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.