It’s that time of year again folks, time for the SAND 2012 conference in California!
Most of our readers are more than familiar with this gathering, for those of you who are new or wondering what it is: The Science and Nonduality Conference is a five-day international event where more than one hundred leading scientists, philosophers and spiritual teachers gather to explore a new understanding of who we truly are, both as individuals and as a society. This exploration is grounded in cutting-edge science and consistent with the ancient wisdom of non-duality—the deep understanding of the interconnectedness of life. The conference is a journey, an exploration of the nature of awareness.
I’ve looked over the many workshops and panels for this years conference and this one really caught my attention. It’s a topic that I feel could use some more discussion and what a great time and place to offer such a panel. As our blog title suggests, the name of the panel is Nothing Changes—Nothing Remains the Same: Does awakening to one’s true nature affect one’s behavior in the world?
This special panel will feature:
Jeff Foster, Chuck Hillig, Scott Kiloby and Tom Crockett
Realization, recognition, awakening and even enlightenment are all terms used for the moment at which all sense of separation (and the attachment to a particular identity that supports that sense of separation) seems to dissolve. Where there may be some disagreement is in whether this moment is the end of something or the beginning of something. Some teachers seem to describe it as a “light switch” moment, after which there is no further darkness. Other teachers speak of this critical and beautiful recognition as the beginning of a process of embodying or living this truth. As a personal and subjective experience, it is impossible to quantify the awakening experience of another. On the other hand, there is a body of literature and a strong intuition that suggests that if one experiences a real dropping away of the sense of separation and the need to cling to identity and form and time for self-definition, that that experience would be reflected in the behavior of an individual (how he or she shows up in the world in relation to others).
The risk in having and not having this discussion
The risk in having this discussion is that by defining or describing some observable or sensate qualities that we would expect to see in someone who had realized their own true nature, we are simply going to create a set of behaviors for people to seek after or affect in order to appear awakened. We would, of course, also run into the problem of suggesting that there is something that one is currently not, which could just set up more seeking, but it also seems obvious that when one is suffering or doing something that is causing pain to others, simply saying that you are perfect as you are is not very helpful. The risk of not having the conversation is that non-duality becomes a kind of trivial and intellectual philosophy in which quoting the right quotes, saying the right things and affecting the right manner equals enlightenment.
· Do we really believe that anyone who experiences an altered state of consciousness that reveals an underlying sense of unity in all apparent forms has awakened?
· Are we really willing to concede that anyone who claims to be awakened must be awakened?
· Is any behavior of someone claiming to have recognized their true nature enlightened behavior?
· Is behavior in the world completely independent of any realized state?
There is a growing interest in this thing we call non-duality and a lot of misinformation or a romanticizing of what it means. Some proponents claim that “waking up” is all there is and that “awakening” eliminates the need for shadow work or psychological growth. Others say that “waking up” is outside of the bounds of psychology and behavior and doesn’t impact them one way or another. Do we believe that someone who is suffering or addicted or chronically causes others pain can be enlightened or awakened without those behaviors or patterns being affected? If so, it seems like awakening might not be what many people are describing it as being. If we overemphasize the idea that everything is perfect as it is or the need to simply stop seeking, stop doing, and just embrace what is, are we then at risk of embracing behaviors that diminish others and cause them pain because we are now enlightened and we now know that it is “all an illusion?”
Is it possible that a mature form of non-duality might begin with a kind of heart opening and crystalline clarity about ones’ own true nature and the true nature of the world, and then require a kind of process of adaptation in which the formerly egoically identified self needs to shed behaviors that can no longer be supported in the light of this new truth?
Some of us seem to have recognized a kind of awakening that at one point we thought was the pinnacle—the end game—the summit of the spiritual mountain—only to find over time a subtle unfolding and deepening or broadening of our perspective. If, to quote from the Zen tradition “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is,” then it seems as though a lot of people are getting stuck at the “then there is no mountain” stage. By identifying some of what we might expect from someone who had gone all the way through to the “then there is” stage, we might move the community conversation forward.