Exploring the Nature of Consciousness at SAND15
Categories: Event Info Psychology & Personal Growth
By Hisae Matsuda
Last month a group of us from North Atlantic Books had the privilege of attending SAND15, the Seventh Annual Science and Nonduality Conference, which gathers together scientists, thinkers, writers, teachers, and eight hundred ordinary folks like us for five days at the historic Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose, California, to explore the intersections between science and spirituality. Most people in the United States appreciate science and the scientific method, but fewer are familiar with the idea of nonduality, the unitive awareness at the heart of being human. While the idea might not be commonly talked about, the experience of nonduality—manifesting as empathy, love, no distance between yourself and another—is probably the most universal human experience there is. Recorded in the insights of the Chandogya Upanishad seven centuries before Christ, developed in several contemplative traditions throughout human history, and somehow kept beautifully alive in many indigenous wisdom cultures, the philosophical framework of nonduality these days helps researchers grappling with paradoxes in many fields—medicine, physics, psychology, social work, religion, you name it. The nondual perspective helps modern humans overcome the Cartesian mind-matter split and build ways of healing the much-bemoaned schism between science and spirituality in our culture.
North Atlantic Books has been publishing books with a nondual view for more than forty years, so it’s no surprise that our authors are always at SAND in force. In the recent past, Matthew Fox, Charles Eisenstein, and Gabor Maté have delivered the big Saturday night plenary keynotes. This year we reached a kind of critical mass with nine of our authors present: Jeff Brown (Soulshaping), Adam Bucko (Occupy Spirituality), Charles Eisenstein (The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible), Chloë Goodchild (The Naked Voice), Risa Kaparo (Awakening Somatic Intelligence), Glenn Aparicio Parry (Original Thinking), Marie-Rose Phan-Lê (Talking Story), J.F. Martel (Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice), and Thanissara (Time to Stand Up). Our authors delivered thoughtful scholarly presentations, took part in lively dialogues and panels, and led workshops on subjects ranging from social justice to shamanic journeying. I was moved by the diversity of our authors’ work out in the world—bridging divides, healing trauma, working with homeless youth, co-creating new and ancient ways forward—and came to see over the course of the conference that such work on the outside was only possible because of the inner work each of them had done.
One highlight for me was a panel discussion between sacred activists and North Atlantic authors Adam Bucko and Charles Eisenstein and SAND founders, Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo, on “Creativity, Consciousness, and Inspired Action.” Their frank, humorous conversation revealed the catalytic role of failure in achieving success and the need for surrender and humility when undertaking any task. The Benazzos lost their home to a fire—disaster!—but have now built the house of their dreams. Adam Bucko reminded us that in many spiritual traditions, pride-crushing dark nights of the soul are practically required before any true transformation can happen. The panelists’ reflections on their moments of utter despair brought to mind Mother Teresa’s maxim, “We learn humility through accepting humiliations cheerfully.”
Charles Eisenstein shared, “I was convinced I was going to be a top thought leader and successful author. I spent four years writing my book The Ascent of Humanity, self-published it, and one month I sold only four copies—I made fifty dollars for years of work.” Utterly defeated, he gave up on his plan. At that point, things began to turn around. Now continually in demand to teach and speak, his books published by North Atlantic and inspiring a new generation of activists, Eisenstein is a wonderful example of a creative, conscious life. Indeed, through their courage to overcome adversity and willingness to speak up and be vulnerable, all our authors stand like beacons in the darkness of our civilization, sending out messages of light and hope and illuminating the path ahead.
Hisae Matsuda is a senior editor at North Atlantic Books. Born in Japan and raised in England, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children.