When she came to Goddard, Hillary Webb had already written and published books on altered states of consciousness, but she wanted more academic experience and grounding. Her work in the low-residency MA in Individualized Studies Consciousness Studies Concentration, explored the question of what it takes for individuals and societies to make large shifts in consciousness from both intellectual and personal-experiential points of view.
A month after graduating, she began PhD work in the psychology program at Saybrook Graduate School. She is now Managing Editor of Anthropology of Consciousness journal and the former Research Director at The Monroe Institute. Webb is also now a current Trustee on the Board at Goddard College.
Hillary speaks about her Goddard education:
Hillary: I had been looking into graduate programs, mostly those in the religion or philosophy departments of various “traditional” universities. While most of them offered the academic rigor I craved, they did so at the expense of personal experience as a way of knowing. These programs were all head and no heart and I wanted both.
At my first residency, I found myself surrounded by faculty and students who, because of the almost limitless possibilities for innovation within one’s work at Goddard, were exploring the field in ways that I never could have imagined. Having the opportunity to interact with and learn from others in the field of Consciousness Studies was definitely the high point of my experience at the college: I found myself engaged in conversations on subjects that were as diverse as they were fascinating, from cross-cultural perspectives on death and dying to socially engaged Buddhism; from postmodern philosophy and its relationship to the occult sciences to the history and practices of ethnomusicology.
Professionally speaking, Goddard prepared me very well to step into the field of Consciousness Studies in its wider context. On a personal level, my four semesters at Goddard taught me more about myself than I ever could have imagined, and this has, in turn, accentuated my professional work greatly.
From Hillary’s thesis, Paradox and the Reconciliation of Opposites:
In general, belief systems can be distinguished by their relationship to the opposites. Some favor separation, relying, at least in part, on a strict dualism that emphasizes the antagonism of the polarities, with one side being responsible solely for all that is “Good” and the other side bearing ultimate blame for all that is “Evil” and must be destroyed. Anything that seems logically contradictory is considered to be, at best, a symptom of misinformation, or, at worst, an intellectual or spiritual perversion. German author Thomas Mann referred to paradox as “the poisonous flower of quietism, the iridescent surface of the rotting mind, the greatest depravity of all”. Here in the West, it is often with this lens that we view the opposites of existence. Contradictions thus become treated as crises, something to be resolved so that the paradox no longer exists and we can go back to being comfortable in our one-sidedness. The core drama of heavily dualistic systems thus becomes the continuing confrontation between opposing principles that are seen as eternally at war with one another, with humankind acting as animae bona et mala sita-souls placed between Good and Evil, spirit and flesh. Under these systems of thought, each individual is expected to distinguish between what is “Good” and what is “Evil,” and work to destroy the latter, with the price of wrong choice being eternal damnation.
The pressure! No wonder paradox causes us such angst, for, with our very souls at stake, the wrong decision has eternal consequences for us. Because of this ontological assumption we may find ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) performing all kinds of mental gymnastics trying to determine what choices will put us in the “right.” And once we have made that determination, woe betide the individual who threatens to disrupt our conception of “Truth”!
But while some traditions consider paradox to be a spiritual and intellectual “perversion” that must be transcended, other cultures and belief systems seem to have taken a much different attitude towards the relationship of opposites, viewing paradox not as evidence of the frailty of human reason, but-quite the contrary-as evidence of certain ineffable truths about the universe. Some even see it as a gateway to experiencing Ultimate Truth. Now, this is not to say that any system is completely non-dual. Even so-called “non-dual” traditions make necessarily dualistic distinctions such as “inner versus outer” and “truth versus illusion” in order to articulate and give form to their cosmologies and practices. However, where they differ from their dualist counterparts is that instead of seeking to make one side of the equation absolute by attempting to eliminate the other side, these traditions have in common the belief that opposites are not antagonistic, but complementary and, even more importantly, dependent upon one another for their existence. Therefore, the overriding argument is that one cannot and should not be eliminated since each has meaning only in relation to the other; that the destruction of one side would lead to the inevitable destruction of the other. In addition, in many of these cases the paradox that polarity creates is seen as revealing their ultimate unification at higher levels of consciousness. Instead of acting as a hindrance to this ultimate reconciliation into Oneness, paradox can therefore be used as a tool by which one can achieve spiritual enlightenment.