With great gratitude I found myself with like-minded scientists and thought leaders at this year’s Science and Nonduality Conference (SAND) where a common ground was sought between neuroscientists, physicists and the consciousness community. This year’s theme was “Entanglement” and recognition that “when science drills down into the core of even the most solid-looking object, separateness dissolves, and all that remains are relationships extending throughout and possibly beyond, space and time.”
What is so interesting about SAND is the confluence of the nondualists who simply attribute EVERYTHING to consciousness without a need for science, and those among us whose minds still seek “answers” and for whom a scientific “explanation” makes things land more deeply.
What is also so extraordinary about this conference is the ability to exchange ideas with so many different scientific and nondual thinkers (the latter being a necessary contradiction) in a nourishing environment.
A Balance Of Informed Perspectives
I immediately found myself “entangled” with Wolfgang Baer, another attendee who teaches at the graduate level in Monterey and with a PhD in physics from Berkeley who believes he has discovered an energetic basis for consciousness in the binding energy of minute particles. From there I immediately found myself in an amazing panel discussion moderated by Cassandra Vieten, PhD, President and CEO of IONS, the Institute of Noetic Sciences. She first delivered an interesting discourse on the cycle of consciousness changing theories – from being seen as heretical and subversive to eventually either replacing or becoming absorbed into the conventional thought and mainstream of the times.
Neil Theise a researcher in stem cells described how, “at cellular this self doesn’t exist”– suggesting that as neuroscientists have suggested it is a construction of complex neural networks. Dr. Rudi Tanzi, a noted medical researcher and leader of the Alzheimer’s Genome Project described how local consciousness is based on memory, so that his patients will often describe Alzheimer’s as “I’ve lost my self, requires a continuity of Time.” While great strides have been made in his research, Dr. Tanzi says that it is still a mystery how memories are encoded in proteins and neural networks; in other words, again, what constitutes the real “Self.”
Menas Kafalos, Professor of Computational Physics and Director of Excellence at Chapman University –said that conventional science has it backwards in many respects –that “without events and objects you don’t have space or time” and of course events are an interpretation or manifestation of consciousness. Julia Mossbridge from Northwestern University is studying how time works in perception – and the language that is integral to our experience of “before and after.” She wonders where insights come from and suggests a “handshake” or “gentle relationship between the conscious and unconscious.”
Insightful Presentations by Renowned Teachers
Bentinho Massaro in his talk, “Each Part contains All of Existence – Living in Fullness” echoed Jed McKenna’s work with an equally clear presentation consciousness as All and Everything arising through or within Consciousness. McKenna calls it “C-REX,” Bentinho uses the analogy of whatever is experienced appearing in some ways as pixels on a TV on the screen of our consciousness. But of course, who is this “our?” Since nothing is left out, Bentinho asserts that this should provide a sense of security or safety –“there is no need to be careful” (because Consciousness is the only true “cause.”
I also attended a discussion between the legendary Adyashanti and Hameed Ali (A. H. Almaas), Founder of the Diamond Approach moderated by Zaya Benazzo, one of the founders and leaders of SAND on “Living Realization.” This was a recurring theme among many speakers and attendees: reconciling the tangible experience of consciousness with a theoretical “understanding.”
Adya talked about the amazingly paradoxical aspect of “awakening” echoing Dr. Tanzi’s description of Alzheimer’s in that it is not the “I” that awakens. He said that at first it is just a door that opens but that generally one quickly reverts to “normal” life—and one often struggles with trying to recapture the feeling of awakening for the “self.” How to sustain these moments of recognition? Adya said that it requires “fierce amounts of humility”– to be ruthlessly honest with oneself.
The question becomes why does one do “untrue” things? This is the essence of the paradox, because according to Adya, the Ego can hide within its perception or interpretation of “clarity.” He described awakening as the movement of spirit not so much outward, but rather inward to expose the inevitable lies that the Ego tells “itself.”
For Almaas, who exemplifies the approach of many in SAND by having first studied physics and relativity theory before moving to a psychological inquiry due to a recognition that the two fields are intimately connected, he approached the question of awakening, and who does and who doesn’t, with the statement that “reality can awaken or not.” There is room for everything — total Being means ALL – even unconsciousness. When asked about his own experience he replied, “realization is doing well but my body not so much.” For Almaas all awakening seems to relate to actual experience and is no longer theoretical; he seems to make little distinction between Realization and Actualization.
Rupert Spira seems to be effortlessly making it up as he goes along but his calm and deeply organized clarity shone through in a wonderful talk on “The Disentanglement of the Self.” He described consciousness as self-illuminating and (self-knowing) like the Sun – in that it needs nothing “else.” In typical Rupert Spira fashion he asked the simple question –“could consciousness ever come in contact with anything other than itself?”
There is no I beyond knowing itself. He echoed Cassandra Vieten’s presentation in pointing to Copernicus and saying that we are in a similar revolution in which we are outgrowing the separatism of conventional science to understand the nature of knowing – and discovering a “knowledge that is not known by something other than itself.” He described suffering as “a call from happiness itself” and suggested, again, as an experiential path to “live like everything is god’s infinite being.”
Dr. Jay Kumar invoked the separate but confluent teachings of masters and scientists in his talk on “Cognitive Entanglement: From the Buddha to Bohr”. He amplified the theme of a practical way to eliminate suffering as a key to the teaching of Buddha, and Jay actually teaches a course on Happiness at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
The Buddha’s three practical principles are:
- Nothing can be taken in isolation
- All is impermanent
- Suffering is dissatisfaction
To me this last point especially echoes the gnostic notion of “sin” which is simply resistance to what is. Jay went on to describe the mathematics of Buddhism equating emptiness to zero, but at the same time for the Buddhist (who knew of the concept of zero), zero was infinity. So that the void and the infinite are complementary. He held up an empty sheet of paper that he said was both blank, and also contained “the potential for the infinite” within itself. For the Buddhist it is also like a balloon which expands in emptiness – it is “full of emptiness.”
These notions resonate powerfully with quantum physics where the complement of the particle and the wave comprise a wholeness that is beyond human comprehension without accounting for an observer. Everything is participatory –nothing is “outside” and the next level of awakening or release of suffering will be on a wider scale, as Jay said that “the next Buddha will be community.”
On The Conference Floor
There were also many sponsors and interesting vendors at SAND. I was intrigued by the True Mirror (“Discover Your True Reflection”) created and exhibited by John Walter. For John, there was an epiphany when he noticed that because of the reversal of left and right in a mirror reflection, the image is “false” so that he created a parallel mirror system which reverses the reversal, showing the “true self.” The experience of seeing this image is remarkable –one’s smile and facial expressions are “real” and not forced.
What Walter saw was recognition – the person in the mirror looked and felt right, and matched his sense of what others were seeing. In contrast, the flat, traditional mirror felt false and conveyed a host of inner thoughts that were in direct contrast to the way he was feeling. In other words, his real self was present in the true image.
Hard boiled, uncompromising nondual teacher Peter Francis Dziuban presented “The Seeking Stops Here” emphasizing an unrelenting experiential entanglement” that deconstructs seeing oneself as “a part.” For Peter, alive awareness has no border –he asks: “Can thinking make now not be alive?” Despite one’s habit of talk, talk, talk one is never not entangled and a part of Life. And yet, from this perspective, one’s engagement with Life continues nonstop – one still engages in conversation, at home and in the office – hearing oneself say “hi boss” and so on.
An Appearance By Former Astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell
A highlight for me was the appearance of former astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell via Skype, going full circle in a way as the founder of IONS. Dr. Mitchell compared the “big picture” effect of seeing Earth from space to Samadhi –as a more “complete” perspective shared among humanity than its terrestrial limitations. I was able to ask a question about Dr. Mitchell’s recent statements about extra-terrestrial contacts and it turned out that he had actually grown up in Roswell.
While Dr. Mitchell acknowledged that he had no personal direct experience of contact, he said that through his connections at the Pentagon, NASA and elsewhere it is known to him that we have been visited, are being visited and will continue to be visited, and he confirmed that UFOs were seen near missile silos during the cold war, rendered them inoperative and in that capacity at least were helping to preserve mankind.
Following Dr. Mitchell’s theories, Russell Targ a longtime exponent and expert in remote viewing at SRI revealed that his initial funding came as a result of experiments with psychics that were so successful that they attracted the interest of the CIA. He said that Werner von Braun was interested in his work because he himself had had a psychic grandmother, and that anyone might increase their capacity for ESP with a consistent practice of a quiet mind.
Other Standout Perspectives
Peter Russell gave a wonderfully scientific overview of the nondual perspective by reinforcing that “all we know is inferred from experience” and “all knowing takes place in consciousness.” Again there is no “green” out there in a physical world, the concept of green is an overlay of the mind. Only brain processes create an experience of “green.”
Amazingly Peter reminded the audience that it was Newton who first said that all color is a product of the mind. Experience is like a “map” of the world – of necessity an abstraction that helps our navigation of reality but is not reality by any means. From this perspective we can now see that “there is just information” or conceptual mind product –our senses respond to and create corresponding patterns expressed as forms in the mind of consciousness.
This makes consciousness primary. What is conscious –is a dog conscious –where do we draw the line, Peter asked. If dogs aren’t conscious then why do we use anesthesia at the vet? Consciousness is more fundamental than matter, space or time. Consciousness is not part of the map—the map is consciousness
The final speaker at SAND was nondual teacher Francis Lucille who engaged in a dialog with the audience identifying the mind as the source of all negative emotions. With respect to suffering Francis compared his practice to conventional therapy which he says looks at only the symptoms or the “small picture.” He says you can let the Big Picture take care of the small pictures. He used the example of someone who has an olive tree that keeps dropping olives onto his lawn which he finds annoying. He can either address each individual olive by picking it up each year when the tree sheds its fruit, or in one swoop he can cut down the tree –the source of all of his suffering.
He compared this to shedding beliefs that are erroneous at their core—which are ALL beliefs—because only experience is real. “Peace is not a belief. It’s a home we have never left.” In addressing science he said that at the top is physics and physicists “know they don’t know” — then down the “food chain” are the chemists and biologists, and they have more and more beliefs which take them further and further from truth (of not kowing).
In terms of helping the planet, Francis said that all such efforts begin with oneself. Similarly with therapy he suggested one find an enlightened guide because, after all, “would you go to a depressed therapist?”
This final dialog was followed by a very emotional closing ceremony in which Maurizio Benazzo and his wife and partner Zaya recalled the germ of their idea which has now grown into this amazing conference, and then called up each member of their team to hug them and show their appreciation. The audience joined in the celebration and it had the feeling of a growing heartfelt tribe of conscious beings –a family in the truest sense of the world. I am privileged to have been part of it for a second year.