SAND 2016: Why We Are Not Our Thoughts!

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Because we are covering spirituality and mindfulness more frequently, it should be no surprise to start finding an increasing number of articles on mysticism, spirituality, Buddhism, the here and now, angels, yoga retreats, meditation, and even some of the more obscure religions. For those of you who read us regularly, you’ll note that I’ve been covering the annual SAND Conference which takes place in the Fall at the Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose California and before that, in Marin.

What’s SAND you may be wondering if this is your first visit? Or if you’ve visited the site regularly but didn’t read last year’s article, or my piece on SAND 2014, from SAND 2012 beyond. Technically speaking, it stands for Science and Non-duality or Non-Dualism, which means “not two” or “one undivided without a second”. It is a term and concept used to define various strands of religious and spiritual thought and it is found in a variety of Asian religious traditions and modern western spirituality. Not to complicate things, but in each case, it may have different uses and meanings.

Photo credit: Clare NonDuality Ireland MeetUp

The most recent event was held from October 21-23, 2016 and speakers included Middle East-born Hameed Ali (A. H. Almaas) who is an author and founder of the Diamond Approach, a spiritual teaching that utilizes a unique kind of inquiry into realization, where the practice is the expression of realization, world renowned guru Deepak Chopra who has published more than 70 books on consciousness and spirituality, Matthew Fox, an internationally acclaimed theologian who was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years,artist and non-duality teacher and speaker Rupert Spira who has studied the teachings of Ouspensky, Krishnamurti, Rumi, Shankaracharya, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, Robert Adams, and more, Berkeley University Mathematics professor Edward Frenkel, teacher and author Jac O’Keeffe, Advaita Vedanta spiritual teacher Francis Lucille, Richard Rohr, a globally recognized ecumenical teacher focused on Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition and countless others.

You’ll find yourself surprised by the depth of discussion as well as the diversity of disciplines beyond traditional consciousness, including mathematicians, psychologists, therapists, medical doctors, physicists, and more. For example, while Dr. Larry Dossey is an MD, he has been deep into the exploration of Mind/Body Interventions, and served on the board of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health.  He lectures around the world on among other things, How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters.  

Dr. Menas Kafatos who is a Professor of Computational Physics and Director of Excellence at Chapman University, has authored and co-authored numerous books including The Conscious Universe, The Non-local Universe and Principles of Integrative Science, which weaves these two very important worlds together. He did a session with Deepak Chopra on Friday entitled YOU ARE THE UNIVERSE!

Photo credit: Uliana Bazar

Professor Robert A.F. Thurman, Ph.D., who teaches Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University also spoke as did people on the symmetry, science and freedom side of the fence, including Kurt Johnson who addressed the edge of the unknown and Jac O’Keeffe who addressed the Freedom Framework. I skipped most of the Science-focused sessions to be honest as well as all the Mathematics and Physics talks, largely because how I experience mindfulness and expansiveness is through my body and using my creative right brain to turn thought off so I can go into a feeling state. Getting into your feeling state btw, is imperative when you attend SAND because if you constantly stay in your head, you won’t experience all the juice that the event delivers.

There’s a ton of heady talks for all the left brains who are interested in this world however and in between talks, you could easily run into a doctor, a physicist, a yoga teacher, a healer, a math professor and a Buddhist guru all in the same hour. The brilliant curation of all these incredible minds and hearts is the work of husband and wife founders Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo. Below Maurizio on stage moderating a panel at the end of day two on consciousness and non-duality, all in layman’s terms and with plenty of humor to boot.

While they had the infamous spiritual puppet in 2012 and 2013 who always added a bit of humor (I didn’t see him last year), a panel with a cast of characters all representing different points of views, was a new experiment this year to the main SAND stage. Panelists JP Sears, Swami Beyondananda and David Ellzey joined Maurizio to discuss mindfulness (or rather mindlessness) in mainstream terms and all the considerations that mainstream brings about. Below, Ellzey played an Italian criminal who talked about his meaning of the world and life, all through and related to what Italians hold dearest — family of course. “My family will all love you of course except when they don’t,” he humorously said to the audience in a voice that oddly sounded like a rough version of Tony Soprano.

David’s character was a far cry from the more subdued Swami Beyondananda(below) who tried to portray the most serious student of consciousness among the group. But….not that subdued. Swami is the cosmic comic alter ego of writer, humorist, performer and uncommontator Steve Bhaerman. The Swami, whose favorite yoga pose is tongue-in-cheek, is the spokesperson for a new non-religion, FUNdamentalism (accent on “fun”). Says Swami, “We are strictly non-dominational.”

Swami became the most popular feature in Pathways, as he held forth on topics such as “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sects” (“… unbridled sects can lead to unwanted misconceptions …”), Teach Your Dog to Heal, Tantrum Yoga (“… the latest rage on the path to ire consciousness”), and more. I’d argue that humor is a great way for us to get to the truth for many people.

Then there was the confused Catholic played by JP Sears who drew a bunch of humorous parallels to being ‘owned by doctrine, guilt and the church,’ all with blatant humor of course.  JP is known for his satire and taking you on his own spiritual journey via video, funny video that is as well as the Sedona Method and his humorous storytelling around the illusory nature of thoughts and feelings that can hinder your happiness.

The idea of this “panel with a humorous edge,” according to Maurizio was to make anyone and everyone in the audience feel more connected to the most basic layers of consciousness and non-duality. This was inevitably followed by free-form spiritual dancing with DJ Dragonfly until well after midnight in the main ballroom.

I loved how many psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors and therapists were there — regardless of whether you’re suffering from an emotional issue or not, you can either get feedback in real-time should you choose to go there, or have one of the most interesting conversations you’ve had in awhile on a myriad of topics ranging from quantum cognition, identity and self, emptiness, depression, anxiety, feminism and the divine, god and goddesses to visual decision making, embodying love, healing Qigong and liberating our innate wisdom.

Below, Julie Yau spoke on the Spiritual Dimension of Trauma as part of an entire morning session dedicated to Expressions of Heart Intelligence. Also included in this session was Intuitive Guidance of the Heart with Deborah Rozman, Christianity and Unknowing with Richard Rohr and inherited family trauma with Mark Wolynn.

Photo credit: Uliana Bazar

Another insightful session was on Beyond Doership with Rosha Silver, from leaving the prison of doership that so many of us live every day to the Yoga of Wonder and Delight with Lorin Roche. On the zen tradition, we heard from Kokyo Henkel and on Identity, Self and Actions with Rita Venturini.














Personally I loved the sessions they refer to as Experiential, which might include Qigong (I loved the energy of Vivienne Verdon-Roe who spoke of healing her Lyme Disease through Qigong), dance, authentic movement, yoga, dance improv and Breema, which we did for the second year in a row. On the surface, Breema might simply seem like a bit of a cross between yoga and Thai massage, but encompasses so much more.  Breema Bodywork, Self-Breema Exercises, and The Nine Principles of Harmony are natural expressions of what they refer to as “the unifying principle of Existence.”

The body work which you do with a partner, offers a practical means of becoming present as a way to support our overall health. In the process, you discover a new way of learning that leads to increased understanding of ourselves and a deepening sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose.

Each exercise and movement incorporates nurturing touch, tension-relieving stretches, and rhythmic movements to create physical, mental, and emotional balance. It’s all about tapping into the body’s instinctive healing energy, embracing vitality rather than focusing on symptoms of illness or imbalance. It’s actually quite powerful and builds on itself — in other words, we got a lot more out of this year than we did last year.

Photo credit: Buffalo Rising

In addition to the incredible physical and interactive experiential sessions, there were also more intimate conversations in the Spiritual Dome which they have outside the main conference room facility on the lawn. Some conversations included Music of the Mystics with Tahir Faridi Qawwal, Cello and Sax over Tea with Suellen Primost & Jeremy Marais, Liberating Our Inner Wisdom with Susanne Marie, the Evolution of the Non-Duality Community with Maja Apolonia Rode, a Collective Heart and Awakening with Joe Hudson, the Feminine Principle with Devorah Bry, Living and Loving in the Unknown with Lorne Rubinoff, and Music Al Fresco with Sweet Medicine. There was also evening plenary sessions that included Devotional Poetry with Deepak Chopra and Fanna-Fi-Allah, Innocence and Spontaneity of Not Knowing with Francis Lucille, and In the SANDBOX with JP Sears as a few examples.

The event is very interactive and experiential in so many lovely ways — have a look!!














Above Photo Credits: Uliana Bazar

Below, Maurizio introduces some of SAND’s keynote speakers who led the evening sessions, which included well known names in the world of consciousness like Francis Cholle, Rupert Spira, Deepak and Ken Wilber who was interviewed on video especially for the SAND audience.

The other thing about SAND that makes it so special is the conversations that happen in between sessions or over lunch outside on the lawn. It’s one of those events where you never know who you’re going to sit next to or have a conversation with and it is inevitably always enlightening.

The other lovely thing about the event is the non-judgment part. You’ll find people napping on lawns, couches, the floors of conference rooms or while sitting up, all as a way to take care of oneself. Taking care of (and loving ourselves) is part of the life long journey and one of the hardest tasks we all undertake. It’s easier to be accountable to someone else than it is to ourselves (think coaches, trainers, etc) and it’s easier to love and commit to another person we care about than it is to our own journey. That spiritual journey must start with loving oneself and self-care is a big part of migrating towards an evolved consciousness, a life that is free from dogma, free from opinion and free from self-blame and pity.

And, of course, as the sun sets at night, you can not just take it in with like-minded souls, but breathe it in. And, it was all so glorious!

Did I say bliss? It’s not really a word that comes to mind when you think of a conference experience but SAND incorporates bliss as it does self-love, awakening, and getting in touch with where spirituality, science, mathematics and our secular worlds converge and ultimately meet in harmony. After all, we are all one after all!

As part of the totality of the experience, they had evening performances, music and dancing, from ballroom “show-and-tell” to a transcendent dance and music experience with Music is Medicine. (below)

Music is Medicine (aka “MiM”) did a performance for us in the courtyard — think of their style as an electronic-organic trance-fusion by soundhealing interplanetary medicine-makers…yes really. The shamanic duo: Rafe Pearlman and Zia Sunseri collaborate in creating soundhealing events and spectacular ritualistic and operatic performances to stimulate the archetypes of our souls.  Rafe and Zia also lead SoundSpa-soundbaths which are unique soundhealing experiences, as well as  Workshops on Finding Your Natural Voice and Vocal-Trance experiences.


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Photo credits: Renee Blodgett unless otherwise noted above




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