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, books challenging the role of our moral compass and responsibility as human first, American second, bullying behavior in schools and communities and beyond.

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 experience. 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.

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.

SAND 2018 Maurizio Benazzo

SAND Co-Founder Maurizio Benazzo on the main stage

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 there as things emerge, is so powerful and magical that you may just get knocked off your chair for a minute 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 enough to learn, grow, hear, see, smell and touch, but most importantly, to FEEL. 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.

SAND 2018

Jean Houston, who is a recognized pioneer in the Human Potential Movement spoke to us about positive action in the world as well as how to best tap into the power of latent abilities in individuals. We all have them. Over the last 60 years, she has spoken and worked in over 105 countries.

SAND 2018

Above and below: Awakening to the Divine Feminine Panel: Mirabai Starr, Francis Bennett, Zhen Dao, Nadeshwari Joythimayananda, moderated by Vera de Chalambert

SAND 2018

Dr. Gabriele Hilberg spoke on change and what it takes for individuals to change. As a psychologist who works in Silicon Valley, she shared some of her findings (both experiential and from research) about what really gets people to change and where Love fits into the picture.

Igor Kufayev SAND 2018

Non-Dual teacher Igor Kufayev shared his insights with a small group in a break-out room. He addressed Being Human and what it means in the context of Self-Realization. He asserts that the way we hold so dearly to what we can “individuality” is in itself a telling sign that it may be nothing other than psychosis in varying degrees of intensity.

SAND 2018 Karen Johnson

Co-founder of The Ridhwan School Karen Johnson has participated in the development of the “Diamond Approach” since the 1970’s and has been teaching for over 30 years. She has an interest in true spirit of scientific investigation based on the love for truth. I love her soft serene energy on stage.

SAND 2018 Zhen Dao

Zhen Dao blew the audience away from the main stage at SAND this year. Founder of the Daoist-based practice tradition of MogaDao, Zhen is a transgendar Daoist monk who is also a poet, novelist and writer on a wide range of religious, philosophical, and cultural subjects. Zhen follows a monastic schedule of training in all five of the MogaDao disciplines and is a powerful, passionate force on stage, whether talking or performing, all with the goal of provoking change as we know it politically and socially — kindness, diversity and love are key.

SAND science and nonduality Bruce Damer

Multidisciplinary Scientist Bruce Damer spoke about Being Human within the Engine of Creation. He asserts that the dark and light parts of our nature now face each other in a high stakes planetary stand-off which will determine our very survival.

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 and scope of text books and research papers.

Ellen Emmet SAND 2018

Ellen Emmet led a powerful experiential session

Mirabai Starr SAND 2018

Mirabai Starr in the main room

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?”

Thomas Hubl at SAND 2018

Thomas Huebl at SAND 2018

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 consciousness in form when our forms are forever changing and how do we navigate this paradox?”

Deborah Johnson SAND

Deborah Johnson at SAND 2018

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.

Nicola Amadora SAND 2018

Nicola Amadora on Relating straight from the Heart and Connecting for Real at SAND 2018

Closing circle at SAND 2018

The Closing Circle at SAND 2018

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 Consciousness 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.

SAND 2018

SAND is not just about talks

SAND 2018

Powerful feminine divine time at SAND: Sherri Lassila, Nicola Amadora, Renee Blodgett, Deborah Stuart, Natalie Petouhoff, Carol Zoubek

SAND 2018 Kristen, Renee and Amanda

Kristen Eykel, Renee Blodgett and Amber Seitz

SAND 2018

Suzanne Scurlock-Durana, Renee Blodgett, Ed Savay, Jason Yotopoulos, Carla de Cervantes, Dr. Gabriele Hilberg

SAND 2018

Kristen Eykel, Julie Brown Rau, Michaela Boehm, Renee Blodgett

SAND 2018

Carol Zoubek, Edward Frenkel, Renee Blodgett

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.

SAND 2018

Above and below: David Ellzey led an experiential session on Infinite Dancing as Body & Being

SAND 2018

David’s experiential session at SAND 2018

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.

SAND 2018 Rosebud

Rosebud Woman founder Christine Mason was on-site talking about their commitment to earth and plant wisdom for healing, health and beauty. They offer products and information to support all of the cycles in a woman’s life:  her lifecycle, her sexual cycle, her reproductive cycle and her seasonal cycle.

SAND 2018

Deborah Stuart is the founder of HighChi Energy Jewelry. Recognized for its great anti-aging properties, HighChi energy is a fusion of the 12 Higher Harmonics and includes the higher harmonic of ultraviolet that provides spiritual abundance and horizontal negative green, which is the same life force energy around trees and plants.

The sea room at SAND 2018

The tea room at SAND 2018 offered a variety of teas to taste and sample, some of which were calming and others more balancing and energizing.

SAND 2018

Crystal bowls presented by Mytrae Meliana (above and below). Mytrae Meliana is a Women’s Empowerment & Divine Feminine teacher, coach, speaker, sound healer, and holistic psychotherapist who uses Sound & Energy Medicine, Holistic Psychology, Tantra, and the Power of Story Quantum and Spiritual Healing in her work to empower and heal women.

SAND 2018

Mytrae Meliana, Renee Blodgett

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.

The Closing ceremony at SAND 2018

The Closing Ceremony at SAND 2018

SAND 2018

SAND 2018

SAND 2018

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.

SAND 2018 Bookstore

The SAND 2018 Bookstore

Useful Resources: