Science and Nonduality Conference, 2012, The Netherlands

What to say? It was great – a beautifully organised conference of diverse views; from quantum physics, cutting edge economics and ecology to hardcore nonduality. All human life was there… well, the sort of human life that readers of this blog might find interesting at least.

The first European SAND Conference was held at the beautiful Zonheuvel Hotel set in the forested outskirts of Doorn, no small treat in itself. The program was structured with multiple events happening at the same time; although a little overwhelming this added to the vibrancy of the event and allowed a sampling of different speakers and subjects. We could wander freely between presentations or stay in the same room and enjoy a series of presentations by different speakers (around 40 minutes in length) around a predetermined theme. Panel discussions were also scheduled so that agreement or discussion of different perspectives could be explored followed by Q&A session with the audience.

What struck me was the unfailingly high quality of the speakers – Maurizio, Zaya and their team do a remarkable job of selecting truly interesting and well-qualified presenters from the fields of science, neuroscience and nonduality.

Ok, so much scene-setting, what about the conference? For this attendee, memorable highlights include a surreal and engaging first-evening session with Karl Rentz, a panel discussion between Amanda Fielding, Susan Blackmore and Rita Carter centered around advances in understanding brain function and the use of psychedelics. Presentations and talks by Jeff Foster and a beautiful guided meditation by Rupert Spira. True to type, I found myself predominantly drawn to the nonduality speakers  and whilst I didn’t see all their presentations it was good  to see Isaac Shapiro, Tim Freke and Marlies de Cocheret, and of course, Jerry Katz in attendance. The talk by Julian Baggini, a Western philosopher, was also fascinating for its intellectual and semantic rigour.

I’m not well versed in quantum physics so perhaps the subject I found most vital was the work of Amanda Fileding and The Beckley Foundation. I’m not necessarily advocating the use of drugs, but their work is an interesting focal point where a number of important issues converge, namely:  campaigning for an intelligent and humane drugs policy, neuroscience, an honouring of the subjective experience, the therapeutic use of entheogens…  and so much more. Despite the crushing legal obstacles they have to contend with, the Beckley foundation continues to do intelligent and pioneering research in these areas.

Overall, there was a fledgling sense of community about this event – on paper, there were two camps, the scientists and the experiential nondualists; the objective approach and the subjective approach. I have to confess, my thinking hits a brick wall when I try to understand the meeting point of these two. Scientific explanations don’t speak to me and I have never felt that nonduality needs scientific validation. But, for some people, the scientific approach is meaningful and there certainly didn’t seem to be any heated arguments or hostility. In fact, the Conference had an air of good humour and acceptance.

So, altogether, I will certainly be going again next year and I hope you’ll consider attending too if you didn’t make it this time.