain then moves to fill in that model or image with information, to sort such information out into meaningful units with all the rest of the knowing of the brain, and then to practice the new learning over and over until the automatic pilot can take over the whole learning, and free consciousness to move on into a new system, a new experience.
The teacher and the child must enter into the first initial stage of learning together as a single unit so that the child can see the teacher as the rough model of what it’s all about. The teacher must act out for the child what the end goal is. The brain imprints to the first impression as a rough model, just like a rough blueprint or pattern. This sets into motion huge energies to fill the blueprint in with every tiny facet of information relevant to it, sort it out into a meaningful category within its own unit of knowledge, then relate it to all the other units of knowledge the child has ever learned. This is practiced over and over, and then it is varied and put in all sorts of other contexts. Until that total entrainment is complete, consciousness is not free for new learning. If you interrupt this “cycle of competence,” the entire learning cancels so that it must be begun all over again at a later date.
We had the idea instead that one could simply start giving the child all sorts of abstract information and that the brain would additively, quantitatively put it all together and finally emerge with the image of what we were after. It has never worked. No one has ever learned that way, and yet we keep trying to figure out ways to force the brain to imprint that way. We are finding that the only way that the child can ever learn is through this mediated learning and entrainment which must be allowed to complete itself all the way.
Twenty-five years ago, the Carnegie Institute said that following a forty-five minute period of language arts, for example, with forty-five minutes of mathematics cancels both subjects out. Each child must be allowed to follow the biological entrainment of this three-fold cycle of competency. Expose him to the new information through the model. The teacher must actually do the activity with the child, so that the child sees the model perfecting the complete action no matter how abstract it might be. This then triggers the child’s entrainment into following through on its own. The child will then absorb the material without any behavior modification.
We also find that there is a forty-five or ninety-minute cycle in the three-fold nature of the brain in which learning moves from attendance to the outside world to attendance to the dreamlike metaphoric structure and on to attendance to the intellectual process in the brain. We find that no two children’s biological rhythms of attendance to information ever match. We expect the biological rhythms of their brain structures to all suddenly lockstep with each other and attend to information at the same time. The brain doesn’t work that way. Each individual child has her own learning program set up and should be allowed her own time for it, according to her own rate.
You also have to match the models given for learning with the biological stage of development a particular child is in. There, again, if you take a high-level abstract model and force it on the prelogical child, you break up the entrainments that are designed to unfold at a particular period, and force the brain into adoption of later structures which then do not get their support because the preliminary structures are damaged.
MOTHERING: Do you think children need to be taught religion, spirituality, or meditation?
PEARCE: If parents teach their children religion, they can be sure that their children are going to reject it later on, as they probably should. What you teach by religion is semantic jargon, belief structures which can only be entertained by the intellect and which bring about no change at all. It innoculates the child against the real thing ever happening. Most of our religious upbringing was the injecting into the body of the dead virus of a dead god so that later, when the real thing tries to emerge from within us, our psyche throws it out because we have been immunized against it.
Furthermore, the word “religion” means relationship. That whole notion is based on the idea that we have this “relationship” with some deity “out there.” By nature of the biological system, however, there is no such relationship. Rather, there are series of developmental processes which ultimately identify the ego with what it really is, our union with God. Union with God and relationship with God are different things. You relate two separate articles. By separating things they must then be related. Religion is an idea structure, an intellectual game which we play in our heads, about separation. Hanging the idea of separation onto a child is a deadly thing.
The child shouldn’t be introduced to the ideas of religion until he’s around eleven or twelve and able to handle these high-level, abstract concepts. What the child in the first eleven years of life needs is a parent who is in union with God in his or her heart. Instead, the child gets a lot of semantic jargon of intellectual ideas having to do with this relationship that is something abstract and completely remote from him.
The child is naturally in meditation until the biological rhythm of meditation is destroyed in the child. The child is naturally in union with the self.
The child is imprinting with ninety-five percent of the total mechanism of his brain-mind structure, not to what we are telling him, but to our states of consciousness themselves. Look at the enormous emotional dysfunction of our children at three, four, five, and six years of age, because from about age one to four, the major imprints that ninety-five percent of the total mechanism of the child’s brain are making are to the emotional states of the parents, while only about five percent of this mechanism is available to what the parent is telling him to be. And what the parent is telling him to be is often in direct opposition to what the parent is.
The value system that you tell your child about is your idea of a system, how it would ideally be for the child if things worked right. But what is your own value system? Is your own value system, the one to which the child is imprinting instant by instant, one of hostility, anger, victimization, and rage against a world that you perceive to be mistreating you? Children are driven by nature to follow us as models, and yet they also try to be what we tell them to be. So the only way we are ever going to change the nature of the child, and give him a better world, and have him know something other than the replication of our own pain, is to change ourselves. The final double bind, however, is that the brain-mind structure, once brought into dysfunction, creates a tape loop defect between the three brain structures that cannot self-analyze or self-correct.
MOTHERING: So what is the solution?
PEARCE: Only an outside force, a person who is operating out of a state of wholeness, can move in and break our tape loops and correct us. We are incapable of doing it. This is a tremendous offense to the intellect. The intellect is a wonderful tool provided it is used in the service of intelligence, and intelligence has a far greater evolutionary capability than we now realize. Intellect can’t easily give up its attempt to solve problems, and the wholeness which comes from what we call “insight” or what we can experience through meditation is an immediate, severe offense to the biological intelligence that we have bred.
Meditation, the only solution I have for people, is one which I know will offend them enormously, intellectually, because when it appeared in my life, it offended me so severely. I went through a very intense battle for about four years in which my intellect was offended in every conceivable way, and yet my heart was totally drawn toward this great saint. So it was a great battle between my heart and my mind.
MOTHERING: Is this saint someone who is whole because of having gone through the process of development uninterrupted, without dysfunction?
PEARCE: Yes. There are many really great people alive on earth today. I think that the minute we really open our hearts to change, we always come in contact with them. Yet, as long as the intellect insists that it can bail itself out of its tight tape loop, we are skeptical about the possibility of a great teacher coming along and simply removing us from our madness. Certainly that was the case for me. Fortunately, I had the experience of what is called shaktipat, which happened to me in spite of myself and which broke through and simply blasted my mind wide open. I wrote about this experience in my book A Bond of Power. My whole concept of play in Magical Child came from a shaktipat experience with Swami Muktananda, though I couldn’t attribute it to him at the time because it was totally outside of my experience as a human. My prejudice toward what I called the “Indian trip” was so severe that I could not grant that it came from this teacher. But the experience was so profound that I rewrote my book Magical Child and dropped out of the world.
A lot of people are threatened when I say that the shaktipat experience was so profound that I dropped out of public contact. After all, the experience was one of me, a hidebound intellectual snob, feeling that I had been lifted out of my whole self and taken into this huge universal sphere of creative play. I had the feeling (and I was not necessarily a believer in anything) that God had simply played with me in this huge, cosmic joy. It was so profound that I couldn’t deal with it. It wouldn’t fit any of my structures of knowledge or background. The effect was so powerful on my heart that I felt that I would do anything just to experience God playing with me again. So I dropped out of the world, left no forwarding address, and I left the Magical Child seminars. I literally wasn’t heard of for four years. I spent those four years in seclusion, gardening and meditating. A lot of things happened. I was led to Muktananda from whom my great experience had come and I plunged into a life of yoga.
We had the idea . . . that one could simply start giving the child all sorts of abstract information and that the brain would . . . put it all together and finally emerge with the image of what we were after. It has never worked.
MOTHERING: How has the practice of meditation changed your life?
PEARCE: I’m free of my old, stressful angers and hostilities and rages because of meditation. It has freed me from taking my relational cues from the outside world. I take all of my cues from the heart. As a result, I can respond to the outside world instant by instant, free of any dictates from the world out there. It’s a shift of criteria.
Most people are contextually determined. Their context determines their response. Our culture breeds us to react to our outside context and so when we are in misery and pain and unhappiness, we try to change the outside context because we think we are determined by that context. This has been the case ever since Descartes, who believed that there is no connection between mind and reality, so if you want to change a person’s mind, you have to change his or her outer world. This gave rise to dialectical materialism, capitalism, the industrial revolution, and so on, as we tried to change the outside world to escape our inner pain. Siddha yoga demonstrates that this is simply a breakdown in the way the brain is processing its information, a breakdown between the heart and the midbrain.
What the great teacher in Siddha meditation does is connect you, simply bond you to your heart, which should have happened all along the path of development. Even if you did bond to your mother, the bonding can get broken later, and what the great teacher does is reestablish that bond. Then you can take your cues from the interior place of the heart and as a result are not determined by the context out there.
People who are contextually determined and who are reacting in anger are ineffective in what they are trying to do. As long as you are determined by the context, you can’t change that context. All you are doing is reflecting it. You are simply replicating it. If you operate from the heart, you immediately become effective in the world.
MOTHERING: Do you feel that we are all designed to become whole persons?
PEARCE: Yes. We all have a great longing for holiness. Many people have said to me that they have the feeling that something tremendous was supposed to have happened in their lives and it didn’t. They don’t know what it is. When the great saint bonds you to your heart, this “thing” begins to happen. I no longer have any feeling in me that something was supposed to happen and it didn’t. Now it’s happening. I find my life intensely exciting. In getting in touch with the heart, there is such joy, such peace. All these things we always searched for are right within us. There are many states of consciousness that just unfold, field after field after field of inner experience.
I haven’t found a single person since this has happened to me for whom I don’t feel this enormous, serious, intense love. I once gave a talk to a group of obstetricians at Oxford. I had this feeling that I wanted to rush down and embrace each one of them and tell them, “It’s OK, everything is OK.” Then I turned around and put before them an hour and a half of the most carefully worked out, logical evidence that they were involved in a criminal activity. The response from them was enormous! They said it was the greatest talk they had ever heard. I still get letters from them today. But, you see, it was the communication of the heart that counted. What they heard, they heard because the communication of the heart had taken place. Swami Chidvilasananda (successor to Swami Muktananda) says that once you find God within your heart, you see Him everywhere.
MOTHERING: Is Swami Chidvilasananda your model of spirituality?
PEARCE: She surely is, and the model has to be there. St. Simeon, in the ninth century, said you must link yourself to what he called the “present living link of the great golden chain of God” if you want awareness of God to grow within you. You have to have a model for God. So the great being, the great saint, comes along and immediately activates our own divinity. Spiritual growth is stage specific for its optimal, quick development, but it’s always there to be developed. We call it the spiritual meditational energy. The minute it is activated, this energy starts patching up the broken system, integrating us, and getting us ready to move on.
I hope this interview leads your readers to meditation. If they turn to the heart, the system will heal itself. There is a tremendous, beautiful logic to this life system. Life is always trying to heal the errors we make.
My teacher Chidvilasananda said it’s all a single, indivisible unit; you just can’t deal with matters of the spirit without dealing with the physical process through which the spirit manifests. All great beings say the same thing: if you want to achieve union with yourself or union with God, it can only be done through this body. That’s the mode of translation between the two energy systems — the physical world and “the realm of the heart wherein God lives.”