George Leonard was 86 years old when he passed away on Jan. 6, 2010 after a long illness at his home in Mill Valley, CA.
Although Leonard didn’t live as long as some of the other masters of longevity featured in this series on longevity, he still lived a long, vital and rich life, for George Leonard was a cultural icon who left a lasting mark on the world.
He was also an icon of a Low Density Lifestyle world.
I can’t say I knew him, although he did endorse my book, Quantum-Integral Medicine: Towards a New Science of Healing and Human Potential. I had been a long-time admirer of his work, so I sent him my book in galley form, and he was kind enough to write a ringing endorsement. After that, we had some email contact, and I spoke to him once on the phone when I was in L.A. while I was on a book tour.
But for the most part, my admiration of George Leonard was from a distance.
He was a writer, editor, and educator who wrote extensively about education and human potential. He was President Emeritus (and one of the founders) of the Esalen Institute, past-president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, President of ITP International, and a former editor of Look Magazine.
He also was an aikido sensei, held a fifth degree black belt in aikido, and co-founded the Aikido of Tamalpais dojo in Corte Madera, California.
His specialty was human potential, and in that vein he authored many books on the subject, including The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei, Education and Ecstasy, The Transformation, The Silent Pulse, The End of Sex, Walking on the Edge of the World, Mastery, and The Life We Are Given.
Anybody who has an interest in personal growth, be it the development of physical health, emotional well-being or spiritual development, has George Leonard to thank for helping to bring the human potential movement to the forefront of consciousness.
In fact, George Leonard is considered, along with his good friend Michael Murphy, as one of the founders of the human potential movement.
Born and raised in the deep south, after graduating college and then serving in the Air Force as an intelligence officer, Leonard got a job as an editor at Look magazine in 1953. He became the first to predict the tumult and idealism of the ’60s when he wrote a January 1961 cover article called “Youth of the Sixties: The Explosive Generation.” A year later he predicted, accurately, that the youth movements would first manifest themselves in California.
At the same time, he found himself wanting to become a part of the changes he had foretold. Shedding the conventions of objectivity in his reporting, he became a voice for an emerging new consciousness.
In 1965 Leonard met Michael Murphy, a co-founder of Esalen, in San Francisco, where Esalen was opening a learning center. Soon Leonard was visiting Esalen’s main campus, a seaside complex in the redwood-studded area of central California known as Big Sur.
“Explosion, catharsis, adventure” were the words Mr. Leonard used to describe his first impressions in an interview with U.S. News & World Report in 1992.
He went on to become the president of the institute’s trustees for many years and was an important figure in expanding its concerns to include issues of social justice.
Because Leonard was raised in the deep south in the 1920’s and 1930’s, he had seen firsthand the horrors of racism, and wanted to make sure that the fledgling human potential movement that he was spearheading also had a place for social awareness and justice.
Because he brought a certain degree of intellectual rigor and gravitas to his work, Leonard made sure that this burgeoning movement had focus, purpose and a deeper meaning to it.
Jeffrey J. Kripal, a biographer of Leonard and a historian of the human potential movement, said that the human potential movement that was significantly shaped by Esalen was more intellectually grounded than the hippie culture of a few years later. Dr. Kripal called Esalen “a high-end movement that helped generate the counterculture.”
We can thank George Leonard for this: he had a depth and breadth of mind that allowed him to help shape the human potential movement in a forceful way, and with it bring a new renaissance that spurred a blossoming of culture.
And with this, it helped plant the seeds for the development of a new consciousness, one that we see coming to fruition in this day and age.
Being a visionary and a pioneer, George Leonard was also at the forefront of this new consciousness and awareness. In recent times, he and Michael Murphy started a program called Integral Transformative Practice, which on their website, www.itp-life.com, they define as:
Integral Transformative Practice (ITP) calls us to a high adventure:
Through the positive transformation of ourselves,
our relationships, our society.
It is integral in that it integrates body, mind, heart, and soul.
It is transformative in that it produces positive change.
It is a practice that involves a long-term, well researched program.
So goodbye George Leonard, you were indeed a master of longevity. It is people like you, visionaries who are far-reaching in the lasting effect they have on others – and may I add, people who live a Low Density Lifestyle – that have made this world an incredibly beautiful place to live.
It is time for each one of us to step up and fill his shoes.