By Gilah Yelin Hirsch
I was thrilled and terrified when I arrived at my first Council Grove conference in 1982. I had been invited by the convenors of that year’s conference, Ed and Melinda Wortz, to show the evolution of my paintings as they reflected my psychological philosophy. I was prompted to venture further and present my budding idea of “reading the landscape” – seeing shapes in nature that I recognized as letterforms and that these essentially five forms were chosen universally because they mirror neurons and neural processes involved in the oscillating process of perception and cognition. I feared that I would be perceived as quaint, an artist launching out on a branch of inquiry on the relation between form in nature, alphabet and what years later came to be known as the medical field of psychoneurophysiology. I knew that I was to be included in a week of talks and conversations among world-renowned explorers of consciousness in various disciplines. Elmer Green, one of the original conveners of the Conference in 1969, was mentioned as the sage of self-regulation, the use of the brain and mind to work with the body. I had never heard of Elmer Green or his co-scientist wife, Alyce, nor had I been aware of topics as yet abstruse to me as the exploration of consciousness, brain waves, and biofeedback. I was unaware of the Menninger Foundation and the world of mind-body healing that radiated around Elmer.
I had been told that Council Grove was a private conference that took place in the hinterlands of Kansas for about 100 invited guests. No journalists were allowed, no recordings of sessions were permitted: this was a secure venue where cutting-edge ideas and practices could be revealed, demonstrated, and discussed. One could find nothing about Council Grove in the “literature”. The participants traveling from other states and countries were to be picked up by charter busses at the Kansas City Airport at 2:30 PM on the Monday following Easter Sunday and returned there on Friday around 5 PM. As a first-time presenter, I was told my flights had been booked to coincide with the arranged schedule.
First-timers at a Council Grove conference shared a privileged memory of something extraordinary, a week of profound and adventurous explorations. That first-time quality could be equated to life milestones like the first kiss, or that indelible moment in my first physics class when the professor calmly claimed that there was no doubt that life existed elsewhere in the cosmos. Certainly, there was no return to prior innocence.
Despite, and perhaps because of the extreme rusticity of the accommodations (four kid-sized bunkbeds with one toilet and one shower in each of the two halves of summer camp cabins) prestigious people were suspended in an unusual atmosphere for five days. The group gathered for presentations from early morning to late at night in the central stone cabin where chairs circled the edges of the room and pillows filled the rough, carpeted center of the floor for those agile enough to use them. Communication emerged from a profoundly deep level of knowing and learning, sliding in and out of a rare world of seemingly aqueous spirituality, directed at clarity of intent and action.
The high point of my first year’s conference was hearing Elmer present his anthropomorphic chart of the seven levels of consciousness. This I was told, was an annual event, scheduled for the Tuesday morning gatherings. Technology was in its early incarnation: scientists were using overhead projectors with mylar images and I would be using two slide projectors. I felt that in my presentation faint images on the screen would lag behind the luminous power of Elmer’s innovative discussion of the entrance and presence of soul in the body and the travels of soul after death.
For a first-timer, this conference gave a vision beyond the known, far exceeding the normal daily elements of the physical world, surrounded by conversation that lifted the mind to unusual heights and uncommon breadth. Those who were already Council Grovers were familiar with the finer light cast by guided visualization practices. I was swimming in some kind of ether, far above my pillow on the floor. After this kind of exalted information, I worried about how my earth-based presentation would land on Wednesday.
With great trepidation, I narrated over two hundred slides sequentially documenting my discovery process of what I began to call Cosmography: The Writing of the Universe. This conjecture had developed during my long solitary sojourns in wilderness in various parts of the world. Much to my astonishment, the 100 assembled scientists rose to applaud my presentation and called it a theory rather than a conjecture. I had opened yet another vision of consciousness and I was accepted into this group of explorers.
The five days of being led through myriad experiments and techniques that explored states of consciousness flew by as in a dream. Sleeping was out of the question since having the energizing chance to learn from every person was paramount. Each participant was notable in having expanded the known world in different disciplines that were changing thought and action forever. I was floating in a new ambience. There was no longer a difference between physical reality and spirituality – “everything is connected” – as I had suspected throughout my life. I was now a member of a unique tribe of thinkers. I felt understood deeply as never before.
After my presentation I wondered what Elmer really thought of my theory on the origin of alphabet as based in forms in nature reflecting the neurons and neural structure of the reciprocal process of perception and cognition. Happily, I knew I had passed muster when Elmer began to refer to my continuing work year after year as “the copper hair project,” an affectionate acknowledgment relating it to his own seminal, multi-year “copper wall project” that dealt with subtle energies and healing in a room with a shielding copper wall. I have copper colored hair.
Elmer died in 2017 when he was almost 100 years old and he had not been active in the Conference for several years. Council Grove provided the fertile ground for many significant initiatives, including the creation in 1989 of The International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM). Attendees at the Spring-time gatherings in Kansas continued to explore how individuals and groups could expand the potential of humankind using the gifts of conscious action that Elmer and Alyce and the participants of the Council Grove Conferences had bequeathed us.
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Here is a description of the “copper hair project” –
Hirsch isolated five patterns in nature and found them to be intrinsic to all alphabets ancient to modern. She conjectured that these forms were recognized universally because they mirror the shapes and neural processes engaged in perception and cognition. After her premise was acknowledged in scientific conferences and journals, she released “COSMOGRAPHY: The Writing of the Universe” that follows the discovery process of her theory.
A DVD was created in 1995.
By 2000, educators of various disciplines suggested that she make a film for “kids of all ages” concerning the nugget of the hypothesis.
“Reading the Landscape” combines science and art as five forms magically fly through fifteen countries and languages following global evolutionary migratory patterns. Immersions in cultural diversity demonstrate unique beauty and richness while affirming that we, as humankind, are fundamentally more alike than we are different.
From Celia, WINN Editor – I highly recommend that you read another part of Gilah’s story – “Green Tara and the Dalai Lama’s Biographer”. It can be found in Dan Benor’s Journal of Healing and Caring –
Gilah remains very active as an interdisciplinary artist/writer/filmmaker/theorist with a retrospective (Archaeology of Metaphor) that will be held from October 1 to November 1, 2022 in the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, (OCCCA), Santa Ana, Los Angeles, California. The prestigious publisher SKIRA will publish a book associated with this exhibition including 60 full plates and 200 pages of discussion.
The image that leads this post is of Aleph and Taf, the same shape for the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet and is like the cyclical form of DNA.