Visionary philosopher Jean Houston was 14 when she literally ran into the famous priest, scientist, poet, paleontologist and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin while jogging in Central Park with her dog Champ. Houston developed a strong friendship with the then-aged priest, whom she called Mr. Tayer, and took regular walks with him until his death in 1955.
“And what do you believe it’s all about, Mr. Tayer?” Houston finally found the courage to ask.
“I believe that the universe is an evolution.”
“And what do you believe about yourself, Mr. Tayer?” asked Houston.
“I believe that I am a pilgrim of the future. It is all a spiral of becoming, Jean,” said Mr. Tayer. “The people of your time toward the end of the century will be taking the tiller of the world. But they cannot go directly but must go in spirals, touching upon every people, every culture and every kind of consciousness. It is then that the noosphere, the field of mind, will awaken, and we will rebuild the Earth.”
Houston tells this story in her insightful book, “A Mythic Life.” She was an undergraduate at Barnard when she saw a copy of “The Phenomenon of Man.” That is when she discovered her beloved walking companion was not Mr. Tayer, but the world-famous Teilhard.
“The walks were magical and full of delight,” writes Houston in the foreword to Blanche Gallagher’s “Meditations with Teilhard de Chardin.” “Being with him was like being in attendance at God’s own party, a continuous celebration of life and its mysteries. Always he saw the interconnections between things, the way that everything in the universe — from fox terriers to tree bark to somebody’s red hat to the mind of God — was related to everything else and was very, very good.”
The inspired youth went on to found the human potential movement and become the “specialist in spirit” that Teilhard had called her to be.
Not long after his death, the world received the gift of Teilhard’s writings. During his lifetime, the Catholic Church forbade Teilhard from sharing his innovative ideas about evolution, but he wisely bequeathed his manuscripts to his secretary.
Teilhard’s thinking about evolution, cosmic spirituality and the human’s place in the universe in books including “The Phenomenon of Man” (1955), “Letters from a Traveller” (1956), “The Divine Milieu” (1957) and “The Future of Man” (1959) found an eager audience and received acclaim.
Teilhard believed evolutionary forces brought constant change to all living things and that everything evolved toward a greater complexity and spiritual unity: an Omega Point. The present chaos — war, pain and death — is “but the labor pains of new Earth and humanity coming into finished form,” said Teilhard. “The Universe is demanding the birth of the ‘ultra-human.’ We are being called to a far higher order, and yet we often act from a tiny portion of ourselves.”
Teilhard identified and articulated the universe’s evolutionary tug both individually and collectively. He coined the word noosphere to describe the thinking layer around the Earth that contains all of humanity’s collective ideas, interactions and energies — what some might call the soul of the Earth. He believed that the human condition could be improved through participation in the evolution of the noosphere, and that war and peace were concepts that existed “in the minds of men.”
Although imagining a noosphere might be challenging for us, today’s Internet and the United Nations are sophisticated infrastructures that reflect planetary concerns and a consciousness that use this global mind — in essence mini-noospheres. Roger Nelson and other researchers from the Global Consciousness Project are documenting data endeavoring to prove that human consciousness does indeed create a unified field that implies the existence of a noosphere.
In addition to serving as a Jesuit priest, Teilhard served as a stretcher bearer in the battles of the First World War and became a recognized paleontologist who ran afoul of church authorities for challenging the doctrine of original sin. In the 1920s he was forced to leave his beloved Europe for China. He continued to travel the world and unsuccessfully petitioned Catholic officials to allow his major works to be published.
His years in China were highly productive and not without pleasure as well as profound irony. As fate would have it, Teilhard was banished to the one place on Earth where Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was being confirmed: Beijing.
Teilhard played a crucial role in one of the most important discoveries of modern anthropology — the unearthing of the skeletal remains of the “Peking Man” at Zhoukoudian in 1929–30.
During this time in Beijing (formerly Peking), Teilhard cultivated his lifelong friendship with the American sculptor, Lucile Swan. Their close friendship grew into deep but platonic love as Teilhard remained committed to the priesthood. The mystic who wrote so poignantly about the fire of spiritual love also knew human love and the pain of heartache.
During his time in China, Teilhard began writing “The Human Phenomenon,” his epic explanation of the evolutionary theory of the cosmos. He was one of the first scientists to realize the universe and the human are inseparable.
“The human is not the static center of the world, as was thought for so long,” writes Teilhard, “but the axis and arrow of evolution — which is much more beautiful.” He discovered that humans do not have to look outside themselves for transcendence: Growth and change are internal, organic and universal. We are evolving all the time.
Awareness is the key that unlocks the evolutionary magic of life. Teilhard’s own steadfastness, compassion and integrity are powerful examples of human potential and the power of expanded awareness. His writings explain how to bring the energy of this expansiveness into our own lives.
One of the best places to discover Teilhard’s wisdom is his slim and highly accessible “On Happiness,” reflections and sermons from relatives’ wedding ceremonies. Joy and satisfaction are indeed attainable for all of us, according to the mystic and everyman. To be happy, he suggests “reacting against the tendency to follow the line of least resistance” and instead work to achieve “our own inner perfection” and “react against selfishness.”
Evolution reveals the template for self-transcendence, says Teilhard. “Exterior … shocks are indispensable to force individuals out of their natural laziness and set routines … to periodically break the collective frameworks that imprison them.”
“What would we do without our enemies?” he asks.
“Do the smallest thing in a great way,” he writes. “We must add one stitch, no matter how small it be, to the magnificent tapestry of life.”
Teilhard believed evolutionary forces brought constant change to all living things and that everything evolved toward a greater complexity and spiritual unity: AN OMEGA POINT.
Here are some of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas for adding our stitches to the tapestry of life.
Evolve. Life is the Path. Each cell, each thought, each action and reaction causes a chain of being that shapes, reshapes and resounds throughout the universe. This is evolution. We are evolving all the time.
We’ve been over focused on the outside—on the external manifestation of energy. But we have the power to shape the invisible realm, too. This is what Teilhard meant when he wrote: “See or perish: This is the human condition.” He doesn’t mean seeing what’s in front of us—“the outside”—but looking with “ever more perfect eyes” and seeing “the inside” and knowing that we can consciously move ourselves into the perceptual reality that we intend.
Align. Unite Action and Intention. “We are one, after all, you and I,” wrote Teilhard. “Together we suffer, together exist, and forever will re-create each other.”
My first impression of this kind of unity was the “kumbaya” form of joining together. I now see it as integral intention. When my heart and head, action and words, are all one, then I am aligned with invisible universal energy. When my work in the world matched my belief system, I could more easily access this energy.
See. See More Deeply and More Clearly. Look at the truth. Have courage. Teilhard was the ultimate truth teller. He came to the truth in a simple and powerful way. The Earth revealed its secrets to him because he had the patience and eyes to see.
This article was first published in the August 2015 issue of Science of Mind magazine.