Totnes Consciousness Cafe has hosted events from January, 2007 onwards. Some of the more recent talks are listed below.

23rd May, 2015

Prof Max Velmans on 'How to Decide What’s Real’

In current Western materialist reductionist culture it is common to take the reality of physical entities and events for granted, but to question the status of ordinary conscious experiences and even more so, the status of extraordinary conscious experiences. For example it is common in Western science to argue that ordinary conscious experiences are really nothing more than states or functions of the brain, and to dismiss extraordinary experiences as hallucinations, illusions, evidence of psychological disorder and so on. In this talk I will argue that this reduction of conscious life to physical states and functions is dehumanizing, conceptually flawed, and that we need a more inclusive model. While extraordinary human experiences cannot be dismissed simply because they are extraordinary, their range is immense, and their reality status is complex. In this talk we will discuss a few of these, including mystical states and experiences of paranormal events. Max is Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, has been involved in consciousness studies for around 40 years, and has around 100 publications on this topic including Understanding Consciousness (2009) and The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2007).

27the March, 2015

Hilary Prentice on 'The Myth of the Condor and the Eagle: Indigenous Wisdom for our Time' 

In her recent writings on Ecopsychology, e.g. in “Vital Signs; Psychological Responses to Ecological Crisis” (2012) Hilary identified three strands of a ‘World Wide Movement of Consciousness’: (1) the dissemination of Eastern spiritual teachings to the rest of the world, (2) the proliferation of Western counselling and psychotherapeutic practices, and (3) earth-based teachings and spirituality, re-arising from the indigenous world that has been so suppressed and oppressed by the ‘Industrial Growth Society’. In her talk Hilary will explore this third strand, through sharing the prophecy of the Condor and the Eagle and its different and profound meanings. Hilary Prentice is an Integrative Psychotherapist living and working on Dartmoor. She was one of the pioneers of the early UK Ecopsychology Movement, speaking, writing, organising and running workshops, and co-founding the UK Ecopsychology Network in the 1990s. More recently she co-founded the Heart and Soul group of Transition Town Totnes, later to be dubbed ‘Inner Transition’, and feeding into the workings of the whole Transition Network. In October 2014 she travelled to Ecuador with the Pachamama Alliance to meet with Achuar people and also the renowned Sarayaku Kichwa, to learn more about this inspirational movement.

26th February, 2015

Penny Norris on ‘The Bewitching Complexes Of Masculine And Feminine In Jung’s Archetypes Of The Collective Unconscious’

Jung perceives archetypes as psychic fields of potential energy ‘stored’ in the collective unconscious as ‘systems ready for action’. He also sees the archetype as the portion of the unconscious that attaches the psyche to nature. Two of the most important archetypes are the animus in a woman and the anima in a man—a contra-sexual archetype that integrates opposites within itself. The anima in men, symbolizes the relatedness of the living psyche to every aspect of itself. Since Eve, the animus is the container of all women’s ancestral experiences of men. Formed by the paternal Logos he is both the beloved and the destroyer. Jungian analyst Penny Norris explains how unravelling the wounds and bewitchment of the unconsciousness of the anima and animus allows these to be integrated into consciousness, which leads to individuation – being consciously oneself, warts and all. Penny’s publications include books, papers and articles on music, education, fairy tales and psychology. She has given workshops and lectures in Canada, England, South Korea, South Africa and Switzerland. She was resident guest lecturer for The Marie-Louise Von Franz Research and Training Centre for Depth Psychology, (Spring 2008) Zurich. She has a private practice in rural Devon

22nd January, 2015

Martin Whitlock on ‘Human Politics: Human Value’

In his 2014 book Martin shows how we live in a largely “transactional economy” in which “productivity” means pushing money around the system in a way that increases GDP but often has a marginal or negative impact on producing goods and services that humans value. He then describes the key steps towards a new, collaborative economic model in which wealth is derived from useful work and flourishing human relationships. Enthusiastic reviews of his book include "The best book on What’s Wrong that I’ve read since Peter Oborne’s The Political Class. It deserves a mass audience", "Near-perfect in its diagnosis and advocacy [about] what’s flawed in our current ways of thinking about society, its economic output, and how it is governed", and “…an unusual originality and clarity of thought.” Having worked in journalism, consultancy with a City financial firm, restructuring and strategic management of business, administration of the South Devon Steiner School, and hands-on fixing of old buildings, e.g. in the second series of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, Martin describes himself as a man who fixes things to make them work. He writes extensively on politics and economics (see www.martinwhitlock.co.uk).

27th November, 2014

Dr Paul Broks on The Brain, the Self and the Stoics

Neuroscience has largely avoided questions of selfhood and personal identity. “Self” is often viewed as the secular cousin of “soul” and, like the Cartesian ghost in the machine, deemed just as illusory. Paul disagrees. Drawing on his work with brain-damaged individuals he will examine the following questions: What is the self? How does the brain construct a self? What (if any) are our essential properties as persons? Selfhood and the management of personal adversity were also of central concern to the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, including Epictetus and Seneca. They defined the good life as one lived “in accordance with nature”, which entailed a naturalistic view of human beings as rational, social animals. Delving into Stoic metaphysics Paul came to realise that their conception of the embodied psyche was surprisingly in line with the findings of modern neuroscience and psychology and might even provide a framework for a science of selfhood.  Paul Broks is a writer with a background in clinical neuropsychology. He gained recognition with his first book, Into the Silent Land, an extended meditation on selfhood and the brain. His next book, The Rape of the Moon, will be published next year by Penguin.

23rd October, 2014

Prof Rupert Gethin on The Relationship Between Calm and Insight Meditation

Contemporary discussions of Buddhist meditation often seem to present calm (samatha) and insight (vipassana) meditation as different techniques with quite different aims: by employing techniques of focused attention, calm meditation leads to deep states of concentration (samadhi or jhana); by employing techniques of mindful awareness insight meditation leads to profound knowledge. The talk will seek to explore the relationship between these types of meditation with reference to both Buddhist and Hindu sources. Rupert has been teaching Indian religions at the University of Bristol for over 25 years. In 2008 he was Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies at UC Berkeley and, in 2009, was appointed Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Bristol. His books include Sayings of the Buddha: New translations by Rupert Gethin from the Pali Nik?yas (2008), Summary of the Topics of Abhidhamma and Exposition of the Topics of Abhidhamma (2002) and The Foundations of Buddhism (1998). He is currently working on a book on the understanding of mind in Buddhist systematic thought and has practiced samatha meditation over 30 years.

25th September, 2014

Ffyona Campbell on ‘The Hunter-Gatherer Way’

Whilst walking around the world, Ffyona Campbell (born in Totnes) learned from Australian Aborigines, African Bushmen, Pygmies and North America Indians. She then applied their logic to the landscape of Britain and discovered that it works here too, revealing a long forgotten annual migration route that fits us perfectly into the eco-system providing an abundance of the highest quality food all year round. The discovery of this route means we can live without destroying anything at all and it’s the only sustainable way of life that’s been proven to work, on all levels and for all time. Ffyona has written about her discoveries in her fourth book, The Hunter-Gatherer Way, and teaches this knowledge on a series of wild food walks throughout the year. See www.wildfoodwalks.co.uk Ffyona is a bestselling author, her previous three books Feet of Clay (Orion), On Foot Through Africa (Orion), and The Whole Story (Orion) having reached the bestseller list of The Times.

26th June, 2014

Roselle Angwin on Ecosoul: the ecological imagination


According to Roselle, both science and spiritual traditions suggest that we live in an interconnected universe. Yet many of us feel disconnected – from ourselves, from each other, and from other species and the planet, with disastrous consequences. Given this, we urgently need to re-vision our relationship with all the other beings who share our planet. Roselle believes that the creative imagination, and experiential engagement outdoors, is key to the transformation needed—and in this talk she will present some of the ideas that underpin her work as a writer and workshop facilitator. Roselle studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic at Cambridge and followed this with a training in Transpersonal Psychology. A student of wisdom traditions for more than forty years, she works as a freelance poet, non-fiction author and novelist. She leads workshops in creative, reflective and psychospiritual writing, and ecosoul work. These frequently take place outdoors in environments such as Dartmoor, the Hebrides and the Cévennes Mountains, and use writing, poetry, story, myth and tools from transpersonal psychology and visionquest, often with transformative effect. See also www.thewildways.co.uk; www.fire-in-the-head.co.uk

22nd May, 2014

Nicolas Colloff – on The poetry of transformation: a journey from dark to light with Edwin Muir


The life journey of the poet Edwin Muir from a paradisiacal childhood in Orkney through a form of hell in Glasgow to an eventual recovery of his soul was, in Jung's terms, a journey of 'individuation', embodied in a conscious dream life, crafted into poems of great beauty, exploring key elements of the myths we live by. In Muir's case that of a paradise lost, a long journey back from darkness into light, arriving into a shared, renewed and transfigured world. Nicholas Colloff was given Muir to read when he too as a 'dislocated, unhappy' theology student one day dropped into 'hell' (while studying a painting by Francis Bacon) and found him a transforming travelling companion whose life and work helped him recognise his own pattern of felt meaning on which to fashion a life that has taken him from teaching meditation in prisons, founding the charity Basic Needs working with people with mental illness in some of the poorest communities in the world and, most recently, as the Director of Innovation with Oxfam GB. 

25th April, 2014

Consciousness Cafe Special Event on Transformations of Consciousness at Dartington Hall

Prof Etzel Cardeña (Lund, Sweden) on 'Hypnosis and meditation'; Prof Roland Griffiths (Johns Hopkins, USA) on 'Psilocybin and the mystical experience; Prof James Fadiman (Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, USA) on 'Using the best tools for transformation-a Western approach; Dr Michel Bitbol (CNRS, Paris) on 'Transforming consciousness the phenomenological way'; Prof Jonathan Shear (Western Virginia, USA) on 'Meditation in contemporary society'; Prof Anand Paranjpe (Dalhousie, Canada) on 'An enquiry into what remains the same within oneself: an elusive but priceless way to pure consciousness'.

27th March, 2014

Prof Max Velmans on ‘Rethinking consciousness: from West to East in 5 simple steps’

This talk suggests how to move from a careful, Western analysis of conscious experience to a more Eastern understanding of its transformative potential by rethinking what and where consciousness is, what causes it, what it does, and the consequences of these for a different understanding of Self and the universe in which we live.  Max is currently an Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, Visiting Professor in Consciousness Studies, University of Plymouth and has been involved in consciousness studies for almost 40 years. He has around 100 publications on this topic including his books Understanding Consciousness , The Science of Consciousness, Investigating Phenomenal Consciousness, and The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness . He was a co-founder and, from 2004-2006, Chair of the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society, an Indian Council of Philosophical Research National Visiting Professor for 2010-2011, and lives with his family in Totnes.

27th February, 2014

Dr Susan Blackmore on ‘Buddhist Jhanas: Altered states of consciousness without drugs?’

Susan writes that the jhanas are a series of eight increasingly absorbed states described in the early Buddhist texts, although rarely discussed or practiced in most traditions today.  Her own 30-year training has been in Chan/Zen, mostly zazen or open meditation, and until a recent course at Gaia House she had little experience of the type of concentrative meditation on which the jhanas are based. She found the results surprising and will describe the techniques used, the different states – some of which she learned to enter and some not – and the way they can encourage insight.  She welcomes the chance at Consciousness Café to hear others’ views on the different techniques, the nature of these altered states, and the apparently profound effects that they can have.  Sue is a psychologist and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She blogs for the Guardian, and often appears on radio and television. The Meme Machine  (1999) has been translated into 16 other languages; more recent books include Conversations on Consciousness (2005), Zen and the Art of Consciousness (2011), and a textbook Consciousness: An Introduction (2nd Ed 2010).


15th January, 2014

Polly Higgins - 'A Different Kind of Conversation' 

In this talk international environment lawyer and barrister Polly Higgins asks “What does it take to step into a place where we can seed a different kind of conversation, one based on putting people and planet first?”  In her book Eradicating Ecocide: laws and governance to prevent the destruction of our planet, she sets out to demonstrate how ‘compromise’ laws have caused the problem and why we can destroy the Earth without consequence. The solution offered is to create a law of Ecocide, the 5th Crime Against Peace.  Such a law will hold to account heads of corporate bodies as well as other ‘natural persons’ in positions of superior responsibility. She argues that the opportunity to implement this law represents a crossroads in the fate of humanity; we can accept this one change and in doing so govern our Earth for future generations, or we can continue to destroy it, risking future wars over disappearing resources. Eradicating Ecocide was the 2011 winner of the People’s Book Prize for non-fiction. Her second book, Earth is our business: changing the rules of the gameexamines the missing law of Ecocide in greater detail, arguing that law and carbon trading mechanisms are not enough: rather, she advocates a new form of leadership that places the health and well-being of people and planet first, and she demonstrates how law can provide the tools to build the bridge to a new way of doing business. She also argues that Earth is everyone’s business, not the exclusive preserve of the executives of the world’s top corporations. In 2013/14 Polly was the visiting Arne Naess Chair of Global Justice and the Environment in the University of Oslo. You can read more about her at http://www.pollyhiggins.com

28th November, 2013

Dr Serena Roney-Dougal - 'The subliminal mind: where science and magic meet'

Serena is one of the few people in Britain to have obtained a PhD for a parapsychological thesis, exploring the relationship between subliminal perception and psychic awareness. She has had over 30 years of study and experience in scientific, magical and spiritual explorations of the psyche, has lectured and taught courses, seminars and workshops in America, Britain and Europe; has written numerous articles both technical and popular, and two books: “Where Science and Magic Meet” and “The Faery Faith”. Her main research interests have been exploring the psychedelic and psychic functioning of the pineal gland, enhancement of lettuce seeds on an organic farm by a healer, the relationship between meditation attainment and psi initially at the Yoga University with the students and swamis resident there, and then at various Tibetan monasteries in India with Tibetan monks, Rinpoches and Lamas. Her most recent research project has been a four-year longitudinal study of geomagnetic activity and its effect on psi. For details see http://www.psi-researchcentre.co.uk/index.html

24th October, 2013 

Christopher Titmuss on ‘Who Am I: Is this a deep question?’ 

Buddhism and Vedanta explore the question“Who am I?” through meditation and inner inquiry and often regard this as the most profound question a human can ask, taking the meditator deeper than name, identity and roles. Does the question eventually lead to an ultimate answer or down a cul-de-sac? Christopher will explore this, referring to inner responses as well as the benefits and limits of the question. Rather than exploring the view of the self from the standpoint of East and West traditions, Christopher will address the issue from our immediate shared experience and the potential for the question to point to a liberating and compassionate realisation. Christopher’s teachings focus on insight meditation (vipassana), the expansive heart and enquiry into emptiness and liberation. Poet and social critic, he is the author of numerous books including “Light on Enlightenment,” “An Awakened Life” and “Poems from the Edge”. He has numerous Dharma talks freely available on line and writes a weekly Dharma blog on a wide variety of issues from a Dharma perspective. A former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, he is the founder of the online Mindfulness Training Course. He teaches annually in Australia, Israel, France and Germany, has led retreats in India since 1975, and lives in Totnes.

26th September, 2013

Barbara Gardner on ‘The Compassionate Animal’

Barbara Gardner, author of ‘The Compassionate Animal,’ is a member of RSPCA national council and has been its national Treasurer. She has participated in BBC radio 4’s ‘Beyond Belief’ programme and teaches yoga locally. Her talk will focus on how humans need to develop to a higher level of consciousness and compassion understood by all the ancient spiritual traditions if they are to survive as a species and are to protect the planet and all other species. Known as ‘the Perennial Philosophy’, these traditions recognised that the world of matter is only part of a greater reality of a more subtle nature that conscious beings can access through direct intuition and experience.  Her talks will also discuss modern theories on consciousness and the role of quantum physics in understanding it. Describing how, through Darwinian evolution, the higher animals share the same brain structures, sentience, and conscious experiences as humans, Barbara provides a compelling argument for their inclusion in our circle of compassion.

27th June, 2013

John Lockley on 'Indigenous Medicine for the modern World' 

John Lockley is a traditionally trained South African Shaman or “Sangoma” of the Xhosa lineage - the tribe of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. He is one of the first white men in recent history to be invited to undertake this prestigious training, which lasted 10 years. He has pioneered reconciliation and cross cultural spirituality in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, and travels internationally, leading ‘Ubuntu’ (humanity) workshops, in which he teaches people how to connect to their dreams, Ancestors, nature and one another.  John has an honours degree in clinical Psychology, a background in Zen Buddhism and studied under the well known Zen Master Su Bong from South Korea. He was accepted to become a Zen monk, but decided to become an African dancing monk (Sangoma) instead. John will be available to give private Sangoma divinations on Friday 28th June. To book a session please email Mark Flaherty on mark@markflaherty.co.uk. For more information about John and his work see www.african-shaman.com .

23rd May, 2013

Max Velmans on 'Three Kinds of Connection' 

“Only connect” is one of the much quoted phrases of English Literature (from E.M. Forster) and one of the deepest needs of human psycho-social-spiritual development, arising from three kinds of apparent disconnection: the apparent separation of embodied humans from the surrounding physical world, the apparent disconnection of human consciousness from its unconscious ground of being, and the apparent separation of humans from each other. In this talk Max will introduce three forms of re-connection that can be conceptual, experiential and/or relational.  Max is Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, Visiting Professor in Consciousness Studies, University of Plymouth, and has been involved in consciousness studies for almost 40 years. He has over 100 publications on this topic, including his main book Understanding Consciousness now in its second (2009) edition. He was a co-founder and, from 2004-2006, Chair of the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society, Indian Council of Philosophical Research National Visiting Professor for 2010-2011, and lives with his family in Totnes.

18th April, 2013

Stephen Batchelor on ‘ After Buddhism’

Stephen Batchelor was a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan and Zen traditions for ten years.  Since disrobing in 1985, he has taught and written extensively about Buddhist thought and practice.  He lived in the community at Sharpham for fifteen years, and is currently a trustee of Gaia House.  His most recent book is Confession of a Buddhist Atheist (2010).  For his most current thinking, read his paper “A Secular Buddhism” at: http://www.globalbuddhism.org/13/batchelor12.pdf.  According to Stephen, when circumstances demand, a religious/philosophical tradition may change and adapt itself to the point where its original form is barely recognizable.  Does this mean that it no longer is what it was originally and has evolved into something else?  Or could it be that the changes forced upon the tradition have enabled it to undergo a radical renewal?  Stephen will open the evening’s discussions by exploring this question in terms of Buddhism, a tradition which he has struggled to make sense of over the past forty years.

28th March, 2013

Dr Keiron Le Grice on ‘Rediscovering the Gods: Archetypal Astrology as a Guide to Psychospiritual Transformation’

Individuation, as described by Carl Jung, is a process of deep psychological transformation leading the individual towards the realization of the Self—the organizing center and the totality of the psyche. As Jung and Joseph Campbell have demonstrated, the sequence of transformations occurring during individuation is symbolically portrayed by myths of the hero’s journey. In this discussion, by exploring connections between archetypal themes in human experience and particular planetary alignments in astrology, he will present the case that astrology can be used to help illuminate the dynamics of individuation, serving as a guide to one’s own heroic journey. Keiron is a guest lecturer in Jungian and Archetypal Studies at the Pacifica Graduate Institute, California, and adjunct faculty in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco. He is the author of The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science and Astrology and Discovering Eris: The Symbolism and Significance of a New Planetary Archetype. He is also founding editor of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology. His latest book, The Rebirth of the Hero: Mythology as a Guide to Spiritual Transformation, will be released later this year. Keiron currently lives in Wales with his wife and son.

28th February, 2013


Ziyad Marar on 'Intimacy'

Ziyad was born in Iraq in 1966, moving to London at the age of 10. Trained in psychology, and the philosophy and psychology of language, he joined SAGE in the 1980s where he has been an editorial director and, in 2006, Deputy Managing Director and Publishing Director. In 2010 he became Director of global publishing. He has written three books The Happiness Paradox (2003) covering how philosophy and psychology can create a better understanding of modern identity, Deception (2008) about people's relationship with truth and the possibility of a truly honest life, and Intimacy (2012). According to Ziyad, intimacy is often confused with love, but is in many ways more central to a life well lived. Drawing on a wide range of sources - from key thinkers, as well as telling examples from familiar films and novels he identifies a key set of ingredients that enable the strongest experiences of intimacy: reciprocity, conspiracy, heightened emotion and kindness. Without these four we experience something less, or something else. He also shows how closely intimacy is bound up with notions of trust, control, risk and our own insecurities.

24th January, 2013

Dr Claudius van Wyk on ‘Complexity, holism, and consciousness

Jan Christian Smuts, in a groundbreaking speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1931, anticipated Thomas Kuhn’s notion of a ‘paradigm shift’. On that occasion Smuts was inaugurated as the President of the Association and it was in this capacity that he delivered his address entitled ‘The Scientific World Picture of Today’. His notion of a holistic worldview made such an impact on Albert Einstein that he predicted that two thoughts would dominate the scientific thinking of the 21st century, namely, his own of ‘relativity’ and Smuts’ of ‘holism’. According to Claudius, the difficult and often disruptive social, political and economic transitions in the globalized world are made more difficult by multiple worldviews based on diverse traditions, ethnicities, ideological histories and beliefs. Navigating through this complexity will require a holistic epistemology that can identify and integrate core values within this diversity into a more inclusive state of consciousness. It will also require a shift from currently dominant materialist reductionism to a more organic, holistic worldview. Claudius is co-developer of the Holism and Leadership course to be offered at Schumacher College in Devon next year. He has written on Jan Christian Smuts’ contribution to holistic science for the Journal of Holistic Science, is a team member and contributor to the Synthesis ‘complexity science’ think-tank, co-host of the Civil Society Forum and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

29th November, 2012

Ya’Acov Darling Khan on ‘Movement medicine: Dancing your way back home’

According to Ya’Acov, since ancient times, shamans have travelled on the rhythm of the drum, which can awaken the dancer inside you who lives inside your bones and the remembrance of the magnificence and interconnected nature of life within and all around us. Movement medicine is a contemporary expression of this ancestral heritage and is the result of 30 years of research into the power the dance has to awaken us and remind us of the exceptional wisdom of the life force inside us. It is a call to remember who you are and what you are here to create. Ya’Acov has been studying and practicing shamanism all his life with many gifted teachers from the Arctic to the Amazon. He has been teaching internationally since 1989 and is the Co-Author of “Movement Medicine – How to Awaken, Dance and Live your Dreams”.

25th October, 2012

Dr David Donaldson on ‘Chemistry of the Mind’

David Donaldson was Consultant Chemical Pathologist in the NHS for 31 years at East Surrey Hospital, Crawley Hospital,  and Gatwick Park Hospital with a special interest in the underlying chemistry of the brain and mind. He is author of three books, the last one being, ‘Psychiatric Disorders with a Biochemical Basis - including Pharmacology, Toxicology and Nutritional aspects’, and has published over 100 papers. He has undertake several lecture tours abroad including Canada, India, etc. He will illustrate his talk with an abundance of wide-ranging clinical anecdotes in order to show what happens to the mind when the physics of the brain becomes deranged, the chemistry goes wrong or there is a biological disorder. There will be opportunity for the participants to attempt their own diagnosis and to contribute ideas as to the possible nature of the problem in each case. He will look at each of us as socio-psycho-biologico-chemico-physical beings, reacting and interacting with each other - and at every level within ourselves.

21st June, 2012

Prof Robert Forman on ‘Enlightenment aint what it’s cracked up to be’

On this international book tour associated with his latest book, Robert asksWhat if you spent years and years of your life seeking religious or spiritual enlightenment, but were looking in the wrong place the whole time? It’s happening right now to millions of seekers around the world. And if the traditional take on enlightenment is heading in the wrong direction, then where should we be heading? What are we really after? And how do we get that?”  A meditator of 40+ years, and founder of The Forge Institute for Spirituality and Social Change (USA), Robert has a Ph.D in Comparative Religions (Columbia U), where he specialized in the nature of (and philosophical issues around) mystical experiences and the spiritual life. A tenured professor of religions at Hunter College of the City University of New York and a professor at Vassar College, Union Theological Seminary and the New School for Social Research, he has taught courses on mystical experiences and spiritual goals in every tradition, and his books are used in courses around the world. He was the co-founder and is executive editor of The Journal of Consciousness Studies, which has become the principle journal in the field. He is the author of ten scholarly books on spirituality, mysticism, consciousness and world religions. Further details available at http://enlightenmentaint.com/author/

24th May, 2012

Christopher Titmus on 'The Power of Mindfulness'

Monasteries of the Theravada Buddhist tradition have established the practice of mindfulness for more than 2000 years. In the past couple of decades, mindfulness has become regarded as a branch of psychology in the West. Traditional mindfulness practices now have widespread application in the West, including use in clinics, hospitals, schools, prisons, the public and private sector. Spiritual retreats, yoga classes, stress reduction courses and workshops for conflict resolution apply mindfulness exercises to develop the power of presence to situations. What are the benefits of mindfulness for everyday life? Has mindfulness in the West become a single limb cut off from the whole body of the Buddha’s teachings? Christopher, a former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, teaches Awakening and Insight Meditation around the world..A senior Dharma teacher in the West, he is the author of numerous books including Light on Enlightenment, An Awakened Life and Mindfulness for Everyday Living. Poet and writer, he is the co-founder of Gaia House, an international retreat centre in Devon. He has lived in Totnes for 29 years. 

26th April, 2012

Prof Raymond Tallis on ‘Why Neuroscience Will Never Explain Consciousness’

Raymond Tallis will argue that, while the brain is a necessary condition of every element of consciousness, it is not a sufficient condition. He will examine some of the most important reasons for not identifying human consciousness with neural activity, including the irreducibility of phenomenal appearances to events in the brain along with inescapable aspects of first-person being such as a sense of unity over time. Ray is a philosopher, poet, novelist and cultural critic and was until recently Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester and a consultant physician in Health Care of the Elderly in Salford. Over the last 20years he has published fiction, three volumes of poetry, and 23 books on the philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, art, and cultural criticism. Together with over two hundred articles in Prospect, Times Literary Supplement and many other outletsthese books offer a critique of current predominant intellectual trends and an alternative understanding of human consciousness and of what it is to be a human being. In the Economist's Intelligent Life Magazine (Autumn 2009) he was listed as one of the top living polymaths in the world.

22nd March, 2012

Prof Max Velmans on The Evolution of Consciousness

In this talk Max will explain the fundamental problem that the existence of consciousness poses for Darwinian evolutionary theory, but he will also introduce three senses in which consciousness can be said to evolve, and will touch on what consciousness both is and does.  Max has been involved in consciousness studies for around 35 years, is currently Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, and Visiting Professor in Consciousness Studies, University of Plymouth. His main research focus is on integrating work on the philosophy, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology of consciousness. He has around 100 publications in this area including his main book Understanding Consciousness (now in its second (2009) edition), The Science of Consciousness (1996), Investigating Phenomenal Consciousness (2000), How Could Conscious Experiences Affect Brains? (2003), and the Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2007). He was a co-founder and, from 2004-2006, Chair of the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society, and an Indian Council of Philosophical Research National Visiting Professor for 2010-2011.

23rd February, 2012 

Anthony Freeman on Embodied consciousness and personal responsibility

Both common sense and legal theory assume that human beings are for the most part free agents, who consciously choose their actions and are therefore responsible for them. This straightforward view is currently under attack from representatives of philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and a whole range of disciplines associated with the science of consciousness. This talk looks at these issues with a special emphasis on our personal experience of decision-making and sense of responsibility. Anthony Freeman was editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies from its launch in 1994 until his retirement in 2011, and is author of the book Consciousness: A Guide to the Debates (2003). He holds degrees in chemistry and theology from Oxford University.He was ordained in the Church of England in 1972, but following the publication of his controversial book, God In Us: A Case for Christian Humanism (1993), he was dismissed by his then bishop. He remains in the priesthood and is an honorary assistant priest at Crediton Parish Church.

26th January, 2012

Dr Martin Shaw on 'Exploring the Margins of Consciousness in Story and Initiation'

Martin Shaw is an author, mythologist and storyteller. Director of the Westcountry School of myth year programmes in both Devon and Northern California, he is visiting lecturer on the Desmond Tutu Leadership programme at Oxford University. After fifteen years of leading wilderness rites-of-passage (an extended fast in the wild), Martin became aware that the most vulnerable period in the process was not the exposure to the elements and psychological awakening, but the difficulty integrating that experience with everyday life—and that without integration one risks making a marginal life out of a marginal experience.  Through story, anecdote and ideas from his new book, A Branch FromThe Lightning Tree, he shows how storytelling can both protect such intimate experiences and transmit their essence to the wider community in a nourishing way.

24th November

Franklyn Sills on 'Being and Becoming: the nature of being and selfhood'

Franklyn is Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Karuna Institute where he is a trainer in Core Process Psychotherapy. His published books include The Polarity Process, Craniosacral Biodynamics, and most recently, Being and Becoming, Psychodynamics, and Buddhism and the Origins of Selfhood. Franklyn offers teachings internationally, including America, Germany and Switzerland. In the 1970's he was a Buddhist monk under the most venerable Taungpulu Kaba Aye Sayadaw of Northern Burma, and also studied in the Zen and Taoist traditions. In this talk he will explore the nature of "being" within both spiritual and psychological contexts, and the generation of our personality  system from the conditions and contingencies we  meet in early relational life. He will also touch on the alleviation of suffering through the use of mindfulness as a healing practice.

27th October, 2011

Jay Lakhani - ‘From Humanism to Spiritual Humanism’

Observer effects in Quantum Mechanics and the Hard Problem of Consciousness in Philosophy and Neuroscience suggest that one cannot adequately explain nature in terms of material stuff and that we need to move beyond materialism to understand the human condition. According to Jay Lakhani, it is perhaps time to replace Humanism with "Spiritual Humanism" in a way that combines modern science with aspects of esoteric Hinduism. Having studied Physics at Imperial College and finished his Masters in Quantum Mechanics with Sir Roger Penrose at Oxford, Jay Lakhani directs the Hindu Academy at the Vivekananda Centre, London. He is the first tutor in Hinduism appointed at Eton College and offers Hindu input for PGCE courses at several universities.

22nd September, 2011 

Nicholas Colloff - 'We are all doing time'

"I thank you rusty prison grating/for your sharp glinting bayonet blades/have given me more wisdom/than learning over long decades," (Irina Ratushinskaya, imprisoned Russian poet, from a song sung by her cellmate). After studying religion, philosophy and the psychology of religion at the Universities of London and Oxford, Nicholas co-founded the Prison Phoenix Trust in 1988. This grew out of a research project into religious experience, and now supports projects in over two-thirds of the prisons in the United Kingdom. For over twenty years, the Trust has been enabling prison inmates to discover new possibilities of life through the practice of meditation and yoga. Cells become places of retreat and places to learn a new connectivity to the world. Given that 'we are all doing time' and have our own particular imprisonments, we can learn much from their experience. This talk will explore the work of the trust, its impact on people's lives and its implications more widely for the practice of a spirituality that transforms. Nicholas is presently the Director of Strategy and Innovation at Oxfam GB.

26th May

Matt Harvey -  ‘The Way of the Worrier”

Drawing on his own experience as a poet and performer, Matt will explore the ways in which effective worrying, under pressure, can stimulate creativity. Rather than trying to move beyond worry and anxiety, “worrying done well” and living with potential failure can encourage a teasing lightness of touch and open up new possibilities in the relation between the conscious and the unconscious mind. There might even be a poem or two. Matt, who describes himself as an “enemy of all that’s difficult and upsetting”, hosts the Wondermentalist Cabaret, performs up and down the country in arts centres, small theatres, village halls, festivals, conferences, colleges, and the 2009 Edinburgh Festival. Matt is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live and for the last two years has written the Desktop Poetry slot in the Guardian. Along with much praised collections of poetry, he is the creator of Empath Man, who had his own mini-series on Radio 4 described as “Very funny, very satirical”  in The Times. Matt lives with his family in Totnes.

28th April

Prof Guy Claxton - Welling Up: How Bodies Tell Minds What Is Going On (And Why On Earth They Would Want To)

The organ of human intelligence is the body, embedded in its physical and social environment. Understanding and action bubble up from the dark, silent depths of our physiology, like methane from a swamp, and make themselves known in consciousness in a variety of parallel and complementary ways: through physical sensation, intuition, impulse, attraction, emotion, the feeling of being moved or touched, imagery, the phenomenal world and, sometimes, connected chains of reasoning. All of these are vastly simplified and therefore generally unreliable indicators of what the body might be about to do. The job of consciousness is not to control and supervise, but to be continually delighted and surprised by how much more subtle the body is than it (consciousness) had thought. Guy Claxton is a writer, educator and lapsed Totnesian, now living in West Sussex. He was a founding faculty member of Schumacher College and the Sharpham Centre for Buddhist Studies. 

24th March

Amoda Maa Jeevan - Radical Awakening

Amoda is an author and spiritual teacher who is a frequent speaker at events in the UK and a regular guest on Radio and TV Shows in the USA. She has been described as as one of today’s “living spiritual visionaries” and her book “How to Find God in Everything” (2008) has been described as "life changing" and “one of the best metaphysical books in recent times”. In this talk, Amoda Maa Jeevan suggests how we can create a radical awakening in which we become agents of Love in Action within our own lives and in the world. She talks about radical awakening as a force of the Divine Feminine and an expression of “fierce Love” that holds one of the keys to collective transformation.

24th February, 2011

Dr Jean Hardy - A Wiser Politics 


This talk is based on themes from her new book, in which she writes "We live in a time of considerable disenchantment with the political formula of conservative - liberal - labour - communist, and need a reframed view of the issues faced by the world in the early 21st century. This should take into account the dangerous way humans are living on the earth, the continued great disparity between the richest and poorest people, the loss of species, globalisation of religious and social systems and confl icts inherent in this. A Wiser Politics puts forward the view that a radically revised view of the nature of the person needs to be linked more intelligently to the form of the social system, and both require an awareness that we live in a mysterious and awesome universe." Jean  has been a university teacher for most of her life, is a writer, editor and teacher, and actively works towards social change. She is interested in the relationship of psychology and spirituality to politics, ecology and economics, in the search for a more whole world. She now lives and works in South Devon.

20th January, 2011

Prof Max Velmans - 'Reflexive Monism: How to arrive at an Eastern place from a Western direction'.

Max is an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, Univ. of London, Visiting Professor of Consciousness Studies, Univ. of Plymouth, and National Visiting Professor (for 2011) of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research. In this talk Max will introduce some of the ways in which the phenomenal world can be thought of as a projection of the mind and some of the ways in which one's conscious sense of self can relate to one's own unconscious ground of being. These themes connect Reflexive Monism (a Western approach to understanding consciousness) to Advaita Vedanta (a classical Eastern understanding of consciousness)--themes he will also be addressing  in his forthcoming lecture tour of 9 Indian universities and institutes in February, 2011. 

28th October, 2010:

Stephen Dyer on 'Altered States, Other Worlds, and being Human'

Stephen Dyer was initiated into a yogic form of meditation practice in 1973 with profound personal consequences. In the eighties he began an exploration of shamanic ceremony. Since then he has led hundreds of ceremonies mainly in Holland and Spain with many hundreds of people. Steve described his and other people's experiences gained through many plant medicine ceremonies, working with Ayahuasca, a powerful ‘tea' from the Amazon region, and with Iboga, ‘the visionary root of African shamanism.’ Both of these plants have been used successfully by clinics working with drug addiction and earlier in October Steve described his work at the 2nd International Conference for Ibogaine Treatment Providers in Barcelona. According to Steve, ’the real gift of these plants is the depth of stillness, of peace, that can be experienced when used with focus and intent. Consciousness can be thought about and discussed but far more rewarding is the experience of being conscious, of being in presence.’ 

September 23rd, 2010

Prof Sue Blackmore – on 'Zen and the Art of Consciousness'

Sue Blackmore is a psychologist and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She blogs for the Guardian and Psychology Today, and often appears on radio and television. Her book The Meme Machine (1999) has been translated into 15 other languages and more recent books include a textbook Consciousness: An Introduction (2003), Conversations on Consciousness (2005) and Ten Zen Questions (2009). In this talk Sue asks "Can a third-person science of consciousness explain the nature of subjective experience or do we need first-person exploration as well? To find out more she used thirty years of Zen training to explore some simple questions during meditation: "Am I conscious now?", "When is this?", "Who is asking the question?" and many more. She suggests that we may need the art of exploring consciousness as well as the science."

June 16th, 2010

Profs Ed and Emily Kelley on 'Unexplained depths of the Mind'

Ed and Emily have carried out extensive empirical and theoretical work on dimensions of the mind that don’t fit easily into the current materialist, reductionist paradigm, and their massive (800 page) recent book "Irreducible Mind: Towards a psychology for the 21st Century" provides what is probably the best, existing evidence for these unexplained depths.  Their research ranges from mind-body relations and functional neuroimaging studies of unusual states of consciousness to the history of experimental psychology, parapsychology and studies of near-death experiences. Ed Kelley is currently Research Professor and Emily Kelley is Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at the University of Virginia.

29th April, 2010

Suzanne Dennis on 'Psychosynthesis--a Psychology with Soul'

Suzanne is a senior trainer, supervisor, and psychotherapist at the Psychosynthesis and Education Trust, London. She is also a BPS chartered Counselling Psychologist with a private practice in London, and Totnes. Initially trained in Developmental Psychology and Social Work, she worked in the inner city for 15 years. Having explored Psychoanalysis, Gestalt, Psychodrama, Art therapy, Bioenergetics, and Co-counselling , encounters with spiritual disciplines and meditation led her to realise that these could be profoundly important in healing and developing meaning and purpose, adding a much needed dimension to psychological work. This led to a training in Psychosynthesis, which is known as a “Psychology with a soul”. Since then she has set up and developed therapeutic services, and devised many courses in transpersonal psychology, and contributed to books on this subject. In her talk she will describe some of the ideas that are key to Psychosynthesis.

25th March, 2010

William Murtha - on Dying for a Change

Based on his best-selling book, William's talk will focus on an incredible, transformative, near-death experience that challenges beliefs about miracles, coincidence and fate. In the spring of 1999, and at the height of a stress-filled career in sales management, William was traumatically swept off the Dawlish seawall and out to sea by a huge freak wave. Freezing, losing consciousness and close to dying, he then had numerous mystical encounters that would go on to totally change his life.  That life changing incident inspired him to sell the business he had founded, and instead concentrate all his time writing about urgent issues relating to personal, social and global transformation. One of those initiatives is the soon to be published, “the 100 Words book”, which pulls together specially commissioned 'vision statements' of hope' from renowned luminaries and change-makers around the world. He has three daughters and still lives close to the coast, at Dawlish.

February 25th, 2010

Chris Salisbury on ‘Rekindling our love of Nature’

Chris founded WildWise in 1999 after many years working as an education officer for Devon Wildlife Trust. With a background in the theatre, a training in therapy and a career in environmental education he uses every creative means at his disposal in his roles as instructor, trainer and educator to encourage people to enjoy and value the natural world. He is also a professional storyteller aka 'Spindle Wayfarer', founded the Westcountry Storytelling Festival for which he is the artistic director, and collaborates on the Westcountry School of Myth. Chris is trained as a 'Be the Change' facilitator and offers symposiums for interested groups wanting to find their next steps forward in creating a fairer, more sustainable world.

January 19th, 2010

Prof Ravi Ravindra on “The transformation of Consciousness according to the Yoga Sutras”

Ravi, a native of India, emigrated to Canada following his early education, and, in 1977, was made a Member of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton to do fundamental research in physics. He served from 1978 through 1980 as the Founding Director of the Threshold Award for Integrative Knowledge and, in 1989, was the pilot Professor of Science and Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. At present Ravi holds the position of Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, Canada, where he has served as Chair of Comparative Religion, Professor of International Development Studies, and Adjunct Professor of Physics. In addition to his study of the world's great traditions, Ravi Ravindra's spiritual search has involved him in the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, G. Gurdjieff, and Zen. The author of numerous books on religion, mysticism, and spirituality, including a new translation of the Yoga Sutras from the original sanscrit, Ravi lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

November 26th, 2009

Carlos Glover – on The Discipline of Peace

The “Discipline of Peace”, is a new expression of ancient Earth Wisdom that flourished among the Mayans and follows Medicine Wheel teachings developed by the Native American Indians.   It offers a thought-matrix of eight sequential principles to nurture peace in the Self which is the first step in creating peace as a reality in our relationships and in our world.  Following his training in Medicine Wheel teachings for over 20 years with the Ehama Institute in New Mexico, Carlos teaches Earth Wisdom in courses, vision quests and other ceremonies.  He has also been a long term student of Ki-Aikido, counselling and therapy and lives near Rattery, South Devon with his wife and two children.

October 29th, 2009

Prof David Fontana – ‘On the Borders of Consciousness: Some Evidence for the Extended Nature of Consciousness’

David is currently Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Cardiff University and Visiting Professor of Transpersonal Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University.  He was Foundation Chair of the Transpersonal Section of the British Psychological Society and past President of the Society for Psychical Research. He has authored more than 200 papers and 45 books that together have been translated into 27 languages.  He has a particular interest in the mind-brain relationship and the evidence for some sort of survival of consciousness after physical death, and has written widely on these and similar themes.  Two of his most recent books are Is There an Afterlife?’ which looks at some of this evidence, and ‘Beyond Death’, which discusses what a possible afterlife might be like.

September 24th, 2009

Prof Max Velmans on 'The Unconscious Ground of Being'

Max is currently Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and Visiting Professor of Consciousness Studies, University of Plymouth. He has been teaching and researching in consciousness studies for over 30 years and has around 100 publications on consciousness including Understanding Consciousness (2009) and The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2007). In this talk, Max will explore various ways in which our experience of being an isolated self in the world is merely the visible tip of and unconscious, interconnected ground of being that embeds and supports that experience.

June 25th, 2010, 2009

Dr Richard Ryder on ‘Animal Consciousness and Welfare’

After studying psychology at Cambridge, Colombia and Edinburgh Universities and work in animal research, in 1969 Richard began to speak out against animal testing and became one of the founders of the modern animal liberation movement. He has been chairman of the RSPCA, a president of Britain's Liberal Democrat Animal Protection Group, Mellon Professor at Tulane University, New Orleans, and from 2004, has been parliamentary consultant to the Political Animal Lobby. Inventor of the concept “speciesism”, he successfully campaigned to stop otter hunting and to reform the law on animal experimentation. His books include Victims of Science (1975), Painism: A Modern Morality (2003), and Putting Morality Back into Politics (2006).

May, 28th, 2009

Christopher Titmuss on “The Transformative Power of Romantic Love”

Christopher, a former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, teaches Awakening and Insight Meditation around the world..A senior Dharma teacher in the West, he is the author of numerous books including Light on Enlightenment, An Awakened Life and Mindfulness for Everyday Living.  Poet and writer, he is the co-founder of Gaia House, an international retreat centre in Devon. He has lived in Totnes for 27 years. The forum will explore love, Eros, passion and intimacy as a vehicle for profound awakening and why romantic love has such a powerful impact on our emotional life. Christopher will draw upon the authentic 2000 year old tradition of Tantra that sees romantic love as a spiritual practice through communication, the arts and the yogas.

April 30th, 2009

Michael Quinn on ‘Visions of the Dreaming’

Michael is an anthropologist, linguist, and storyteller as well as having a background in philosophy and religious studies. He has spent 17 years working with the Djabuganydji, an Australian aboriginal rainforest people, working to keep alive their endangered language. In this talk, he examines their mythology, the vital role played by their initiation system, the role of shamanism and altered states of consciousness, and the significance of totemic dreaming. Michael writes “In a world characterised by increasing alienation and the destruction and pollution of the environment it is increasingly vital to rethink our relationship to this planet and its life-forms and there are lessons to be learned from the experience of indigenous people like the Djabuganydi.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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