George Leonard, a native of Georgia, graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and went on to earn Doctor of Humanities degrees from John F. Kennedy University, Lewis and Clark College, and Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. When he joined the editorial team at Look Magazine in 1953, a transformative path was unfolding that would not only change his life but those of an entire culture.
Reassigned to San Francisco in 1962, George was completing a five-month-long journey of discovery for a major magazine article, interviewing brain researchers, psychologists, psychiatrists, biologists, philosophers, and theologians on human potential when he met fellow ITP co-founder, Michael Murphy at a dinner party. Michael’s Esalen Institute had opened three years prior, and both he and George were passionate about tapping into our shared human potential.
A Partnership in the Human Potential Movement
It was during that first encounter in February of 1965, that they committed to a partnership in human transformation, and in the brainstorming sessions and discussions that followed, they launched the human potential movement. George would go on to become deeply involved in Esalen Institute.
His childhood in a segregated South motivated him to begin a series of interracial transformative experiences in partnership with Price Cobbs, held at Esalen’s coastal setting. The 24-hour encounter not only pushed the boundaries of social reform but also emphasized the importance of long-term practice for transformation to take hold.
During his seventeen years as senior editor for Look Magazine, George covered the Civil Rights Movement, politics, foreign affairs, and social change, while winning an unprecedented number of national awards for education writing. Driven by the belief that all of us have untapped potential to be our best selves, George became even more involved in the Human Potential Movement as vice president, and then president, of Esalen Institute.
In 1970, he took up the practice of aikido and would go on to earn a fifth-degree black belt and co-found the internationally known aikido school, Aikido of Tamalpais. George studied not only aikido as a martial art but also what his first teacher, Robert Nadeau, called “energy awareness.” He began giving workshops in 1972, developing them into Leonard Energy Training (LET) in 1974. Through these experiences, George began laying the groundwork for Integral Transformative Practice.
George has authored twelve books, including The Transformation, Education and Ecstasy, The Silent Pulse, The Ultimate Athlete, and Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-term Fulfillment. His adventures along the human frontiers of the 1960s are described in his memoir, Walking on the Edge of the World. He also co-authored The Life We Are Given with Michael Murphy. George Leonard is the past president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, and president emeritus of Esalen Institute and ITP International.
George Leonard - Informal Notes/Background
George Leonard has been called, "the granddaddy of the consciousness movement," by Newsweek, "the poet-philosopher of American health in its broadest sense" by American Health, and "the legendary editor and writer" by Psychology Today. While serving as senior editor for Look magazine (1953 - 1970), he won an unprecedented eleven national awards for education writing. His coverage of the Civil Rights Movements (praised in the February 10, 2003, New Yorker) contributed to Look’s being awarded the first National Magazine Award in 1968. His harrowing 7,000-mile journey around the Soviet border with photographer Paul Fusco just after the Berlin Wall went up provided the first reportage showing that the Iron Curtain was an actual barrier of barbed wire, minefields, and watch towers rather than a mere figure of speech.
In a sense, Leonard discovered the Sixties. While other media were still decrying the silent or cautious generosity, he produced a special Look issue called “Youth of the Sixties: The Explosive Generation” (Jan. 3, 1961) which foretold the idealism and turmoil to come. His special issue on California (Sept. 25, 1962) was the first to put forth the thesis (later adopted by all media, to become conventional wisdom) that what happened in the state would happen later throughout the nation. In the 1960s, Look had a readership of 34 million and won more national awards for excellence than any other magazine.
Leonard coined the term “human potential movement” and first used the term “The Transformation” in a book of that title to describe a shift in the way industrial culture deals with matter and energy, organizes social forms, and shapes consciousness. His bestselling 1975 book, The Ultimate Athlete, helped shape the fitness boom. His 1983 book, The End of Sex (the cover article for the December 1982 Esquire and several other magazines) was the first published requiem for the sexual revolution.
His scenarios for the interactive multimedia education in Education and Ecstasy and Esquire are still considered state of the art by educational technologists. Dr. Alfred Bork of the Educational Technology Center at the University of California at Irvine has stated that "Many of the features that Leonard describes seem to me likely to characterize almost any school of the future that uses computers effectively as tools for learning."
Leonard's more recent books, Mastery (1991), The Life we are Given (1995, with Michael Murphy), and The Way of Aikido (1999) have helped create a nationwide movement toward long-term practice, as opposed to the quick-fix mentality. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "Leonard has been right so many times about prevailing zeitgeists that you have to wonder if he has a third eye."
During World War II, Leonard served as an attack pilot in the southwest Pacific theater, and as an analytical intelligence officer during the Korean conflict.
He also enjoyed a lifelong devotion to music and occasionally played piano with jazz groups. He wrote the music for two full-scale musical comedies, which were produced by the Air Force, and another, Clothes, based on "The Emperor's New Clothes," which was produced at Marin County's Mountain Play Theater.
Visit our ITP Library for more of George’s presentations on the path of practice and realizing your full potential.