Awareness and Compassion
Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
This course is designed to be a support for deepening awareness of ourselves and the world around us. We will focus on building concentrated attention, undistracted awareness, clarity of perception, discriminating wisdom, and creative insight. We will also address ways to effectively deal with destructive emotions. We will present practices that help develop compassion and joy so they can be increasingly experienced in our daily lives. For the beginner it will present a substantial body of knowledge and instruction to start on the initial leg of an unimaginable journey to the furthest reaches of human potential. For the experienced meditator it will provide a diversification of practices and support to enrich one’s life. We begin with the premise that awakening to our deepest potential is a lifelong developmental process marked by an enhanced way of life. Thus, a six week course will only be a spark to the total Light that is available to us. But the practices in this course can be a spark that fires again and again to help brighten up the path before us.
The contemplative practices presented here are not concerned with the dogma of exoteric branches of any religion or following someone’s interpretation of scriptures, but rather it is focused on the scientifically proven methods of mind development. It is about ascending to the heights of our consciousness and then learning to embody the wisdom which comes from that new knowledge in living a rich, precious, human life which is real.
Much can be learned with an open mind. Different cultures and religions have many varied practices from which to draw a wealth of wisdom. We will encourage investigation into these different approaches. We do not advocate one contemplative spiritual path as being better than another. Each has to find his or her own way. We do draw heavily on Buddhist meditative practices for they are the some of the most well documented and tested over the last two thousand five hundred years. Buddhism is also unique in that it is one of the rare religions which one is invited to draw from all it has to offer with no obligation or pressure to “become a Buddhist.”
The foundations of this course are: Daily Meditations, Daily Mindfulness Practices, Psychological Inquiry, and Compassionate Action.
There will be different levels of participation and commitment to this course by those who sign up for it. The first level will be those who are moderately curious about beginning a contemplative life. They will use the homework sessions as experiments in a meditative practice. They may not be interested sufficiently to read the recommended readings or their lives may be too busy to engage in any of the practices presented in these extra readings. The second level of participation would involve more extensive use of the resources and more diligence about daily meditation, self inquiry, and mindfulness practice. These individuals may have been previously touched by the transformative power of meditative practices and thus the flame of curiosity for the Truth is stronger to fuel more energetic involvement in experiments of self-discovery. The third level of participation would include full immersion into the many resources suggested and much time every day devoted to experimenting with the different practices so it is a major focus of one’s life. Contact with contemplative groups and teachers would be enthusiastically engaged. So whatever your degree of involvement this course should be able to assist you in your goals.
Recommended Reading on Consciousness
The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins (original argument for consciousness evolving via “random” natural selection without necessity of a Supernatural Being) He is also the author of The Selfish Gene.
**In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion by Scott Atran (The most comprehensive, detailed explanation of how religion evolved and is expected to persist because it fulfills unique natural selection qualities, personally and culturally.)
**Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer (One of the most reasonable, scientific explanations of how religious thought has become so pervasive in all human cultures because of how the function of our brains evolved.)
Why God Won’t Go Away by Newberg and D’Aquili (fascinating neurological studies of Tibetan monks and Christian nuns during spiritual ecstasy although their unjustified conclusions do not follow their evidence)
Exploring Consciousness by Rita Carter (an excellent overview of recent consciousness studies, perceptual tests and different hypotheses)
Varieties of Anomalous Experience edited by Cardena, Lynn, and Krippner (excellent documentation but often each chapter’s concluding remarks are hedged)
*Intuition: Its Power and Peril by David G. Myers (Really demonstrates how questionable our own perceptions can be.)
*The Illusion of Conscious Will by Wegner (Everyone should read this!)
*A General Theory of Love by Lewis, Amini, and Lannon (Excellent!)
Kinds of Mind by Daniel Dennett (Short concise description of how minds work and how the brain evolved complexity of consciousness)
Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer
The Science of Good and Evil by Michael Shermer
No Sense of Obligation by Matt Young (Step-by-step analysis of differences between religion and science)
The End of Faith by Sam Harris (Eloquent argument for rejecting faith without evidence.)
Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee (Excellent exploration of neurobiology of consciousness in plain language with interesting examples of sensory illusions and disturbed behavior caused by damaged brain function.)
A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness by V.S. Ramachandran
Looking For Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain by Antonio Damasio (Excellent overall picture of the neurobiology of emotions. One can skip the sections referring to Spinoza without losing the meaning of the book.)
Toward a Science of Consciousness III edited by Hameroff, Kaszniak, Chalmers (Particularly chapters 8, 19, 21, 22, 38.)
Rational Mysticism by John Horgan (Asks important questions which are often ignored by those on the contemplative path. Explores interesting alternative explanations of mystical experience.)
Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening by Stephen Batchelor (Proposes the consciousness hygiene aspects of Buddhism and addresses human and cultural transformation without the adverse, consoling or mystical trappings of religion.)
Consciousness: An Introduction by Susan Blakemore (An academic textbook that covers numerous aspects, questions, and theories regarding consciousness. Many self-exercises and explorations to demonstrate principles of consciousness.)
The Seven Sins of Memory by Daniel L. Schacter (Important scientific documentation of how mechanisms of memory that evolved for enhanced evolutionary adaptation can distort our perception of reality.)
The Ethical Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga (Good discussion about how modern science can inform better ethical decision making, the neurology of belief, how the interpreter module of the brain will create stories just to keep reality within our cohesive belief system, and the evolutionary social development of religion out of survival needs.)
The Third Basic Instinct by Alex S. Key (How curiosity shaped human development)
Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman (Identifies important research on positive emotions, the heritability of some percentage of them and practical ways to achieve more happiness.)
Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
Journal of Happiness Studies
Secondary Readings (Certain components of these books address important issues.)
The Emergence of Everything by Howard Morowitz (Good description of how life emerged according to Darwinian evolution but the chapter on Spiritual emergence is really bizarre.)
A Universe of Consciousness by Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi (Good neuroscience but very difficult to read.)
Synaptic Self by Joseph LeDoux (Very difficult reading but very detailed explanation of neurological function)
Wider Than The Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness by Gerald Edelman (Very difficult reading but the best “unified theory of consciousness”—The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection)
The purpose in life is a warm heart.
Think of other people. Serve other people sincerely.
The Dalai Lama