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Our Amherst, MA Community Group is Fourteen Years Old This Month -- Here's Our Story

Posted Oct. 11, 2011 by Robert Johnston in Community Groups

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Our New Options Community Group Story

Our New Options Community Group started October 15, 1997 as a Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst program for primarily retired older adults interested in exploring the frontiers of scientific, humanistic, and spiritual consciousness. About a year later we evolved to become conjointly affiliated with the Amherst Council on Aging and The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). These have proved to be beneficial moves for the reason we have enjoyed a greater outreach presence in the Amherst, MA community combined with increased access to scientific and psychospiritual resource materials available through IONS.

The latter has been further enhanced by the coming of Rev. Alison Wohler to our Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst congregation. A lifetime UU, Alison has brought a rich blend of scientific and spiritual (nature mysticism) consciousness blended with emotional intelligence born out of a combination of her father's profession as a physicist and member of IONS, her mother's love and warmth and her (Alison's) own degree in biology and association with IONS.

From day one our New Options Community Group's general intention has been to expand the height, depth and breadth of our conscious awareness. We do it through openly exploring the pros and cons of a wide variety of research findings, concepts, practices, and ideas for more integrally conscious, healthful, wise, mutually empathetic living, aging, dying and thereafter . . . all as they newly emerge from scientific, humanistic, and psychospiritual communities worldwide. No topic is beyond our interest of exploration.

Generally, our overriding passion is focused on causing a major shift toward mutual integral health consciousness world-wide. Our definition of integral health includes wellbeing of mind, body, emotions, social relations, economics, family, vocation, aesthetics and ecosystem. We view integral health and education as prerequisites for the elimination of world poverty, world hunger and for world peace

We meet every Wednesday from 2:00 to 4:00 except for a July-August hiatus. We average about nineteen enthusiastic mostly retired professionals per meeting. Ranging in age from about sixty to eighty-nine, their pre-retirement occupations include an orthrodontist, engineer, psychotherapist, physician, folk singer, physics professor, high school teacher, sociology professor, interior designer, symphony violinist, two social workers, world traveler, registered nurse, science writer, fine arts professor, chemistry professor and world renowned scientist, homemaker, CIA analyst, university administrator, and organization development consultant, writer, and adjunct professor.

Approximately half our participants are Unitarian Universalists affiliated with the UU Society of Amherst, the others represent a broad spectrum of scientific, religious, atheistic and agnostic values and belief systems. Eleven of our members have graduated to our "In Memoriam" list since we started nearly twelve years ago. One of them a day or so after her body died let me (BJ) know in her inimitable voice, "Hey Bob, it's just like New Options over here!" 

New Options has developed a wonderful community spirit of mutual empathy, care, and comradery, both in our meetings and during the week. We have held silent auctions, one to raise funds for the Amherst Senior Center, another to help one of our members purchase dentures she couldn't afford. Most semesters two or three college interns, usually University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College students, come to observe and participate with us older adults, discussing the pros and cons of all manner of stimulating topics. We have participated in special research projects on healthful aging organized by Smith College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, respectively. And, we hold summer swimming and potluck parties at members' homes.

Organized to satisfy the height, depth and breadth of expressed interests of our group of widely diverse older professional participants through encouraging everyone to participate, we plan our calendar in two month increments, focusing on a different topic each week. Discussion topics may be based on articles from such as SHIFT, UU WORLD, Psychology Today, The New York Times Magazine, Science and Spirit magazine, Scientific American Mind, Discovery magazine, and interviews and blogs posted on IONS' Noetic.org, Erwin Laszlo’s Forum on Science and Spirituality website, etc.

While we don't have budget for outside presenters, frequently we can find someone with expertise in a particular area of interest who is willing to come gratis. One of those was Alison Wohler who led a wonderfully memorable discussion focused on one of her previously published homilies. Others include Certified Medium Katherine Mayfield, life between lives regression hynotherapist Trish Casimira, automatic writing channel Daphne Reed, and famed evolutionary biologist and UMass professor Lynn Margulis (friend of Elisabet Sahtouris). We also heard a local Muslim official discuss Islamic approaches to conflict management and a rabbi expert on Jewish methods of dealing with conflict. At least once a month we view and discuss a video or DVD, such as from the Thinking Allowed Series, provided by the IONS Video Library or some other source. About half our members have access to the internet so they independently visit the IONS, Unitarian Universalist Association and UU Society of Amherst websites as they wish.

Visitors to our group have remarked at our ability to respect the views of others which may be totally opposite to our own yet be genuinely friendly toward them, thus demonstrating we do not have to think alike to love alike.

I hope this will give you a better understanding of our group. I welcome providing any clarification you may want.

Bob Johnston
New Options Community Group
Amherst, MA

The New Options Community Group serves members and friends of the Amherst Senior Center, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst, all nonprofit organizations dedicated to expanding consciousness, realizing human potential, and facilitating personal and social transformation toward integrally healthful living – individually, socially, and ecosystemically. In our meetings, no topic is out of bounds and we discuss the pros and cons of each topic presented. The New Options Community Group is wholly independent of all the above-listed organizations and is legally and financially responsible for its own activities.

The general purpose of our New Options Community Group is to provide a forum for people who are free thinkers (or want to be) and enjoy participating in a group which expands the height, depth, and breadth of their conscious map of options. We do this through exploring the pros and cons of a wide variety of ideas—for more healthful and enjoyable living, aging, dying, and thereafter—as they newly emerge from scientific, humanistic, and spiritual communities world-wide. We are not a cult or political partisan group. No topic is out of bounds.

Certain values and attitudes manifested within our group enhance the quality of our relationships and discussions:

The Value of an Infinite Monistic Cosmic View – That infinite consciousness, psi, physical energy, and matter are seemingly inextricably and interdependently One. None can be created nor destroyed, just changed in form. Thus, all four are inherently transtemporal, only their changing forms are temporary. Each of us and every thing are vital constituents of this infinite monistic cosmic ocean.

The Value of Affirming that we are each conscious mind-spirits having an earthly experience in a temporal human body.

The Value of a Global Health-Oriented Wisdom Society — We value expanding consciousness, an evolving living universe perspective, all-inclusiveness, respect for the worth and dignity of every soul, mutual empathy, resonance, integral health, full functioning, multiple ways of knowing, and mutually healthful ways of coping with challenges..

The Value of Identifying With Timeless Awareness — We value psychospiritual identification with pure, transparent, transtemporal cosmic consciousness as the freest, most aware, centered, balanced, integrative, healthful, empathetic, inner ‘seat’ of self-managing. Accordingly, we value disidentification with all temporal values and behaviors. Thus liberated, we can freely own and view every response to each life situation as a possible option.

A Spirit of Inquiry — We have an attitude of openness to new ideas and research findings — scientific, humanistic, and intuitional — and a willingness to consider them, combined with a feeling of tentativeness and caution until they are proven reliable and valid, or our intuition is such that we are confident enough step out in faith and reality-test them in the laboratory of everyday living.

The Value of Awareness — We often transcend tradition, inhibition, involuntarily conditioned beliefs, values, attitudes, motives, behaviors, and other limiting forces in order to expand our awareness of a wider, higher, deeper range of possibilities and options within and around us.

The Value of Treating Feminine and Masculine Principles as equally important complementary opposites.

A Spirit of Collaboration — We share a belief that more effective results come from collaborative relationships than those based on the authority-obedience or “rugged individualist” models, although those, too, may be useful in emergency situations. Also, we hold that no one person in our group is “the authority” on everything – we each are the authorities about our own experience. Accordingly, we draw on group resources and learn from each other.

The Value of a Whole Perspective — We are keenly aware and concerned for the needs and interests of our whole selves: spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, social, fun-loving, vocational, economic, esthetic, and ecological. This concern includes such matters as consciousness, conditioning, identity, personality, and self-managing, liberally spiced with a keen sense of humor — all oriented toward the actualization and realization of each participant’s integral consciousness, health, full functioning, wisdom, and self-perceived potential.

An Attitude of Receptiveness — We recognize the importance of accepting healthful constructive feedback about our ideas and opinions (not about one’s personality unless requested) without taking the feedback personally, and/or being a slave to the opinions of others.

The Value of Empathy Blended With Candor — We recognize that but for the luck of the draw, each of us could have been the other soul, and the other us. Recognition of that tends to spawn empathy and delay of judgment until the other’s situation and point of view are more fully understood. Together with this ability to empathize, we make a special effort to express our convictions to others in a compassionate, candid, and constructive way.

An Attitude of Openness — We are usually sensitive to interpersonal conflict and try to work through issues with an open, empathetic, direct, positive, win-win problem-solving approach, rather than with win-lose approaches, such as denial, suppression, ridicule, shunning, or power plays.

Qs & As . . .

How Do You Integrate Science and Spirituality? Our working hypothesis is that integral consciousness is the common denominator of and inherent within both science and spirituality. When objective science and logic fail, we remember there are aspects of reality not yet subject to scientific investigation. They can be experienced and subjectively known through our intuition, reality-tested in the laboratory of our everyday life.

How Does New Options Define Spirituality? Our “working definition” of spirituality is the awareness, courage, and ability to look within and to trust. What is seen and trusted is a sense of interconnected-ness, interdependence and oneness with the timeless infinite mysterious Source of all Nature within and around oneself and everything else. Our spirituality includes acceptance of one’s ‘delegated’ responsibility for consciously, healthfully, and co-creatively self-managing in harmony with Nature’s cycles.

Our New Options Community Group serves members and friends of the Amherst Council on Aging, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst, all nonprofit organizations dedicated to expanding consciousness, realizing human potential, and personal and social transformation toward integrally healthful living – individually, socially, and ecosyssystemi-cally. In our meetings, no topic is out of bounds and we discuss the pros and cons of each topic presented. The New Options Community Group is independent of the above-listed organizations and is legally and financially responsible for its own activities.

When We Meet. Coordinated by Bob Johnston, meetings are on Wednesdays 2:00 to 4:00 PM in Bangs Community Center, Room 101, Amherst, Masssachusetts. If chairs are not available in the discussion group around the circle of tables feel free to pull up a chair and sit on the periphery. We do not meet during July and August.

For more information call

Robert Wayne (Bob) Johnston
or write to him either via
Email: rwbobjohnston@live.com.
Or 24 Greenleaves Drive, Unit 412, Amherst, MA 01002


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