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First Lady’s Talk ‘Nothing Psychic’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was not like a seance, or a hypnotic trance. The room was not dark, neither were the lights dimmed.

“There was nothing spiritual, nothing psychic about it,” Jean Houston said Wednesday of the most publicized of her many meetings with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. “It was a standard, creative exercise that people practice all the time.”

The episode was reported earlier this week in excerpts from a new book, “The Choice,” by Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, in which Mrs. Clinton was depicted as conducting imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Indian leader Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi.

The White House has been unhappy with descriptions of the episode and in recent days the first lady has characterized it as an intellectual exercise rather than participation in a self-help program or some spiritualistic experience.

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White House officials have sought especially to discourage comparisons with former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s consultations with an astrologer.

In an interview, Houston said that the meeting--one of many with Mrs. Clinton since 1994--occurred on a bright afternoon, in the light-filled solarium on the third floor of the White House.

The Clintons had been heartsick over the results of the 1994 congressional elections, when Republicans took control of Congress, Houston said. Similarly, Mrs. Clinton had been discouraged over her role in her husband’s administration, particularly the failure of health reform, a major initiative that she headed.

Working with Houston, the first lady was attempting to sort through the events using the framework of history, Houston said.

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Mrs. Clinton and her visitors, who also included Houston’s close friend, Mary Catherine Bateson, the daughter of anthropologist Margaret Mead, sat around a large glass table.

Mrs. Clinton closed her eyes to shut out any distractions and, under Houston’s guidance, imagined herself walking down a hallway in the executive mansion and encountering Eleanor Roosevelt, one of her heroines.

Roosevelt, whose husband was president from 1933 to 1945, was an activist first lady and, like Mrs. Clinton, the target of criticism for her strong role.

The imagined dialogue between the two women was designed to help Mrs. Clinton process her own experiences by discussing them with another controversial first lady.

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“We all have heroes and heroines in the past and in the future,” Houston said. “The mind tends to need an object to concern itself with. If you put your mind on an object, you can disinhibit your blocks, all the blocks that come from too much life, too much going on.”

Mrs. Clinton “was wide awake and very conscious,” Houston said, dismissing the notion that she was seeking some altered state. “She was focusing on ideas. This is a way of focusing your mind, a way of bringing up ideas.”

Of the episode that has received the most attention, Houston said: “It was four minutes of hours and hours and hours of conversations.”

Houston, 57, a native of Brooklyn, said she graduated from Barnard College in New York and received a doctorate from Union Institute in Cincinnati.

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A version of her resume circulated earlier this week claimed that she had received her doctorate from Columbia University. She said in an interview that the error resulted from a punctuation mistake.

Houston has been described as a leader of the New Age/human potential movement. She said of her work: “What I do is study the nature of the human body/mind system--how we move, how we breathe, how we make use of the great untapped capacities we have.”


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