Our current era can often seem marked by too much reactivity and too little reflectivity. In the practice of meditation, however, we can become intimate with our mental continuum and somatic and emotional experience. But what is the nature of awareness that allows us to familiarize ourselves with our mental, physical, and affective processes? Can we be aware without there being any object or content of awareness? How is it that we can be aware of being aware, that is, experience meta-awareness? What is mind-wandering and how does it impact our sensory and cognitive experience? How does the activity of the default network affect awareness? What happens to awareness in states of “unconsciousness?” How does awareness function in sleep, during anesthesia, in coma, in states of cognitive decline, at the time of death? These are among a set of important questions that are currently being vigorously debated within the fields of Buddhist scholarship and philosophy of mind, and explored within the laboratories of mind and brain scientists. Most of the relevant research has been conducted in only the past few decades, the entire topic of consciousness having been excluded from scientific psychology and neuroscience for most of the 20th century. In the 2020 Varela International Symposium, we examine awareness and related experiences, such as mind wandering, mindfulness, meta-awareness, and unusual states from the diverse perspectives of Buddhist philosophy, cognitive science, and neuroscience. We will also explore why understanding the nature of awareness is essential for social and personal well-being. Presentations and interactive discussions with participants will occur within the context of meditation practice and the contemplative environment of Upaya Zen Center.
Please note: This program is for people in the sciences and contemplative science fields.