Elmer Green – Yogi + Scientist, part 1

Scott Virden Anderson Blog

During May I read through The Osawkie Book of the Dead – Alzheimer’s isn’t what you think it is by psychophysiology pioneer Elmer Green PhD. I was moved to do this for several reasons:  I feel I’ve been a student of Elmer’s since I first discovered biofeedback in college in the spring of 1968;  I was looking forward to attending – for the first time in nearly 15 years – the ISSSEEM Conference that he founded, hoping perhaps to connect with him there;  I’d seen references to the book in the ISSSEEM newsletter Bridges that made clear the book revealed a very different side of Elmer than the one I’d known to date; and I’m curiously drawn to enormous books that others have heard about but rarely have the time to actually read.

Osawkie is 873 large format, easy to read pages, broken into three volumes.  It consists of a minimally-edited but well-organized and indexed compilation of contemporaneous journal entries, dream diaries, reflections, and letters to his four children covering the whole of Elmer’s long and colorful career with his wife Alyce, including his caretaking of her long terminal illness beginning gradually in the late ‘80s until her passing on Aug 4th 1994 and much since.  The book is published by the LA based Philosophical Research Society founded by mystic and occultist Manly P. Hall in 1934.

Osawkie provides an in-depth and fascinating look “behind the scenes” of a pioneer of particular importance, in my view, to the Yoga Science.  In it, Elmer reveals himself for the first time as a Yogi of some considerable accomplishment.  Almost exactly 30 years my elder, Elmer’s innovative work in science took place as I was coming of age and it has always seemed to resonate over the years since, no doubt in large part, because of the inner Yogic mutuality that was hidden until now.

Along with what appears to have been a most positive, athletic, musical, and literate early life in Duluth Minnesota, Elmer seems to have enjoyed a natural inner awareness and was drawn to meditation as a teen.  He spent an entire year after high school graduation at home playing the piano trying to choose between a college career in music or one in physics.  He refers to science as his “first love” (the same phrase I’ve always used) and so physics “won out” and in 1936 he enrolled at the University of Minnesota.

There it appears he was even more drawn to Yogic philosophy and the works of Yogi Ramacharaka – one of the many pseudonyms of William Walker Atkinson, a fascinating character in the long history of Yoga, New Thought, and Spiritualist movements in America.  In his sophomore year Elmer’s attention for the “outer world” began to fade as he was drawn more deeply within.  It was then that he began a more formal training in Yoga under the direction of ex-Spiritualist minister and medium William J. Erwood.

Erwood channeled “The Teacher” whom Elmer reports “was the spiritual instructor of my life” and under whose guidance he trained in mindfullness meditation.  The Teacher seemed to know everything about Elmer, even details of his dreams, told him of his past lives, and sketched out for him the inspiring “plan” that the “Fellowship of Light” had for his life going forward.  It was then that Elmer’s native psychic abilities were “turned off” by the Fellowship so that he would be better able to pursue his scientific work.  This is 1939. (Seemingly dismayed, he was reassured that his awareness would return “when and if needed.”)

Soon thereafter, Elmer meets Alyce, ten years his senior and already with two children from a former marriage.  With considerable help from The Teacher, they marry and begin their long and colorful careers together.

The rest is a long story that I won’t try to recapitulate here.  Serious Yogi Scientists will want to read all the juicy details for themselves – how biofeedback had its roots in a study of mediumistic powers Elmer did with Dr. Erwood in 1940, how he began to experience dramatic “synchronicities” on a regular basis, his meetings (psychic and physical) with Swami Rama, his trips to India, and the long development of his “Yoga of the West.”  In addition, the book is full of insight and useful instruction.

Reviewing all this today, however, what stands out to me is how the “inner and the outer” lives of Elmer Green did not really merge in the sense that I mean by the term Yoga Science.  Elmer’s story is that of an individual who was clearly gifted both Yogicly and Scientifically and for whom inner and outer lives were deeply interwoven.  However, circumstances seemed to require that the inner life be kept hidden for the sake of an outer career.  Perhaps as a result, the two were kept compartmentalized in a way that the “merger” I’ve come to observe in my own life did not take place.  No doubt this was not part of the “plan” for his life.  Thus the heading on this entry – Yogi + Scientist – for clearly Elmer Green is both.

One final general point: another thing that stands out to me in Osawkie is the paucity of references to the actual teachings of the Tibetan Yogas.  Elmer makes numerous reference to the channeled teachings of “The Tibetan” in Alice Bailey’s work but seems to have minimal acquaintance with the vast wealth of Tibetan teaching and teachers that has been released upon the world in the Tibetan Diaspora beginning in 1958.

The only Tibetan Buddhist works he cites are the Evens-Wentz translations of the Tibetan Bood of the Dead and The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation — both works that preceeded the Diaspora — and several popular books by the Dalai Lama.  Thus, as one at least somewhat familiar with Tibetan Buddhism, the teachings that Elmer cites as being “Tibetan” are almost unrecognizable as such and seem to refer instead to the “mind science” version that, in my view, bears very little resemblance to actual Tibetan Buddha Dharma.  The key distinction perhaps being that there is zero talk in Buddhism of “the soul” and its “progress toward the Light.”  (For an authoritative discussion, take a look at Alex Berzin’s technical essay “A Deluded Outlook toward a Transitory Network” — here we find the word “soul” only in the phrase “impossible soul.”)

On the other hand, Osawkie contains many interesting points that do bear on the Yoga Science as I see it.  I’ll give an overview of these in part 2 of this review.