VI. Later Years

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Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, Sir Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley, and Linus Pauling, Los Angeles, 1960. 

Photo by Ralph Crane of TimePix. Reproduced under license from TimePix.

by Jay Michael Barrie

For the remaining fifteen years of his active life Heard spent his time and energy in writing, lecturing, research, travel, and making numerous radio and television appearances. "Vacations!" he decried, "Who has time for a vacation? I suffer from an insatiable curiosity: the Universe is my hobby." His bearded face, ready wit, and sonorous voice were a familiar sight and sound on television screens in the 1950s as he addressed himself to such diverse subjects as history, literature, and mental health. He moderated an eight-part series, Focus on Sanity, which appeared on CBS television in 1957.

He lectured at most of the major colleges and universities in the United States, including Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, the Universities of California at Los Angeles and Berkeley, the University of Southern California, Mills College, Rockford, and Wabash. At Colgate Rochester Divinity School he delivered the Ayer Foundation Lectures that would become 1946’s The Eternal Gospel. At the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology he was the Haskell Foundation lecturer in 1958. He spoke at religious venues as diverse as the Vedanta Society of Southern California, the First Congregational Church in Akron, Ohio, Temple Sinai in Beverly Hills, and the Soto Zen Temple in Honolulu. Nearly two hundred and fifty recordings exist of his lectures during these fruitful years.

At the invitation of Professor Huston Smith, Heard spent two years (1951-1952) in St. Louis as visiting lecturer in philosophy at Washington University on a fellowship from the Danforth Foundation. Out of these lectures came his penultimate major work, The Human Venture. He received a two-year fellowship grant from the Bollingen Foundation (1955-1956) under the auspices of Washington University's Department of Philosophy. This enabled him to undertake the research that resulted in 1964’s The Five Ages of Man, of which Robert R. Kirsch, literary critic of the Los Angeles Times reviewed as, "…the most important work to date of this challenging and brilliant philosopher, a volume which in scope and daring might be the Novum Organum of the twentieth century."

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Late in the 1950s Heard made five narrative record albums. But he still had one recording project in mind, a contemporary interpretation of the Bardo Thodol — The Tibetan Book of the Dead — which provides a rites of passage for the dying. He had tried to interest both Aldous Huxley and
Igor Stravinsky in performing it, but neither of them ever became sufficiently interested, although Huxley did use versions of some parts of it in Time Must Have a Stop and in his last novel Island. So during a three-month stay in Hawaii in the late fall and early winter of 1960, Heard wrote the script for his final recording, Re-birth, which was produced in 1961.

Despite leading such a busy life, he maintained the regular schedule of meditation, lasting six hours daily for many years,[6] which he had begun years before it had become fashionable. Heard wanted nothing more than to attain spiritual liberation. And although his personal lifestyle was abstemious to the point of being monastic — he was celibate by choice for the latter several decades of his life — his rule of thumb for moving about in the world of people and things without being offensive or a nuisance, echoed the advice of his favorite saint, François de Sales, "Ask for nothing, refuse nothing."

During these later years he was constantly besieged by people, most of them young, seeking answers to problems mostly in the "What’s-it-all-about?" category. His innate humility and self-abnegating manner precluded him from ever regarding himself as a teacher, but at the same time he felt a strong responsibility to tell those who sought him out what he believed. He would try to interest them in living what he called an "intentional life," a way of life based on the cosmology, with the ethic and practice that could be deduced from it, which is outlined in Training for the Life of the Spirit. If this proved too much for them, he would then encourage them to look into psychical research. With hope, the person might become intrigued enough by this investigation into the nature of consciousness (as had Heard himself in his early years) to move on to an interest in the nature of their own consciousness and begin asking themselves the three essential questions, "Where am I? What am I? Who am I?" with which Heard had dealt in 1955's The Human Venture.

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On February 5, 1966, Gerald Heard suffered the first in a series of 32 strokes that left him increasingly incapacitated. After several years of a slow decline, Heard succumbed peacefully on August 14, 1971 at his home in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 81. The gallantry and courage with which he faced an increasingly cruel ordeal during these years was nothing short of heroic. His many years of inner discipline gave him not only fortitude but serenity and a cheerful acceptance.

Most people, at first encounter, were drawn to Gerald Heard by an elusive but compelling attraction that he exerted, quite unconsciously, and by which even he was continually and genuinely puzzled. When asked after his passing what one word best described him, his personal physician instantly replied, "Magnetism. Even when he was old, speechless, and at the point of death, he still had that magic 'something' which drew one to him." The fullness of his scholarly and learned mind pouring out in scintillating talk, coupled with his personal charisma, made Heard a fascinating man. Sophisticated and fashionable when the occasion demanded, he could, at his ease, be boisterous and untidy. His comments on his favorite composers, which included Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, would be as razor-sharp and incisive as his discourse on metaphysics. But always he was gracious, humble, and sympathetic, with an almost saintly capacity for patience. When listening to the seemingly endless self-preoccupations of others who sought him out, he would say with heartfelt empathy about their plight, "If I don’t listen who will?"

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With Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, Summer 1962

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It is small wonder, then, that with his many gifts, his Irish charm, and his sweet and gentle nature, his friends and admirers were legion and varied: businessmen and actors, musicians and scientists, college professors and novelists, theologians and zoologists, art critics and astronomers, poets and psychiatrists. They included Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, Igor and Vera Stravinsky, Robert Craft, Steve Allen, Edwin Hubble, Swami Prabhavananda, Dave Brubeck, Nancy Wilson Ross, Mary Wigman, Malcolm Sargent, Fr. John Courtney Murray, E. M. Forster, Dr. Sidney Cohen, Morris Graves, Ethel Barrymore, Roger Fry, John Gielgud, W. Somerset Maugham, David Kahn, John Van Druten, Bill Wilson, Kenneth Clark, Rev. Edmund Opitz, Rev. Roy Burkhart, and John Betjeman.

This recital of well-known names may seem uncalled for, particularly in connection with Gerald Heard, who was himself so lacking in aspiration to fame. But one makes no apology. There seems to be no better, certainly no more apt way of illustrating the universal appeal of not only Heard the man, but also of his ideas. What he had to say made sense to a host of people tremendously varied in their temperaments, nationalities, education, cultural backgrounds, and life work.

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With Vera and Igor Stravinsky, Hollywood, 1961.

Gerald Heard was a pioneer and a catalyst. His groundbreaking early philosophical works interpreted history in the context of mankind's evolving consciousness. His innovative cosmological schema depicted mankind’s evolutionary purpose as fundamentally spiritual and teleologically oriented; it incorporated data from disciplines as seemingly diverse as anthropology, archeology, astronomy, biology, ethics, history, mysticism, mythology, paleontology, physics, physiology, psychology, religion, and sociology into a unified whole. His 1950 book, Is Another World Watching? — The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, among the first full-length works on UFOs, was completed in three weeks. In the early-to-mid 1950s, along with Aldous Huxley, he helped pioneer serious, clinical investigations into accelerating spiritual growth and promoting social sanity. His ideas on sexuality, viewed as a force that could be harnessed for spiritual evolution as outlined in 1939's Pain, Sex and Time, and his theories on homosexuality as an evolutionary, spiritual phenomenon, were maverick. Trabuco College was the first coeducational, spiritual community in America to incorporate ecumenical, non-sectarian religious principles and practices. Preferring anonymity to the limelight, Heard was a behind-the-scenes inspiration and catalyst who spurred many individuals to pivotal accomplishments in their particular field of endeavor. And, as Nigel Burwood of Any Amount of Books succinctly penned in 2006, "Heard is sometimes championed as the first hippie on earth. He was known to affect long hair and denim and espouse mystical ideas in the 1930's."

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With Nancy Wilson Ross, New York, 1962.

Because he was so far ahead of his time, Heard’s appeal was limited to those who were open-minded enough to recognize that he thought in terms of fundamental and timeless principles that have been and will continue to be applicable to all ages and in all societies. The threat that he recognized in the first half of the twentieth century — of a technology that would, in its development, outpace psychological growth — has materialized. Yet, still we have no idea who we are. We have no idea as to why we are in a human body. We have no idea of what our relationship to each other really is. Lastly, we still have no idea as to the nature of our universe or of the Life Force that permeates and holds it in itself.

Mankind's prevalent cosmology is and has been for several hundred years, since the time of Copernicus and later Newton, increasingly scientifically and technologically oriented, with infinite progress and growth as its goals. And this orientation has increased exponentially since the advent of electronics, printed circuitry, miniaturization, and artificial intelligence. Yet this cosmology, man’s frame of reference, is hopelessly out of date. His behavior has no sanction other than self-interest. He has a tiger by the tail.

So the arguments for living a life of the spirit are as pervasive today as they were when Heard first wrote them down in the 1940s. Indeed, they are more than pervasive. We are now in the mess he then foresaw. Is there a way out? "Turn within!" Heard would repeat today. There, in the mind, or rather what lies beyond the mind, is to be found That, "by knowing which all things are known," as it is said in the Upanishads. It is now our one hope of finding a spiritual-psychological unifying field theory, as it were, an integrating force-principle that can stop the headlong rush to complete communication breakdown and total societal disorganization. Strong words? Perhaps. In Heard’s day there were still a few options. But today... is there an alternative?


Notes

[6] Personal reminiscence by Marvin Barrett, 2002.