Dr. Steve Taylor is One of 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People | PoP 293

Dr. Steve Taylor is One of 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People

Have you ever experienced a spiritual awakening? Do you feel ‘separate’ from society? Have you ever wished to have inner stillness and be self-sufficient?

In this episode, Joe Sanok speaks with Dr. Steve Taylor about his spiritual experiences.

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Meet Steve Taylor

Steve Taylor is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, and the author of several best-selling books on psychology and spirituality. For the last four years he has been included (this year at no. 62) in Mind, Body, Spirit magazine’s list of the ‘100 most spiritually influential living people.’ His books include Waking From Sleep, The Fall, Out of the Darkness, Back to Sanity, and The Calm Center. His latest book is The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening. His books have been published in 19 languages, while his articles and essays have been published in over 40 academic journals, magazines and newspapers, including Philosophy Now, Tikkun, The Daily Express, The Journal of Humanistic Psychology and others.

Eckhart Tolle has described his work as ‘an important contribution to the shift in consciousness which is happening on our planet at present.’ Steve’s book ‘The Calm Center’ was published through Eckhart’s own publishing imprint. This is also the case with his new book, The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening, which was published in March 2017. Steve lives in Manchester, England, with his wife and three young children.

Steve Taylor’s Story

When Steve was around 16, he started having spiritual / awakening experiences. He felt a deep sense of inner well-being, being connected to his surroundings, and luminosity. Years later, when he became a psychologist, his main aim was to study these experiences. He wanted to find out how common it was and what brought it on and how you could make it a permanent state.

In This Podcast

Summary

In this episode, Dr. Steve Taylor speaks about spiritual awakening. He speaks about the difference between being spiritually awake and asleep. Dr. Taylor also mentions the three characteristic qualities of being spiritually awake.

About Spiritual Awakenings

People don’t speak about spiritual awakenings, it is a bit of a ‘taboo’ topic as people are worried others will think they are crazy. But, when you open the discussion, people are eager to share their own experiences. People that haven’t experienced a spiritual awakening are in a state of ‘sleep’. They feel separated from society and are anxious because of it. As such, they look towards status, or materialism to fill that gap. Education systems (and sometimes parents) often teach people to switch off to the wonder of the world.

Characteristics of Awakening

  1. Union
  2. Inner stillness
  3. Self-suffiency

3 Ways That Wakefulness Can Occur

  1. Natural, i.e.: innate wakefulness
  2. Gradual, i.e.: meditation, serving, etc.
  3. Sudden / dramatic

How to Become Awakened

There are degrees of wakefulness, so it’s about intensifying whatever level of wakefulness you have. One of the most successful ways are through meditation. You could also try to cultivate an attitude of acceptance and gratitude. Contact with nature is also very important. The more contact you have with nature, the more connected you feel and the more you slow down.

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Meet Joe Sanok

private practice consultantJoe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

 

 

 

 

 

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Podcast Transcription

DR. STEVE TAYLOR IS ONE OF 100 MOST
SPIRITUALLY INFLUENTIAL LIVING PEOPLE
P0P 293

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This is the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok: Session Number 293

I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. I’m so glad you’re here and if this is the first time you’ve listened to this podcast, we really hope you like it and if you’ve been here for awhile, we’d love for you to subscribe, like, comment, whatever it is that you know, it’s a way that you say, yeah, I’m digging this.
So I was out in Colorado this last November with my friend Paul and it was really interesting. We went out for this conference that was about different ways of thinking about the world and it was a great chance to just slow down and go hiking with a friend. And I found on Groupon that we could go do a float really cheap when we were back in Denver. And a float is where you go into the sensory deprivation chamber. So basically it’s a really dark room that’s pitch black. They have lights on when you’re getting in and then they have about 18 inches of salt water that you just float in and you kind of lose the sense of time and space. This was my third one that I had done. I had done a couple when I was out in Seattle with my wife, Christina, and the first one I was super like monkey brain. I put my hand in the water and then put it up over my eye. And then like the water like stung my face and I didn’t want to do another one. And then the second one I did was a much more calm experience. And then this one, it was amazing. I had this experience where it was sort of like, I felt like I felt like I transcended my body and it’s just really interesting to think about when you start to slow down and you let your brain do things that aren’t just focused on your business.
And so a lot of you know that I host a conference in the summer called Slow Down School where we hang out on the beaches of Lake Michigan and we slow down, we go hiking, we have a massage therapist come in and then we work on the business after we’ve slowed down. So after a couple days of slowing down, letting our brains feel like, this is how our life should be, then we start working on your business and we have myself, we have Alison Pidgeon and John Clark that are all going to be there to help people grow their businesses. And so actually, if you want to be a part of that, you can head on over to practiceofthepractice.com/apply. If you want to apply to come we have just a couple of spots left in our Master Mind groups that get access to that.
And so for me, slowing down is really important. At the time of this recording, it’s right before I’m about to leave for two weeks with my family to go out west. We’re going to go to Newport, Oregon and hang out with my brother and his family. Then we’re going to go down to San Diego and hang out with Kelly Higdon from ZynnyMe. And then we’re going to go to Kalamazoo and see a band called Over the Rhine that we’ve really liked for a while. And so we’re taking time away, we’re taking time to chill out and we all need to do that.
And today’s guest, Steve Taylor, I was actually reading his book while I was on that trip and I just randomly reached out to him and said, I would love for you to be on my show and to just share what you have been discovering about people that have awakening experiences through your years of research. And he said yes, and I was blown away because this book really was a powerful book, a book that I really enjoyed and framed out a number of things that to me just thought, wow, this is a really different way of looking at the world and it’s really exciting to me.
So without any further ado, I give you the one, the only. Steve Taylor.
Joe: Well, today on the Practice of the Practice Podcast, we have Steve Taylor. He is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University and the author of several best selling books on psychology and spirituality. And actually I just picked up Steve’s book when I was out in Boulder, Colorado. I got The Leap, which is, for me just such a powerful book that I just read.
Steve, welcome to the practice of the practice podcast,
Steve: Hi there Joe, it’s great to be on the show.
Joe: Yeah, I’m really excited to have you on the show. This book, The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening is something that you’ve been studying for a while. Maybe take us back to when you first started researching spiritual awakening.
Steve: I guess it really started with my own experiences when I was maybe 16 or 17 years old. I started to have what I now recognize were spiritual experiences or awakening experiences, but at the time I didn’t understand them. So, you know, they were experiences in which I felt a sense of connection and harmony in my surroundings. I felt a deep sense of inner wellbeing. A kind of sense of transcendence and kind of luminosity. But I didn’t understand the experience at the time. I thought maybe there was something slightly wrong with me because, I tried to try to talk about the experiences with other people, but nobody else seemed to understand them. So really, when I – years later when I became a psychologist – one of my main aims was to study these experiences. I wanted to find how common they were, what brought them on, and I wanted to find out how people could enter into a permanent state of spiritual wakefulness. I wanted to find out how common it was and what situations gave rise to that.
Joe: Yeah, so I feel like oftentimes people will talk about spiritual awakening and it’s kind of over on the side somewhere. But as I read your book, it sounds like it’s more common than what most people would think.
Steve: That’s what I found, yeah. I think one of the issues is that a lot of people don’t talk about spiritual awakening or spiritual experiences. They’re slightly taboo, you know, people are afraid of seeming a bit crazy, you know, that was my experience. I remember trying to speak to my parents about my own experiences and they thought I was crazy. I heard my parents say – one evening I was walking upstairs – I heard my dad said, “Oh, I’m a bit worried about Steven. He’s having these crazy experiences, shall we speak to the doctor?” And I thought, oh wow, I’m not going to talk about these experiences anymore. I don’t want to go to the doctor. So, I think that’s quite common and that fear of being thought of as strange or the fear of being ostracized, but once you actually, once people trust you enough to tell you about their experience, so once you know that you’ve had the experience, then they’re quite keen to share their experiences with you.
And I’ve found that the more I researched the experiences, the more examples I collected, more and more people would contact me. I interviewed more and more people. And in the end I began to realize that spiritual wakefulness is by no means uncommon. There are a lot of people around us who maybe don’t broadcast themselves a spiritual teachers. And they’re maybe not even aware that they’ve had a spiritual awakening, but there were lots of those people around us everywhere.
Joe: So I have the benefit of having read your book, but maybe take us through what someone that hasn’t had this awakening experience, what is their life like? And then maybe we can talk about some of the characteristics you found when people have these spiritually awakening experiences.
Steve: Well, you know people who, who don’t experience spiritual awakening, they live in, I call it sleep. You know, it’s a state of separateness, it’s a state of feeling that you are an entity that lives inside your own mind and body. The rest of the world is out there kind of on the other side. So you’re living in separation and because you live in separation, you feel a sense of anxiety, a sense of isolation, a sense that you are somehow incomplete.

And that sense of incompleteness gives rise to a desire to accumulate things. It gives rise to a desire to accumulate possessions, to accumulate wealth, power, status, anything that can seem help him in the struggle to overcome your sense of separation and anxiety. And also in this state, the world seems a fairly mundane place – young children have this amazing perception that they see the world in an incredibly vivid, in a fresh way. But by the time most people get to adulthood, they lose that sense of vividness and the world becomes a kind of slightly mundane place. So mundane, a lot of people don’t actually pay much attention to it. You know, they give all their attention to iPhones or TVs or computer screens and they don’t really pay much attention to this amazing, beautiful world around them. They kind of switch off to the world around them. So that sense of separation and that sense of being switched off to wonder and beauty of the world. Those are two of the main characteristics.
Joe: What would you say are things that culturally tend to reinforce that sleep state?
Steve: Well, I think our whole education system is certainly… I live in England. I think it’s the same in the US as well. Our education systems, they teach people to think abstractly. They don’t teach people to see the world and perceive the beauty of the world. They teach people to switch off to the phenomenal world and kind of lose themselves in abstractions inside their own heads. And parents as well, parents, a lot of parents, they unconsciously kind of filter out children’s perceptions of wonder. I remember years ago, just to give you an example of this, I was walking in the countryside somewhere in England, I think it was, and there was a child ahead of me staring in wonder of this cow. It looked like maybe it was the first time this little boy had seen a cow. And his parents were a bit further on, they’re walking quickly, maybe 20 meters ahead of him. And heard this guy, this little boy’s father, shout, “Come on, it’s just a cow!” And I thought, wow, “just a cow,” that’s the worst, you know… this is such a powerful example of how parents can take away that sense of wonder in their children. So I think if we were more conscious as parents, we could try to cultivate that sense of wonder. But unfortunately education and most people’s parenting can dampen that sense of wonder.
Joe: Yeah, I know that was part of your book that really stood out to me when you were talking about kids and how a lot of them have a natural awakened state and how that often disappears. And I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. And you were talking in there, I don’t remember exactly how you said it, about how kids are pokey often because they’re just so present in the world, because they find everything so fascinating. And my 3-year-old, I mean, getting her snow pants on to get her to preschool in the morning when you’re most present self in the morning… it’s easy to be like, “Just put your snow pants on, let’s go!” But it’s a good reminder to just be more present as a parent. Tell us more about the awakened state.
And I just want to read just part of your book, it’s in the chapter about wakefulness in different cultures and you said, “So what are the core characteristics of the wakeful state according to the spiritual traditions we’ve looked at?” So what I like about your book is you look at spiritual traditions, but then you also look at awakening outside of spiritual traditions. And the three different areas that you had hit on was union, which you say is wakeful in a state where we move beyond separateness and into connection and Union. Second is the inner stillness and then under that a part that I just love… and you say, “In other words, if you want to wake up, you have to learn to slow down and calm your mind and transcend the layers of thought and emotion that cloud your consciousness.”
And for me, I starred that because last summer we hosted Slow Down School where we brought in a bunch of therapists and went hiking for a few days to slow down and then they had all these aha moments of all the distractions they had that were getting in the way of their own business progress, but even better their own personal kind of lifestyle they wanted to live.
And then the third characteristic, you said is self sufficiency. So maybe take us through union, inner stillness, and self sufficiency and what does waking up really look like inside and outside of spiritual traditions?
Steve: Well I think essentially wakefulness occurs outside spiritual traditions, it’s kind of a natural psychological process or a natural evolutionary process which many human beings go through, in which all humans can potentially go through. But I think that once you have a spiritual tradition, first of all, it’s a religious tradition which evolves into a spiritual tradition and against the background of that spiritual tradition or religious tradition, wakefulness occurs in different forms or kind of people develop systems which are designed to cultivate wakefullness. So that could be the eightfold path of Buddhism, the eightfold path of yoga, the path of the Kabbalah, and so forth.
These are just different conceptions or different interpretations of the path to wakefulness. And all of these traditions describe in slightly different ways what it means to be awake. But maybe because I come from a kind of secular background myself and I’ve never been affiliated to any particular spiritual tradition, although I respect a lot of different spiritual traditions. So I’ve always tended to look at wakefulness outside spiritual traditions and most of my research has been with people who have undergone a sudden and dramatic awakening, often in response to psychological turmoil. But most importantly, these were people who didn’t have a background of spiritual traditions or spiritual practices.
So if you look at a wakefulness outside spiritual traditions, and as you say, you just have this quality of union, this quality of transcending separateness. So rather than feeling that you’re a kind of isolated, separate entity within your own mental space, you feel that somehow you’re out there, you’re participating in the world. You’re part of the world and that brings a sense of ease, you know, it takes away that sense of anxiety and it takes away that desire to accumulate things. So a lot of… most awakened people lose the desire to accumulate possessions. They lose the desire to accumulate status and power and so forth, simply because they don’t have a separate ego which needs to be reinforced.
And there’s a wonderful sense of connection to nature, as well. Awakened people really appreciate nature. They feel tremendously at one with nature and at ease when they’re in the presence of natural phenomena.
And in terms of inner quietness, I think that was the next quality you mentioned. Again, I think one of the main characteristics of the sleep state is that many people have this kind of very noisy, chattering mind which is full of associations, full of memories, kind of fragments of imagination about the future. And you know, all the time, our minds pick up associations and we have this kind of free flowing random narrative color commentary running through our minds and that becomes a fog so we can’t really perceive the world clearly around us because we’re perceiving it through this fog of force, this fog of associations.
And it means that we can’t always respond instinctively or spontaneously to the events around us because again, there’s this fog of associations which is hindering our responses. It gets in the way. But to a greater or lesser degree when people wake up, this chattering mind fades away, slows down, it becomes quiet. It may not disappear altogether, but it certainly becomes quieter. And maybe most importantly, the awakened person doesn’t identify with the chatter anymore. It’s just like a TV which is in the corner of the room sort chattering away quietly which we don’t really pay attention to you. We don’t have to pay attention to. So that makes it easier for people to live their lives because they can respond very spontaneously and naturally to events. They can perceive the world around them very clearly and vividly, a bit like children do, so in every way that makes life a lot easier
Joe: So for most people, is it a sudden, like all of a sudden the thought chatter disappears or do they have an awakening experience where then they do practices to reduce that thought chatter? How does that happen?
Steve: It depends really. There are different… well, I think there are three main ways in which wakefulness can occur. The first way is when it’s just natural, when people just have an innate wakefulness which just happens to be there all the time. So they don’t do anything. They don’t do any spiritual practices. They don’t undergo a sudden, dramatic awakening, it’s just always there inside them. Maybe the best way of thinking of that is to say that they never lost their childhood wakefulness. I think all children, all young children are awake to some degree in certain ways. But most people lose that as we become adults. But certain people don’t lose it, they retain it, and it actually intensifies as they become adults.
But also wakefulness can be gradual, you know, if you’re following a spiritual path, over years or decades, if you’re meditating, doing yoga, living a life of service or life of mindfulness, then you’re gradually cultivating wakefulness. You’re gradually moving or you’re gradually intensifying wakefulness.
But also wakefulness can be very sudden and dramatic. You know, people can move instantaneously from having a very busy chattering mind with a strong sense of separateness to a sudden transformation where mental noise disappears completely. Separation disappears completely. Well, one example of this is a friend of mine who was actually 96-years-old at the moment, a man called Russell Williams, who’s a spiritual teacher who I visit here in Manchester, England And I tell Russell’s story in The Leap and he was 29-years-old and he’d gone through a lot of suffering in his life. He was involved in the Second World War. His parents died when he was a child, he was an orphan at a pretty young age. And he’d been through so much suffering that his ego had been broken down over many years of suffering.
And one morning he was working at a circus looking after horses, grooming horses, caring for horses. And he just woke up one morning and he realized that something was different and he looked over at one of the horses he was looking after, and he realized that he was inside the horse. He was looking out from inside the horse. He realized that he was the horse and looks at another horse, and it was the same. He was that horse. And he could see other animals that can see a dog and you realize that he was a dog. And then a couple of people walked in, he realized he was them as well. He realized he was everything. He was inside everybody. He’d lost all sense of separateness and most significantly said that suddenly for no apparent reason, it was empty. He knew what it was to have an empty, quiet mind for the first time with no chattering thoughts. So that can happen with certain transformations, it can occur sometimes
Joe: That seems like that’d be so disorienting as a 29-year-old to know what to do with that. And especially in that era. Did he just think, man, I’m going crazy, or what were his next steps after that?
Steve: Well, at first he, he can enjoy the, you know, the blissfulness and the wonder of this new state of being. But then he tried to talk to other people about it. He was traveling around in the circus. So wherever he went he would speak to, he’d go to the local church and speak to the vicar or the priest and tried to explain to them, but they thought he was crazy. They thought he was blasphemous, that he was going against the teachings of Jesus, when in fact he probably wasn’t.
So yeah, so after a while he thought he was crazy. He had no context in which to understand it, so he began to doubt this new state of being he was experiencing and he became very, extremely frustrated after a couple of years of confusion, He became so frustrated, you know, he felt he was going to explode with frustration. But then by chance, he met a Buddhist in London and they started talking and the Buddhist recognized him as an awakened person, as an enlightened person. And he said that, oh, this is very similar to the teachings of the Buddha. You should come down and learn about Buddhism. So once he had a context to make sense of what happened, then everything begins to run much more smoothly.
Joe: And you had briefly said, and he probably wasn’t teaching against the teachings of Jesus. Tell me more about that. That sounds interesting.
Steve: Well, there’s always… I always think there’s a quite a big distinction between what you could call, esoteric religion or conventional religion and exoteric religion or contemplated religion. So basically it’s a difference between fundamentalism and mysticism. Conventional religion is really about sustaining the ego, it’s about consoling the ego, you know, believing that there’s going to be a different world in which you can fulfill your desires and which you’re going to live forever.
And it’s about belonging to a group, deriving a sense of identity from belonging to a group and there’s nothing really spiritual about that at all. It’s just dogma and convention. But you know, spiritual religion, which is what Jesus taught in the Gospels, spiritual religion is about transcending the ego, not maintaining the ego, transcending it. It’s about entering into compassion and empathy for other human beings. Feeling a sense of connection to nature. So it’s about transformation, rather than supporting the ego. And I think if you read the teachings of the Bible, then you know, you kind of wonder about a lot of conventional Christians. If you read the teachings of Jesus, you know, there seems to be a bit of a disparity between the way that many conventional Christians live.
Joe: Sure, sure. You know I’m thinking about, if I was doing an intake in my counseling practice and a guy came in and said, you know, I was working for the circus and this one day I woke up and I looked through the eyes of a horse and I was everything. I mean, the typical model for psychologists or counselors would be to start looking at a diagnosis, maybe schizophrenia, maybe looking at all sorts of different things. And I, I love how you talk about that in the book too. How can we as clinicians start to identify awakening versus psychosis or schizophrenia?
Steve: Yeah, it’s tricky because, especially when awakening happens suddenly and dramatically, it can cause some psychological disturbances. It’s a bit like an earthquake, disturbs the structures of buildings, it causes a lot of disturbance. And spiritual awakening can be explosive like an earthquake. It can cause problems with memory and concentration. It could easily cause physical problems because it can be such an explosive, can have such an explosive affect on your whole physiology.
But I think the thing to bear in mind is that spiritual awakening is, in a way, there’s nothing really esoteric about it. It’s basically just an expansion and an intensification of awareness. So it means a transcendence of that sense of separateness. I think rather than thinking of people who feel connected to others as being mad, I think really we should think of separateness as a kind of madness. It’s a kind of a pathology for us to feel that we are trapped in our own mental space, unable to truly connect to the world around us or to other people around us. That’s what’s really pathological.
So spiritual awakening is really a shift into a more, into a higher functioning state. Into a state in which people perceive the world around them more vividly, in which they have more authentic relationships. A lot of people when they get an awakening, they shift from an accumulative mode into a mode of contribution. So rather than try to be successful or trying to become wealthy, their main aim becomes to contribute to the world, to make a difference in some positive way, to help other people. So they live more altruistically. So that’s a higher functioning mode of behavior.
And in so many different ways, spiritual awakening is really just a shift into a higher functioning mode. But because it can be quite disturbing when it first appears, I think practitioners need to be really careful to differentiate between psychosis and spiritual awakening. And usually the difference is clear from the patient or the person themselves. People who undergo awakening, they’re normally fully convinced that they’re undergoing some positive transformation, despite whatever disturbances may arise, whatever difficulties may arise. They still have a deep intuition that they’re undergoing some positive transformation.
Joe: So it may feel disruptive, but it might not feel like it’s a negative thing. Whereas with psychosis or other things, it may feel scary, it may carry over into other things that go beyond just some of those behaviors, but into kind of that other side of what you’re saying. So maybe their relationships are falling apart and they’re making poor choices that don’t enhance their life?
Steve: Yes, I think that’s one of the main differences is that spiritually awakened people do make positive changes in their lives. Sometimes relationships can be disturbed because there’s such, there can be such a drastic transformation that people can’t understand them. People around them make like they’ve gone crazy. But usually they make some positive difference in their lives. They live in a much more authentic way, a more altruistic way. And they live more simply and they, you might say have a global-centric or a world-centric awareness.
Joe: So, what about people that say, I would love to be awakened. I have all this thought chatter and I know that my ego isn’t always healthy and I don’t want to accumulate stuff, but I do accumulate stuff, and all these things where they say, this is great Steve, now what do I do? Tell me the path to enlightenment. Are there things that, if something feels like, I want to move to a more awaked life but I don’t know how, are there ways that can be facilitated or is it just by chance?
Steve: No, there are definitely things you can do to facilitate it. I think one of the most important thing to be aware of in the beginning is that there are degrees of wakefulness. It’s not just an either/or situation, it’s not just a black-and-white situation between sleep and wakefulness. There are lots of gradations of wakefulness.
A lot of people experience a kind of low intensity wakefulness and maybe not so many people experience a high intensity wakefulness. But I think in terms of low intensity wakefulness, I think a lot of people already experience it. So it’s really a question of intensifying any degree of wakefulness you are ready have.
There are certainly different ways you can do that. One of the most simple and most effective is the traditional way of meditation or practicing mindfulness. Because meditation, on so many different levels, it has an awakening affect, both temporarily and in the long-term. Meditation quiets thought chatter, it gives us a sense of integration into our whole being, rather than being stuck in our ego consciousness and it takes away our sense of separation. But also, things like cultivating an attitude of acceptance rather than an attitude of resistance to our experiences, and the events and circumstances of our lives.
And also cultivating an attitude of appreciation, an attitude of gratitude. So even something as simple as stopping for a few moments to just be aware of the good things in your life. To remind yourself of why you’re lucky, why you’re fortunate. And we kind of take things for granted and we kind of switch off to our blessings.
So if you, for a few moments everyday, stop to cultivate a sense of gratitude and, like everything, the more often you do that, the more often it builds up and habitually it becomes ingrained inside you. And also, living a life of service and altruism, that’s very helpful. And consciously practicing presence… whenever you feel that your attention is becoming immersed in thought chatter, whenever you feel that you have lost awareness of your present moment experience, just make a conscious effort to bring your attention back into your present experience. All of those things can contribute to awakening.
Joe: I know when my friend Paul and I were out in Boulder, we went on Groupon to just see what kind of unique experiences were out there and we thought, well, will just try things because were both spiritual seekers in a lot of ways, and so we tried this salt cave, which was supposed to help different things. I just read your book while I was in the salt cave, it didn’t do much for me.
Then when we were in Denver, we did a float where they had the sensory deprivation chambers that you float in salt water, and it was this 90 minute experience of floating in complete, pitch black darkness. And I had done that a couple times before, but it’s completely silent, it’s completely dark, you lose the sense of space. But for me, it really felt like one of those awakening moments where, in the past I had done floats and I just felt like, when is this thing going to be over? But this time, laying in complete black darkness for 90 minutes, it was actually, I didn’t wanted to end. For me, I think it has been interesting to try different things that stretch me to experience life in a different way.
Steve: I think any experience which creates mental quietness, which really slows us down and kind of stops us from giving ourselves away completely to our everyday lives, to the stress and busyness of our everyday life. Anything that takes us away from that and brings about a sense of emptiness and calmness, and that can bring about a sense of awakening.
I think contact with nature is so important as well, I mean them or contact you have with nature, the more connected you feel to nature and any contact to nature slows you down and takes away best sense of separation. Recently, probably about two months ago I went to the seaside, to a beach. It was quite cool, it was October I think, so was quite cool, but it was a sunny day, a bright day and as I was walking to the beach I could feel a sense of anticipation getting closer to the sea.
And as I walked over to the edge of this field, I could see suddenly a rose in front of me and the sun was shining down on the ocean, kind of splintered into fragments and flashes of light on top of the ocean, flickering on top of the ocean. I felt this massive sense of ecstasy. So I climbed down over the stones to the sea and once I was swimming in the ocean, I felt so ecstatic. I felt as though I was one with the sea and there something about the motion of swimming, as well. You know swimming can be such a mindful activity. You can feel your… it’s almost as if your body is being massaged by the water. You know, you feel your limbs moving slowly through the water, kind of gracefully and easily through the water, it gives you a real sense of presence. A real sense of being one with the water, so that can be a really ecstatic experience too.
Joe: You obviously haven’t seen me swim, because graceful is the last word people would use. That’s wonderful. I just was listening to that story and I can totally picture you going down to the beach and having that experience. For your research that you’re doing now, are you just extending what you’ve already done or are there new areas that you’re researching?
Steve: Well, recently I’ve done a research project on the effects of bereavement and the transformational effects of bereavement. I found that some people , certainly a sizable number of people who have been bereaved, who have lost a partner or a child or a loved one or a parent, they experience transformation afterwards, a spiritual transformation.
So initially they go through all the pain and the trauma of bereavement, but once the initial pain starts to fade, they move through the process of grieving, then they often realize that they changed in some deep way. The world has become a different place for them. There has been a deep shift in how they perceive the world. And afterwards, they feel almost like they’re different people living in the same body. There’s such a fundamental change and it’s as if they’re, like I said, different people in the same body. So they have this new sense of connection, to nature especially. A sense of purpose, as well, a sense that there is something for them to do while they’re in the world. There’s something they should do while they’re in the world. So there’s this kind of altruistic desire to contribute, but most of all they feel this new sense of meaning, the sense of spiritual connection, a new sense of authenticity in life. So that has been really inspiring to listen to tragic stories of bereavement, but the tremendous transformational effects that have come out of that.
Joe: That’s really interesting research. Is that something that is continuing or have you wrapped up that research?
Steve: Well, we have finished interviews, but we’re still potentially open if anybody out there has had something similar. And you know, my feeling is that these experiences are not uncommon. One of the most tragic stories I’ve heard, I think I wrote about this The Leap, a guy who, his wife and his son died within the space of a few weeks, so he had lost – as he described – he lost his whole purpose in life. His whole meaning in life. His roles as husband and father had been taking away. But he was a Buddhist, so he was fortunate that he had some grounding in spiritual practices and spiritual traditions.
So he went through a process of trying to except what had happened, enter into the pain that he was feeling, into the grief process. And once he’s done that, eventually he moves as a different person. A person who is much more humble and who lived much more authentically and had this tremendous sense of ease and this tremendous sense of spiritual wholeness.
Joe: Wow. So, on a personal level I’m thinking, so you have Eckhart Tolle who writes your foreword and is kind of promoting your book. You’re named one of the 100 most spiritually influential people by Mind, Body, and Spirit Magazine. It seems like when you get that kind of affirmation from the world, the average person, it would fuel their ego. But when you come home and you’ve got your wife and your kids, I imagine that would be interesting to be named one of the top most influential, spiritually influential people. And you come home, and you make dinner, and you’re with your kids. What does that look like in your family?
Steve: Well I’ve stopped doing any chores. Obviously I’m too important to do any household chores.
Joe: I’m not taking the trash out, I’m one of the most spiritually influential people.
Steve: When that first happened, I said that to my wife and she said, “Will you help me with the washing and doing the dishes?” And I said “No, no, no, I’m one of the100 most important spiritually influential people in the world.” and she said, “Don’t be silly, just help me with the dishes.”
No, it’s quite nice. I feel like I’m a pretty grounded person anyway, but when you have three young kids and you know, that’s such a grounding experience to be a father with children. So I don’t think I can get too carried away with myself.
Joe: I think that’s so true that no matter what success you have, to your kids you’re always just “Dad.” So I think that’s a good word for it, a grounding experience.
I want to circle back about how you were talking about parenting early on with young kids. What does that look like? You have boys who are a little older than my kids. What advice you have for parents in regards to developing this wakefulness in them or even just being conscious as a parent?
Steve: Well, I think one of the things that you do realize when you become a parent is that, it’s not really about what you teach your children, it’s about what your children can teach you. So I learn so much from my kids, I still do, but especially when they were really young. When they were just discovering the world and starting to respond to the world around them. So, the example you gave earlier about slowing down. That’s one of the things you learn, you learn to slow down, you learned to live in the moment. And you learn to give yourself wholly to experiences in the way that children do.
So I think one of the most important things is to realize that you can learn so much from your children, you know, they can teach you. Every child, especially young children, every young child is a spiritual teacher. So young children can be your gurus. They can teach you to see the world in a new way. And they can remind you to not take yourself seriously.
There’s this word which I quite like, called overstand. I think when we understand the world, in a sense we overstand it. We kind of see that we’re in control of the world. We stand over the world and we control it, we’re in authority. For young children, the world is so strange and so new to them, that they have an attitude of humbleness and acceptance towards the world, which we should learn as adults too.
And apart from that, I think the main thing is to make sure that you don’t suppress your child’s sense of wonder, like the example I gave earlier where the guy said, “It’s just a cow.” Rather than just suppressing that sense of wonder, encourage it. When your children ask questions about why, you know children are famous for asking why? Why does this happen? Why does that happen? Don’t get impatient, just go with that, slow with that and encourage their curiosity and encourage their sense of wonder.
Joe: It’s almost like if we can join them in that wonder and slow down, which naturally happens when you’re genuinely joining them, then your life is enhanced and also it’s affirming that’s something that you want your kids to have be a part of their life.
Steve: I think that’s one of the problems, that a lot of adults are not willing to flow with their children’s experience. They kind of oppose it from another perspective. But if you allow, if you accept where are are your children are going, where they’re flowing with their experiences, if you flow with it, then it can be a marvelously enriching experience.
Joe: I think that part of what stands in the way of that is families are often so busy getting kids to all these different places and not being late to this… to what purpose are we choosing to do all of these extra-curricular activities? For what purpose are we running our family ragged? For your family, are there habits you have as a family to slow things down, to build that wonder? With teens, life goes on whether your father is a spiritually influential person or not. So what habits do you guys having your family?
Steve: Well, we like to get into the countryside. It depends where you live, but we live in a city and it’s quite close, the countryside, about 10 or 15 minutes drive out to the countryside and there’s a nature reserve within the city, as well, so you know, getting into the countryside is great. Because even older children, even teenagers, they love to be in natural surroundings, they love to investigate natural phenomena. They love to play in nature, especially if they have friends around, as well. So we try to do that and also, we try not to be too structured.
We just had the Christmas holidays, so we try not to fill the days with activities. I find this as an individual too, when life becomes too structured then, when you have too many deadlines, too many appointments, that kind of cuts you off from a sense of ease and a sense of contentment. But once you get used to just sort of going with the flow and not having too many arrangements, just doing nothing, just being, then after a while you get into a nice situation with that and it becomes very easy and a nice dynamic develops, a sense of connection between the family develops. And that becomes really enriching.
Joe: How do you balance that with the expectations? I’m sure other families do it differently, but do you find that pretty easy once you get into that flow that your kids? Say, well this is just how our life is… maybe you don’t want to go into what your kids’ thoughts are and that’s fine, but I feel like, already I have a 6-year-old and and there are other families that are saying, we started dance and we’re doing hockey and we’re doing softball. And I’m thinking, my kid is not going to be a professional hockey player. And yes, it’s good to have them burn off energy and it’s good to have a connection and for those reasons I definitely supports those types of activities, but to just do it because everyone else is doing it, just to me seems absurd to have a little six-year-old running to all these things after school rather than just playing with her toys like she’d rather do anyway.
Steve: Again, what applies to individuals applies to children and families, too. If you turn your life into a competition, and you lose contact with your essential self, you lose contact with the present. And eventually you lose yourself because you’re living in the future rather than the present. You’re living inauthentically, trying too hard. You’re striving all the time rather than just living in a state of ease.
Societies in general are becoming very competitive and that’s hampering children’s development, that kind of competitiveness is spreading to children. It’s important to stay away from that I think. You know, obviously you need to expose your children to a range of activities to find out with their interests are, but it’s not helpful to be competitive about it.
Joe: So as an author, and when you write books obviously it’s nice if you get New York Times number one… not that you’re doing it for the competition. But how do you balance that achievement side, I’ve got to wrap up this book project, or I’ve got to wrap up this research with that mindset of having ease with the way you approach life?
Steve: Well it’s important for it to be organic. I can always tell then if it’s an egoic type of striving or an egoic enterprise, then it feels a little bit unwholesome and a little bit too forced, a little bit too rigid. But I just try to tune into what’s growing inside me organically and what’s trying to emerge organically from me. And I just try to express what’s there. It feels like I write what emerges from me and I go with it and I kind of realize what is trying to emerge. So really my task is to really express what’s inside me. And I sometimes compare it to – my wife, she gets a little bit irate when I say this – but it’s a bit like being pregnant.
Joe: I’ve said, “This feels like labor pains.” And my wife says, “No, you did not just say that.”
Steve: Yeah, women say, you don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant! There’s nothing like that! But in a sense it’s something that’s just kind of gestating, something is growing. I always feel like books grow inside me and my task is to bring them into the world.
Joe: Steve Taylor, Dr. Steve Taylor, you are one of the 100 most spiritually influential people who doesn’t do dishes, but now does do dishes. If all the counselors, if all the practice owners in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know?
Steve: Well one thing which has emerged from all of my research over the last decade or so has been the transformational potential of traumatic or turbulent experiences. So I’ve done a lot of research suggesting that there is a positive side to trauma and turmoil and once a person negotiates the initial pain of trauma, of the difficult situation, there is this massive reserve of potentially transformational experience.
So the thing is, as practitioners, it’s really good to be aware of this and to try to encourage the transformational effects of turmoil. It’s a bit like when a person goes through traumatic experiences, sometimes their ego breaks down because of all the turmoil and stress. But when an ego breaks down, there’s a chance for a new self to emerge. There is a chance for an innate, higher functioning self to arise, a bit like a phoenix from the ashes, so I think it’s really important to be aware of that positive potential.
Joe: Absolutely. Well, Steve Taylor’s books are available everywhere that fine books are sold. Thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice Podcast. If people want to connect with you, what’s the best way for people to connect with you and your work?
Steve: The best way is to go to my website which is www.stevenmtaylor.com
Joe: Awesome, and soon you have an audio course coming out called Return to Harmony, and a lot of other things coming out. I highly recommend you guys follow Steve Taylor’s work. Thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice Podcast.
Steve: Thanks Joe, it has been a pleasure!
Well thanks so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Go have an awesome week, take some action, do some things for yourself to rejuvenate and next week we’re going to have another awesome show. I’ll talk to you soon, bye.
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you need a professional, you should find one.

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