Getting Started: First Things First

Getting Started: First Things First

     My starting point for this class is well summarized by Laughlin and Rock (2013) in their description of mature contemplation, natural attitude, and the transcendental epoch that appear within Husserlian transcendental phenomenology (pp. 266-268).  Indeed, some of the key points made are the very reason for my interest in completing the ITP doctoral program (with a concentration in consciousness studies and contemplative neuroscience).  My focus, for the past several years, has been on teaching contemplative wisdom practices that help clients clarify, for themselves, the “numerous realizations pertaining to the essential structures of consciousness” (p. 269) that tend to emerge from experiential nondual insight. 

     The core challenge, as I have come to see it, is also reflected here (p. 273) – an acknowledgment of the inherent difficulties in communicating a wordless understanding, using words; combined with the general disinterest that most people have in the kind of rigorous, and often deeply confronting, self-reflection that is required.  This, at least, characterizes early elements of the deconstruction process that usually occur for one’s cup to be made empty.  Once empty, the use of language, models, and liberating concepts become vehicles of conveyance rather than a literal description or interpretation of reality, truth, and being.  This, in turn, becomes a doorway to further integration and embodiment, where nonduality reveals itself as something akin to a lived mystery that is celebrated with curiosity and appreciation in our everyday experience.       

     This reminds me of a paper that I came across, a couple of years ago. Hanley, Nakamura, and Garland (2018) conducted a study of nondual awareness that attempted to identify the traits and states of consciousness that correlated with the subjective experiences of its participants.  After this week’s reading, and my introduction to the formal study of phenomenology, I am quite excited to see how the new models, methods, and approaches that I am learning about now can be applied to defining, measuring, and communicating esoteric principles such as those that become obvious and undeniable through contemplative practice but are impossible to convey through the limits of language.  In essence, I am learning new linguistic and symbolic references that can be used to further peel apart the common misconceptions that create so much inner and outer conflict in the world.   

     Given the sample discourse between Pinker and McGilchrist (2013), for instance, what we are observing is a conflict of perspectives that appear somewhat entrenched and positional.  Yet what is really being argued here are deeply biased, conceptual, and perceptual maps that differ in the way they approach the intersection between the sciences and humanities.  If we adopt the use of model agnosticism introduced last week (Erickson, 2020) perhaps discussions such as this could be more fruitful.  No longer so deeply identified with the content of our various positionalities, we can be more open to discourse without personalizing (or needing to defend) our varied interpretive stances.  This is where I want to take my own research work, so this class is already very exciting for me. 


Erickson, J. (2020). “Model agnosticism” in Imagination in the Western psyche. (pp. 12-18). Routledge.

Hanley, A. W., Nakamura, Y., & Garland, E. L. (2018). The Nondual Awareness Dimensional Assessment (NADA): New tools to assess nondual traits and states of consciousness occurring within and beyond the context of meditation. Psychological Assessment, 30(12), 1625–1639.

Laughlin, C. D., & Rock, A. J. (2013). Neurophenomenology: Enhancing the experimental and cross-cultural study of brain and experience. In H. Friedman, & G. Hartelius (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of transpersonal psychology (pp. 261-280). Wiley Blackwell.

Pinker, S., & McGilchrist, I. (2013, August). Science and the humanities. Channel McGilchrist.