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Natural Awakenings

Exploring the Last Frontier with Astronaut Edgar Mitchell

Nov 30, 2011 11:54AM ● By Linda Sechrist

The sixth of only 12 men to walk the lunar surface, Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell had a life-changing experience in 1971 as his spacecraft sailed back to Earth. Long before he first published The Way of the Explorer, in 1996, he understood that the beautiful blue planet to which he was returning was part of a harmonious and whole living system and that we each participate in a universe of consciousness.

This expanded worldview led him to found the nonprofit Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in 1973, to support individual and collective transformation and realization of human potential. Since its inception, IONS has conducted research in intentionality and prayer in healing; subtle fields and energy medicine; inner dimensions of the healing response; and emerging worldviews. Noetic means “intuitive mind” or “inner knowing,” and IONS looks deeply into phenomena that do not necessarily fit conventional science models, while maintaining scientific rigor.

How would you describe the life-changing experience that happened on your way home from the Moon?

The experience, which began with a startling recognition that the nature of the universe was not as I’d been taught, continued to unfold as I saw how my existence was irrevocably connected with the movement and formation of planets, stars and galaxies. I saw the connectedness, felt it and experienced it emotionally. The natural response of my body to the overwhelming sense of unity was an- other way of knowing; it felt as trustworthy as my world of rationality and physical precision.

Today, the merging of many factors—including recent discoveries in quantum physics, cosmology, biology, chaos theory and self-organizing systems—is pointing to the recognition of the fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence of all things. It is also affirming the powerful role that directed intention plays in shifting our worldview toward one that focuses on the need to serve the greater good of all nature.

Do you believe that  if science and humanity focused more on the exploration of inner space and consciousness, we could discover sustainable solutions for our planet?

Civilization’s understanding of the nature of reality and hence, our survival and future well-being, depends entirely upon the emergence of a completely different worldview: a new paradigm that properly addresses, in verifiable scientific terms, our collective relationship to one another, the environment, nature and the universe.

Establishing this fundamental shift in common perceptions can lead to changes in thinking, values, behavior and actions based on concepts of interconnectedness, cooperation and interdependence in all human endeavors. It can come about if a significant portion of humankind develops this new understanding and incorporates it into our individual and societal belief systems. Science can bolster this advance by providing reliable and credible empirical data that supports it as a basis for public education.

The hypothesis of interconnectedness, proposed by ancient sages from many pre-scientific cultures, has never been rigorously explored or tested by modern mainstream science. Achieving a truly sustainable civilization requires us to apply a more holistic view to the macroscopic world, one that encompasses living systems and social phenomena.

What is IONS doing to encourage the desired transformation of consciousness?

Worldview Literacy (WVL) for high school students and beyond is IONS’ latest consciousness-based educational program. Its curriculum explores the pivotal role that our personal and cultural worldviews play in how we perceive and process information, act and behave.

WVL works to increase people’s awareness of our own largely unconscious worldviews by opening a conversational space of exploration where diverse views are welcomed with curiosity and wonder. Such recognition and joint engagement deepens individual and collective understanding and helps students better navigate life when they encounter differing perspectives.

Such education can help people of all ages discover critical connections between lived experiences and assumed habits of mind. It can help us develop greater cognitive flexibility, comfort with unfamiliarity, appreciation of diverse perspectives, ability to hold multiple points of view simultaneously, creative problem solving and a capacity for discernment that relies equally on intellect and intuition. It changes the human paradigm.

For more information, visit

Linda Sechrist writes and edits for Natural Awakenings and is a student of noetic sciences.

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