Infinite Awareness: Music + Meditation
A scientist and a musician team up to explore Infinity.
Marjorie: I am a neuroscientist and academic by training, and when I was 30 years old, I had a spiritual awakening that opened up new ways of perceiving reality that I had never before experienced, including a sense of expanded awareness, interconnectedness, and love. It impelled me to question whether my scientific materialistic worldview, based on the premise that consciousness is solely a product of the human brain, had limitations. And it created a curiosity to explore the nature of consciousness from a broader perspective.
Though I continued my neuroscience research at the University of Oregon, I began exploring Eastern philosophy and studying meditation’s effects on the brain. With this came the desire to put these ideas on paper, to deepen my understanding, and to share this understanding with others. In 2015 I published Infinite Awareness: The Awakening of a Scientific Mind. In Infinite Awareness, I tell not only of my awakening to an experience of the fundamental nature of consciousness, but I also explore my path to discovering, for example, carefully designed research studies that give evidence that conscious awareness is still present and even heightened during near-death experiences when the heart stops, and the brain EEG becomes silent.
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I was astounded by this research performed by highly credible scientists at major universities and medical centers, showing that a patient with a nonfunctional brain observed and later reported incidents that were happening during their resuscitation! I began to talk about my work at conferences like the International Association of Near-Death Studies, sharing what I had learned about the fundamental nature of consciousness.
Evan: It was at one of those conferences, In February 2022, that I saw Marjorie speak. She was the second speaker on the first day, and I was quite taken, not only by the compelling scientific evidence of the eternal nature of our souls but also by her presence and the light of enthusiasm for life she seemed to radiate. I wanted to get to know this person.
So I emailed Marjorie. Knowing she was interested in the study of spiritual awakenings, I wondered if she would like to hear about mine. We found time for a Zoom call, and I shared with her how I had a small stroke in March 2020 in the first couple weeks of the Covid lockdown. The week I spent in the ICU without the ability to have visitors was a pivotal moment in my life, from which began the slow unfolding of my spiritual awakening. My perceived closeness to death was a wake-up call sending me on a new path. We spoke for about an hour.
I am a lifetime musician: a composer, and an instrumentalist. As my awakening shifted my consciousness, my experience of music followed. Sound had a new weight to it: infused with meaning and emotion like never before. A few months after the meeting with Marjorie, I was inspired to begin to draft a concept for a large-scale musical and theatrical composition entitled “The Primacy of Consciousness” in order to do my part to help bridge the gap between perennial philosophies expounded by ancient spiritual traditions and modern scientific understanding.
I wanted to cover many of the topics addressed in Marjorie’s book, Infinite Awareness: The Awakening of a Scientific Mind. So I contacted Marjorie again and asked what she thought of the idea of loosely basing my composition on her book. She was very excited about the idea.
In October of 2022, I played double bass in an Opera Performance in Pennsylvania. I had a sense that there was a synchronistic reason I should take this gig, perhaps someone I should meet. In the hotel lobby at breakfast one morning, the lead singer in the opera, tenor and librettist Rinde Eckert, was reading a book about quantum mechanics. I introduced myself, and we struck up a conversation about consciousness and my project. Soon after that, Rinde visited my home in Vermont, and we began our collaboration on The Primacy of Consciousness.
Marjorie: In early March of 2023, Evan suggested we meet for four days in Vermont to begin to put together the pieces of The Primacy of Consciousness and do a workshop performance of what we have so far. I eagerly responded, “Yes!”
Evan: I was so excited when Marjorie and her husband Paul agreed to come to Vermont, joining librettist/singer Rinde Eckert, singer Mary Bonhag, and me to workshop “Primacy of Consciousness.” In the days before the workshop performance, the elements of the piece and the flow really began coming together. To have Marjorie on stage playing herself was especially meaningful.
Marjorie: What an amazing experience the performance was. From the moment the first notes of the dulcimer were sounded, my awareness was drawn into the powerful narrative and the vibrations of the evocative yet ethereal music for the entire performance.
In this initial iteration, the piece opens with the drama of the narrator’s awakening - the opening and then closing of the door to a wider reality. But not a complete closure - always the hint of that magnificence waiting to be recaptured. As the drama unfolds, it expresses the essence of the message of Infinite Awareness - describing my background as a skeptical neuroscience who has an awakening during a spiritual retreat:
“I can feel energy pulsating from my heart. It radiates outward, filling my whole being and beyond. It feels like nectar; it feels like pure love pouring through me. Words come to mind - no scientific analysis, just: I’m home, I’m home! My heart is my home!”
And then, the narrative follows my search to make sense of this new experience of reality, exploring a broader scientific framework that could embrace my new understanding of the nature of consciousness within it.
There were moments of laughter as we heard the narrative of a clinician responding to the subjective experience of a patient who has just had a near-death experience, mocking and skeptical at first, and then with more remarkable verified information—the patient seeing a blue tennis shoe on the ledge of the building where it would be impossible to view from the ER, questioning if her own materialist worldview is as air-tight as she thought.
And there was the account of a doubting father faced with his toddler telling him with certitude that his plane was shot down in WWII, crashing on fire, giving him all the details of his aircraft carrier and friends on the mission, suggesting, the mind-boggling possibility of reincarnation.
Each narrative engaged the concertgoer in exploring the barriers to experiencing a more expansive consciousness and our interconnection with all that exists.
One aspect of Evan Premo and Rinde Eckert’s creative brilliance was how the narrative and musical motifs built on each other in successive themes to take the listener to deeper and more expansive levels of experience. Each narrative account flowed into a musical exploration of its essence, helping the listener mentally and emotionally assimilate the meaning of the presented account and preparing us for the next sequence of the piece.
The flow of the composition felt in many ways like a journey inward toward unity awareness, with the final portions of the piece expressing spiritual traditions from around the world and variations on the theme of unity awareness as the audience and performers sang together the refrain, “I am,” accompanying deeply felt words from these traditions:
I am the origin of all things. All things come from me...whether moving or unmoving, That I am. (The Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism)
I am all existence. (The Trimorphic Protennoia, Christianity)
I pervade the universe. (The Gospel of Thomas, Christianity)
At the end of the performance, there was a momentary silence throughout the hall. My perception was that, like me, the audience had been transported to a place of deep inner stillness, a true heart-opening experience. And as the days go by, I often hear myself humming the ethereal music of the evening and repeating the powerful words accompanying it with a broad smile.
Evan: For me, the insight that came after hearing the feedback from the audience is that music can have a meaningful and important role in the integration and embodiment of metaphysical idealism. Music and sound can help humanity come together in an understanding that we, all beings, all matter, and all energy, are all leaves of the same tree of cosmic consciousness. I’m humbled and honored to have a role, as a musician, in the important work of this global evolution of understanding.
Marjorie: Sometimes I wonder if I am overly enthusiastic in responding to The Primacy of Consciousness. However, I have been touched by the words of many people who watched the workshop performance online and have written to Evan and myself about their deep experience. Here are a few. One person said, “That was amazing!! I had chills at the start, tears at joining in singing “I am,” and appreciation of the clarity of the text readings.” Another said, “My wife and I watched the composition, mesmerized by the blended sounds, words, and concepts, especially the passages from Marjorie’s book. We highly recommend it!”
One beautiful comment came from my book editor after she listened to the performance. She said, “Books have their place, of course. The written word can convey complex messages—and to thousands of people across the span of millennia. But then there is music and the magic of the human voice. This version—if we can call it a version—of the message in your book was absolutely sublime. It touched my heart.”
I think she captures the essence of what Evan’s piece was able to do. It touched the heart in a transforming way. And in so doing, I believe it gave each of us as listeners a glimpse into the profound essence of our own true nature.
Note: Primacy of Consciousness will be premiered in 2024. You can see/hear excerpts from the workshop performance here:
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