Jane Barrash, executive director of the Continuum Center, now based in Uptown Minneapolis, introduces the Center’s exhibit book with these words: “I got the messaging early on that this is a random accidental meaningless universe, and security is in what you own and can control. But [it became] clear to me that humankind needed to evolve past the limitations of our five senses and our current modern western perceptions, assumptions, and institutions.”
As a philosophy major at St. Olaf, she learned that some Greek philosophers taught that your five senses deceive you and the material world is an illusion. She didn’t have a clue what that meant, or the implications, until she saw the original Continuum Exhibit at the top floor of the IDS Center in Minneapolis in 1981. She stayed connected with the exhibit, which was brought permanently to Minnesota by local philanthropist Hugh Harrison after its successful run at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles. Today a new version of the free exhibit is available to view in the Center’s new location in Uptown Minneapolis.
The exhibit includes new material from 40 additional years of research, with themes such as addiction, mental health, animal intelligence, and plant intelligence.
Jane Barrash grew up In South Shore on the south side of Chicago and moved to Hyde Park near the University of Chicago, where she attended its affiliated high school. Her mother was a math teacher and an education and social activist. Her father was a doctor who made house calls in neighborhoods others would not. Intellectual development and social equity were part of the family fabric, as was — with the five siblings — debate.
After Barrash left for college, she says her verbal and intellectual-oriented development lost some of its balance from creative high school endeavors of woodworking, sewing, jewelry making, and athletics. This loss of balance, the all-you-can-eat cafeteria of sugars and salts, and no consistent exercise, led her to bulimia.
As a philosophy and political science major, her interest was piqued when her brother Warren sent her two books: “Rolling Thunder,” which was science studying a Shoshone medicine man, and “Seth Speaks,” a treatise on reality that outlined a “metaphysic about consciousness and the universe that made a lot of sense. It was said to have been dictated through a medium.”
Her brothers today are a neuropsychologist, geologist, and two lawyers (one retired state environmental attorney for Wyoming and the other works on behalf of children in Denver). Her sister works at a university. Getting books from her brother that was such a departure from conventional western thinking was exciting. “It came together for me in a compelling coherent framework that I wanted to explore and use to shift the way humanity understands consciousness,” Barrash says.
After graduation, with no graduate programs to study paradigm shifts, she made ends meet working at an Uptown restaurant and stocking shelves at a liquor store. She ran every day. “I was neurotic and addicted to running, and still bulimic,” she says. “I had to run everyday no matter the weather. I couldn’t not run. That is a sign of internal struggle, even if it seems positive. My life was 360 degrees chaos and drama, even though I could mask it all and was outwardly very hard working and fun.”
In 1981, Roger Sperry won a Nobel Prize for his split-brain research — that the brain has a left and right hemisphere with different functions for logic and creativity. “Light bulbs went off for me,” says Barrash. “I had been suppressing my creative side. Designing and building furniture became an important piece of how I addressed and resolved low self-esteem, which I am convinced is a major cause of addiction. That was a big step for me.”
Shortly after the light bulb moment of 1981, Barrash went to the top of the IDS building and saw the Continuum exhibit. In 1984, she became part of the Continuum team. That year, the exhibit was on display at the grand opening of Calhoun Square in Uptown Minneapolis, and the Whole Mind Learning project (WML) was launched — a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Education, the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, and what is now U.S. Bank.
Physicists, neuroscientists, biochemists, psychiatrists, astrophysicists, and global cultural leaders participated in local conferences based on the exhibit’s messages of consciousness and human capacity. Neighborhood sports teams were developed with the concepts, including the Minnetonka high school football team.
WML taught 300 teachers in 16 sites around the state about the benefits of imagery, biofeedback, self-regulation, and self-relaxation in the classroom and how to incorporate these into K-12 curriculum.
“This was much more than mindfulness, and decades before today’s embracing of mindfulness,” says Barrash. “We were accused of voodoo mysticism. Now we are 30 years further down that road, and hopefully our track record makes clear our work — as ‘out of the box’ and ‘ahead of the curve’ as it may be — cannot be easily dismissed.
The Discovery of Self curriculum grew out of the WML project. In 1991, Barrash was invited to bring it to a school in North Minneapolis, for junior and senior high school students facing a lot of emotional challenges. “I have stayed in touch with one of my students, through big ups and downs since he was 12. Now he is 41. He was the first kid in his family to go to college, let alone graduate. He returned to North Minneapolis, bought a home, and with his wife raised two kids while coaching football and starting two businesses.”
A fundamental pathway to how society tends to be structured today comes from Newton and Descartes, who set up a standard that anything that cannot be physically measured or publicly observed is to be dismissed. Our mind and universe were reducible to physical parts and pieces. Humans became machine parts and data processors in a materialist world, which lends itself to an extractive, individualistic society. The exhibit is largely an exploration of why this idea of structure is limited and limiting.
Says Barrash, “We think that what we see is everything, but our eyes see only a fraction of the light spectrum. Brains [are considered only] computers, with the mind reducible to physical components and processes. Yet creativity is a profoundly powerful force in the universe. Emergence and becoming, expressing a potential, interactions that breed new possibilities — that kind of creative energy is in each of us as a powerful force. If blocked or suppressed, and not expressed in a constructive way, it becomes toxic. With the right mindset and development of key internal resources, we become far more likely to create who we want to be.”
After teaching the Discovery of Self curriculum in North Minneapolis, Barrash brought it to inmates at the Oak Parks Heights maximum prison in 1992 — two classes of 25 men each. Because of a connection with Indigenous men in her classes, Continuum hired some of them after prison to manage a touring exhibit of the Center’s collection of early 1900s Edward Curtis photographs of Indigenous culture. The Curtis exhibit highlighted the Indigenous worldview that consciousness is in all of life and all things are interconnected.
More recently, Barrash became noted for helping the North Minneapolis high school basketball team become state champions in 2016 and 2017, with a 95 percent graduation rate, and most players on the A/B honor roll.
She is newly returned from a trip to Brockton, Massachusetts, at the request of an education and youth advocate there. She spoke to students in five different schools — many of them the “toughest” students — and her host said the reactions she got from the kids were “amazing.”
“The universe is magical and responsive,” Barrash says. “More like a mirror than a machine.”
Details: Continuum Center