Consortium for Consciousness Studies in Higher Education (CCSHE)
CCSHE seeks to help guide the establishment of consciousness studies as a foundational area of study in the 21st century academy.
Viewing itself at the intersection of burgeoning consciousness studies and contemplative studies movements, CCSHE strives to take this work further through the following angles:
- Advocacy of grounding meditation and related practice in robust theoretical accounts of the nature of consciousness, its development, and the relationship of individual consciousness to the cosmic wholeness in order to usher in a new, integral worldview for humanity.
- Shifts the onus when it comes to defining consciousness from neutral, if not privileged status of materialist viewpoints to the centering of a nondual, integral worldview. Consciousness is not a byproduct of the physical, it is primary in the cosmic order. This is not to categorically rule out materialist arguments, but to alter the backdrop against which such arguments are made.
- Recognition of the arts, and particularly improvised musical art as not only powerful vehicles for heightened consciousness, but also important sources of ontological insight in the quest to understand consciousness. To reiterate a key ICC precept; human beings are co-evolutionary participants in the improvisatory cosmic unfolding.
- To use the improvisation/arts-inspired, nondual understanding of consciousness as a format to sustain a conversation about contemporary spirituality of unprecedented scope and inclusivity. Aiming to transcend denominational, ideological and political divisions, this conversation will engage individuals from contemplative lineages, indigenous traditions, religious faith traditions, adherents to a spiritual-but-not-religious identity, and beyond to celebrate common ground, critically interrogate points of difference, and above all recognize that the primacy of spirit is where humanity and all life most profoundly unites and is the basis for navigating the present juncture in the history of the world.
- Recognize the growing volume of research into the physically transcendent, nonlocal, and intersubjective dimensions of consciousness—research that is often uncritically dismissed due to its paradigmatically challenging nature—as essential to the understanding of the human being and human potential, and thus essential to the future of the academy and society.
- Integrate a robust social justice/social activism thrust within the improvisatory/arts-driven consciousness revolution. This enables emergent consciousness studies work to intersect with, yet also expand the horizons of the activism that has long been prominent on college campuses.
- Promote awareness of what improvisatory-art driven, consciousness-based inquiry and engagement has to offer approaches to environmental sustainability.
- Promote awareness of what improvisatory-art driven, consciousness-based inquiry and engagement has to offer approaches to peace.
The idea for CCSHE began to take shape as a result of three primary developments in my work.
First involves my involvement in two particularly exciting movements in higher education—contemplative studies and consciousness studies.
In 1997, I was one of 16 fellows in the first year of the American Council of Learned Societies Contemplative Fellowship Program, facilitated by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, and have been fairly active publishing in the field, as well as presenting and performing at related conferences. My involvement in formal academic consciousness studies came a bit later, even if my engagement in the work can be traced back decades as well. Between Integral Theory, Science and Nonduality, Scientific and Medical Network, Society for Scientific Exploration, Tucson Science of Consciousness, Society for Consciousness Studies and other organizations, communities and gatherings, the field has made steady strides along the path toward being an established academic discipline.
In the past ten years of so, it began to dawn on me that contemplative studies and consciousness studies had everything to gain from being in much closer contact with each other. If I might so generalize: Contemplative studies has been driven by the impetus to bring meditation and related practices into the classroom. Consciousness studies by the quest to understand the nature of mind, which means—presuming the inquiry is not constrained by materialist assumptions—grappling with the biggest questions about the nature of the human being and relationship to cosmic wholeness.
As I began to circulate in both realms, I noticed how devoid the culture of contemplative studies was about inquiry into such age-old premises as consciousness that survives bodily death, soul, consciousness or spirit as primary in the broader scheme of creation, and the purpose of human existence. Instead, I found a kind of “spiritual flatland” to prevail, even amidst important work being done—against enormous challenges inherent in today’s epistemically anemic academy—to introduce and integrate meditation as a vehicle for increased well-being, cognitive sharpening, personal empowerment, critical thinking and so forth. But in terms of an environment where colleagues could come together and go deep into the mystical ground that is uniquely capable of transformative union, and part and parcel of contemplative traditions, I have found this notably lacking in the contemplative studies movement and believe it to have compromised the vitality of this otherwise important work.
And in consciousness studies, while many individuals are deeply engaged in meditation practices as well as research, I have found a kind of ambivalence about the role of such practice in the quest to understand consciousness. In other words, the coexistence of the exquisite silence, extraordinary clarity and wakefulness and wholeness of samadhi needs to be recognized as brimming with guidance not only in its transformative ramifications, but what it might tell us about the nature of consciousness and reality. I believe the same could be said of improvisation, which while fairly well recognized for its transformative, epistemic features, has yet to be recognized as a key ontological lens in the quest to understand mind, if not cosmos. This, perhaps, is among the most fundamental guiding principle in the entire Jazz Cosmos initiative.
Second is my interest in the social justice imperative and its relationship to consciousness. Here is where contemplative/consciousness nexus becomes curiously complicated. Contemplative studies in recent years has begun to articulate a strong social justice commitment. Consciousness studies has been largely ambivalent on this account. Perhaps ironically, contemplative studies ambivalence, if not aversion, to deep spiritual/mystical foundations of contemplative experience ends up narrowing the cultural horizons from which participants of diverse backgrounds may enter the conversation. And by the same token, consciousness studies’ rich embrace of the big questions—particularly in groups such as Society for Consciousness Studies—yields that very unifying ground, even if not yet explicitly broaching it from a social justice standpoint.
I therefore envision CCSHE as a forum that takes the social justice impetus from contemplative studies and grounds it in the epistemological scope and depth of consciousness studies.
Third, and closely related: I believe the time has come to take a firm stance on materialism as both a fundamentally flawed philosophy of mind, and also one that perpetuates egregious social justice transgressions. I weigh in forcefully on the latter point in my recent book, Black Music Matters, and I believe this is a further discussion that has yet to take hold.
In other words, if contemplative studies precludes diverse voices through spiritual ambivalence, materialist views of consciousness preclude diverse voices through outright spiritual aversion.
The fact that the vast portion of materialist commentary is framed with notable lack of recognition of sophisticated views of consciousness from a range of wisdom traditions is but the tip of a hegemonic iceberg when it comes to the overall impact of materialist ideology.
One might argue that a general retreat from materialism is evident in consciousness studies overall that is quite robust in some circles (again, SCS), albeit lagging in others. I nonetheless feel strongly that the moment has arrived where materialist ideology needs to be engaged head on from ontological, social justice and sustainability (cultural and ecological alike) perspectives. The inertia of materialism is simply too strong for anything less. This need not be taken as an a priori rejection of materialist perspectives, but rather a shifting of the onus in the quest to understand consciousness—where the burden of evidence, which has typically rested on the shoulders of non-materialists, is now placed on the shoulders of physicalists.
If some may decry this as default bias, I would reply with the following assertion:
By any reasonable reckoning, inquiry into the nature of consciousness that is even moderately informed by the wisdom of the world’s spiritual and philosophical traditions, emergent empirical findings in the sciences, direct experiences and intuitions harbored by the vast majority of human beings across the globe and from time immemorial, and ramifications for the future of humanity at its present history juncture, points far more strongly toward a conception of consciousness as physically transcendent, nonlocal, intersubjective, interactive with the material world (at the very least at subtle physical strata, which means . . .), and ontologically primary—not epiphenomenal let alone reducible to matter—in the cosmic unfolding, than any account that materialism has to offer.
I would further contend that materialist arguments, however information-laden, have conveniently failed to address these considerations one-on-one, let alone collectively, to underscore this assessment.
I believe the world, including higher education, has reached a point at which it is clear that a new story of the human being and human creative and spiritual potential needs to be placed front and center if there is any reason for optimism about the future.
Moreover, I believe the increasing commitment to social justice that is found on college and university campuses sets the stage for connections, and inroads, yet to be seized whereby a jazz-inspired, integral paradigm of consciousness studies may gain significant footing.
The notion that we can welcome into the learning environment individuals from all backgrounds, yet insist that these individuals leave their worldviews far outside the hallowed halls of the institution, even as these worldviews are often far more aligned than conventional academic practice with what educational and social visionaries from time immemorial have posited to be the highest purposes of education, speaks volumes about the urgency of the need for foundational change.
I also believe that it speaks volumes about the prospects for leadership that surrounds the opportunity at hand.
I celebrate the opportunity to further evolving the CCSHE vision and working toward making its principles manifest in our schools and world.