Joseph Chilton Pearce was born January 14, 1926, in Pineville, Kentucky, and passed on August 23, 2016 in his lifelong home in Faber, Virginia. Joe, as he preferred to be called, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He graduated with a BA from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, received a Master of Arts degree from Indiana University, and did post-graduate studies at Geneva Theological College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Joe taught college humanities until the mid-1960s, and thereafter devoted himself to writing and lecturing. In the following decades, he wrote 12 seminal works on themes ranging from child development, mind-heart connection and spirituality. He presented the emerging and synthesized science of the heart, or compassionate mind, as a category of brain function equal in stature to the thalamus, prefrontal cortex and lower brain.
Pearce believed that active, imaginative play is the most important of all childhood activities because it cultivates mastery of one’s environment, which he terms “creative competence.” Children denied that form of play develop feelings of isolation and anxiety. He also believed that child-parent bonding is crucial, and sees modern clinical childbirth and lack of breastfeeding as obstructions to that bonding and attachment. By translating the emerging science of increasingly disconnected fields, Joe helped to create language and integrated discussions in academic and lay person circles that may never have been possible without his brilliant guidance. A self-avowed iconoclast who fearlessly spoke out against the myriad ways American culture fails children, Joe’s work sparked thousands of individuals and hundreds of nonprofit organizations to explore innovative ways to introduce and preserve Evolution’s Biological Imperatives into an increasingly disconnected and unsustainable culture.
Joe’s work inspired the founding of Families for Conscious Living, located in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Kindred, its alternative media and nonprofit initiative dedicated to Sharing the New Story of Childhood, Parenthood and the Human Family. Visit the Joseph Chilton Pearce Library to discover forty years of archived lectures, as well as overviews of Joe’s books.
“What we are teaches the child far more than what we say,
so we must be what we want our children to become.” – Joseph Chilton Pearce
It wasn’t until the nurse was pushing the wheel chair across the marbled floor of the expansive hospital lobby toward the wall of glass doors that I began to frantically realize – I should ask more questions, I should be more prepared, I should be more qualified – but I wasn’t.
“They are just going to let me leave with him?” I marveled, glancing over my shoulder at the nurse’s dutiful smile and marching gate toward the exit signs while holding tightly to my baby and my urge to yell, “Is this legal?”
Brushing the past 48 hours aside bumping through the heavy industrial door toward the new “family” Jeep, I thought of the mountain of books I’d collected and devoured, the meditation hours I’d racked up and the perfectly folded tiny clothes waiting at home. Why would anyone ever believe they could really prepare themselves for parenthood? Why does our culture believe women are just supposed to “know” how to be mothers?
“I don’t know how to do this,” I tried to hand the baby back to the nurse after giving up on positioning him in the newborn car seat. The exasperated nurse reached over and fiddled with the straps until my son was secure in his seat. I nodded to my husband that we were ready, thanked the nurse for her help and gingerly sat on one hip while Keith haltingly drove the wrong way down a one-way road passed a city police officer who did not bother to flash his squad car lights. “He must see this every day,” I thought.
Two days earlier, I stood at the ninth floor hospital window watching snowflakes disappear into the darkness below where, a few feet away, an Egyptian temple built by a medical college in 1844 stood nestled in a now sprawling campus whose 20th century growth enveloped a antebellum mansion and museum housing the battlefield tent of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Ancient stories still govern our worldviews, the columned temple whispered. Anticipating my son’s arrival, it would be years before I understood the birth ahead of me was also my own, and through a Mother (of a) Quest, I would uncover the stories governing my DNA’s expression in this world, not jut the brick and mortar constructs around me. I couldn’t see, or even imagine in December 1997 the archetypal fairy godfather waiting on the path ahead: the ever twinkling-eyed and unyielding spirit of Joseph Chilton Pearce, Joe’s Cosmic Egg shattering insights into human development would provide lifelong guidance between Dead Narrative and Living Context, Intellect vs. Intelligence, Cultural Imperatives vs. Biological Imperatives. As Joe taught, it is our reconnection to our hearts that would help us transcend the Bio-Cultural Conflict.
In twelve works synthesizing forty years of science as it emerged, Joe assembled a groundbreaking understanding of our whole human potential, the path to unfolding our own intelligence and the myriad ways Western culture hijacks our neurobiology and undermines this process, from modern childbirth to formula feeding to detached parenting to factory modeled education. He also outlined, in The Biology of Transcendence: The Blueprint of the Human Spirit, the truth of our wholeness and how to transcend our enculturated self-limiting worldviews. (Listen to Michael Mendizza on Understanding the Works of Joseph Chilton Pearce.)
Before I discovered Joe, I discovered a community of mothers dedicated to creating a natural parenting community to support to each other and families in their local area. Founded in Williamsburg, Virginia (the scene of another American revolution). Located two hours from Joe’s home near Charlottesville, Virginia, the group often invited Joe to speak in public lectures in the nineties. (Listen to the story of the founding of Families for Conscious Living, the parent nonprofit of Kindred.)
I’ve told this pivotal story countless times at workshops and conferences, of attending my first natural parenting meeting in 1998, sitting in a circle in a park with 30 mothers whose comfort with their bodies, children and breastfeeding shifted my being into a new awareness on the spot. This shift wasn’t a mental identity label I took upon myself, but a full body awareness, an opening in my own consciousness that allowed for ancestral, biological, bone-deep wisdom to flood my being with confidence to care for my son. It was difficult to understand what happened at the time, but I knew this experience was real and its effects lasting. The mindfulness and mediation groups I participated in for years did not mention a connection between my own state of consciousness and parenthood. In its nascent search for a holistic wellness paradigm, the “natural parenting” movement employed impulses from the shadow of an Old Story couched in competition, comparison and its dominator twins fear and shame. (Are you crunchy enough? Read Bringing Light To The Dark Side Of The Natural Parenting Movement.) Still, sitting in a circle of mothers who were committed to following their heart wisdom and connecting deeply with their children, I believe I entered a coherent field so powerful it catapulted me into a new level of consciousness needed for motherhood.
Like the hundreds of parents I would talk with over the coming years, I felt something was deeply wrong with the expectations or the “story” of parenthood and childhood in America. And like most parents I met, I would spend years trying to formulate questions that would help me investigate why bringing a child into the world felt like I entered a battle: my birth plan was ignored; judgmental looks for breastfeeding; eating organic = weirdo; alternative medicine is voodoo; don’t ask questions about vaccine safety; let that baby cry-it-out… It would take even longer to understand the context of our questions, the source of our frustration, was living in a culture that did not support wellness, and yet, many parents, myself included wondered if something was wrong with us. (See the New Story presentation to the right. Watch Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, explain that Americans “don’t know what support looks like” while the rest of the world enjoys six months to a year off to bond with their babies. Listen to Paul Ray, social scientist, share his research into why Kindred readers aren’t weirdos but Cultural Creatives.)
Nearly two years into motherhood I found Joe. And finally, like the many parents writing on his Facebook wall at the news of his death last month, I discovered sanity. The belief that I was caught in a battle was true, Joe wrote in his twelve seminal works including Magical Child and The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. My desire to nurture my son, myself, and our family unit, to make wellness choices, to bond in a deeply spiritual way that fostered the best of ourselves naturally unfolding, well that was a Biological Imperative, born of millions of years of Evolution, Joe revealed. But these instincts, the building blocks of human intelligence, were at odds with current industrial Cultural Imperatives that did not serve humanity’s “unfolding intelligence” or spiritual maturing, but its own glorified narratives of dominating the body, each other and all life on Earth.
Any adult bringing a child into the world faces the Bio-Cultural Conflict, Joe explained. For many of us, the revelation we could – with intentional effort – connect with our innate intelligence, access genuine heart wisdom, redress our own enculturation to disbelieve our instincts and meet our children’s needs to develop the crucial skills of imagination, and play, that was the moment our path became one of conscious parenting. Over the past few decades, grassroots organizations moving out into the world to transform public policy and cultural norms through education and activism became the Conscious Parenting Movement, and its roots lie deep within Joe’s fearless advocacy for the intelligence of the human heart and Evolution’s plan for our wholeness.
In both practical and prophetic words, Joe wrote in 1977 in Magical Child,
“Our children have been signaling us for years that things are critically wrong for them. In our anxiety-ridden concern to ‘equip them fully for life,’ we have been deaf and blind to their distress calls. And now our training techniques, our teaching systems, our behavior modifications and motivations are turning into chaos, both for our children and for ourselves. Perhaps at this critical point, for the survival of the species, we can do more than make another futile gesture toward patching up the holes in our exhausted system of ideas. Perhaps we can seize this cubic centimeter of change that history is giving us and move, not just to correct some of the more blatant and tragic errors we have made with children, not just to curb the battered-child syndrome, but actually to turn again to that 3-billion-year development lying within us, that uncanny wisdom of the body clearly programmed into the child as unbending intent. In learning to learn again, we can learn of this wisdom and allow our children (and ourselves) to become the free, whole individuals this good earth has prepared us to be.”
Picking up Joe’s books in the early years of motherhood alternatively filled me with excitement for what was possible for humanity as well as deep concern (putting it mildly) for most of us. Choosing a bag of carrots over a box of Twinkies may have been a goal of natural parenting, but this was something else. This Mother (of a) Quest required that I intentionally explore my own inherited biases, my own worldview, my own consciousness. Today, there are myriad authors pointing to this mindful, integral, conscious living path as it relates to replicating our consciousness in the children we bring into this world – over 200 of them here on Kindred alone. (Watch the Adverse Childhood Events video and take the ACE test to discover your own transgenerational trauma inheritance.)
In June of this year, a few weeks before Joe passed, I sat with two of his grandchildren by the hospital bed centered in the glass-walled living room of the mountain home Joe built as a young man. As his grandson encouraged, I held Joe’s small, frail hand while he slept through the regular morphine doses easing his pain. At 90 years-old, his body appeared feather light propped between lovingly plumped pillows.
Both in their twenties, his grandchildren shared with me in hushed tones their earliest memories of their grandfather. Blaine, who gazed at me with Joe’s own sparkling blue eyes, shared his discovery of his grandfather’s celebrity and the later disbelief that such a thing could be true of “just” grandpa. Katheryn, a Waldorf teacher assistant from New York, remembered finding a collection of Joe’s books in her school and marveling over their existence. “I asked him, how did you write all of these?” she said. “And he quipped, ‘Anybody can write a book!’”
After a few hours, Joe stirred, asked for coffee and leaned forward. “I know you,” he said. “It’s Lisa,” Blaine offered. “Yes, of course!” And there he was again, the twinkling-eyed, quick-witted and light-hearted archetypal fairy godfather who, I felt, gave me permission to follow my heart wisdom.
In our last talk together, Joe shared his regret that he didn’t have time to study and present more about Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education and Biodynamic agriculture. “I don’t know why I couldn’t look more deeply into his work. Just my own stubborness, I guess,” he scoffed at himself while we chuckled at his well-known self-mocking rant.
A few weeks after my last visit with Joe, my husband and I moved our son from his childhood home to his freshman college row house, blocks from the hospital room where he entered the world he would now explore on his own. I waited for the moment I knew would come, the one Joe warned all parents about: “You’ve done your work when your child walks away and doesn’t look back.” Grabbing onto each other as the 18-year time warp whipped passed us, we waited until our only child’s new man-bun-do bobbed out of sight before abandoning our composure and checking for one-way street signs before driving away.
On August 23, Joe passed. His family buried him in the mountainside woods surrounding his lifelong home. He leaves behind a stunning legacy of growing activism worldwide. This ongoing work calls to many people. As Joe wrote in The Crack in the Cosmic Egg:
“Culture’s egg reseals its shell with seamless ease at each apparent breakthrough, while the new life longed for in each new crack is incorporated back into the closed norm from which it arose, and no one is the wiser. The crack, however, remains what it has always been, a ‘fragile lonely way of non-statistical balance in a rough statistical world.’ And this book remains as it was at its inception, written for that lone individual willing to take the leap and break with that world.”
A movement is not one organization, nor is it even a group of organizations. The nascent consciousness raising movement, the New Story of Childhood, Parenthood and the Human Family, unfolding during our lifetime is the result of individuals committed to bringing forward our deepest innate intelligence in compassionate collaboration. The “problem” is well defined and recognized in many fields of science – disconnected humans create disconnected culture that sees nothing wrong with devouring its own life force, the Earth. There are multiple holistic and sustainable programs and plans for action hailing supporting shifting Industrial Cultural Norms to Holistic Wisdom Models, from birth, pregnancy, breastfeeding, conscious parenting, informed choice, whole foods, sustainable living to planetary wellness. There are also plenty of workers who would like to leave their corporate jobs and to work with passion and for pay in the nonprofit world. What is needed now in our economy-based culture, is funding. I sit at my home office desk these days – still carried forward by the shift I experienced in a circle of mothers following their heart wisdom – and talk with activists, professionals and parents around the world who delight in coming together to share our limited resources and “play” together at recreating our culture, our shared world. (See resource lists below for how you can find your place in the sand box, and please support our work with your tax-deductible donations.)
“True playing is the ability to play with one’s reality. Thus imagination gives resiliency, flexibility, endurance, and the capacity to forego immediate reward on behalf of long-term strategies,” writes Joe in Evolution’s End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence.
Thank you, Joe, for all that you inspired in me and others who seek the light in the cracks of our personal and planetary narratives. And thank you for your bright light, that still guides thousands toward the human birthright of a more magical world.
If you are interested in participating in one of many nonprofit initiatives inspired by Joe’s work, please take a look below at the possibilities that exist today. For a full list of resources, go here. For conscious parenting news headlines you can follow FCL on Facebook, or Conscious Parenting News on Twitter or visit the Conscious Parenting Newspaper.
Read Joe on Kindred
The Joseph Chiton Pearce Library – A lovingly archival collection of forty years of Joe’s lectures and teachings can be found here at Touch the Future’s Academy.
Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health – Educating the public and professionals worldwide on the consciousness of babies for over 30 years. A pioneering partner of FCL/Kindred whose 35 years of frontier exploration will be presenting in a new parent education course in 2017. Read, listen and watch Kindred’s interviews and birth psychology features created with APPPAH leadership here.
Attachment Parenting International – Find or create your local community with API’s resources! Read Mindful Parenting: The Spiritual Essence of Attachment by API’s founders here, and take a virtual retreat with them at Parenting As A Hero’s Journey.
Book Fairy Pantry Project – A grassroots literacy and bonding initiative dedicated to the memory of Joe.
Organizations Supporting Conscious Parenting
Birth and Pregnancy
Food and Farming
Global Issues and Conscious Living
Health and Wellbeing
Vaccination Safety and Informed Choices
Grātiās Tibi Agō
Also, a special thank you to Patrick Saylor, media officer at the White House and Museum of the Confederacy who helped me to accurately remember my son’s fourth grade trip to the museum and shared with me a great discussion about conscious parenting in America. The museum is intensely aware of the narratives that inform our reality. You can see the Egyptian Building and museum on its upcoming Civil War to Civil Rights tour of the downtown Richmond area, one of the most intensely historical blocks I’ve encountered. And my son was born there!
Featured Photo Shutterstock/Molodec