A big part of my job is getting people interested in creating the future at the level of consciousness. In order to do that, we have to suspend our concerns about how we’re going to get over certain very real problems that exist in the present moment. For at least a moment, we have to put those aside, focus our attention on the future, and see what happens. We have to train ourselves to have a different orientation in which we are always looking beyond the present into the possible. Our attention is ever-focused on what hasn’t happened yet, and no matter what happens our attention will always keep moving forward beyond the present moment into what’s possible. And the most miraculous part of this is that if our focus and conviction is strong enough, we almost magnetically begin to compel that future possibility into the present moment.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure to meet two teen girls adopted from China by friends of mine. The girls are poised between childhood and adulthood where the big questions—who am I? What am I going to make of my life?—are looming. During a conversation, someone mentioned something about “girl brains.” The phrase went by quickly, and I almost didn’t notice it. Then one of the girls asked directly: “Are the differences between the sexes biological or cultural?”
After our conversation, I began to wonder: how does this popular notion that women and men have different brains affect these girls’ ambitions, hopes, and dreams? Despite all of the celebration of how great the female brain is—how it will be much more useful in the world of the future—it seemed that she had already begun to wonder if she had gotten the lesser version. She’s smart: she’s perfectly capable of deducing that there is a connection between the gap between men and women in positions of leadership and the much-touted difference between male and female brains. This gap is certainly something that we all have to grapple with. But it’s not simply caused by innate brain differences between women and men. In fact, the whole notion of innate, genetically programmed, immutable, hard-wired brain differences between males and females is suspect–at least to the degree that is presented in popular media.
Oh, yes, I know. At this point, it’s widely understood that contemporary neuroscience has proven the existence of hard-wired differences between females and males that directly relate to the gender differences we see in the world. We’ve got Louann Brizendine writing The Female Brain (2006) and, more recently, The Male Brain (2010). Simon Baron Cohen’s The Essential Difference (2003) argues that autism is an effect of the “extreme male brain.” Or even books like Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget (2005) by Marianne Legato. Not to mention the classic Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. (And then there are all those hormones!) Most aware adults these days have come to accept the fact that these differences are a fact, even if we might find it a bit troubling. It all lines up: the world is as it is, neurology has proven that women and men have dramatically different brains, and every new discovery in evolutionary psychology shows us why these differences were advantageous to the evolution of the species.
We roll our eyes when we hear that in the nineteenth century earnest doctors (all men) presented evidence that thinking or intellectual stimulation caused the womb to wither. How archaic! We smile knowingly when we are told that it was believed that because women’s skulls were smaller, hips broader, etc. etc. that meant that women should stay at home and raise children. While it is easy for us to fall into grumbling ruminations about oppression, it’s far more interesting to take a wide-angle view. In the modern era’s split between the public world (the economy, politics, science, academia, law) and the private world (the home), society became gendered. Women were mistresses of the domestic sphere and men, well, masters of the universe. Continue reading…
The first in our series of posts about contemporary spiritual masters is India’s Swami Chidanand Saraswati. I had the honor of meeting Swamiji at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram (of which he is the President) in the sacred himalayan city of Rishikesh in early 2010. I was at the Ashram accompanying EnlightenNext founder Andrew Cohen (my own spiritual teacher), who had been invited by the Swami to participate in his annual Yoga Conference.
As you’ll see in the following video, Continue reading…
Many of us have had the good fortune to meet genuine spiritual masters and teachers as we’ve pursued the path to higher development—extraordinary men and women who have the ability to awaken us to the Absolute, revealing possibilities that were previously unimaginable and opening our eyes to eternity. On March 25th, 1986, EnlightenNext founder Andrew Cohen experienced a profound spiritual awakening through his close relationship with his teacher, the acclaimed master of Advaita Vedanta, H.W.L. Poonja, and shortly thereafter became a teacher himself.
Ever since that life-changing encounter, Continue reading…
A young English nonduality teacher named Jeff Foster created this great video critiquing a common and particularly egregious, warped, and subhuman strain of Neo-Advaita spirituality. It could be a bit shorter, but it drives the point home well. Longtime readers of EnlightenNext mag will be familiar with the criticism being made (which I wrote about a few years ago here). Nice work, Jeff!
Evolutionary Enlightenment, and the new culture it promises, is something we can deliberately and consciously bring into being together, if we care deeply enough about the potential it is pointing to. But it is not something that can be simply manufactured through sitting in a circle and practicing a certain technique or generating a particular emotional state. It is an emergent perspective, or state of consciousness, that bursts forth spontaneously and miraculously only when the conditions are right. “Emergent” means that it is something greater than the sum of its parts—a new order of relatedness, a new level of consciousness, a deeper and higher perspective that is always unimaginable until the moment it explodes into existence.
I recently had the pleasure to attend a special pre-screening of a new film entitled “An Ecology of Mind.” The film is an hour-long documentary about the anthropologist and philosopher Gregory Bateson that was created by his daughter Nora Bateson. At the start of the film Nora claims that it is a film “about the way Gregory Bateson thinks.” I would go further and say that the film actually manages to give the viewer a glimpse of the world the way Gregory Bateson saw it.
“An Ecology of Mind” is not a biographical look at Gregory Bateson’s life although it includes aspects of both his personal and professional story. It is also not a character study or a study of his ideas and discoveries although both of these are also included. If I were to try to sum up the film in a phrase I would call it a multidimensional mosaic retrospective of an extraordinary mind.
After seeing the film I felt for a while as if I was seeing the world anew – like I had seen through ‘the matrix’ for fans of the movie – and I wondered about how the film had brought about so subtle a shift in perspective.
The image that came to my mind was flying a kite as a small child. Sometimes the kite would fly so high that I would lose sight of it. My own father would try to point his finger in the direction that I should look, but still I couldn’t find my missing kite. Eventually he would stand behind me and with one hand on either side of my head he would direct my eyes in the direction that I needed to be looking. When my eyes finally made contact with the kite I would feel a combination of exhilaration and gratitude. Seeing the film An Ecology of Mind was similarly like having your attention directed toward something you couldn’t see before.
What world did Gregory Bateson see? First and foremost he saw that the world was not made up of a collection of things arranged in some spatial and temporal order. Rather he saw that what we perceive is a constant sense of relatedness that morphs and alters in front of our eyes. We perceive relationships, contrasts, and then we imagine that threre are things being related or contrasted. Things are phantoms created from an assumption about the nature of relationship. “When I realized that there was no-thing in the universe.” Gregory Bateson says in the film, “I found myself floating in an ocean of ideas.”
The film includes many video clips taken from lectures and talks given by Gregory Bateson. In one of them he is shown teaching to an audience. There are two objects on a table and he asks people to consider what the difference between them is? He makes the point that the difference does not exist in the space between them – you can put the objects closer together or hold them further apart and the difference between them will not change at all. What you actually experience when you experience ‘objects’ is the sense of the difference between them. When you experience anything what you perceive is the difference, or the relationship, between one thing and something else. We do not live in a world of things; we live in a world of relations.
Gregory Bateson was an extraordinary pioneering systems thinker who was enthralled with the holistic and holographic nature of reality. He saw how relations constantly change – at one moment playing the role of content and then shifting to become the context for some other content. To understanding anything, he believed, was to understand the system of connections that create it; ultimately he was looking for “the pattern that connects.” No matter what he was studying, whether it was native tribes as an anthropologist working with his first wife Margaret Mead, or pathological states of consciousness, or systems theory, what he was really looking for was the pattern that connects. His way of looking at the world was an inspiration to many prominent figures and to untold multitudes of the rest of us.
Many attributes of Gregory Bateson’s life and work are conveyed in the film, but most importantly it has the power to change the way you see. It will show you how you habitually see ‘things’ as ‘real’ and the relations that connect things as some sort of invisible, intangible and ultimately unreal connection between things. Slowly as the film redirects your gaze you will find that you are not looking at things at all, you are looking at patterns of relationship – here and there, now and then, fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, teachers and students, animals and humans, humans and the earth, and even two cups sitting on a table.
When you have the opportunity to see this film please do. And when you do, don’t just watch the film, give yourself the luxury of looking at the world through Gregory Bateson’s eyes.
I am currently attending the Science & Nonduality Conference in San Rafael, California, and wanted to share some of my thoughts and impressions. The conference itself is a fascinating mix of spiritual teachers who are offering different forms of nonduality teachings and scientitsts who are seeing nondual reality reflected in their work.
“Meditating on zero, or no-thing-ness, gives you a greater capacity to choose evolution versus the status quo,” says EnlightenNext founder Andrew Cohen in this short audio clip. People have been meditating for thousands of years, but you’ve never heard it taught like this before. Speaking to over 300 hundred evolutionaries during the 2010 Being & Becoming Retreat, Cohen elaborates upon the crucial role that meditation can play in the creation of a new culture (2:20 minutes) : Continue reading…
Calling all consciousness researchers, neo-mystics, and anyone else interested in finding out just how far the conversation between science and spirit has come. The annual Science & Nonduality will be held in San Rafael, California, on October 20-24. The goal of the conference, which brings together a diverse lineup of spiritual teachers, consciousness researchers, psychologists, artists, philosophers, and more, is to explore the implications of nonduality, or oneness, from as many angles as possible.
At EnlightenNext, we’re looking forward to the conference for a lot of reasons. Continue reading…