Pluralism as Path

Almost any domain or activity in life can be approached as an intentional practice, and the people who specialize in these domains have learned important things about being human. How can we draw this wisdom out? Introducing the Consciousness Explorers Club's new pluralistic practice paradigm :)

Too Close

This zooming out might be particularly useful right now, on the cusp of this anxiety-inducing US election. People - myself included - really are freaked out about the deep divisions in the US. The theory about meditation is it can help us get space around such tough emotions and, in turn, make better – saner – responses.

Born Twice

Twice-born temperaments, on the other hand, are a little more complicated. They can’t wave away the world’s manifestly unfair distribution of hardship, and they’re generally unable to accept so-called “unseen realities” on faith alone. Their journey into spiritual feeling is more hard-won, the result of a lot of agonized... more

Is Consciousness Evolving?

A more realistic take on the so-called "evolution" of consciousness: an increase in discernment and sensitivity, largely driven forward by young people. It’s obvious why young people see and experience bias and discrimination at a level of nuance many in older generations cannot: they aren’t habituated yet.

The Promise and Peril of Spiritual Belief

I have a theory. Not a perfect theory, but it is a theory based on experience – based on my experience. And that’s exactly what my theory is about: the feedback loop between our ideas about reality, and our experience of reality. A celebration - and critique - of spiritual growth and understanding.

At the Still Point

Think about a time when you were most in the zone, most in flow – not only with some central object of concentration, but with the whole wide world around you.

Trances We Have Known and Loved

We are – Buddhist thinking goes – locked into unhelpfully narrow views of reality, meta-trances imposed by the preoccupations and formulations of our conditioning and language and culture.

Fuck It

Human experience seemed to unfold across a rich spectrum of possibly, yet if you only read the newspapers and magazines and book reviews of the intellectual mainstream you’d never know any of it was happening at all.

The Idiots of Compassion

Sometimes I’m an idiot of a very particular type. When I see a person in any kind of hurt, I experience a seizure of compulsive helpfulness. I say the words, perform the gestures, provide the resources, and sometimes make the commitments I later realize are beyond my power to make and may not actually be that helpful in the first place.

The Direct Path

This is a deceptively simple practice that is so simple most folks write it off without giving it a sincere shot. Like meditation, it can take a while to get the hang of. Its many proponents argue no other practice can change your relationship to hardship and suffering more radically in so short a time.

Nonduality vs Meditation

There is a long and confusing and ultimately useless debate about which approach is correct. The debate is useless because both approaches are right. It’s a paradox, and there is no getting around paradox in the wooly and contradictory world of spirituality.

Meditation: Skill vs Path

When it comes to meditation, the CEC has a split-focus: we explore meditation as a life skill, and we explore meditation as a transformative path. Although each may use the same technique, they involve two very different approaches and intentions.

Spiritual Terrains and Challenges

This primer is about the broadest possible classes of meditation and spiritual experience. It’s a work-in-progress. Every time I come back, I find myself cutting more details, for they seem like technique-specific effects, and not the human universals I once imagined. So it goes. In a couple years there may be nothing here at all.

Activate Your Electric Love

If at the start it’s our own stress and unhappiness we work to address, at some point – if we’re genuinely opening – the direction of concern reverses. Energy formerly bound up in self-interest starts to get re-directed towards others.

The Next Age of Exploration

I wonder if our civilization is about to enter a New Age of Exploration. Except this time, since all the physical real estate has been chewed up, the terrain is internal. Not just our individual minds, but the mind of nature – the mother-sea mind, the great oceanic source of awareness that all contemplative traditions speak to in... more

How Zen Master’s Die

Meditation and other contemplative practices seem to accelerate the aging-gracefully gradient. They are ways of thinning out in the prime of life - a kind of dying in the midst of the everyday. Then when death does come, as it comes for us all, there’s nothing to fear, "for the things we’ve learned to care for will continue."

Terrains of Life and Practice

What is a “breakthrough?” It’s a jump to higher level of insight and perspective. This looks different depending on the person. For some it’s an insight into a dysfunctional pattern or relationship. For others, a renewed sense of vigor and direction. For others still, a glimpse into who they are at what feels like a deeper level.

Plant Medicine and Meditation

What she showed me – and for me she is a she – is I am not alone in this process. My reality is co-created – with her when she is with me, with the other participants in the room, with the shamans and their icaros and the whole ecology of natural presences teeming in the space around us.

Devotion

We can start pretending, in a vaguely schizoid way, that existence / nature / whatever responds to our overtures, indeed, that the whole container is a 360-degree dance partner keeping time with your every move.

Psychotherapies (healthy self before the noself)

The meditation scene is littered with “spiritual bypassers” who shoot for transcendence because they can’t handle the world – and the self – they’ve inherited. This isn’t a judgement; people are in pain, and meditation can help with that pain. But it’s important to remember that some of the issues we uncover in practice... more

Solid, Liquid, Gas

Buddhist teacher Shinzen Young refers to Three Fundamental States of Experience: Solid, Liquid and Gas. It’s sort of a metaphor and sort of not. Because it turns out that just as the material world can go through fundamental state changes – can have its particles rearranged to move from, say, ice to water to vapor (and back) – so... more

Waking Up

What does it mean to wake up? A lot of ink has been spilled on this subject, and every teacher in every tradition has a different way of talking about it, including not talking about it at all, which is probably the wisest tactic.

Enlightenment’s Evil Twin

The benefits of mindfulness meditation have very quickly become one of the good-news mental health stories of our time. But meditation also has a shadowy seam. Is there a link between some forms of mental illness and the freedom promised at the heart of meditation? My column on the infamous "Dark Night of the Soul"

The Neuroscience of Suffering and Its End

Fourteen years ago Gary Weber’s thoughts disappeared, and all his suffering vanished with them. Was it the disappearance of his thoughts that saved him, or is something else going on?

Among the Nonduals

Proponents of nonduality tell us that we take a leap of faith and actually live our lives from the truth of direct experience, eventually the age old barrier between inside and out will erode. A report from the 2013 Science and Nonduality conference in Holland.

Animal Empathy – There’s an App for That!

Communications technology is often accused of dissociating us from the natural world. A little thought-experiment that explores how the next generation of “augmented reality” technologies might close this gap, and help us hear like an elephant and think like a squirrel.

Here Come the Animals

Scientists and philosophers have long erected an insurmountable barrier between humans and animals. This seems to be changing. The human imagination is moving outward. The animals are coming. Hide the nuts!

Environmentalism and the Mind

What kind of mind do we need to address climate change and environmental degradation? A mountain eco-laboratory in northern New Mexico looks at four possible answers: a social mind, a creative mind, a receptive mind and an equanimous mind.

Science and Spiritual “Enlightenment”

In March of 2012, myself and twenty other “adept” meditators participated in an experiment to try to answer the question: what is the real resting state of the brain? Strange things happened. An exploration of one view of so-called "enlightenment."

The Anxiety of the Long-Distance Meditator

“Stream entry,” is a Buddhist term for initial enlightenment — a shift in perspective where the practitioners’ mind flips inside-out, and for a split-second recognizes its own inseparability from the rest of the natural world.

Enlightenment: Is Science Ready to Take it Seriously?

Western psychology is still outgrowing a reactive skepticism towards the subjective anecdote that it inherited from behaviorism. Fortunately, this is changing. These days, there is a growing appreciation among investigators that if you want to understand consciousness – as opposed to just brain activity – you have to start taking... more

Making Art in Dream Space

The Dream Director is not unlike a set of DJ turntables, only the medium it remixes is the mind – the proto medium. As the DJ, the user can select from an infinite number of effects. The weirder the combination, the stranger the conjured world come remix the dreaming mind.

The Laws of Dreaming

What might science look like in another reality? In lucid dreaming, an investigator can form a hypothesis in waking, fall asleep, become lucid, and then – in rainbow lab coat and marvellous wind-swept Vidal Sassoon hairdo – test her hypothesis as the dream surges around her.

Whale Rising

This piece on whale consciousness and animal personhood won a Gold and a Silver medal at the 2012 Canadian National Magazine Awards. Whales are people too; the science proves it. Are humans ready to see them as equals?

Lucid Dreaming: The next frontier of human exploration

Our century marks a New Age of Exploration, into an even more mysterious frontier, with empirical discoveries that may turn out to be every bit as revolutionary as the ones that undergirded the first Age of Enlightenment. The frontier is the dreaming mind, and the new explorers are known as lucid dreamers.

Dolphin Minds – A Conversation

What would we learn if we could merge parts of the human brain with those of other species? Might we hear the sounds of the past? Live in naked troops, swapping intimate experiences without words? Or build a new social network? A fun and wide-ranging conversation with two smart friends - Lori Marino and Ben Goertzel - published in the... more

The Animal in Us, The Human in Them

“They have no future without us, the chimps, the elephant, the whales and the rest. None. The question that we, the keepers, are facing is whether we’d mind a future without them ” - "whether we’d be bothered by an Earth with no living vestiges of our own differently shaped selves.” - Charles Siebert

Life on the Wheel of Consciousness

Wrote this for The New Scientist . It summarizes some of the different states of consciousness we pass through over the day and night.

Two Tribes

There’s a new mind theory out there The theory is worth paying attention to because, well, it’s about you. Or at least two of you: the careful, analytic you, and your misguided shadow, who spends altogether too much time in the “wrong” section of the bookstore. One of you is a Mechanist. The other is a Mentalist. Though you... more

Journey to the Center of the Mind

By the end of the twentieth century, scientists had scoured the far reaches of the material world. It was then that a few brave travelers turned in a different direction: inward!

The Tourists of Consciousness

This piece about mind, nature, and the fashionable jungle brew ayahuasca won Gold for best personal journalism at the 2011 Canadian National Magazine Awards. What can psychedelics tell us about reality? Less and more than you might think. Includes an update at end, because, you know, experience keeps changing.