Myth and Meaning: Musing of a Noetic Scientist. Interview with Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D., President/CEO, Institute of Noetic Sciences

Interview by Willi Paul.

Co-Presented by Magazine &



“Religious and spiritual leaders, sociologists, psychologists, educators, and neuroscientists are all interested in how compassion, altruism, and other pro-social emotions and behaviors can be cultivated. Indeed, learning more about how other-regarding virtues can be fostered is a goal with personal, societal, and perhaps global implications.

  • What factors are involved in the cultivation of compassion and altruism?
  • What experiences and practices support the development of compassion and altruism that extends beyond
    one’s immediate kinship circle?
  • What contexts support experiences of compassion and empathy and facilitate the translation of those emotions into altruistic behavior?
  • How can dispositional tendencies toward compassion and altruistic behavior be fostered?

Religious, spiritual, and transformative practice traditions have developed specific methods that are directed toward cultivation of these virtues, and we may have something to learn from their approaches about how compassion and altruism are developed.”


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Interview with Marilyn by Willi –

Is not mythology at the “interface of consciousness, science, and healing?”

Mythology is a term used for a worldview that has been placed in the realm of the imaginal. Myths are largely unconscious beliefs that remain unquestioned in the culture at large at a given moment in history. For the ancient Greeks, for instance, it would have made no sense to them to ask the question, “Do the gods live on the mountain?” It never would have occurred to them to ask. It was truth then, but story now.

On the other hand, I take your question to suggest a conscious approach to myth…a more engaged ontology that we can choose to help guide our individual and collective practices. In this sense, a myth is something we may intend to live into. By recognizing the importance of worldviews and guiding stories, we may be able to offer a new way of understanding ourselves and the world in which we live. Used this way, mythology lies at the interface of consciousness, science and healing as new models of reality are emerging on a daily basis.

Have you written new myths?

As a scientist, I don’t think about my work as mythmaking. Rather, it is about revealing new truths. However, as an anthropologist, I am aware that the scientific discourse operates within a set of assumptions and beliefs that guide what is considered possible. In this way, the prevailing paradigm of science, grounded in a particular model of objectivity and materialism, shapes the questions that are commonly asked in science. Only things that can be measured and manipulated are acceptable data. New data or theories are often rejected because they don’t fit the dominant model of truth.

This aspect of science and consciousness fascinates me. As someone who tracks the shifts in paradigms and who writes about the emergence of new worldviews, perhaps I can be counted among the mythmakers. It’s a compelling idea. There are new stories that are emerging and we are all co-creating the forms they take. To author these new narratives with conscious awareness and mindfulness seems hopeful.

Please put your home town, Detroit, on the white board. How can INS help the people and land there?

I was born and raised in Detroit, MI during a time when this nation was at war with itself. It was a race war, a class war, and ultimately what I came to see as a paradigm war. It was tough. It was also remarkably formative—as I wrestled with both the tragedy and the hope that Detroit symbolized. Today it is a sad place. But it is also a place of potential. But this potential can only come about as we understand the power of story, imagination, and possibility. Out of a compelling vision can come a dynamic reality.

Today energy efficient cars are an important step for reindustrializing Detroit and America—reducing our dependency on foreign oil and moving toward greater sustainability. Creating farmlands in what has become an urban wasteland is a stroke of pure genius. May it succeed and inspire other urban centers that have lost their heart and soul. While I live far away from Motown today, I remain a big fan of Detroit!

You say that “We are alive at a time between stories.” Others would say that we are dying without new myths? What is the unified approach to the light and the dark times now?

We are alive at a time of competing truth claims. Science, religion, technology. We need to develop inner capacities to help us navigate the complexities and confusions of many conflicting views of reality. Having a sense of purpose and direction can lead to actions that will change our behaviors for the good. If we bring mindfulness and awareness to our behaviors and our attitudes, we can help shift the focus our global cultures place on aggression and violence—pathfinding a better future for all.

Is Twitter more like a cage or a run way? What success have you found in this “community?”

Twitter is my university. I have learned so much and been informed by so many people. Perfect strangers have given me new insights, information, and encouragement. I must confess, I am a natural born tweeter !

Is sustainability like a new religion?

Sustainability is a great cultural movement that works to enhance the well being of the planet. But anything can become dogmatic and narrow minded. I think of the great study done on values and climate change. People often cannot see another point of view, even in the face of solid data. Trying to stay in a frame of open-mindedness is healthy…and sustainable.

What is your opinion of the Awakening the Dreamer program?

I have traveled numerous times to the rainforest in Ecuador with the Pachamana Alliance. I worked with the Achuar Indians to study their dream sharing practices. It is fascinating how they have created a way of honoring the subjective experience of dreaming and then share the interpretation with the group in order to take action. I have written about this and people can find references on the web under “Amazon Dreaming.”

Awakening the Dreamer is an important program that allows people in the north to participate in dream sharing and in the co-creation of a more appropriate relationship with the world and its peoples. I think the folks in the Awakening the Dreamer program have a very important message and a very effective community network to help change the dream to one of greater sustainability.

How does INS see the historical impact and future role of Christianity in the USA?

Christianity is one of many religions. More than any one religion, what is called for today is religious pluralism. We need to cultivate a deep appreciation of our differences—just like a health ecosystem thrives on diversity. I think what is called for is a capacity to hold multiple perspectives with respect while having clarity about what is right and true for each of us.

What are the key graphic symbols and memes in the INS tool kit? Are these from Campbell?

I would say the symbol that most influences IONS is the image of planet earth. Our founding story is that of Edgar Mitchell, who had an epiphany on his return from the moon on Apollo 14. It was his insight that the great frontier for the future of humanity is not outer space, but a deep and focused understanding of inner space. For nearly 40 years, IONS has been following this mission. We continue as a research, education, and membership organization committed to exploring the powers and potentials of consciousness to support individual and collective transformations.

In my work with permaculture and the sacred in the age of sustainability, there seems to be a shift in the foundation and principles of mythology,… a shift away from male dominated victories, heroes and stories to the female. Your thoughts?

Anything that brings our awareness to systems thinking and the interconnectedness of life is good for our collective evolution. And if it involves getting our hands dirty, so much the better. I am an avid gardener. I love to study the rhythms of nature and to understand myself in relationship to them.

Does INS view profit as a viable consciousness shifter, a change agent?

Money is energy. How we hold it is important. How we use our money and our resources is a direct reflection on what we value and care about. When people give their financial support to IONS, or any of the other amazing organizations that are working for the greater good, we are empowered to make a difference. The generosity of our donors has allowed IONS to conduct leading-edge scientific research on consciousness, to create amazing educational programs such as our worldview literacy project with kids, and to help coordinate a global learning community through our many programs, both local and virtual.

What is sacred to you?

What is sacred to me is that feeling of connection to that which offers meaning, creativity, and purpose. It is manifest through my relationships with my family and friends. And my work continues to connect me to people with great heart and soul. I feel right action when I am doing creative work that informs the common good. Thanks for asking.

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Marilyn Mandala Schlitz, Ph.D. Bio –

Marilyn Mandala Schlitz, Ph.D. is a clinical research scientist, medical anthropologist, writer, speaker, and thought leader who has pioneered clinical and field-based research in the area of human transformation, consciousness studies, worldview literacy and cultural healing for more than three decades. She is the President and CEO for the Institute of Noetic Sciences and Senior Scientist at the Research Institute, California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, CA.

Dr. Schlitz has published hundreds of articles on consciousness studies in both scholarly and popular journals. She is a visionary leader and an engaging speaker with a rare ability to translate complex ideas into a common sense language that excites the imaginations of her audiences worldwide. Her books include: Consciousness and Healing, Integral approaches to Mind-Body Medicine and Living Deeply: the Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life.

Connections –

Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D., President/CEO

Institute of Noetic Sciences
Institute of Noetic Sciences
c/o rose at
@ MarilynSchlitz

Please join us at openmythsource – reservoir for new myths and musings.


About [ open myth source ]

The [open myth source] project gathers conversations, symbols, songs, visual art and stories. Building a house for Myth in the Sustainability Age.
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