Jean Houston writes about her
Working Muse

Since the Renaissance, Prometheus, the god who snatched fire from heaven, has been one of the Western world’s reigning archetypes. But Proteus, the shape-shifter, is fast becoming the model for our time. Whereas Prometheus stood for our seizing power over nature and the elements, Proteus represents an even more drastic step--our gaining the ability to change our very natures and shift from self to self. 

Proteus belongs to a long tradition that ascribes to the gods of many religions the power to change themselves into anything they choose: Zeus, in the course of his amorous adventures, became a swan, a bull, a ram, a serpent, a dove, an eagle, even a shower of gold. The Hindu god Vishnu is said to have been incarnated as a fish, a tortoise, a boar, a man-lion, a dwarf, and the Buddha. And, of course, Jesus was not recognized by his disciples when they met him on the road to Emmaus. It was only over dinner that the spell was broken. In the Odyssey, Homer tells how the soothsayer Proteus, was seized, while sleeping, by Menelaus, who had come to him seeking knowledge of things to come. But Proteus was reluctant to give him any information and, to escape, turned himself into a bearded lion, a snake, a leopard, a bear, running water, and a tree. In spite of these metamorphoses, Menelaus wouldn’t let go, until at last Proteus resumed his original form and agreed to answer his questions. 

In a world moving through so many changes, the protean personality is the one that flourishes, for it has more points of view and thus more skill in anticipating outcomes. The the ability to shift identities, both outward and inward, is key to the repatterning of human nature that is giving birth to the new Jump Time self. 

This new self shows up most obviously in the multitasking, multimodal lives many of us lead. During a recent Presidential election campaign, pollsters were kept busy charting the opinions of a new archetype, the “soccer Mom”--a busy professional woman running an office, who also carpools her kids on their rounds of activities, participates in community life, and finds time to exercise, have a spiritual life, and spend quality time with her husband, if she still has a husband around. And, if she doesn't, she’s Dad, too. 

In my conversations with these women and with the many men also living simultaneous lives, I find that most feel exhausted and fractured unless they move into another kind of awareness: seeing themselves as a theater of selves, a troupe of actors playing different roles according to the scene and script for the day. I have often suggested that if schizophrenia, the self that is split against itself, is the disease of the human condition, then polyphrenia, the orchestration of our many selves, may be our expanded health. This is more true than ever in Jump Time. The brittle raft of a solitary ego is an uncertain vessel in the sea of so much change. The polyphrenic person is able to keep a large cast of characters active, calling them to stage front as needed for the many roles we have to play. Each character brings new energies and a new set of skills. If one feels blocked or inadequate in some area, move one persona over in the psyche, and one stands a good chance of finding an aspect of the self which is not blocked and is quite willing to tackle some dreaded activity. 

In my local or habitual self, for example, I often feel downright stupid when it comes to writing. Despite this sense, I have produced a good many books as well as numerous lectures, articles, monographs, and seminar scripts. When a New Age-type asks me, "Do you channel your books?" I am likely to retort emphatically, "I fight for every damn word!" Actually, what I do is to call upon another persona of my inward crew who is not blocked when it comes to writing. I call this character the Working Muse and enlist her aid in the process of creation. A block of any kind is built up of habit, expectation, and self-fulfilling prophecy. It can become a massive chemical and protein complex in the brain and body. Instead of trying to defeat this formidable entity, one “switches channels” and brings in another character to whom the block is merely an interesting construct, a problem to be solved, not a well-worn track of sour memories and mental monoliths with the power to impede one’s progress.

Copyright © 2000 Jean Houston

Introducing Jean Houston

Dr. Jean Houston is a scholar and researcher in human capacities, and for the past 30 years has co-directed, with her husband Dr. Robert Masters, the Foundation for Mind Research, first in New York City and now in Pomona, New York. Their work has focused on the understanding of latent human abilities. She is the founder of the Mystery School--a program of cross-cultural mythic and spiritual studies--dedicated to teaching history, philosophy, the new physics, psychology, anthropology, myth, and the many dimensions of our human potential.

Dr. Houston was the protégé of the late anthropologist Margaret Mead, who instructed her in the workings of organizations and power structures in many different cultures. With the late mythologist Joseph Campbell, Jean Houston frequently co-led seminars and workshops aimed at understanding interrelationships between ancient myths and modern societies.

Additionally, Jean Houston has made cross-cultural studies of educational and healing methods in Asia and Africa. Her principal areas of interest apart from her work are theater, archaeology and the philosophical, societal and other implications of contemporary physics. Dr. Houston's mind has been called "a national treasure".

Her specialty is in the development and application of multiple methods of increasing physical and mental skills, learning and creativity. She has presented the results of her work and studies in some 17 books, as well as in person through speeches and conferences at educational institutions and business organizations in over 40 countries. She is often invited to work personally with leaders of such groups, as well as heads of governmental and non-governmental agencies, to assist them in rethinking their goals and agendas.

As Advisor to UNICEF in human and cultural development, she has worked to implement some of their extensive educational and health programs, primarily in Myanmar [Burma] and Bangladesh.

A past President of the Association for Humanistic Psychology [1977], she has taught philosophy, psychology, and religion at Hunter College, the New School for Social Research and Marymount College, as well as summer sessions in human development at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of British Columbia. She was Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Oklahoma in that university's Scholar-Leadership Enrichment Program in 1982.

In addition, Dr. Houston presented the William James Lecture at Harvard Divinity School, the ORR Lectures at Wilson, and the Alfred Stiernotte Lecture in Philosophy at Quinnipiac College. Since 1959, she has spoken at hundreds of colleges and universities, including the Universities of Montreal, Arizona, South Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Alabama, Minnesota, Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado. She has directed two three-year courses in human capacities development and a program of cross-cultural mythic and spiritual studies, now in its thirteenth year.

Among the academic and scientific convocations she has chaired was the United Nations--Temple of Understanding conference of World Religious Leaders in 1975. She also helped to initiate and then chaired the 1979 symposium for leading government policy makers sponsored by the Department of Commerce.

Her work has been the core of hundreds of teaching-learning communities throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. In 1984, she devised a national not-for-profit organization, called The Possible Society, to encourage the creation of new ways for people to work together to help solve societal problems.

In 1985, Dr. Houston was awarded the Distinguished Leadership Award from the Association of Teacher Educators. In 1993, she received the Gardner Murphy Humanitarian Award and the INTA Humanitarian of the Year award. In 1994, she received the Lifetime Outstanding Creative Achievement Award from the Creative Education Foundation.Among her books are Public Like a Frog, The Hero and The Goddess, The Possible Human, The Search for the Beloved, Godseed, Life Force, Listening to the Body, Manual for the Peacemaker, The Passion of Isis and Osiris. Harper/San Francisco published her autobiography, A Mythic Life: Learning to Live Our Greater Stories.

Dr. Houston's ability to inspire and invigorate people enables her to convey her vision of the finest possible achievement of individual potential and share the excitement of that possibility with her audiences and student all over the world.