Science and Nonduality Gathering: SAND—Italy, 2016

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The Science and Nonduality (SAND) 2016 Italy Conference took place at Titignano Castle in Orvieto, Terni, this August 2 through 8. Here, the founder of Non-Duality Press Julian Noyce offers a glimpse inside this explorative, multidisciplinary event including science, spirituality, dance, and much more.


We all have the urge to know and understand, to make sense of our experience, whether this is through science, therapy, art, or spirituality. The Science and Nonduality (SAND) Gatherings are a beautiful place to explore this very human desire.

This is my second visit to Titignano, the venue for SAND in Italy, a medieval castle perched high in the magnificent Umbrian hills. Each gathering has its own flavor; this event leaned more heavily toward the spiritual and the feminine than the scientific approach, but there were some excellent academic minds present as well in the form of Susan Blackmore, Peter Russell, and Chris Fields.

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Each day begins with a guided meditation led by one of the presenters or, alternatively, a yoga or bodywork session in a different room. After a break for breakfast, the concurrent presentations begin. Maurizio Benazzo, one of the founders of SAND, likes to explain that after the first two days of scouring the program to choose the sessions to attend, the bemused attendee usually gives up and finds himself wherever he is meant to be. He also points out that some of the most rewarding encounters take place outside the presentations, over lunch, or while drinking tea in the castle piazza—both proved to be true.

I had previously enjoyed the science presentations but, predictably, I felt more drawn to the spiritual and the artistic this time. Daniel Odier, the French Tantra and Chan master, gave an excellent opening talk on the Tantric path of accepting all experience, which was followed the next day with an experiential workshop of Tandava movement and dance.

Jac O’Keeffe’s wide-ranging and impressive presentation on “Trust and the Spiritual Path” went beyond conceptual ideas of awakening and into deep embodiment, liberation, and service.

From the science side, Susan Blackmore, a confirmed skeptic of paranormal phenomena, gave a very engaging talk on “Out-of-Body Experiences.” Despite her concerns that it might not be well received by the SAND audience (her conclusion after lengthy study is that almost all paranormal phenomena can be explained as “workings of the brain”), her talk received prolonged and enthusiastic applause.

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The Italian SAND Gathering is the smaller and more compact cousin of the event in San Jose, CA. Both gatherings host world-class spiritual teachers and respected scientific minds. The original inspiration of SAND was to foster meaningful dialogue between non-dogmatic contemporary spirituality and humanistic science in order to consider questions of context, perception, meaning, and purpose. In the times that we live there seems to be a vital need for this dialogue.

While adhering to its core mission, SAND is continually evolving and widening its scope to focus on ecology and alternative economic systems. My overall experience at these gatherings is of meeting openhearted people and being exposed to compelling ideas well outside of my usual experience. Needless to say, I highly recommend them.

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To learn more about Science and Nonduality, and to find out about the upcoming SAND 2016 US Gathering, “On the Edge of the (Un)Known” (San Jose, CA, October 19–23), visit www.scienceandnonduality.com.

Q&A: Richard Sylvester, Author of Non-Duality Questions, Non-Duality Answers

New this September, Non-Duality Press presents Non-Duality Questions, Non-Duality Answers, the latest book from humanistic psychologist, therapist, and lecturer Richard Sylvester. With compassion, respect, provocation, and humor, the book explores non-duality from a variety of angles, addressing questions on a wide range of topics—from A Course in Miracles to gurus to madness to zen and so much more. Here, Sylvester provides answers to many of our questions about non-duality.

What does non-duality mean to you?

This is the briefest way I can sum up non-duality: There is no self. There is no separation. There is nothing to find and there is no one who seeks. There is only This, whatever is apparently happening. This is it and This is enough. There is unconditional love. If This is seen, it will be the end of what you think is your life.

Would you call non-duality a tradition, a philosophy, or a movement; a stage, an absolute, or something else?

As soon as we turn non-duality into a tradition, a philosophy, a movement, or even worse, into a religion, we have turned it into yet another story, like the story of Buddhism, the story of Christianity, or the story of Existentialism. Immediately we have deprived it of its aliveness and turned it into a dead thing, a thing which the mind now feels it can safely deal with.

All that can really be said is that non-duality is an attempt to describe what is seen when the self is seen through. As this is actually indescribable, this attempt must fail. I think it was Alan Watts who put this most neatly when he said he was “trying to eff the ineffable.”

Ultimately we could say that those like me who write or speak about non-duality can only offer pointers. Yet even here, if we’re being honest, we have to add that we are pointing at that which cannot be pointed at.

How does non-duality differ from other spiritual paths (if it can be considered such a path)?

Non-duality is not a spiritual path and the seeing of non-duality renders all spiritual paths redundant. Spiritual paths are invented by the mind as a way of filling up the time between birth and death. The easiest way for the mind to stay in control—which is where it wants to be—is to set up an impossible goal and then persuade us that it can help us to reach it.

To this end, the mind creates the idea of a higher self, which must be developed, and a lower self, which must be eschewed. Now we are engaged in a war of purification with ourself and the mind can amuse itself with this war for years.

But there is no higher or lower self. There is only This.

Do you subscribe to a direct-path or progressive approach to non-duality (or something else)?

There is no path to non-duality, either direct or progressive. How can we approach that which already is the case? How can we get closer to what we already are? Both direct and progressive paths are invented by the mind to entertain ourselves with. They may be particularly needed for this purpose on wet Sunday afternoons.

What do you see as the main areas of controversy in the world of non-duality?

The monkey mind will always create controversy and the closer people are to each other in their view of the world, the more fiercely they will fight each other over the minor distinctions in their beliefs. Freud called this “The narcissism of small differences.”

The main areas of controversy where non-duality is concerned could be summed up like this:

There is such a thing as liberation. There is no such thing as liberation.
There is such a thing as a path to liberation. There is no such thing as a path to liberation.

Endless arguments take place on the Internet over this, sometimes generating a great deal of “web rage,” which is the Internet equivalent of road rage. In this way the mind is kept busy and therefore happy. Meanwhile This just goes on being This and none of this controversy matters in the least.

One of your previous books is titled I Hope You Die Soon—what does that title mean to you?

At a time in my life when, like many other people, I experienced a considerable amount of despair, I sometimes talked to Tony Parsons, author of The Open Secret. One afternoon I went up to him after one of his meetings, as usual in despair, and he gave me a warm hug and said, “I hope you die soon.”

What he meant was that he hoped that my sense of self would die, or in other words that my sense of being a person would disappear so that I might see liberation. Later on, this seemed like an appropriate title for my first book about non-duality.

Another of your books is titled The Book of No One—what inspired that title?

When liberation is seen, it is seen by no one. Indeed, it is the very presence of the sense that “I am a person, a someone” which prevents liberation being seen. When the sense of self collapses, there liberation simply is. So again, it seemed an appropriate title.

What was the motivation for your new book, Non-Duality Questions, Non-Duality Answers?

I had no motivation in the usual sense. I have no teaching, path, or practice to offer. What’s more, if you come across someone writing or talking about non-duality who does offer a teaching, path, or practice, I’d suggest that you run away from them as fast as possible.

I am simply trying to describe something. And I enjoy writing, particularly if I am sitting in a comfortable leather armchair in a coffee bar. Many individuals had written to me with questions over the years and I felt that the answers I had given to all these individuals might be of interest to a wider readership.

I have now written four books about non-duality and I feel that Non-Duality Questions, Non-Duality Answers will probably be my last. The book I am writing at the moment is not about non-duality. Provisionally titled Confessions of a Seeker: Adventures in Spirituality, Therapy, and Belief, it gives a rather naughty account of my thirty years of seeking before I came upon non-duality. So it is quite different to my other books. I suppose it could be considered to be the prequel.

You could say my motive was to have fun. Or we could just say that writing the book simply happened, that it is a book about no one, written by no one.

Learn more about non-duality with Non-Duality Questions, Non-Duality Answersavailable September 2016.

New Harbinger Is Proud to Announce Its Acquisition of Non-Duality Press

What’s New for Non-Duality Press?
This season, we’re happy to announce that Non-Duality Press has found a new home with New Harbinger Publications. For decades, New Harbinger has published books to help people heal, find balance, and live more fulfilling lives, promoting wellness in both body and mind. Now, New Harbinger is proud to offer support for the spiritual seeker and continue Non-Duality Press’s original mission—to provide authentic and accessible writing on the subject of non-duality, a term that comes from the Sanskrit word “Advaita,” meaning “not two.” Our emphasis is on the lived experience and the integration of insight and realization with the miraculous ordinariness of daily life.

Coming This Fall
This fall, we’re excited to bring you new books from some of non-duality’s leading voices, including Greg Goode, author of Standing as Awareness and The Direct Path; Richard Sylvester, author of The Book of No One and I Hope You Die Soon; Scott Kiloby, founder of the worldwide Living Inquiries community and cofounder of the Kiloby Center for Recovery; Fiona Robertson, a senior facilitator and trainer of the Living Inquiries; and Ilona Ciunaite, a Lithuanian-born tattoo artist and cocreator of the Liberation Unleashed forum.

These books provide clear and direct pointers to who you really are and what the world really is, encouraging you to explore within your own experience and draw your own conclusions about reality without the need to subscribe to traditional beliefs or rely on secondhand revelations. Whether based on explorations of respected traditions and philosophies, investigations of contemporary approaches, personal stories and intimate experiences, or some combination of these, each book points you toward the source of your own being, inviting you to look deeper, to question and learn—and to be compassionate and radically honest with yourself as you honor your history and your dreams while transitioning into an ease of being that is purely present, now and always.

Books and Posts and Events Arise
Non-Duality Press is proud to offer books and resources for anyone interested in non-duality. Whether you’re just beginning your journey on this transformational path or your seeking has come to an end, Non-Duality is for everyone. We’ll be using this blog to highlight the work of our authors and keep you posted with information about new books and events, so please check back here to stay up to date with us, and thank you for your continued support.