Mini-Memoirs Exploring Human Nature Essays & Lectures Courses Curriculum Vitae
Prof. Donald Dwight Evans (1927-2018)
Prof. Donald Dwight Evans (1927-2018) was a gifted philosopher, educator, mystic humanist, social activist, spiritual counsellor and mentor. Born, September 21, 1927 to Ira Dwight Evans and Jesse Milliken Evans in Fort William (now Thunder Bay) Ontario. He lived a rich life, full of diverse intellectual pursuits. Married to Ruth Blenkinsop (1952-1976) and Frances Smith (1983-1997) and pre-deceased by brother John, he was the father of Steve (Joan), Greg (Ronda), Luke (Guylaine), Nick (Sue) and Gareth (Susannah), beloved grandfather of Drew (Andrea), Cass (Juliana), Tom, Ryan, Philippe, Luke, Ben and Isobel, and great grandfather to Aidan and Felix.
Prof Evans received his B.A. in Philosophy and English (University of Toronto, 1950) followed by a Bachelor of Philosophy (Oxford University, 1953), Bachelor of Divinity in theological studies (McGill University, 1955) and his PhD In Philosophy (Oxford University, 1960). He was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Canada in 1955 and served as Pastor in Grand Forks, British Columbia from 1955 to 1958. He went on to serve as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Religion at McGill University (1960-64), before joining Victoria College at the University of Toronto as a Professor of Philosophy in 1964, where he taught for 44 years until 2008 with accolades from his students.
In his early scholarly works such as The Logic of Self-Involvement (1969), Prof. Evans explored the meaning of religion through language. In the same period, he advocated for more independent Canadian foreign policy in Peace, Power and Protest (1967). In his middle-career works such as Faith, Authenticity and Morality (1980) and Struggle and Fulfillment (1981), he explored attitude-virtues, constituents of religion and morality that unify our being, experiences and environments. His Spirituality and Human Nature (1993) brought together religion, psychology, spiritualism and mysticism to explore our nature and experiences. Finally, his online book Grateful Reflections (2013) provided an intimate exploration of his life’s spirituality, sexuality, healing and search for community.
During the late 1960s he was a leader in the protest movement against Canadian involvement in the Vietnam war, serving as a spokesperson at the first demonstration on Parliament Hill in 1965 and co-organizing of the first International Teach-In at Varsity Arena, Toronto. He later initiated and organized a protest march of 400 University of Toronto professors. In 1985 he initiated an observance of the United Nations International Day of Peace in Metro Toronto: a minute of silence and a moment of sound for peace. Over the next three years this observance spread across Canada, growing to an estimated one million Canadians taking part with broadcasts over 60 radio stations.
Prof. Evans’ exceptional contributions were recognised when he was elected President, Canadian Theological Society and received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Huntington University in 1982. He was also awarded a Commemorative Medal by the United Nations for his work during the International Year of Peace. Prof. Evans passed away peacefully in his sleep and he will be dearly missed by family, friends, and colleagues.
His family have said farewell in a private gathering but will welcome memories or condolences via . In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to organisations promoting world peace.
"Grateful Reflections on
Experiences that Changed Me"
This new book by Don Evans is written for people who are on a spiritual path. As I tell my story, reflecting on my experiences, you are invited to reflect on yours.
On October 19, 2011, soon after my 84th Birthday, a breakthrough-meditation initiated both a series of transformative experiences and my writing this book. In it I reflect on:
- Experiences during the meditation
- Experiences in 2010 and 2011 that prepared me for it
- Experiences from 1929 to 2009 that provided the context
The new book, published in 2013 was followed by a sequel of New reflections in 2015. Please download either book or both books at GratefulReflections.com.
In February, 2009 I was hospitalized and moved to a residence for seniors. In June I introduced a group of my fellow residents to Varieties of Meditation. For many years I had been leading hundreds of groups in meditation. I introduced them to a great variety of meditations, for people need to realize there are many kinds. No one kind of meditation is best for everyone at every stage in their life.
Varieties of Meditation begins with a series of diverse Basic meditations and moves on to others that build on the basics, especially towards three Advanced meditations:
- Sinking Down Towards Inner Mystery
- Becoming the Cosmic Tree of Life
- Loving Oneself (compassion and appreciation)
The group of seniors was a new context. Some meditations could not be included because of various physical disabilities. The first Advanced meditation, however, was more immediately accessible than with any group previously. The seniors had already learned, in their lives, how to let go and let be!
By September, 2009 I was exploring with them a new way of combining a particular meditation with a particular musical excerpt – both of which stir us into the same bodily-emotional-spiritual state. Three examples:
- Passionately Yearning for Intimacy with Mystery
- Expansively Connecting with the Life Pervading Everyone and Everything
- Feeling Serenely Contented with Being Oneself
Download Part #1 (370KB) Download Part #2 (449KB)
1. A Loner Finally Connects: Reflections on Turning 80
In this 20-page mini-memoir of reflections before and after my 80th Birthday Party I uncover patterns in my life that had not previously been clear. The unifying theme is how I learned to connect with other human beings in four different ways: intellectually as a student and teacher, emotionally through psychotherapy, musically as a pianist, vibrationally through spiritualism and shamanism, and mystically through meditation. My connecting through music began in my teens and continued throughout my life, but the others emerged successively, though with early hints of later developments.
The memoir includes an account of five momentous days (mid-May, 2003) with St. Francis in Assisi, during which he quickened changes in me that have continued into the present: spontaneous everyday encounters with strangers, deeper appreciation of friends and family and (surprisingly) confirmation of my sense of an intrinsic connection between my spirituality and my sexuality.
Download Memoir #1 (108KB)
2. Divine Healing, Divine Love and Self-Love
This 17-page sequel to the January 1st mini-memoir was emailed to family and friends on February 10, 2008. It has three sections:
- Divine Healing. Here I report two healing processes that occurred in the interim: (i) The first brought some healing to an infantile sexual trauma. It involved what I call "erotic/orgasmic divine energies" which were at work between my prostate and the back of my head. These came through the risen Jesus, who is lover not only of my sul but also of my body. (ii) The second was in response to a bout of despair, triggered by problems with my computer but arising from previously-hidden helplessness and rage in relation to my father. In this case Jesus revived my masculine-assertive confidence, bringing masculine divine energies into my body.
- Divine Love. Here I explore a relatively new sense of loving someone spiritually. Instead of asking God to bless him/her or passing along some life-energies to them, I somehow "step into" a divine-energy process that is already going on, a process in we all are immersed, whether or not we are aware of it. This process of Divine Love has many dimensions, not only the orgasmic but also compassion/inclusiveness, appreciation/delight, glory/radiance, joy/"song" and peace/feeling "at home here".
- Self-Love. Here I reflect concerning a recent deepening of my earlier realization that my ability to love others and my understanding of such love depends on loving myself in more authentic ways. Referring back to published reflections on self-love that I wrote in 1978 and 1988 I revise my approach in relation to my new awareness of participating in divine love.
The crucial commitment here is in daily meditations where I ask for discernment concerning whatever within myself I need to recognize and shed because is prevents deeper participation.
Download Memoir #2 (146KB)
3. Happy & Oceanic in Cuba plus A New Masculine-Divine Energy
This longer mini-memoir (29 pages) was emailed to family and friends on June 17, 2008. The first half has to do with a wonderful week in Cuba.
- Happy: It was the longest time I'd ever been continuously, spontaneously and innocently happy. I was playful, relaxed, light-hearted and expansive. I was actively enjoying everything: people, music, dancing, food, flowers, sunshine, sea air and ocean waves. After I returned to Toronto, I considered my Cuban holiday in relation to my whole life. I thought about two kinds of "test" and how I had responded to them. One test or challenge is in the midst of intense personal suffering to go on not merely living but loving. The other test is how long I can be happy without eventually wrecking it by letting someone, or something inside myself, trigger some emotional contraction.
- Oceanic: A new experience of living within divine love occurred when I was lying down meditating. My bodily feeling was like moving within a universally-pervasive ocean. No one dimension of divine love predominated, such as compassion or radiance or joy or peace. Later I was cautioned by Spirit that such an all-inclusive, non-differentiated awareness would not happen frequently. Indeed, it is inappropriate as a context for resonating with other people and with other creatures. Each individual differs in their unique radiance (for me to see with appreciation-love) and in their unique suffering (for me to view with compassion-love).
The second half of this mini-memoir has to do with a change that began in a meditation on March 3, 2008. An image of a man came to me. He was clearly a "hunk": that is, he was impressively muscular, powerfully focused and unwaveringly self-confident. Later I realized that this a visual way of getting me to discern an aspect of the risen Jesus that was new to me and that he wanted to impart to me. Absorbing this transformation bodily turned out to be a prolonged and exhausting process, for so much in my body resisted it. Indeed, much in my core self resisted it. This new divine-masculine dimension was expelling much of me that had seemed so familiar that it had become part of my personal identity.
Download Memoir #3 (150KB)
Exploring Human Nature
Are there universal ingredients for human happiness/well-being?
During the 17 years preceding my retirement in 1993 my research and
publications focused on a philosophical question that goes back to Plato and Aristotle: "Which inherent abilities within human beings bring happiness/well-being if they are fulfilled?"
Since 1993 I have distinguished two questions:
- Which fulfilled abilities are necessary for happiness/well-being when many human abilities are being replaced by disabilities?
- Which fulfilled abilities would bring human flourishing, where this means maximal happiness/well-being?
In recent years I've been learning some answers to the first question from hospital patients suffering from complex, chronic disabilities/diseases, for example MS. I've also been learning from radically-aging seniors in a residence where I currently live. I argue that such people, not the professionals, provide the best context for learning, but we must have the humility to learn personally from them. It's not a matter of impersonal polling or scientific research.
Between 1993 and 2008 I learned some answers to the second question (and also to the first) while teaching a first-year seminar course on "Human Nature in Great Literature", presiding over student dialogue in response to texts that invite us to consider the possibility that we deceive ourselves in diverse ways concerning our happiness/well-being. I argue that such dialogue is the best way for human beings with conflicting viewpoints to move towards an enriched consensus.
Staff Can Learn
From July to December, 2009, as a volunteer in spiritual care at Bridgepoint Hospital, Toronto I gradually initiated a project for staff. The purpose was to encourage them to realize that they could learn basic life-skills from patients who are responding creatively to complex, chronic illnesses and disabilities. To get started and established, the project required several months of continuing initiative from an "outsider" such as a volunteer. When I became seriously ill early in 2010, it fell through. But the vision of a shift in consciousness is important for readers to consider.
Staff rightly see themselves as primarily in service to patients, helping them by bringing their technical, professional expertise. And it is natural for staff to appreciate patients only for their co-operation in whatever medical procedures are necessary. Many staff have not realized that some patients might be giving them something valuable as human beings.
Staff, like most well-functioning human beings within a prosperous society, find many activities to distract them from dealing with the raw essentials of human living that actually confront all of us all the time. The patients at Bridgepoint, however, can't avoid their need to draw forth or to create some basic life-skills. And staff at Bridepoint have the privilege of working in a setting where they can learn from people who often display this fundamental practical wisdom.
Such practical wisdom arises when we human beings are thrust into situations where we have to ask "How can we respond creatively to otherwise-tragic situations that are beyond our control?"
One way is by growing in the ability to love oneself and others, a love that involves both compassion for the person's suffering and appreciation of the person's inner resources of courage, creativity, joy and "juicy" aliveness.
Another way is by learning how to respond with kindly humour to external events that would otherwise upset us, or to our own vulnerability, "klutziness" and mortality.
Many staff and many of us human beings tend not to learn these basic life-skills until tragedy or old age challenges them. But we can begin to learn them now from people who already have them.
As part of a series of Meditation&Music sessions for fellow seniors at St. Hilda's Towers, where I live, I wrote some reflections on aging in relation to Mahler's "Adagietto". I had first heard this music as the prominent background to the art-movie, "Death in Venice".
When I saw the Olympic gold-medal ice dancers win with their version of the same music, I wrote a letter to their choreographer/coach, Marina Zoueva, congratulating her and including my reflections. Although the performance required the remarkable talents of Virtue and Moir, it was clear to me that her design for the dance is what enabled them to express such a profound theme so eloquently.
I don't know whether she even received my letter, but some people have enjoyed reading it, so here it is.
"Life After Death: Reflections on Experiences"
The Fifth Annual Edith Bruce Lecture was presented by Don Evans on 23 October, 2003, sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and the Centre for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto.
Download Lecture (271KB)
Transformative Meditations for Spiritual Healers
This essay was designed for use in a course on "Christian Spiritual Healing" but it is of interest to anyone seriously involved in a spiritual practice. In particular it explors the contrast between "self-emptying" and "being filled", plus the use of self-healing through touch before being a vehicle for healing others.
Download Essay (319KB)
Spiritual Counselling and Counselling Spirits
A lengthy autobiographical account, full of stories concerning how I became aware of spiritual presences, especially deceased human beings who are alive as spirits. Over a period of 25 years I learned two things: (i) how to counsel and non-verbally help those who are in distress or who are invading embodied human beings and (ii) how to receive counsel and non-verbal help from spirits who are mentor-guides or who have become mystically united with the Divine. Part (i) was initially presented at a meeting of the Toronto Spirituality and Health Care Network. Part (ii) draws on both my personal processes of change and my work as a psychotherapist and spiritual counsellor with individuals and groups.
Download Essay (450KB)
Revising Christian Theology to Include All Human Dimensions
New Perspectives for Theology and Peace 1989
Christianity has not yet become a genuinely humane and
incarnational religion. The embodiment of God that Jesus initiated has not been fulfilled in the humanity of Christians. Christianity has encouraged us to separate far too much of that humanity from the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. One of the results of this constriction has been that our overall record as peace-makers has been dismal for nearly two thousand years.
Many dimensions of our humanity need to be included in our understanding and in our lives, but four are especially important in relation to world peace. Christian theology through most of its history has not adequately included any of these four.
(i) One dimension may be called the "global-humanistic". Human beings need to nurture their sense of connection with humankind as an intimately -interdependent global community.
(ii) Another dimension may be called the "inner-ecological". Human beings need to re-discover their inner resonance with everything in the world of nature, especially their sense of being rooted in planet earth.
(iii) A third dimension is often called the "dark side". Human beings need to uncover the repressed and unowned destructiveness which otherwise we project on to others, who thereby become at best strangers and at worst enemies, regardless of their reality.
(iv) A fourth dimension may be called the "oppressed feminine". Human beings need to recognize as a major source of institutional violence the radical distortions in human nature produced by millenia of male domination.
Completing the Incarnation: Women, Gays and Non-Christians
This essay in Christian theology was presented at a conference at St. Michael's College, University of Toronto in May, 2006 in honour of Henri Nouwen. First I draw on elements in the theologies of John Wesley and St. Francis that Christians are called to continue the incarnation of Jesus, participating in the divine nature. Then I suggest that the incarnation of God in Jesus, though complete throughout his humanity, was incomplete in that his humanity lacked dimensions that need to be contributed by others right up to the present. I focus especially on the neglected or suppressed contributions of women and gay men within Christianity and also argue that people of other faiths or no faith can contribute to the overall process of incarnating divine love, moving towards an eschatological completing of the incarnation initiated in Jesus.
Download Essay (276KB)
Jesus' Resurrection: Living Reality or Inspiring Symbol?
This essay was submitted to The United Church Observer in the summer of 2005 and was shelved indefinitely, so I am including it on my webpage. It is of interest to Christians and perhaps to others. It is an attempt to reconcile and revise two extreme views currently held by some Christians. Some see the resurrection of Jesus as a living reality, but do so within a belief-framework where there is no salvation except through Jesus. Others see it as an inspiring symbol, but within a belief-framework where nobody can return from the dead because there is no after-life. Both belief-frameworks involve dogmas that need to be challenged. The first has led to appalling oppression, and the second is constricts human experience.
Download Essay (62KB)
Graduate Courses in Spirituality at the Toronto School of Theology
"Spirituality in Literature"
A course offered in September to December, 2003 at the Toronto School of Theoloy through Regis College. This website provides access to the 44-page student manual, which includes a 6-page course outline (including a brief background concerning the instructor (pp. 4-5) in relation to the course), followed by introductions and guide-questions for work by Dostoevsky, Bernanos, Eliot, Dean and Rumi.
Download Student Manual (includes Outline) (274KB)
Download 6-page Course Outline (104KB)
Christian Spiritual Healing: Theory and Practice
A course offered three times at Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology. Four kinds of spiritual healing were explored both in readings and in experience:
- physical body: relations to medical science
- emotions: relation to psychotherapy
- psychic invasion: relations to scriptural stories
- soul: accepting God's forgiveness, forgiving others and oneself.
Download Course Outline (361KB)
Varieties of Christian Spirituality: Theory and Practice
A course offered three times at Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology. An academic and experiential exploration of four approaches to Christian Spirituality:
- interiorizing scripture and contemplating an icon with Henri Nouwen
- expressing divine love in sound & covenant with John and Charles Wesley
- continuing Jesus' incarnation of God in our own bodies with St. Francis and St. Clare
- responding to Etty Hillesum's deepening participation in divine love in the midst of the holocaust
Download Course Outline (320KB)
Academic Curriculum Vitae: