OAKLAND — A man experiences elevated consciousness on his flight home from the moon, the head of an esoteric research institute unwittingly inspires a fictional character in a best-selling novel, and Oakland high school students benefit — it would be just as hard to believe if it weren't true.

That man was astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth of 12 men to walk on the moon. The scientist is Marilyn Schlitz, president and CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, or IONS, which Mitchell founded two years after exploring lunar craters and cones on the Apollo 14 mission.

Mitchell, 79, described his cosmic epiphany in the planetarium of the Chabot Space & Science Center on Saturday night at a fundraiser for the Petaluma-based institute.

As the spacecraft returned to Earth in 1971, a magnificent 360-degree view of the universe rotated in the astronaut's window. Suddenly it became clear that the molecules in him, in the others, in everything were formed in the same set of ancient stars, he told the captivated audience.

The experience — a sort of spiritual sight — Mitchell related to the ancient Sanskrit term samadhi.

"When you see things with your eyes as they appear to your eyes but you experience them internally and viscerally as knowing accompanied by ecstasy," he said.

Noetic sciences, which study intention and the mind's potential to improve health and healing, transformation and psychic experience, was prominently featured in Dan Brown's latest novel "The Lost Symbol."


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Schlitz, who leads the institute today, was the basis for novel character Katherine Solomon. She found out on Twitter about her role shortly after the book was released.

Her research, including a 2,000-pound electromagnetically shielded room that Brown called the Cube, and wound healing through intention, were ripped straight from the institute's Web site. As were personal details about Schlitz, such as her brother and father's involvement with Freemasonry.

The attention, however surprising, increased the institute's Web traffic by 1,200 percent.

It was a blessing, according to Schlitz, who last year started a program in Oakland high schools that brings Mitchell's vision to the classroom.

The Worldview Literacy pilot project teaches students about their own views and those of others. It's going to expand globally and build bridges between youth all over the world.

Schlitz said the program uses optical illusions and other methods to show students that there are multiple ways of thinking, encouraging to consider what they think, how they think, and why it's important to understand different opinions.

It all goes back to the big questions that Mitchell began asking himself after the lunar mission: Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose?

This has been the big predicament of all people for all of time, he said.

Saturday's event featured a list of speakers reflecting some of the worldviews it's aiming to teach students in Oakland.

Experts on the Cherokee and Navajo discussed the importance of constellations to the cultures, a yogi from India led a meditation in which people held the sun and moon in their consciousness at the same time, and a mathematical cosmologist spoke of the universe's expansiveness.

The institute is expanding its online presence in April with a new Web site featuring the largest searchable database on meditation.