Spiritual Awakenings Book Launch
Day 1: Saturday, 24th September 2022
Summary by Sue Lewis.
The Summit was introduced and chaired by Marjorie Woollacott and David Lorimer, the editors of Spiritual Awakenings: Scientists and Academics Describe Their Experiences, just published by the Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences (AAPS). The book contains fifty-seven contributions divided into seven sections. The first session featured five of the twelve contributors to ‘Part 1: Spiritually Transformative Experiences (STEs) Through Spiritual Practices’, and the second session featured four contributors from Parts 2 and 3: STEs Occurring During or Awakening from Sleep or Spontaneously During Daily Activities. Their experiences are underpinned by the quest to ‘Know thyself’. The event attracted a large, worldwide participating audience on Zoom.
The first speaker, Dr Athena Potari, is a Fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University, and founder of Atheonoa—’a forum devoted to the study of Ancient Greek Philosophy as a non-dual wisdom tradition which combines scientific reasoning with the experiential realization of Logos and Being as Eudaimonia’. Athena, who launched ‘A Call for a Renaissance of the Spirit in the Humanities’ (Paradigm Explorer 2021/3, pp. 7-9; Official Launch 23rd April 2022), addressed the meeting from her office in Athens. A large white porcelain owl, sacred to Athena the goddess of wisdom, was aptly perched on her desk, and she set the tone for a day of intense sharing. Athena had been relentlessly seeking an elusive truth she was ready to die for when, one evening at her meditation group, in a deep state of absorption, she sank into an abyss of fire from which she arose to witness her true nature as she emerged into a place of being, eudaimonia—opening into oneness—awakened to consciousness in unity and liberated from seeking. At last she could be her authentic self.
Co-Director of the Choosing Earth project, Duane Elgin MBA MA is author of numerous articles and several books, his most recent, in 2020, being Choosing Earth: Humanity’s Great Transition to a Mature Planetary Civilization (reviewed by David Lorimer in Paradigm Explorer 2021/2, pp. 55-56). In late 1977, Duane took a half-year off work to focus on reading and meditation, gathering vast quantities of seemingly disorganized knowledge. Finally, a process of intense self-inquiry over three days culminated in transformative awakening to self, suffused in radiance, intelligence, creativity and love. Duane co-authored a book with Joseph Campbell (1904-87), who asserted that people are not so much seeking meaning in life as a deeper awakening to aliveness itself. With psychic sensitivity, Duane tunes into the literacy of consciousness and is a social visionary.
Whereas both Athena and Duane actively strove towards a higher state of consciousness, assisted by meditation practice, and altered their career paths after spiritual awakening, for Professor Emerita Marilyn Monk spiritual emergence came unexpectedly. In 1976, travelling from the UK, where she researched and lectured at University College London, to Australia, where she was brought up, she stopped off in India to visit a friend at an ashram in Pune. During her audience with the master, she was transported into an ecstatic state of being that would sit awkwardly with her career as a rational scientist working with facts and evidence. For Marilyn, who had experienced the awe and wonder of nature as a child and was a high academic achiever, her spiritual awakening, and its cynical reception by some of her colleagues, came as a shock, and she has had to learn how to balance her parts—scientist, poet and mystic—as complementary ways of knowing and being.
Bo Ahrenfelt MD, former psychiatrist and radio producer, witnessed thought transference among members of his family in Sweden, so his awareness of the inner life began early. He discovered Buddhism at the age of twelve, started meditating at twenty-six, and came to recognise the purpose of psychotherapy as being ‘to restore the capacity for love’ (citing Claudio Naranjo [1932-2019]). He likened his awakening insights to stations on the Hero’s Journey. Of our interconnected consciousness, he said, ‘we are all meeting in a soup where information is moving around and we need to trust the process’. His soup caught the mood of his audience and generated enthusiastic chat, as the soup became an ‘ocean of oneness’ and a ‘sea of love’.
Dr Marjorie Woollacott described how, as a young neuroscientist, she had joined her sister on a meditation retreat out of curiosity. Unexpectedly, she responded to the swami’s touch with a surge of energy radiating outwards from her heart to fill her whole being. Returning home, she began regular morning meditations, while still considering herself to be first and foremost a scientist. After leading a dual life for twenty-five years, she began to bridge the gap. As a Professor of Human Physiology at the University of Oregon, teaching courses on neuroscience and rehabilitation, she introduced complementary and alternative medicine and meditation into the curriculum. Thereafter, she became Research Director for the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) and she is President of AAPS.
Participants were enormously appreciative of the honesty and integrity with which speakers shared their unique experiences, and Athena summarised our mood and expectations in the chat: ‘In the age of Aquarius, Knowledge will be popularised again: it will no longer be dependent on detached, patriarchally-structured academic authorities over and above the people, but new institutions will arise based on popular call, support and need for practical, meaningful forms of knowledge and education. That is precipitated by the Internet and the unprecedented knowledge circulation it has enabled. This present forum is evidence of that shift’.
Jessica Corneille MSc is a research psychologist working for Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), who is on the Steering Committee of the Galileo Commission. Jessica’s awakening post-lucid dream filled her with such living energy that light emanated from her body as the doors of perception opened, unveiling ancient wisdom and transforming her from an atheist into a spiritual being full of life, love, empathy and gratitude. The answers, she felt, were already within her before this altered state of consciousness encompassed everything, bringing her lived experience into the world of science.
Spiritual Awakenings illustrates many scenarios. The contributions of Dr Joan Walton, who lectures at York St John University in the Department of Education, and Dr Chris Roe, Chair of Psychology at the University of Northampton, shift emphasis from specific life-changing and transformative breakthroughs to evolving spiritual consciousness with awareness of the role education can play when students are encouraged to be open to spiritual life and to discuss their experiences.
Joan found her upbringing by parents who were Christian missionaries somewhat stifling. At the age of nineteen, Carl Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, opened her mind to depth psychology and active imagination. Synchronicities became a daily occurrence as she made a commitment to be true to herself. The death of her partner and soulmate at the age of forty one affected her profoundly in ways too complex to describe in a short book entry. During her mid-thirties, Joan had been a social worker in a society that lacked care. As an academic she has developed greater empathy, spirituality and political awareness (see Paradigm Explorer 2022/1, pp. 3-6). Joan actively encourages students to formulate convincing arguments for researching and writing dissertations on topics outside the box that will be worthwhile additions to the pool of knowledge while also assisting their personal growth and spiritual awakening.
Chris took his first degree in biological sciences. So he was using quantitative-experimental methods in controlled conditions as a PhD student researching ways in which people might simulate psychic or mediumistic abilities. As he noticed that some participants were conducting their own experiments within his experiment, he recognised that humans are not data generators, but sentient beings each with their own agenda. A fellow student with a lifelong theoretical interest in parapsychology acknowledged his discomfort when meeting people who reported actually having psychic experiences. Chris recognised the shortcomings of a dualistic perspective that separated researcher from researched. One way of bridging the gap was to bring researchers into experiments, thus increasing their sensitivity to inner experience. From the first-person perspective, he concluded that human beings are meaning-makers rather than factfinders. But what defines meaning, which varies from culture to culture? Chris encourages students and colleagues to share their paranormal experiences, which are mostly less uncommon and more normal than first perceived and often give impetus to growth and self-realisation.
Dr Gary E. Schwartz, Professor of Psychology, Medicine, Neurology, Psychiatry and Surgery at the University of Arizona, and founding president of AAPS, was raised in a reformed Jewish family that was atheistic and scientific. He had two near death experiences (NDEs), one as an infant of less than a year old, a second during his early teens, and an out of body experience (OBE) as a jazz musician playing Summertime to an ecstatic audience. He was inspired by Carl Sagan’s ethic, ‘I believe that the extraordinary should be pursued. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’, which featured in his recent talk to SMN (14 September 2022). Another significant influence was Huston Smith (1919-2016), the scholar of religious studies who also mentored Neal Grossman. Gary, a well-trained scientist whose eyes had been opened to the universal mind, asked the Universe to give him another name for God and received the answer, ‘Sam’. Pre-Internet, few people. Including Gary, knew that the Old Testament name Samuel derived from the Hebrew phrase ‘Name for God’! Gary rounded off his entertaining talk with a poem that included the words, ‘Soul is Wisdom, Spirit is Love’, to which David added that Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) had referred to Divine Love and Wisdom as wine and bread.
Animated conversation followed. The academic lived with the sword of Damocles, poised between the need to filter out self-defensive sceptics before sharing anomalous experiences, to avoid loss of status, and the need to keep donors happy, to avoid loss of funding. Courses referencing the inner life could pass scrutiny, provided they attracted students and money, but many academics felt unable to express their spirituality until after they retired. Professor Emeritus John Palka reminded everyone that great scientists like Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and Swedenborg had studied both the Book of Nature and the Book of Spirit before materialist and physicalist philosophies prevailed. Gandhi said: ‘Love is an ontological force’. Andrew, Lord Stone of Blackheath summed up the first day in the chat: ‘This has been not only fascinating but an important step forward’.
Meditation with Peter Fenwick
Day 2: Sunday, 25th September 2022
More information about the book
Visit spiritual-awakenings.net to learn all about the book and how to buy it.