What does it mean to be human? With the onslaught of political turmoil, sexual harassment, allegations and other issues being buried in Washington and beyond, it’s no wonder this question is being asked and debated more and more….and not just in the western world. I’ve been getting pitched on things like etiquette training, bullying behavior in schools and communities, and books challenging the role of our moral compass and responsibility as humans.
At a conference about Science and Non-Duality, you might be wondering where ethics and humanity comes into play. It turns out, they couldn’t be more interconnected. Let’s remember that within our humanity lies compassion, empathy, mutual support and understanding of others unlike ourselves and all of this must be considered within the construct of ethics, morality, human character and within the laws that not just govern our states and countries, but the Universe itself.
I’ve been attending the SAND (Science and Non-Duality) Conference for many years now, nearly since its induction now ten years ago. It started as a smaller event in northern Marin and has since grown to accommodate larger space at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose California, which is a perfect venue for a spiritually-inclined event.
Truth be told, many events grow too fast or when they become popular and more renowned, profits and corporate interest tends to come first, before the interest of the attendees. We’ve all experienced this pattern with events and then we find that our “once favorite event” becomes too commercialized or big and the magic is lost. It happens all the time.
When you think about it, we don’t just go to conferences to learn and gather data — we go to connect with like-minds and to FEEL connected to something greater than ourselves. SAND does a beautiful job at providing this experience and treats its attendees as family.
Enter SAND 2018
Each year, there’s a fascinating theme at SAND and this year, it was The Mystery of Being Human. Intriguing right? Maybe your definition of being human is a connection to trees, mountains and rivers, or perhaps children or perhaps its art. Perhaps its the deep connection we have for others, compassion, empathy and love. We all have our own definition of humanity, being human and what it means for us personally.
What I love most about SAND (and every year, founders Maurizio and Zaya Benazzio, manage to pull it off) is their commitment to connecting with and to people at an intimate level. The love that emanates from this husband and wife team is very real and palpable.
They consider SAND a playground where people can come together to explore and share insights or simply experience what is emerging in the moment. From a Buddhist perspective (and other philosophies and religions too), this is the art of being PRESENT in the here and now. The “here and now” and truly being present as things emerge, is so powerful and magical that you may just get knocked off your chair for a moment or two….or hopefully longer.
This is where true transformation happens. SAND invites you into a space of transformation and then it’s up to you to be open to learning, growing, hearing, seeing, smelling and touching, but most importantly, feeling. As Zaya and Maurizio assert, “in this infinite, ever-present interconnected world, we are whole and not separate from ‘it.'” How powerful to experience the source in all its multitude of forms…in other words, to live the infinite through finite cycles.
Every year, I find that I’m blown wide open but always in ways I least expect and it stems from a combination of their powerful speakers, the break-out and experiential sessions and the conversations in the hallways.
Science, Non-Duality & Beyond
While SAND has its core in science and non-duality, sessions go far beyond the traditional dialogue, far beyond what has been proven and beyond the scope of text books and research papers.
Dr. Chris Fields posed how an experienced self might be advantageous in evolutionary terms, discussing how the idea that the self is invested as a means of organizing experience can influence how we interpret our experiences of self-hood.
We heard from Mirabai Starr who spoke of our renewed access to women mystics and wisdom across spiritual traditions, such as Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Mary Magdalene, Sophia, the Shekinah, Song of Songs and more. Even Quan Yin, Kali and the indigenous Mother goddesses. She read from various mystics and evocative writing on the main stage.
Also in the main Hayes Ballroom and later at a break-out session, Thomas Huebl talked about Collective Trauma as a Hidden Obstacle to our Evolution. His work deals with the epigenetic effects that are passed down through generations, which is impacting behavior, sociological and political change and beyond. Thomas asks: “could it be that a hidden layer of collective trauma underlies many of the seemingly intractable social, economic and even environmental issues humanity faces today?”
Deborah Johnson of Inner Light Ministries suggests that we are evolving from a Newtonian paradigm of existence in which we are static entities of matter at the mercy of external forces in the universe. Given that we now understand that we live in a quantum field of infinite potentiality, we are part of the quantum field itself. Deborah asks: “what does this mean for our in form when our forms are forever changing and how do we navigate this paradox?”
We learned about how Hakomi Mindful Somatic Psychotherapy can be used to help human change in a healthy way. Dominique Lando led us through how it relates to different Buddhist traditions and meditation practices as well as well as mindfulness itself. Chetan Prakash also led a session on Aikido as a Conscious Embodiment of Non-Duality and Jeannie Zandi ran a session on Living Love in the heat of the gender divide.
Dr. James Fadiman ran a session on a topic that is of interest to many in Silicon Valley and beyond right now: Microdosing. He shared results from both research and personal stories. Nicola Amadora spoke to attendees about how to relate straight from the heart and what does that truly mean: simply to meet in love’s presence exactly as we are right now.
She asks: “how do you tap into this river of connection and offer life giving juice? How do you radically include the beauty, intelligence, messiness and human vulnerability in relating and communication?” Nicola asserts that truly connecting is a profound spiritual practice in itself — we need to engage in mutual awakening in order to show up fully for ourselves and for others.
Dr. Peter Russell addressed Resting in Being, whereas Dorothy Hunt of Moon Mountain Sangha explored Presence and Personhood, looking at ways to approach our inner struggles by not separating ourselves from them yet being willing to look deeply at where we are divided and….why.
We loved the calming effect of Marlise Cocheret who spoke of the Human Divine and love as well as the panel on Awakening in the Body with Vanessa Scotto, Brooke Thomas, Dorothy Hunt, Jeannie Zandi and Kiran Trace. Then, Kimberly Braun talked about Christ and Non-Dual Cosmology in context — what could it mean to be human is to be in the process of realization describe as being and becoming conscious?
While you will be significantly moved by speakers and teachers you’ve never heard of before, the bigger names in science, medicine, psychology and non-duality show up to lead discussions as well, such as Deepak Chopra, Rupert Spira and Francis Lucille to name a few.
Networking & Exchanging Ideas
One of the things we love most about SAND are the conversations in the hallways and the people you meet year after year. Connections are deep, discussions profound and change often transformative. Whether you want to tackle gender inequality, meditation, non-duality and science versus spirituality and creativity or psychology, artificial emotional intelligence, enneagrams, healing, Shamanism, Buddhism or Eleusinian Mysteries, SAND attendees and speakers will take you there.
Experiential at SAND 2018
They also offer experiential sessions each year at SAND, from sensual spirituality and Kundalini awakening, to dance, meditation, yoga, breathing and movement to Trance, conscious embodiment and sound healing. Richard Rudis and Karma Sonam Dorje did a full spectrum vibrational healing which I also attended last year — it’s always powerful.
Other experiential sessions included authentic movement with Rita Venturini, intimacy and the play of the Erotic with Michaela Boehm and Steve James, Our Body in Relationship with Dev Bry, Shakti and the Dance of Spirit with Nadeshwari Joythimayananda, Body of Truth, Body and Vibration with Ellen Emmet, Body Aging and Spark after 50 with Ariel Giarretto, Qigong with Zhen Dao, Prayer and Participation with Samantha Sweetwater, and more.
Vendors at SAND 2018
They always have a wonderful collection of vendors each years as well, ranging from jewelry and crystal bowls to artifacts, gemstones, gift items, wellness, books and more.
Ceremony, Meaning & Connection
SAND combines the power of on-stage talks from experts and gurus, fabulous networking with like-minded souls, healing and empowerment through experiential sessions and deeper spiritual work at smaller break-out sessions where you can dive deeper into certain areas of your life.
There’s also ceremony and ritual at the beginning as well as in the evenings with fire dancers and cultural performances. This year, we experienced Bhangra Dance from the Dholrhythms Dance Company and a late night dance party with DJ Dragonfly on Music is Medicine.
There’s always a bookstore at SAND each year as well where you can find a myriad of authors’ works on awakening, science, psychology, peace, divinity, spirituality, LSD, drug therapy, meditation, yoga and more.
Below is a video summary of our experience this year — as always, we left feeling more connected and inspired. I’d strongly recommend attending even if you’re not in the San Francisco Bay Area.
It is held in San Jose every October so plan for it next year and if you’re in Europe, they hold one in Italy (we so want to go to one in the future). Quite honestly, how can you not be enticed by Italy? Here’s a link to their 2018 event so you can get an idea of the magic. Head on over to their website for more information and reading.
Enjoy the brief video recap below.
- SAND Conference, which also includes great resources
- My recap on SAND 2017
- My recap on SAND 2016
- My recap on SAND 2015
- My recap on SAND 2014
- My recap on SAND 2012
- Breema Clinic (based in Oakland CA)
- Spirituality & Health – Inspiration, practices, affirmations and insights for living well
- You Are the Universe – Discovering your cosmic self and why it matters with Deepak Chopra and Menas Kafatos
- United Divine Intentions: On the non-local mind and quantum physics, the healing art of spiritual or subtle activism and how intentions can manifest positive change
- Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre CA (we reviewed an experience there recently — workshops on loving relationships and the Feldenkreis Method
- Integrative Restoration Institute
- Quantum Gravity Research – what if it were true that the ground of reality is in fact consciousness?
Photo credits: Renee Blodgett unless otherwise noted above