Gerald Heard Recollections, 1952-1956

By Rhea A. White

By far the person that has influenced me most is the former BBC science commentator and practicing mystic, lecturer, and spiritual advisor, Gerald Heard. I write about him in the present tense even though he died in 1971. The day of his death was something I frequently thought of and dreaded even when I no longer was in contact with him. I would search the brief listings of deaths of notable persons in Time, always relieved when his name was not there. I still quote him even though I knew him and read his many books and articles mainly in the mid-1950s. It was not only his ideas that influenced me but his very being, which was distinctly numinous and unlike anything I had previously experienced or have since.

For a period of about two years in the early 1950s, I attended two or three of Heard's weekend retreats at Wainwright House, went to some of his lectures, visited him in Los Angeles, and corresponded with him. I found that after I had heard him speak or received a letter from him, my energy level was higher, my spiritual resolve was more deeply centered, my intellectual capacity was heightened, and my willpower was greatly strengthened. This would last for several weeks. Then I would need to contact him again. I got off on what he said, undoubtedly. I also got high on what he wrote. But there was something about his very being that had an even more profound effect. It certainly wasn't rational, and I question whether it was physical, in the usual sense of the word. I want to write out my current recollections of Gerald Heard, and explain why, for me, it was an exceptional human-being encounter, an experience with a holy person.

In Gerald Heard I experienced what I would call the aura of sanctity. I would say one of Heard’s major teachings was that “cognition is a function of being.” (I have long felt that parapsychology is the science that could demonstrate that in a way that ruled out all counterhypotheses except the aura of sanctity. I am not so sure now. It may be that psi and even more so, the divine, needs concrete people, animals, places, and objects to enter the consciousness of another. It may be a result of the marriage of physical and nonphysical, so the physical cannot be ruled out because it is an integral part of the process.)

In any case, Gerald’s major hypothesis was that evolution still continues, chiefly through the development of human consciousness rather than physical changes, though these also are occurring. He taught (and practiced) that meditation and contemplation were the keys to developing and expanding consciousness within and without, and above all, fostering contact with the holy. This is how one proceeds on the spiritual path, in the stillness and vastness of the divine in our nature and in nature itself, extended to include all universes, communing with God within and without. Heard was at home with naturalistic terminology, and I think he would feel supported by what William James (1902, p. 498) characterized as the MORE (his emphasis), which connects our “higher germinal part” with the vast Mystery beyond.

To be in Gerald’s presence was to sense the presence of God―the “aura of sanctity”―and at times to feel enveloped in that Presence. My sense was not so much that it was in Gerald as that Gerald was in direct touch with it (or as William James, 1902, p.499 put it, in words I understand now much better than I ever have before because today I am seeing it in the context of Gerald Heard, “conterminous and continuous” with the divine).

When Gerald spoke there was something in the tone of his voice that served as a carrying wave connecting listeners to the divine reality with which he himself was palpably in contact. Each time I heard him speak, whether it was a formal lecture to hundreds or an informal talk to maybe 50 people, he did not use a prepared address or even notes. I think now it might have been a form of inspired speaking. It reminds me of what I call my “glossolalia dream,” in which a man with the head of a hawklike bird was standing on a stage. At an appointed time, he opened his mouth (beak) and this glorious and beautiful warble or chortle came out. Although the effortless sound came from him I could also feel it issuing from me, the dreamer. It was flawlessly effortlessly beautiful, echoing throughout the room as if a chorus was singing with him.

Gerald’s voice when speaking publicly would take on a timbre different from his ordinary voice, though even in conversation speech flowed from him seemingly effortlessly. His public speaking voice was like a strong smooth woodwind. One could not help attending to it with every iota of one’s being one could muster, or so it was with me. I felt I was listening/attending to him from the tip-top highest, farthest edge of myself, inwardly and outwardly. And as I progressed with my own regular meditation, my listening capacity became even more open and single-pointed. He spoke not only from what was in his mind but from what was in his heart and soul, or the place where he was undoubtedly connected to the MORE. His words opened up the minds and hearts of his listeners and recharged them in body, mind, and soul. At least, so it was with me. Eugene Exman, Gerald’s editor at Harper, used to tell me many stories about Gerald’s benign influence on people. I certainly was not the only one. For example, simply after attending a lecture by him, people had been known to stop ingrained habits such as smoking, not because he said they should or had even mentioned smoking at all, but be cause being in his presence generated the impulse to change―to become better and more than one ever had been before.

I do not know of any other person I have ever met or read whose words still echo in my mind so clearly as those spoken to me personally or in a public presentation or in writing than those of Gerald Heard, even now after the passage of 50 years or more. Sometimes I wonder if this was not made possible because Gerald was not speaking from his ego-self but from that timeless, spaceless self we all are, and whose home is at the heart of the divine.

Another of his major teachings was that eternity is not approaching us over the years but is here, now, always. When he said it, even when he only wrote it, you knew it was true. I know that I, at least, could feel it as another dimension intersecting every moment with the Eternal Now. This was Reality, and what we usually experience in our daily lives is its pale shadow — sometimes, even a chimera.

I have since been inspired and thrilled by the words of many. Of special note are those of C. G. Jung, T. S. Eliot, and William James. Using the metaphor of a tree, when I was transforming from a sapling into a young tree, my sense of Heard’s being and the supreme rightness of what he taught was a large part of the trunk’s firm foundation. Jung, Eliot, and James, as well as countless others, helped me to move into and through the modern Zeitgeist, personally and professionally, to the postmodern side. When I came out, feeling born anew, Gerald’s teachings have again become of supreme importance to me, leading me along what now appears to be a “pathless path.” I know he has been there before me, and much more deeply and intensely.

A little less than 50 years ago he wrote to me the words that I need now: “Beware when the turn comes.” I hear you, Gerald, and will mind your words, which have rung in me countless times over the years. I am thankful I have finally reached the point where I dare not fail to heed them! I marvel when I think that he gave them to me all those many years ago. Reality is timeless indeed!

Reference: James, W. (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Modern Library.

This is a chapter from Rhea A. White's as-yet unpublished EHE autobiography manuscript. In an EHE autobiography, one tells the story of one’s life in terms of the exceptional experiences one has had. The idea is that the experience, no matter how remarkable, was but the beginning. Not only does one record each experience in as much detail as possible, but he or she follows it with a commentary in which one tries to realize its full meaning by augmenting it with associations, other recollections, dreams, fragments of literature and folklore, film, art, poetry, and anything else that will help to draw out its meaning, thus leading to increased connectedness in one’s attitude toward self, other humans, other life forms, ways of life, and worldview.

Rhea A. White (1931-2007) was Editor-in-Chief of the “Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research” and “Exceptional Human Experience.” She wrote Parapsychology: New Sources of Information (Scarecrow Press, 1992) and was coauthor with Michael Murphy of In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports (Penguin/Arkana, 1995). Ms. White was Founder/Director of The Exceptional Human Experience Network and Past President of the Parapsychological Association (1984).

"After I had heard him speak or received a letter from him, my energy level was higher, my spiritual resolve was more deeply centered, my intellectual capacity was heightened, and my willpower was greatly strengthened."