Chris Griscom conceived of the Nizhoni School for Global Consciousness after giving birth to her sixth child, Bapu, in the Atlantic Ocean while living on an island in the Bahamas.
"My own inner self said, 'You're going to do a school,' " Griscom recalls. She balked at first, but the inner voice was persistent. Seven years later, Griscom is a well-known New Age teacher whose students include Shirley MacLaine.
A Los Angeles-area native, Griscom was a Peace Corps volunteer for nine years in the 1960s, working in El Salvador, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Her experience in impoverished Latin American countries, where villagers accepted death, convinced her that Western culture valued physical well-being over spiritual development.
"That led me into the realm of consciousness," she says.
She evolved a belief system that melded concepts from Eastern religious traditions, such as karma and reincarnation, with Western psychology.
Griscom believes each person has an "emotional body," a pattern of consciousness that preserves fearful experiences from past lives. She teaches that the emotional body can be healed by resolving conflicts from earlier existences through guided meditation, leading to the recognition that all people are part of a universal Higher Self.
In 1970, Griscom and her then-husband, attorney Richard Griscom, settled in the village of Galisteo, 22 miles south of Santa Fe, N.M. While raising their children, she started a bilingual summer school program.
In the early 1980s, Griscom founded the Light Institute, dedicated to helping others on the path of self-discovery by teaching them to release fear.
With her long platinum hair, model-perfect features and authoritative teaching manner, the charismatic Griscom has attracted a number of celebrity students, including MacLaine--who describes the Light Institute as one of her spiritual homes--and former Cleveland mayor Dennis Kucinich.
Griscom has also published books (including one on her ocean birthing experience) and taken to the lecture circuit, drawing sizable crowds in Europe, where her writings have been especially well-received.
Griscom hopes that the unconventional approach she has pioneered will one day be adopted by mainstream educators.
"Public education needs to view young people in a different way," she says. "There should be more psychology taught in the schools--more access to the self."