I’m too robotic to be properly sentimental, but when I think about this I feel good. People tell me that meditation has improved their lives. We have a sweet community, and we do it our way, like good explorers. So as the CEC breaks for 2013, I thought I would share some ideas about our plans for the future, and a few reflections on the need I believe the CEC speaks to.
People are stressed, so that’s the first thing. They need techniques to help them uncontract, to relax into their lives with a little more ease and composure. But below this, my sense is there’s something else: a hunger for meaning and connection that our hyper-critical ironically-detached techno-distracted post-modern selves are ill-equipped to discuss. We’re told the good life means material comforts and security, close relationships, fulfilling work – and to a degree this is definitely true. These things can and do contribute to a good life. But they’re not guarantees of it. Because it turns out there is more to our world that meets the eye – there are surfaces the eye can’t see, relationships the “business mind” alone can’t make. My basic belief – and it’s not remotely original – is that everyone is looking for a little more intimacy with the weird-ass fact of their own existence, and all the ambulating people-parts inside that existence. Some of us intuit there is more to explore, but since all discussion of mature spirituality has effectively been outlawed from intelligent mainstream discourse, we have no maps and no techniques to do so.
The CEC is a place you can go to explore different maps and different techniques, without feeling obscurely guilty about it. We are quality-controlled spiritual pluralism: rigor, but also heart, animated by a spirit of play and adventure. You can ask big-picture questions here and not get laughed at, or at least not get laughed at much. It’s a place to share – and to have – experiences, experiences unlegislated by what our various intellectual authorities tell us we are “allowed” to think and experience. In other words, you can get cosmic if cosmic happens. And you can get ordinary too, for ordinariness is the better part of it.
Over the next year and a half, the CEC is moving towards becoming an actual physical place, a multidisciplinary centre in downtown Toronto dedicated to the exploration of consciousness in practice and in life. The idea is to offer classes and courses and workshops and talks on a whole gamut of topics and themes and approaches, from the unabashedly spiritual (“Basic Mindfulness,” “Self-Inquiry,” “Shamanism for Dummies”, “The Crazy Mystical Shit”), through to the psychotherapeutic (“The Psychotherapy Sampler”, “Art as Therapy”) and the neuroscientific (“Social Neuroscience and You,” “Brain-Wise Life Hacking”). The center will have a large focus on how to live well, with classes on everything from preparing your own food (“Ninja Food Health”) to soulful relationships (“The Love Amplifier”, “Tantric Sex, Low-Intermediate Level”). There will also be a large emphasis on the “activate” piece – talks and classes on social justice and environmentalism and how to inspire people to give back in their own unique way, and how to support themselves once they do. And dance parties, and lucid dream workshops, and immersive mind-expanding art installations, and special meditation pods with audio headsets and a techno brain gym, and a big loungey cafe with ridiculously tasty organic snacks and drinks, and a huge CEC-branded transport helicopter for trips to the Amazon, and a disco the size of East Berlin, and oh shoot sorry I’m high, I mean I’m exploring consciousness. But 95% of that is true.
The guiding principle at the centre will be the exploration of human fulfillment and flourishing, with an emphasis on practice. Which means that yeah, you can acquire ideas and theory, but every class will also teach you a technique and force you to implement it, using our special program of vigilante-style enforcers and spyware stalking. There will be a big and practical common sense mindfulness focus, but obviously I like the idea of championing the outer limits too, of helping to make all of human experience permissible, even the edgier and more controversial sides of consciousness exploring (ie, the subject of spiritual awakening and “energy” and healing and visions and transmission and spirit-entities and crazy powers whatever else seems to happen to real human beings in their encounter with reality). This can be done in a secular-friendly way that neither outright rejects nor credulously buys into New Age and religious assumptions – the mind is, after all, just another landscape to explore (albeit a tricky one). It can also be done in a way that is healthy and adventurous, circumventing the usual critiques by dogmatic spiritual scolds who are suspicious of fun and suck the life out of practice. The key is always feedback and perspective: am I actually growing in easygoing friendliness and sanity, or am I fooling myself? When it comes to spiritual and meditation practice, you want to be open-minded, but not, to quote Richard Dawkins (the least open-minded being on the planet), “so open-minded that your brain falls out.”
So. If you like the idea for this centre, let me know. We are looking for spaces to get started, and ideas for teachers and programming, and any connections and support that can help turn this beautiful dream into a concrete reality.