Continuum: A Center of Possibilities


“In the last couple of years I’ve learned how to just drop stuff, how to deal with my anger, how to see others’ points of view and how to approach others in a respectable way. What I learned helped me a lot. If it wasn’t for Discovery of Self, I’d still be the little kid in junior high with big problems.” – Careino Gurley, age 15

Careino Gurley, once a troubled teen, is now 27. He was the first in his family to not only attend college, but graduate. He now works with at-risk students in North Minneapolis. He helps kids who were just like he was. Troubled. Blocked with anger. Unable to see a way out of destructive patterns of the past. He credits The Continuum Center for helping him see a new way.

For the past quarter of a century in Minnesota, this center has not only promoted a community discussion on consciousness research, but it has served as a social service agency, helping a wide range of people, from troubled youths to single women to prison convicts to business entrepreneurs, use cutting-edge information to help them bring forth their gifts as human beings.

As executive director of the center, Jane Barrash has introduced pioneering techniques to the most needy – as well as most curious – among us. As humankind collectively focuses on ways to align its mind, body and spirit to realize its greatest potential, this Minnesota organization will still be quietly sitting as part of the foundation of this movement. The Continuum Center is still flying under the radar in the Twin Cities. How much longer is the question.

Jane Barrash spoke with Edge Life in her office, part of a vast, subterranean maze of rooms, galleries and wide-open gathering spaces beneath an urban strip mall on Hennepin Avenue in South Minneapolis.

One year after the establishment of Continuum Minnesota, Dayton Corporation partnered with you in bringing speakers and leaders here to share their ideas. What was the cumulative message from this speaking series to the community at large?
Jane Barrash:
That despite all the disaster scenarios, there is a place for optimism and that there’s a lot going on, a lot of research. We wanted to bring in people regardless of the specific discipline or culture they represented. The overarching message was that we’re interconnected in ways we don’t fully understand, and that there is room for hope.

Was there a new paradigm being revealed?
I don’t even know. The word was so new at that point we didn’t even use it much. But it was definitely popping up on the radar. That was what we were trying to do without calling it that, seeing how people wouldn’t know what it was. They were still struggling to understand what consciousness was. Part of facilitating the paradigm shift was bringing these ideas forward to lay the groundwork.

Who were some of the notable people that spoke during that time that you remember?
Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, was one. He got his credibility as an astronaut, and then for those who wanted to dig deeper, he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Elizabeth Kübler Ross work dovetailed with ours and the message of the original Continuum Exhibit, which was about consciousness surviving death of the physical body and the connection of consciousness to the physical world.

Many people know of the Continuum Center through its exhibit of the photographs of Edward Curtis. How does this particular exhibit tie into the perspective of the center as a whole?
Continuum is interested in using many avenues and mechanisms to get people to understand the nature of consciousness, human capacity and the interconnectedness of life. An exhibit is one way we get that done.

Native Americans believe that consciousness is in all of life, and all things are interconnected. One of our goals with the exhibit is to explore that worldview and use the photographs as a way to better understand this idea. We have quotations from Indian leaders, past and present, scattered around the exhibit that speak to that awareness.

This is the only exhibit of its kind – highlighting the worldview of the North American Indian – that tours non-museum settings. It has gone to Honeywell, Hennepin County Medical Center and Landmark Center. We want it to go through schools, hospitals, corporations and community centers, just as the original Continuum exhibit was set up at Calhoun Square when it first opened. This also is the only exhibit of its kind that is staffed by Native Americans who have left prison and treatment. We use it as a way to support the Native American community.

We feel that whatever we do has to have practical application and connections – to all people. We want to be very inclusive. Since 1992, we have worked with the Native American community, with a lot of men and women getting out of prison and treatment. Those who have worked with the Continuum exhibit will tell you how transformative the experience has been for them. For many of them, it’s the first time they’re out in public where people approach them with respect and interest, rather than having the perception that people are judging them and looking down on them and feeling disconnected.

Does working with this exhibit help to reconnect them to who they are?
Yes. There’s a lot of tribalism in the Native American community. It’s like, if you’re Lakota, then you hate the Ojibway, and if you are Navajo, oh my God! Here’s a guy, Edward Curtis, who wasn’t Indian at all, who dedicated his life and risked his life on behalf of another race. People are led to say, “Well, it’s not just about my tribe. I’ve got to feel connected to other tribes.”

Why was the Whole Mind Learning Project developed in the early 1980s?
Following the evolution of Continuum, we started off with an exhibit and then we expanded by bringing in speakers. The next step was to design practical applications of consciousness research. It was just an organic evolution. Following a national conference on Consciousness and Education that was held in Minneapolis, co-sponsored by the Kettering Foundation and the Institute of Noetic Sciences, we began working on demonstration or applications projects, which led to training and curricula. Whole Mind Learning was the genesis of that training and curricula branch.

The Whole Mind Learning Project was basically the strategies of imagery biofeedback self-regulation and self-relaxation, and the research behind that was that learning takes place most effectively in a state of alert relaxation. Most classrooms are characterized by stress, and the lives of most kids are characterized by stress. At that time, imagery was a very experiential and profound form of learning and teaching. With regard to biofeedback, when one learns to control oneself, behaviors and outcomes in the classroom are greatly improved.

Three hundred educators participated in the Whole Mind Learning Project. One of them, Gordon Wrobel, was the school psychologist at Harrison Secondary, a north Minneapolis school that took in the most seriously emotionally and behaviorally disordered kids.

Mr. Wrobel used these strategies with kids and he said it was amazing what happens when a kid who only knows crisis can create a place of safe refuge and quiet, internally. When they feel like nothing in their life is under their control, but they can control their heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory systems and see the impact, that’s very empowering.

Share with me about the creation of the Discovery of Self program in the early 1990s.
JB: After the Whole Mind Learning Project, Mr. Wrobel had approached Continuum about expanding on those strategies.

This was after years and years of me being in the midst of Carolyn Myss, Larry Dossey, and Candice Pert and Deepak Chopra – and in my own life, I’m already testing out a synthesis of quantum physics and brain science, and I’m seeing the changes that are happening.

So we created a conceptual framework around those basic strategies. Discovery of Self is a collection of concepts added to the Whole Mind strategies. We tested it at Harrison as a three-year project, and we found that it was working. Then a maximum security prison brought me in to do this work.

Discovery of Self is a “What the Bleep” kind of thing that we’ve been doing since 1991. It can be a nine-month program, six-month, three-month, or eight hours when it is introduced in corporations.

Can you give an example of how Discovery of Self has benefited its participants, especially troubled youth?
In that very first class at Harrison Secondary, there were kids who had been kicked out of every treatment program, hospital and school. This was their last chance. Careino Gurley was in the lowest-level functioning at Harrison Secondary. He went through the program and really got it.

In the class, it was all about understanding consciousness, human capacity and the interconnectedness of life. This curriculum talked to kids in a way they could understand, about quantum physics, about the physical world being an illusion, about the nature of paradox. We specifically talked about expectations as a form of consciousness. Are you aware of the power of your expectations and do you know what your expectations are about friends, about school, about family? A lot of people expect that everything’s garbage. It’s remarkable when you hear that people really can’t expect any trusting relationships, any supportive relationships, any success in their lives. And when they realize that they can work on changing their expectations, that’s a light-bulb thing.

So, in that class Careino asked, “So, you mean, if I change my expectations about school things might be different?”

At that point you want to do cartwheels and flips.

Careino was 12 then. He’s now 27. He was the first kid in his whole family to go to college, and now his two sisters are going to college and he has cousins going to college. He works in north Minneapolis. He worked as a youth counselor, and he worked at the Juvenile Detention Center where he actually did time.

For everybody I’ve worked with who’s been homeless or in prison or out of a really dysfunctional home, it’s hopefully two steps forward and one step back, or three steps forward and one step back – and there are definitely some hard steps back. At one point, Careino was looking at doing 10 years in prison, but now we are preparing for him to start teaching the program. He’s one example of the impact of our program.

Along the way, it’s such hard work, whether you’re a white collar business person who’s looking at losing a big account, or whether you’re a kid hearing that somebody’s coming after you with a gun. It’s the same physiological response. Your mind goes to the same place. It’s all about fear and it’s about really testing the idea of fear as an illusion. It’s a wonderful concept to watch on the big screen, but when it gets to your own life and you have your list of reasons why you want to justify your fear, that’s when the work gets difficult.

Everyone’s fascinated with the idea that we create our own reality. Well, exactly how does that work? Emotions are a big piece of it, and they are the least known territory of ourselves, the place where most people don’t want to venture into. There are ways to resolve the things that need to be taken care of, but it can be painful and difficult. For most people, especially males, especially young, black males, nobody wants to go there. Nobody wants to look at that.

Because of this program, Careino had to look at his relationship with life and this recurring message of “life’s unfair.” It’s so much easier to fall into blame and to get angry and to lash out, but you have to stop and go, “Why do I keep re-creating circumstances that have me in this situation of feeling like life’s unfair?” It involves going back and realizing where that idea emerged.

When that button gets pushed, part of eliminating the button is dealing with it differently and not going to the same place you’ve already gone to before. Speed forward in time. Careino is 21 years old, and he has to deal with getting fired for no good reason. It’s happened more than once when he’s working very hard and really cares, but strange circumstances would come up and he’s out of a job again. It’s easy to say it’s racism. And he called me up and said, “You know what? I really do think I need to do more work on understanding of the origins of this and what the forgiveness is, what the letting go is.”

Part of Careino’s story is dealing with expectations and shifting them. Another part is having to develop an emotional awareness of the influence he has on attracting relationships and circumstances that match up with unresolved emotion that he has. His life has been changing to the point where he is finding that so much more positivity is showing up for him.

How do you measure the success of Continuum Center projects?
Quality and audience response: the feeling that we are putting on a top-notch program, and feeling that the audience recognizes the quality, and that we generate revenue.

It’s very tough to make it in the non-profit world. Up to this point, we haven’t had much luck in getting foundation support, because we’re out of the box. People want to fund affordable housing or children’s mental health, but I think we do the kind of foundation work supporting all of that. I’ve seen that if somebody doesn’t rearrange their interior, then you can give them anything and they’ll end up sabotaging it. There’ll be a greater amount of self-sabotage going on if they don’t kind of have stability in the internal states of consciousness.

From a personal perspective, how has your involvement with Continuum Center changed your life?
It involves everything that interests me. It has helped me change who I am. Where I was before I got involved in Continuum and where I am now are very different places. Continuum helped me become the person who I am.

It’s been very hard and it’s been a lot of sacrifice. It has been very challenging. I think a lot of people want to get involved with this work, but if you want to be about this new paradigm, you’ll be tested. There have been huge tests here. A lot of people wonder what the hell you’re doing, that it doesn’t make any sense. Get a real job.

This work has really made me grow as an individual, so I’m grateful for the challenges and grateful for the opportunities. I think if I wasn’t doing this, I probably would have imploded or exploded or somehow self-destructed, because if you don’t do what your calling is, then you’re kind of speeding toward a brick wall.

When you were in college what were your aspirations?
To be a lawyer, to be the female Perry Mason. I would have been very good, but I would have been very dysfunctional and anxiety-ridden. Creative energy, if it’s not expressed, becomes blocked and turns inward and toxic.

This work I am doing is who I needed to be. If I didn’t do it, I would have been no good to anybody.

What do you envision as the Continuum Center’s next process of evolution?
Web development and e-commerce, and just really getting out there that way. We’d like to have chapters of the Continuum Center all over the place so that the programs we put up can be traveled around. We want to have international tours of our exhibits, and we’re working on an exhibit of compassion. It would be in the model of the original Continuum exhibit – a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, multi-faith exploration of how we are interconnected – showing that compassion is really what the universe had in mind as an evolutionary goal.

Our basic programming would stay the same, and we will continue to develop or evolve our training programs, develop new exhibits and bring in great new speakers and events. We hope to go to the next level with our partnerships in the corporate, medical, educational and correctional arenas.

Continuum has spent 26 years building the machine. We’ve got the infrastructure, we have a fabulous board, we have the programs, we have a space, so the next step is really turning on the machine. I think we’ve got something that flies. It’s not just driving the car down the street. I think it’s turning on the machine and letting it fly.

We’re also planning a charter public school so that we can really impact education at that level. We’d like start one in Minneapolis, then St. Paul, and then Milwaukee or Chicago. The next stage is to expand our reach. Its tagline is: “Academic Excellence. Social and Emotional Intelligence.” For anyone who’s seen What the Bleep, we want to weave that kind of thinking into what kids learn – self-responsibility and all of that. I think we are suffering at every level, at every demographic, from a crisis of lack of self-esteem and lack of connection.

One of our past speakers, a former physics professor at the University of Minnesota, Roger Jones, gave a talk once and he said, “If a society set out to develop a creation myth to scare the living daylights out of everybody, it couldn’t have done a better job than the modern Western scientific paradigm.” It’s the sense of, “I’m alone in this vast, cold, inhospitable universe. It’s me against the world. It’s a rat race. It’s a grind. It’s a jungle.” On a cellular level, that’s what people have in them.

A sense that everything is random and we have no control.
Right. It’s pretty scary. And we’re not even aware of how deeply that orients our thinking and our behavior. A big part of Discovery of Self is to hammer home different concepts and stories that actually, this is a very magical, responsive, warm, friendly universe. Unfortunately, people aren’t just going to take that on face value. You need to convince them. That sounds very Pollyanna-ish, so Continuum has been very focused on grounding it all in science and with stories and practical application.

I really think that people should be forced to watch at least four comedies a week, because we are very short on humor. Einstein was asked, “What’s the most important question?”

And he said, “The most important question is, ‘Is the Universe friendly?'”

Depending on how you answer that, a lot will flow forth. Much is going on cellularly. You can have all these positive thoughts and all these intentions, but if in your gut, if in your cells, you’re carrying the sense of, “When’s the other shoe going to drop?” it doesn’t matter. That’s one concern I have as we move forward to explore this new paradigm of creating your own reality, to realize how you’ve got to work with the body.

Part of our work is to make these ideas practical, experiential and relevant, so all these ideas that are part of this new paradigm can really be embodied – individually and planetarily.

For more information, visit Continuum Center is located at 2538 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis. Call (612) 374-4948 or e-mail [email protected]

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