Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Launch Your Awakening Adventure With Steve Taylor
[0:00:03] PF: Thank you for joining us for Episode 452 of Live Happy Now. Throughout the month of January, we’ve been sharing practices that can help you create habits to increase your wellbeing. Now, it’s time for an adventure. I’m your host, Paula Felps. Today, I’m talking with Steve Taylor, a best-selling author and senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University in England. Steve has devoted his life to investigating spiritual awakenings, both for himself and for others. In his new book, The Adventure, Steve provides a roadmap to walk us all through the practices he’s found most useful for helping us embark on our own awakening journey. Let’s have a listen.
[0:00:45] PF: Steve, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[0:00:47] ST: Hi, Paula. Great to be with you.
[0:00:48] PF: I’m so excited to talk with you. All throughout the month of January, we’ve been talking about new practices, things that people can do to really start a new year off with change. We make resolutions, but those may or may not mean anything in February and after that. So what we’re really talking about is practices that we can adopt and adapt into our lives. So your book, boy, when you talk about an awakening that is just so incredible. Tell us a little bit about what you mean when you talk about spiritual awakening.
[0:01:22] ST: Awakening means really expansion, it’s like an expansion of awareness, an expansion of potential, an expansion of our inner being. It’s also about connection, it’s about connecting to more deeply to ourselves, connecting more deeply to other people, and connecting more deeply to the world. Yes, the world in general.
[0:01:42] PF: Yes. What kind of change does it make when we connect more deeply with ourselves? How does that connect us then with other people?
[0:01:50] ST: It brings a sense of wellbeing, because most of the time, we live at the surface of our minds, we live at the level of thought, and our identity, our normal sense of identity is derived from our thoughts. Because our thoughts are so restless, because our thoughts often tend towards negativity, worrying about the future, feeling guilty, or angry about the past. If you leave at there before, it causes discord, it often leads to unhappiness. But when you expand your sense of identity, then you dive below the level of thoughts into your deeper being. It’s like a diver, diving from the surface of the ocean, into the depths of the ocean. When you dive into the depths below the surface of your mind, you find that there is a natural harmony there, it just seems to be the nature of our deep being. It just seems to exist in a natural state of contentment and ease.
Of course, when you do that, you also free yourself from the worries of the mind, the restlessness of the mind, you find a stillness. At that point too, you also find it easier to connect with other people. Because when our minds are filled with thought chatter, it creates a sense of separation. Thoughts, they enclose is within our own identity. So as soon as we go beyond thoughts, into our deeper beings, our being opens up, and we find it easier to empathize with others, we find that we are naturally more altruistic to others, because we feel more connected to them.
[0:03:22] PF: That’s incredible. I’ll also point out, that what you talked about, like the story of diving into an ocean, that’s also – you’ve got a great meditation that you start the book out with, that is exactly that. Like diving below the turmoil of the surface of the ocean and getting down underneath. I’ve got to say, I’ve been using that, and it’s a really effective meditation.
[0:03:41] ST: So good.
[0:03:42] PF: Absolutely encourage anybody to check out the book, and learn that meditation, because it is really effective, and it’s very peaceful.
[0:03:49] ST: Oh, brilliant. Yes, I’m glad. I’m glad.
[0:03:52] PF: So your book is called The Adventure. You say that awakening is the greatest adventure that we can undertake as human beings. Can you explain why that is?
[0:04:02] ST: It’s natural for us. I think we are meant to awaken in our lives. We’re not meant to be enclosed. We’re not meant to live within these restless minds, within this discord. That’s not really a normal – well, it’s a normal state, because it’s the state we experience most of the time. But I don’t think it’s our natural state. I think it is our natural state to live in wellbeing, to live in a more expensive, and more connected way, and it feels right. One of the great things about awakening is, once you begin the journey, it has its own momentum, and you reap benefits almost straightaway. You feel an increasing sense of stillness, and ease, and harmony in your life.
It’s kind of self-perpetuating that wellbeing, that harmony propels you, gives you further motivation to continue. It seems so natural to grow. I think as human beings, we’re meant to grow. We’re meant to expand, just like all living beings grow in some form, physically, at least. But I think, human beings, we don’t just grow physically, we grow psychologically, and spiritually as well. When we do that, it just feels so right and so natural. It feels like exactly what we’re meant to do.
[0:05:08] PF: This comes out at an interesting time, because there is a lot of turmoil. There’s a lot of concern about what is going on. So it seems like if there was ever a time when we needed this awakening, it would be now. Can you talk about the need for a collective spiritual awakening?
[0:05:26] ST: As you say, we are living through a time of great turmoil. I think in a way, that’s always been the case. Human societies have always been full of conflict, and full of oppression. Human beings have, throughout recorded history, we’ve fought wars against each other. So there’s always been conflict, and chaos, and discord. But now, because of the technology of the modern world, and the interconnectedness of the modern world, it seems to be more intense than ever. It’s happening on a massive global scale.
I think all of the problems we face in the world are the direct result of what I call our normal sleep state, they are the direct result of our normal, constricted, discordant minds. But when we open up, when we expand our awareness, once we begin to feel some sense of inner harmony, then everything changes, our own behavior changes, our relationship to others changes. We become much more altruistic rather than materialistic and selfish. We promote harmony in everything we do. Once you have a large number of people living in that way, the whole of society changes.
If a large enough number of people did begin to live in that way, then the whole world would change, the world would shift from this state of discord into a mode of harmony, a mode of cooperation, rather than competition. We will treat nature as being sacred and spiritual, rather than exploiting nature. We will treat each other with respect rather than exploiting and mistrusting each other. The whole world would change. I do think that a collective awakening is the most urgent need of our time.
[0:07:05] PF: The world that you’ve described sounds very appealing, very much where we want to live. How do we as individuals, if we’re going on this individual, spiritual awakening, how do we help that create a collective spiritual awakening?
[0:07:20] ST: It happens naturally to some degree, because as I say, once we undergo our own personal shift, it changes our behavior. But we also have a kind of – you’ve probably noticed it, if you’ve met people who are naturally content, who are naturally altruistic, those people probably are people who have had a spiritual awakening. Then, these people have a kind of radiance about them. They change the mood around them. You walk into a room with one of these people in it. You can sense the contentment around them. It just in the same way, as you walk into a room with a very aggressive or angry person, you can sense the mood around them.
It changes in terms of how we behave, and it changes in terms of the aura or the atmosphere that we generate around us. It is kind of self-perpetuating. The more people who generate some degree of awakening within themselves, the greater the momentum of wakefulness will – ultimately, maybe it will reach a threshold where it becomes human beings normal state.
[0:08:18] PF: I would love to see that happen. You really do walk us through how to reach this state of wakefulness. Eight of the things that you begin with, you talk about the qualities of wakefulness. Do you mind going over those a little bit, explain what wakefulness means, and why those qualities are so important?
[0:08:34] ST: Great. Yes. Yes. I’d love to do that. Wakefulness is, you could define it very simply as an expansion of identity with a sense of connectedness on many different levels. I have a part time role as a psychologist. I’ve been a psychologist for many years, and I specialize in investigating cases of spiritual awakening in people. I’ve also been undergoing my own personal journey of awakening since I was a teenager. That’s quite a long time now. Basically, in my own experience, and in my research, I’ve identified eight essential qualities, which all awakened people demonstrate and which naturally arise through the process of awakening.
First one is disidentification. That means a bit like I described earlier. That’s when we step outside the thought mind and realize that we are not our thoughts. Then, we have gratitude, which means developing an all-encompassing sense of appreciation for everything and everyone in our lives, including life itself. Then, third characteristic is presence, which basically means living in the moment, being aware of our experience, and our surroundings, rather than living in the future, or the past, or within our own thoughts.
Then, altruism, giving to the world, which incorporates things like empathy, connectedness, being compassionate towards others, being generous, and kind to other human beings. Every spiritual tradition in the world, or every religious tradition emphasizes the importance of kindness and altruism. But altruism is also a spiritual quality in itself, it’s a spiritual practice in itself. The fifth quality is acceptance, which means, simply not resisting the reality of our lives, not resisting the reality of our predicament in life or our situations in life.
Then, we move on to integration with the body. That’s important because there’s a slight tendency in some spiritual traditions, certainly some religious traditions to denigrate the body, to see the body as an enemy, or even to suggest that the body is not really real. It’s a kind of illusory thing. But it’s very important to gain a sense of harmony with the body, and to realize that the body is sacred and spiritual in itself. Then, there is detachment. That simply means not being dependent on external things for your identity and wellbeing. Finally, the eighth quality is embracing mortality, which means being aware of our own mortality, accepting our own mortality, and living in harmony with the fact of our own mortality.
[0:11:27] PF: Now, with those qualities, are those things that you need to learn and experience in the order that they’re presented in the book and in the order that you just presented now?
[0:11:37] ST: No, that’s not really the case. There was one exception, which is disidentification from the ego. That is kind of the gateway to spiritual awakening. You can’t undergo spiritual awakening unless you go through that stage of disidentifying with your thought mind. Once you’ve done that, then any of the other seven characteristics can be practiced in any order. They’re not reliant, it may depend on your personality. Certain characteristics may be more important for you to develop. You may already have developed certain characteristics to some extent. So it will vary from person to person/
[0:12:13] PF: The ability to walk away from our thought mind for that disidentification is, it seems very difficult, because we are all wrapped up in our thoughts every minute of the day.
[0:12:26] ST: Yes, that’s true.
[0:12:27] PF: Can you talk about that a little bit? That seems like an ambitious and very big first step talk, but you make it pretty simple in the book. Can you talk about that, like how people go about doing that, taking that first step on the journey?
[0:12:41] ST: You’re right, it is the first most important step. It may seem difficult, but if you think about it, there are lots of times in our lives when we step beyond the thought mind. They’re usually the times when we are happiest. For example, when you get absorbed in an enjoyable activity, if you’re playing music, or engaged in a creative activity, or even when you’re socializing with friends, or even reading a really enthralling book, or watching a really enthralling film, you stop thinking. You step outside your thought mind. An hour or two may pass by, and then the activity, or the play, or the film is over, and you think, “Oh, here I am again. It’s me. I can start thinking again.” But you know that you’ve been in a state of wellbeing during those moments.
Also, for example, if you walk in the countryside, you feel a sense of wellbeing, you feel a sense of inner calm, you feel connected to your beautiful surroundings. That’s because your mind has become quiet, maybe your brain isn’t completely empty, but you’re thinking less. There are also certain moments when we don’t like what we’re thinking. We become aware of ourselves thinking silly thought, and we say to ourselves, “Don’t be so ridiculous.” You think about a job interview or something, and think, “Oh, no. I’m going to make a mess of it. It’s going to be terrible.” Then you think, “No, don’t be ridiculous. It’s going to be fine.” We do it from time to time. That is an example of disidentifying with your thought mind. It is also the basic aim of meditation is to disidentify with your thought mind, or meditation practices teaches to do that.
It’s a question of, slowly developing an ability that we already have, and cultivating it over maybe a few weeks, maybe even a few months, so that it becomes stronger.
[0:14:27] PF: It’s not something that is going to happen overnight, that part. It’s going to take some practice.
[0:14:32] ST: Yes, you can certainly glimpse it. We all glimpse it from time to time, anyway. Maybe, once you glimpse it for the first time, then you realize, “Ah, I am not my thoughts. There is something else beyond or beneath my thoughts. That’s a really important moment, that moment of realization encourages you to cultivate the state. It will usually take a few weeks or a few months for it to become stronger for it to pick up momentum.
[0:14:57] PF: So as someone goes through this book, do you recommend that they read the entire book, or do they say like, “Do you have guidelines? So we know going into it.” I love how you present that. If you’re going to go on a journey, you need a map, because you need to know where you’re going, and what to expect, how to dress for this trip. You do a great job of setting that up. Then, we get into that journey. Do we need to say, take that first chapter on disidentification, and just stay with that until we feel we’ve mastered that? Or do we read the entire book, and then come back, and do the practices? How do you see that working for people?
[0:15:33] ST: I’d like people to be flexible. As I said before, there are certain characteristics which are maybe more important to some people. Some people will know that they need to work on one particular characteristic, so they can turn to that chapter straightaway. The chapters don’t necessarily need to be read sequentially, although all of the eight qualities are important. A think they’re all equally important. They do all need to be cultivated. But you know, people should be flexible. It never really works. When you’re too prescriptive to people, when you say to them, do this, stick to the plan, you got to allow for some flexibility, and some variations in people’s personalities.
[0:16:09] PF: I love it. Here at Live Happy, we talk about gratitude a lot. That is one of the qualities, and the subtitle of that chapter is overcoming the taking for granted syndrome. Can you talk about what the taking for granted syndrome is, and then tell us how we overcome it?
[0:16:25] ST: In my view, the taking for granted syndrome is probably the biggest single issue with human beings, the biggest single thing that stops us attaining happiness. It’s basically the human tendency to take things for granted. It’s so easy for us to take things for granted. Sometimes when some of that is taken away from us, we realize how valuable it is. For example, is your health. If your health becomes endangered, if you have a serious illness or an accident, you become aware of how valuable and how wonderful your body is, and how miraculous the body is.
But then, your body heals again, and you start to forget it again. You fall under the sway of the taking for granted syndrome. It’s the same with people. You may fall in love with a person, and they’re the most wonderful person in the world for a few months, and your life is much better with them, you feel happy, you feel harmony in your life. But after a certain amount of time, you start to take them for granted, and they don’t bring you as much happiness and your life is not so different the way it was before.
That happens in all areas of our lives. It happens with life itself. One of the things that happens when people are close to death, in some way, if they have an accident or a life-threatening illness, they realize how miraculous, and how fragile, and how beautiful life itself is. They realize what an amazing gift it is to be alive, just to be alive. Doesn’t matter what’s happening in your life, just life itself. But again, we tend to switch off to that. One of the special characteristics of spiritually awakened people is that they’re not affected by the taking for granted syndrome. They are always in a state of appreciation.
They always, to some degree, they always appreciate the value of their health, the people in their lives, their freedom, and prosperity, and life itself. But yes, it’s a process. It’s a journey to transcend the taken for granted syndrome, but it can be done. I developed exercises over a number of years, all of the exercises in the book, we’ve been kind of road tested at workshops over a number of years. They all are effective, and that applies to the gratitude exercises too.
[0:18:32] PF: Another thing that you talk about, it’s near the end of the book, and I think this is so important. You talk about embracing our mortality. This is a two-part question, because first, I want to know how we do that, because it’s difficult. We don’t really want to think about that a lot. Then secondly, how does embracing our mortality help us become more awakened?
[0:18:50] ST: It can be difficult. I mean, in psychology, there are three basic attitudes to death. This is sometimes called the three A’s. One of them is avoidance, when we don’t think about our death, or our mortality. The second one is anxiety, when we do think about it occasionally, but when we feel uneasy. The third one is acceptance, which is when we do contemplate our death, and we accept the fact that we’re going to die, and we live life in the light of that. The only attitude which brings any well-being is acceptance.
The other two, if you avoid thinking about mortality, or if you feel anxious about it, obviously, that leads to discomfort. Many human beings do live with those two attitudes to death with an avoidance or anxiety. But when we do contemplate death seriously, when we face it in a direct way, and we really acknowledged the fact that death is real, then we move beyond the anxiety. We actually begin to sense the value of life, and we begin to sense the preciousness of all of the things in our lives, and the preciousness of the world the precious beauty of the world. That’s one way in which being aware of death brings wellbeing. It takes us beyond the taking for granted syndrome. It’s a really good way of transcending the taking for granted syndrome.
Another thing is that death gives us motivation, the fact that life is temporary. It gives us motivation to fulfill our ambitions, no longer to procrastinate. It makes us aware that we only have a limited amount of time. Life is fragile, and temporary. It also makes us more present, and it helps us to let go of attachments. Because being aware of mortality makes us aware that possessions are not important. The old saying, you can’t take it with you. But possessions are meaningless, because sooner or later, they’re going to be taken away from us. To some extent, even achievements, and even successes can be considered meaningless because it’s going to be taken away. But what’s really important, and what’s real, is being here now in this present moment. So death helps us to be aware of that.
[0:21:07] PF: You’ve given us so many ways to awaken. You’ve given us so many practices, and you also have an online course that that people can take. What is it that you really hope to accomplish with this book? It’s not your first book, you’ve written several bestsellers. What is it about this one that you really hope every reader takes away from?
[0:21:27] ST: This book is quite special to me, because it’s my first really practical book. I’ve written a few books in the mode of psychologists, analyzing, and describing people’s experiences, even described my own experiences. But this is the first book where I offer a guidebook, or a handbook of spiritual awakening. On the one hand, I hope that people realize that awakening or enlightenment is not something unattainable or inaccessible. Some people think that it’s only monks or mystics, or people who’ve been meditating for decades who can become awakened. It’s open to all of us. It’s our most natural, authentic state, so it’s in us already. It’s really just a question of uncovering what’s already in us.
So I hope people realize that it’s accessible. Although, you have to apply yourself, you have to stick to certain practices, you have to have a certain degree of discipline, and motivation. But it’s not difficult, once you get started as I said before, it has its own momentum. It becomes self-perpetuating. In some ways, it becomes easier as you do it, that the path of awakening has its own momentum that carries you towards the goal. But ultimately, even beyond that, I want to promote harmony. Because as I mentioned earlier, I do believe that the world is in such a chaotic, such a state of suffering, because of our normal, limited sleep awareness. I think, really, the only way in which we can begin to live in harmony on this planet is for more people to move towards awakening.
[0:22:59] PF: I would agree with you and you’ve given us a great roadmap to do that. I thank you for writing it, and I thank you for coming on the show and talking about it.
[0:23:08] ST: Thank you, Paula. It’s been really enjoyable.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:23:14] PF: That was Steve Taylor talking about how to begin your own spiritual awakening. To learn more about Steve and his book, The Adventurer: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Awakening, or follow him on social media or visit his website. Just go to livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab. That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.