Tag Archive: Steve Taylor

Steve Taylor’s latest book is The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening. His previous books include The Calm Center. He is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University and one of Watkins Mind Body Spirit magazine’s “100 Most Spiritually Influential People.” He lives in Manchester, England. Visit him online at http://www.StevenMTaylor.com.

What does it mean to be enlightened or spiritually awakened?

I don’t think there’s anything particularly esoteric about the state, and I don’t associate it with religions. I think of it as a shift into a more expansive, higher-functioning state of being – a state in which we experience a strong sense of connection with the world around us and other beings, a sense of inner quietness and spaciousness, and a heightened awareness of our surroundings. The state isn’t without its challenges, particularly in its early stages (when there may be some confusion and psychological disturbance) but in general it brings an enhanced sense of ease and well-being. It’s quite common for people to shift into this state after intense psychological turmoil. In my book Out of the Darkness, I describe many examples of this. It is also not uncommon for people to move towards this state slowly and gradually, over many years of spiritual practice (such as meditation) or through following specific spiritual paths, such as the eightfold path of Buddhism or a monastic lifestyle.

What are the three different types of wakefulness?

First of all, there is natural wakefulness. For a small minority of people, wakefulness is simply their natural, normal state. They were always in a state of wakefulness, without undergoing a sudden transformation and without following spiritual practices and paths. These people often become creative artists, like poets and painters.

Secondly, there is gradual wakefulness. This happens to people who follow spiritual practices or paths, or it might just happen as a result of their lifestyle, or events that happen to them. Wakefulness occurs gradually over years and decades. They gradually move into a more expansive and intense state of being.

Finally, there is sudden wakefulness. As I just mentioned, some people undergo a sudden and dramatic shift into wakefulness. Most frequently, this happens in the midst of intense psychological turmoil e.g. a diagnosis of cancer, bereavement, addiction etc. The turmoil breaks down a person’s normal sense of identity, and this enables a new sense of identity to emerge inside them. They shift a more expansive, higher-functioning state of being – in other words, into the wakeful state.

How can we tell the difference between fraudulent spiritual teachers and the genuinely awakened?

It’s a question of finding out whether they possess all of the characteristics of wakefulness. Some of the characteristics of the state are well known – a sense of well-being, a transcendence of separation, a quiet mind, heightened awareness. But there are some less well known characteristics – e.g. awakened people don’t have a sense of group identity, or feel the need to acquire possessions or wealth or power. They don’t feel the need to be admired, or feel hurt by criticism. They live very morally, without exploiting anyone.

So if a so-called spiritual teacher doesn’t display these characteristics then you should question whether they are genuinely awakened. Typical signs of a fraudulent teacher include living an accumulative lifestyle, needing followers around them to make them feel important, behaving immorally, not living altruistically or showing compassion, being wounded by slights, cultivating a sense of group identity amongst their followers, and showing signs of prejudice or enmity towards other groups. If your teacher shows any of these characteristics then you can be sure that they are not awakened.

How do different theories of consciousness explain (or try to debunk) mystical (or awakening) experiences?

Some psychologists and neuroscientists think that awakening experiences can be explained in terms of brain activity – that is, they are caused by abnormal types of activity in different parts of the brain, producing more intense perception, a lack of subject-object boundaries etc. In other words, they are a kind of hallucination.

I think this is highly dubious. For a start, the assumption that the brain is the source of our conscious experience is dubious. Some scientists assume that the brain gives rise to consciousness, just because they can’t think of any way of explaining it, but despite decades of intensive research, no one has the slightest idea how this might occur. In philosophy, this is called the ‘hard problem’ of how the soggy gray mass of the brain could give rise to the amazing richness and variety of our conscious experience. In fact, it’s just as to reverse this suggest that, if there are any particular brain states associated with awakening experiences, these states could be produced by the experiences themselves, rather than the other way around.

As a psychologist I’ve never been particular interested in studying the brain, and working how it which parts of it are active or inactive in different states. To me, that’s like studying a map of a place rather than exploring it as a reality.

Wakeful states exist in themselves, as experiences, and can’t be reduced to – or explained away in terms of – neurological activity.

Is it possible to awaken through psychedelics?

Psychedelics can definitely generate temporary awakening experiences, but it’s very unlikely that they will bring about a shift into permanent wakefulness. The reason for this is that psychedelics work by dissolving away our normal sense of self, and putting its psychological mechanisms out of action. This can cause temporary awakening experiences, but permanent wakefulness can only occur if there is a new sense of self to replace the normal one. It’s not enough to dissolve the sense of self – a new self has to replace it.

In fact, the danger of the regular use of psychedelics is that the structures of the normal mind permanently dissolve away, without anything to replace them, and so there’s just a psychological vacuum, or a state of psychosis. And unfortunately there have been many cases of this. In fact, you could say that this is really the only permanent psychological change which the regular use of psychedelics can bring: not awakening, but psychosis.

Having said that, I think psychedelics can have a positive effect, if they are used carefully. Although they rarely bring about permanent transformation, they can sometimes cause a shift in values and perspectives, make people see the world in a different way and re-evaluate their lives. They can provide a glimpse into a more intense reality that makes them realise that their normal view of life is limited. This sometimes creates an interest in spiritual practices and traditions, as a way of trying to recapture this vision of the world in a more integrated way. Look at Ram Dass! He’s the best example of this – a Harvard psychologist who took LSD, re-evaluated his life, became a spiritual seeker, and eventually one of the most inspired spiritual teachers of our time.

Are children naturally awake?

Yes! Certainly young children. Some spiritual traditions associate childhood with wakefulness, and see spiritual development as a matter of recovering qualities of our childhood state. The Dao De Ching advises us to ‘Return to the state of the infant.’ One of Jesus’ most famous sayings is ‘unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’

Children definitely have many of the characteristics of the wakefulness state – more intense perception, well-being, a strong sense of connection to the world around them, heightened energy, a lack of the need for group identity, of the need to accumulate, and so on. However, there are some significant differences between childhood wakefulness and the kind of wakefulness we attain as adults. For example, children don’t possess characteristics intense compassion, or inner quietness and stability. So children are naturally awake, but they’re not awake in quite the same way as adults. It’s a kind of immature wakefulness, which isn’t as wide-ranging as mature wakefulness.

What are the signs that the human race is undergoing a collective awakening?

I would say that there are five signs. The first four relate to individual experiences of wakefulness.

First of all, wakefulness seems to be natural for a small minority of people. There are some people who aren’t awake due to a sudden transformation, or to decades of regular spiritual practice – wakefulness is simply their normal, natural state.

The second sign is that temporary awakening experiences are very common, and seem to getting more common. As I showed in my previous book, Waking from Sleep, it’s very common for people to have temporary glimpses of the wakeful state, often when they’re inactive and relaxed, and their minds become quiet and calm. For a few moments, our normal ‘sleep’ state slips away and the wakeful state emerges, like the sun from behind a wall of clouds.

The third sign is that more and more people are feeling a strong impulse to awaken. More and more people seem to sense instinctively that something is wrong with their normal state of being. They’re aware that they’re asleep, and they want to wake up. This suggests that our sleep state is losing its hold over us.

The fourth sign is that awakening occurs so spontaneously and easily in response to psychological turmoil. As I’ve said before, it’s not uncommon for people who go through intense stress and turmoil to undergo a sudden shift into the wakeful state. Their previous identity dissolves away, and a new self emerges, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. In my research, I’ve always been amazed at how common this phenomenon is, and I think that it’s becoming more common.

Finally, there are cultural signs that this shift is underway. These have been growing for the last three hundred years or so. Since the 18th century, in many parts of the world, there has been a growing sense of empathy, compassion and fairness. There has been an increasing recognition of the rights of different groups, including animals. There has been a reconnection to nature, to the human body, and an openness to sex, And particularly over recent decades, there has been a massive (and still growing) upsurge in interest in spiritual philosophies and the spread of spiritual practices such as meditation, yoga, and other techniques of self-development. Everywhere there are signs of a movement beyond both ego-isolation and egocentrism, a growing sense of connection and empathy.

Even if this process is a gradual and fitful one — and even if it may appear to be still in its early stages — we appear to be in the process of waking up.

One of the biggest myths about spirituality is that it reveals the world to be an illusion. According to the myth, when we ‘wake up’ or become enlightened, we realise that the physical realm of things is just a dream. The world and all the events that take place in it are seen as a mirage. Only spirit is real, which exists above and beyond the physical world.

One of the problems with this view is that it leads to a detached and indifferent attitude to worldly events. What does it matter if millions of people are suffering from poverty and starvation? What does warfare or ecological catastrophe matter? Why should we bother trying to fight for social causes or against global problems? It’s all just part of the dream, so none of it is of any consequence.

This attitude is often justified with reference to the Hindu concept of maya. This is sometimes translated as “illusion,” but its actual meaning is actually closer to “deception.” Maya is the force that deceives us into thinking of ourselves as separate entities and the world as consisting of separate, autonomous phenomena. In other words, maya prevents us from seeing the world as it really is. It blinds us to the unity that lies behind apparent diversity. It stops us from seeing the world as brahman, or spirit. So it doesn’t literally mean that the world is an illusion, but that it’s not as it seems. It means that our vision of the world is not complete or objective, that there’s more to reality than we superficially see.

The idea of the world as an illusion is sometimes specifically associated with Hindu Advaita Vedanta (or nonduality) philosophy, but this interpretation of Advaita stems from a similar misunderstanding. The most influential Advaita Vedanta philosopher was Sankara, who lived during the eighth and nineth centuries ce. Sankara famously made three statements (later reframed by Ramana Maharshi and others): “The universe is unreal. Brahman is real. The universe is Brahman.” If the first two statements are taken alone and out of context — as they often are — then they suggest a duality between the world and spirit: the world is an illusion, and only spirit is real. But the third statement, which is often overlooked, completely reverses this. The third statement says that the universe is spirit, and so the universe actually is real. Sankara is not literally saying that the universe is unreal, only that it doesn’t have an independent reality. It depends on brahman for its existence; it’s pervaded with brahman, and it can’t exist without it.

Ramana Maharshi (pictured), perhaps the greatest Indian sage of the twentieth century, held a similar view. He explained that the world is not unreal in itself. It becomes so when we perceive it purely in terms of its appearance and only see interacting separate objects rather than an underlying spirit. That world is unreal in the same way that a dream is unreal, because it’s based on delusion. But in itself the world is inseparable from spirit. It’s a manifestation of spirit.

This is exactly what wakefulness reveals — not that the world is an illusion but that the world as we normally see it is incomplete, a partial reality. In wakefulness, the world actually becomes more real, partly in the sense that it becomes more tangibly real and alive, more vivid and powerfully there, but also in the sense that it becomes infused with spirit. In wakefulness, we realize that there’s no duality, no matter or spirit, no matter or mind. We realize that the physical world and the spiritual world are one, with no distinction. The world is gloriously infused with spirit and gloriously real.

Nevertheless, the idea of the world as an illusion is appealing to many people, as it offers a way of circumventing problems. If you’re facing difficulties in your own life, and if the world itself is full of the suffering of your fellow human beings, then it’s comforting and convenient to tell yourself, “Oh well, it’s all just an illusion, so there’s no need to worry.” In other words, it offers a means of spiritual bypassing, that is, using spiritual beliefs as a way of escaping issues that need addressing.

A similar attitude is sometimes applied to the body. After all, the body is made of the same stuff as the world, so if the world is an illusion, the body must be too, or at least it can be seen as something different and inferior to the mind or spirit. There’s a duality between the spirit and the body, just as there’s a duality between the spirit and the physical world. This attitude can lead to a hostile, repressive attitude toward the body, an attitude of disgust toward its animalistic functions and impulses, including sex. This attitude is illustrated by early Christian Gnostic teachings, for example, which held that all matter is evil, and the body is a prison to escape from. But again, in wakefulness this duality is revealed to be false. The body is infused with spirit and is one with spirit. As Walt Whitman writes in “I Sing the Body Electric,” after listing dozens of different parts of the body, “O I say these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the soul, O I say now these are the soul!”

Steve Taylor Phd is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK. This is an edited extract from his new book The Leap. More information

If you think enlightenment is all about losing touch with the world, think again! In this video, Steve Taylor – the author of The Leap – explodes the five biggest myths about spiritual awakening.

Source: flickr.com

In the 1960s, there was a popular belief – popularised by psychedelic pioneers like Timothy Leary (pictured) – that drugs such as LSD could provide ‘chemical enlightenment’, a way of circumventing the years of arduous spiritual practice which monks and other spiritual put themselves through in order to attain a permanent higher state of consciousness. Why spend years meditating and practising self-denial when you can just alter your brain chemistry directly, by taking psychedelics? It soon became apparent that this was naive, and that regular LSD usage was much more likely to generate psychological breakdown than spiritual awakening. And many of those – such as Timothy Leary himself – who originally used LSD as a way of expanding consciousness eventually began to use drugs hedonistically, as a way of escaping boredom and discord, after their ‘chemical enlightenment’ project had failed.

Nowadays, psychoactive substances such as Ayahuasca and DMT are widely used with a spiritual intention, as a means of self-exploration and self-expansion. Ayahuasca in particular has a similar status as an ‘elixir of enlightenment’ to LSD in the 1960s.

I don’t think there is any doubt that psychedelics can generate temporary higher states of consciousness (or ‘awakening experiences’, as I prefer to call them). Some writers on mysticism – usually from a religious background – have argued that psychedelic awakening experiences can’t be ‘genuine,’ because they are artificially induced. But this is surely short-sighted and prejudiced. Psychedelic awakening experiences feature many of the same characteristics of other awakening experiences – intensified perception of one’s surroundings, a sense of connection or oneness to the world and revelations about the nature of reality, and so on. I’ve collected many reports of psychedelic-induced awakening experiences which feature these aspects (some of which I quote from in my book Waking From Sleep).

But although psychedelics can bring temporary awakening experiences, I think it’s very unlikely that they can lead to a permanent higher state of consciousness – that is, a state of ‘enlightenment,’ or in my preferred term, ‘wakefulness.’ The reason for this is that psychedelics are basically dissolutive – that is, they achieve their effect by dissolving away our normal mental structures, and putting our normal psychological mechanisms out of action. (I like to use the term ‘self-system’ for these structures and mechanisms.) When the normal self-system dissolves away, our sense of boundary disappears, so that we no longer experience separateness. Our normal concepts of ourselves and of reality fade away too, so that we feel we’re looking at the world and ourselves in a completely new way. The contents of our subconscious mind may open up into our conscious mind, as the boundary between them fades away as well.

This is fine for temporary awakening experiences, but permanent wakefulness can only occur if there is a new self-system to replace the normal one. It’s not enough to dissolve the sense of self – a new self has to replace it.

This is the major difference between prolonged spiritual practice and psychedelics. Prolonged spiritual practice (such as regular meditation or the following of a path such as the eightfold path of Buddhism, or the eight-limbed path of yoga) will gradually form a new self which will slowly supplant your old self – a self-system with much softer boundaries, a much less powerful sense of individuality and separateness, intensified perception, much reduced associational ‘thought-chatter’ and so on. This self-system may be so subtle and integrated within the whole of our being that you might not even notice that it’s there.

In other words, spiritual practice is basically constructive – it gradually changes the structures of consciousness, re-moulding our self-system into a higher functioning form. But psychedelics don’t facilitate the emergence of a new self-system. With the regular use of psychedelics, the danger is that the structures of the normal self-system will completely dissolve way, and without another self-system to supplant it, there will simply be a psychic vacuum, which equates with a state of psychosis. And unfortunately there have been many cases of this. In fact, you could say that this is really the only permanent psychological change which the regular use of psychedelics can bring: not awakening, but psychosis.

Of course, a person may decide to take psychedelics at the same time as following a spiritual practice, or it may be that the use of psychedelics is simply one element of a wider, more general spiritual path. In that case, it’s less likely that they will be disruptive, and more likely that they will have positive effects. The real danger is of using psychedelics independently, and particularly without any supervision.

There’s a further aspect to this though: psychedelics can be transformative in the sense that they can show us an expanded reality, and make us realise that the normal world we perceive is just part of the story. And once we’ve become aware of this expanded reality, it can change our outlook and our values. It can also awaken an impulse to return to the expanded reality in a more reliable, organic way – that is, through following spiritual practices and paths. This is a topic I’ll address in more detail in my next blog.

Steve Taylor is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK. This article is an excerpt from his book The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening. http://www.stevenmtaylor.com

source: flicker.com

What is spiritual awakening, or ‘enlightenment’? I don’t think there’s anything particularly esoteric about the state, and I don’t associate it with religions. I think of it in simple psychological terms: as a shift into a more expansive, higher-functioning state of being – a state in which we experience a strong sense of connection with the world around us and other beings, a sense of inner quietness and spaciousness, and a heightened awareness of our surroundings. I have found that it is not uncommon for people to shift into this state after intense psychological turmoil – in my book Out of the Darkness, I describe many examples of this. It is also not uncommon for people to move towards this state slowly and gradually, over many years of spiritual practice (such as meditation) or through following specific spiritual paths, such as the eightfold path of Buddhism or a monastic lifestyle.

When people attain this state, it predisposes them to more ethical behaviour. Because of the strong emphatic connection we have for other human beings, it means that we’re more likely to treat other people with compassion and fairness. It usually means that we’re less likely to exploit people for financial gain, or to use them as a means of satisfying our desires for power or sex.

However, there are many cases of spiritual teachers who do not behave in this way, who mistreat and exploit their followers, become prone to narcissism and megalomania, and whose personal lives are sullied by excess and impropriety. One well known example is the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. While he was reputedly a very wise and insightful teacher (at least initially), he became an alcoholic who abused and humiliated his followers and sexual exploited his female disciples. The American teacher Adi Da (also known as Da Free John, amongst other names) clearly had some experience of the wakeful state, as shown by a number of extremely insightful books. However, early signs of instability and narcissism intensified into full blown megalomania, until he regularly proclaimed that he was the sole saviour of the human race, and that the only possible way to become awakened was to become his follower. He also ritually humiliated and sexually abused his followers. As Andrew Cohen – a spiritual teacher himself – wrote, “How could a spiritual genius and profoundly Awakened man like Da Free John, who makes such a mockery of his own genius through his painfully obvious megalomaniacal rantings, leave so many lost and confused?”

The irony here is that in recent years Cohen himself has suffered many accusations of impropriety and misconduct from his followers too, including allegations of bullying and financial extortion. In 2013, as a result of these accusations, Cohen decided to step down from his role as a guru, after realising that ‘in spite of the depth of my awakening, my ego is still alive and well.’

Corruption and Projection

How is all this possible? In a good number of cases, it may be that self-appointed ‘spiritual teachers’ are simply self-deluded fools or charlatans. But I don’t think this is the whole story. At least to some extent, the failings of spiritual teachers are the result of the role itself. Some spiritual teachers may have been narcissists all along, but others are turned into narcissists. Such teachers may well be genuinely awakened to begin with but are slowly corrupted by their power and authority, to the point that their wakefulness dissipates, and they become lost in self-indulgence and delusion. Their egos become inflated by the projections of their followers, who treat them as perfect beings even when they behave unethically. Any cruel or exploitative behaviour is explained away as some kind of ‘test’ or ‘divine play’, and the teachers lose their moral compass. The egos they were supposed to have ‘dropped’ a long time ago become inflated to monstrous proportions.

The problem is that a shift into a higher-functioning, more expansive state of being (i.e. wakefulness) doesn’t necessarily ‘wipe the slate clean.’ There may be some old, lingering negative tendencies which become amplified by the role of spiritual teacher. There may be a tendency to narcissism or to authoritarianism – even just slight a tendency – which was never clearly visible before. But these tendencies are still extant, and what might originally have been a tiny germ of a negative trait becomes a grossly obvious personality defect. What might originally have been an insignificantly small tendency towards self-indulgence explodes into excess and degeneracy on a rock star scale.

There is a particular danger of this happening if a person makes a conscious decision to become a teacher soon after their initial awakening, before there has been time for negative traits to fade away. It’s also dangerous when spiritual teachers from the East move to the West – even more so, if they come from an eastern monastic tradition. They may well be unused to permissive Western attitudes to sex, and find themselves unable to control their sexual impulses. The overt hedonism and materialism of Western culture may have a similar negative effect. This helps to explain the sexual promiscuity of teachers such Chogyam Rinpoche, Swami Muktananda and Osho.

One of the problems here is that the role of spiritual teacher is so unregulated. There are no guidelines to follow, no regulations to ensure that teachers behave responsibility, or to protect vulnerable people. (This is part of the reason why I have written my new book The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening.)There isn’t even any reliable means of distinguishing fraudulent or deluded teachers from genuine ones. We only have our own intuition and discernment to rely on – which unfortunately may not always protect us from exploitation.

Steve Taylor PhD is senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK. His new book The Leap (from which this article is an edited extract) is published by New World Library (Eckhart Tolle Editions).

What does it mean to be enlightened or spiritually awakened? In The Leap, Steve Taylor shows that this state is much more common than is generally believed. He shows that ordinary people ― from all walks of life ― can and do regularly “wake up” to a more intense reality, even if they know nothing about spiritual practices and paths. Wakefulness is a more expansive and harmonious state of being that can be cultivated or that can arise accidentally. It may also be a process we are undergoing collectively. Drawing on his years of research as a psychologist and on his own experiences, Taylor provides what is perhaps the clearest psychological study of the state of wakefulness ever published. Above all, he reminds us that it is our most natural state ― accessible to us all, anytime, anyplace.

Steve Taylor is the author of The Fall, Waking From Sleep, Out of the Darkness and his latest book Back to Sanity. Eckhart Tolle has described his work as ‘an important contribution to the global shift in consciousness.’ Steve is a lecturer in transpersonal psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. In 2012 he was included (at no.31) in Mind, Body, Spirit magazine’s list of ‘The 100 most spiritually influential living people.’ He also writes poetry – his first book of poems, The Meaning, has just been published.

Look Inside

The Five Biggest Myths About Spiritual Awakening – with Steve Taylor

Published on Feb 16, 2017

If you think enlightenment is all about losing touch with the world, think again! In this video, Steve Taylor – the author of The Leap – explodes the five biggest myths about spiritual awakening.

Modern humans have lost touch with their inner ‘true self’. Silence and stillness are a means to recovering happiness and contentment. In the modern world silence has practically ceased to exist.

The human race has stamped its authority over the planet Earth not just by covering its surface with concrete and destroying its plant and animal life, but also by burying the natural sounds of the Earth beneath a cacophony of man-made noise. We live our lives against the background of this cacophony, with the jagged mechanical sounds of urban-industrial society continually assaulting our ears: the roar of trucks, aeroplanes and trains, the clanging and thudding of machinery, the noise of building and renovating, the chatter of radios and TVs in other people’s cars and houses, and pop music blaring from every conceivable place.

But nothing, of course, has done more to obliterate silence than the car. In the modern world it’s very difficult to go anywhere where there’s no possibility of being disturbed by the sound of passing cars, and the only chance that city or town dwellers get to experience something of the quietness which existed everywhere in the pre-car world is sometimes on Sundays, when the mad rushing to and fro of modern life slows down. This quietness seems so foreign now that it seems difficult to believe that a hundred years ago and before it was everywhere all the time. Back then this quietness would even have filled the busiest city centres, which would have probably had a noise level equivalent to that of a modern small village.

There’s also more noise than ever before inside our houses. It’s unusual to go into a house nowadays where there isn’t at least one television set chattering away somewhere, even if the residents aren’t actually watching it, and other forms of home entertainment compete against TV to produce the most noise: radios, CD players, computer and video games etc. In fact the only sound which is largely absent from people’s houses nowadays is the voices of their occupants actually talking to one another.

Living in the midst of all this noise is bound to have a bad effect on us. All man-made noise is fundamentally disturbing. We find the sound of birds singing or of wind rushing through trees pleasing, but mechanical noise always jars and grates. And since we live our lives against a background of mechanical noise it follows that there’s always an undercurrent of agitation inside us, produced by the noise. This noise is certainly one of the reasons why modern life is so stressful as well. In modern life our senses are bombarded with massive amounts of external stimuli. Our fields of vision are always crowded with different (and constantly shifting) things, and our ears are bombarded with a bewildering variety of sounds — all of which clamour for our attention. Our senses have to absorb and process all this material, which takes up a lot of energy, and means that we’re liable to become drained of energy or ‘run down’ easily.

We can get out of this state by removing ourselves from all external stimuli and letting our energy-batteries naturally recharge themselves i.e., by relaxing. But there’s so much external stimuli around in the modern world and people are so unaccustomed to the absence of it that we may never be able relax properly, which could mean living in a permanently ‘run down’ state.

This lack of quietness has also meant is that people are no longer used to silence, and have even, as a result, become afraid of it. Along with inactivity, silence has become something which most people are determined to avoid at all costs, and which, when they are confronted with it, unnerves them. People have become so used to the frantic pace and the ceaseless activity of modern life that they feel uneasy when they’re left at a loose end with nothing to occupy their attention even for a few moments, and they feel equally uneasy when the noise they live their lives against the background of subsides. Why else is it that they need to have their radios and televisions chattering away in the background even when they’re not paying attention to them?

In other words, in the modern world silence has become an enemy. And this is a terrible shame, because in reality silence is one of our greatest friends, and can if it’s allowed to reveal itself to us have a powerfully beneficial effect on us.

Inner Noise

It’s not just the noise outside us which causes us problems, though, but also the noise inside us.

In the same way that the natural quietness and stillness of the world around us is always covered over with man-made noise, the natural quietness of our minds is constantly disturbed by the chattering of our ego-selves. This chattering fills our minds from the moment we wake up in the morning till the moment we go to sleep at night an endless stream of daydreams, memories, deliberations, worries, plans etc. which we have no control over and which even continues (in the form of dreams) when we fall asleep. This ‘inner noise’ has as many bad effects as the mechanical noise outside us. It actually creates problems in our lives, when we mull over tiny inconveniences or uncertainties which seem to become important just because we’re giving so much attention to them, and when we imagine all kinds of possible scenarios about future events instead of just taking them as they come. It means that we don’t live in the present, because we’re always either planning for and anticipating the future or remembering the past, “wandering about in times that do not belong to us and never thinking of the one that does” as Blaise Pascal wrote. And this constant inner chattering also means that we can never give our full attention to our surroundings and to the activities of our lives. Our attention is always partly taken up by the thoughts in our minds, so that wherever we are and whatever we’re doing we’re never completely there.

It’s probably possible to say that there’s also more of this ‘inner noise’ inside human beings than there’s ever been before. The hectic pace and the constant activity of our lives, the massive amount of external stimuli we’re bombarded with, and the barrage of information which the mass media sends our way, have made our minds more restless and active. We’ve got to juggle dozens of different problems and concerns in our minds just to get by from day to day, and every new thing we see or every new piece of information which is sent our way is potentially the beginning of a whole new train of thought to occupy our minds.

The True Self

Ultimately, the most serious consequence of both this inner chattering and the noise and activity of the modern world is that they separate us from our true selves.

Our ‘true self’ might be called the ground, or the essence, of our beings. It’s the pure consciousness inside us, the consciousness-in-itself which remains when we’re not actually conscious of anything. It’s what remains when our the activity of our senses and the activity of our minds cease. The sense-impressions we absorb from the world and the thoughts which run through our minds are like the images on a cinema screen, but our ‘true self’ is the cinema screen itself, which is still there even when there aren’t any images being projected on to it.

Experiencing this ‘consciousness-in-itself’ can have a massively therapeutic effect. It brings a sense of being firmly rooted in ourselves, of being truly who we are. We also have a sense of being truly where we are, realising that before we were only half-present, and everything we see around us seems intensely real and alive, as if our perceptions have become much more acute. But above all, we experience a profound sense of inner peace and natural happiness. As the Hindu and Buddhist traditions have always held, the nature of consciousness-in-itself (which means the consciousness inside us and the consciousness which pervades the whole universe) is bliss. Getting into contact with the pure consciousness inside us enables us, therefore, to experience this bliss. Indeed, it could be said that it’s only when we do this that we can experience true happiness. Usually what we think of as happiness is hedonistic or ego-based that is, based around pressing instinctive ‘pleasure buttons’ or around receiving attention and praise from others and increasing our self-esteem. But the kind of deep and rich happiness we experience when we’re in touch with the ground or essence of our beings is a natural, spiritual happiness, which doesn’t depend on anything external, and doesn’t vanish as soon as the thing which produced it is taken away. It’s a happiness which comes from experiencing the divine inside us and also the divine inside everything else, since the pure consciousness inside us is the same pure consciousness inside everything else, and the pure consciousness of the universe itself.

Making Contact with the True Self

Whether we’re in touch with this ‘true self’ or not depends on how much external stimuli our senses are taking in from the world around us, and on how much activity there is going on in our minds.

If there is a lot of noise, movement and activity taking place around us then we can’t help but give our attention to it; and in the same way, when there is a lot of ‘inner noise’ taking place we have to give our attention to that too. And when our attention is completely absorbed in this way either by external stimuli on their own, such as when we watch TV; by ‘inner noise’ on its own, such as when we daydream; or by both of them at the same time it’s impossible for us to be in contact with our ‘true self’ to any degree, in the same way that it’s impossible to see a cinema screen in itself when it’s full of dancing images. Being in contact with our ‘true self’ is a state of attentionless-ness, when our minds are completely empty.

What we have to do if we want to get into contact with this part of ourselves is, therefore, to withdraw our attention from these things. And this is, of course, what we do when we meditate: first of all, we remove ourselves from external stimuli, by sitting in a quiet room and closing our eyes. And then there’s only ‘inner noise’ standing between us and consciousness-in-itself, which we try to quieten by concentrating on a mantra or on our breathing. If we manage to stop the inner noise (and therefore stop our attention being absorbed in it) pure consciousness immerses us and we become our true selves.

And this brings us back to the most serious problem caused by the massive amount of external stimuli (including noise) which our senses are bombarded with in the modern world, and by the intensified ‘inner noise’ which modern life generates. It’s not just a question of completely closing yourself off to external stimuli and shutting down ‘inner noise’, so that you can experience a state of total immersion in pure consciousness. It’s possible to have a foot in both camps, so to speak; to live a normal life in the world, being exposed to external stimuli and experiencing inner noise, and at the same time still be rooted in your real self. That is, it’s possible to be partially immersed in consciousness-in-itself, and for your attention to be partially absorbed by external stimuli and inner talk. But this can only happen when there is just a moderate degree of both of the latter.

It would probably have been quite easy for our ancestors to live in this way, because they weren’t exposed to a great deal of external stimuli and because their lives were relatively slow-paced and stress-free, which would have meant that their attention needn’t have been completely absorbed by external stimuli and inner talk. Perhaps this even partly explains why native peoples seem to possess a natural contentment which modern city dwellers have lost because their more sedate lives mean that they’re able to be in touch with the ground of their being as they go about their lives, and that they can therefore continually experience something of the bliss of which is the nature of consciousness-in-itself.

For us, however, this has become very difficult. There’s always so much noise and activity both inside and outside us that our attention is always completely absorbed, so that we can’t be in contact with our real selves. We spend all our time living outside ourselves, lost in the external world of activity and stimuli or in the inner world of our own thoughts. We’re like a person who plans to go away for a few days but finds so much to occupy them in the place they go to that they never go home again, and never again experience the peace and contentment which lie there. This is certainly one of the reasons why so many people nowadays seem to live in a state of dissatisfaction — because they’ve lost touch with the natural happiness inside them. That natural happiness has been buried underneath a storm of external stimuli and what Meister Eckhart called ‘the storm of inward thought’.

As a result of this it’s essential for us, in the modern world, to go out of our way to cultivate silence ourselves. Circumstances may oblige us to live in cities, and our jobs may be stressful and demanding, but we’re still free to remove ourselves from external stimuli and to try to quieten our minds by meditating, going out into the countryside, or just by sitting quietly in our rooms. We don’t have to fill our free time with attention-absorbing distractions like TV and computer games, which take us even further away from ourselves. We should do the opposite: stop our attention being absorbed like this so that we can find ourselves again.

We need silence and stillness to become our true selves and to be truly happy. ‘Be still,’ said Jesus, ‘and know that I am God.’ But he might have added, ‘and know that you are God.’

Steve Taylor holds a Ph.D in Transpersonal Psychology and is a senior lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. For the last three years Steve has been included in Mind, Body, Spirit magazine’s list of the ‘100 most spiritually influential living people’ (coming in at #31 in 2014).

Steve is also the author of Back to Sanity: Healing the Madness of Our Minds and The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of A New Era. His books have been published in 16 languages and his research has appeared in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, The Journal of Consciousness Studies, The Transpersonal Psychology Review, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, as well as the popular media in the UK, including on BBC World TV, The Guardian, and The Independent.

A few years ago, while doing research for my Ph.D., I met a woman who had a profound personal transformation following traumatic experiences as a soldier.

The woman (whom I will call Jenny) was in the Canadian military for 10 years, undergoing a great deal of stress and suffering. Towards the end of the 10 years, she began to feel depressed and burnt out and was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). She felt that she had completely lost her sense of identity. As Jenny told me, “There was just me, on the couch, doing nothing, because I literally couldn’t do anything. I was forced to see my failure. And I had no idea who I was anymore.”

However, after about a year of medical and psychological treatment, Jenny became relatively functional again and sought out alternative treatments to help her further. After a couple of years of deliberate healing and growth through various therapies and treatments, she began to experience a shift. She had powerful ‘awakening experiences’ in which, as she describes it, “the world looked different. It was alive. It was infinite aliveness. Everything was bright. Even the space between everything. The colours were incredible and the flowers looked happy.”

Soon this developed into a state of continual well-being, in which she felt intensely present, with a strong sense of connection to nature and other human beings. Jenny summarised the shift she has experienced as follows, “When you’re present all the time every day seems full. A day seems to last for such a long time…I used to look to possessions as a way to feel better but now I don’t need to feel better. I don’t need things. I can have them, but I don’t need them.”

This is a powerful example of what I call ‘post-traumatic transformation.’ PTT (as I refer to it in short) is similar to ‘post-traumatic growth,’ when people develop in a positive way in the aftermath of traumatic experiences. However, in ‘post-traumatic transformation’, the change is more radical, and usually occurs suddenly and dramatically, in the midst of intense psychological turmoil. (I wrote about my research in my recent book Out of the Darkness.) The shift is so dramatic and so life-changing that it is often described in terms of a ‘spiritual awakening.’

The shift is often related to a diagnosis of cancer, bereavement, intense stress or depression. However, in recent years, I’ve become aware that the intense stress and turmoil of combat may be a trigger for the shift too, as it was for Jenny.

Cases from the First and Second World Wars

At the beginning of the First World War, a young aristocratic German man named Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim believed it was his patriotic duty to fight for his country. After his privileged upbringing, the horrors of the battlefield were a massive shock. He lost count of the number of deaths he witnessed, and the number of times he came close to death himself. However, the close proximity of death triggered a transformation in him. It made him aware of a deeper, spiritual part of his being. As he wrote, “When death was near and I accepted that I also might die, I realized that within myself was something that has nothing whatsoever to do with death.”

This was the beginning of a lifelong spiritual journey for Durckheim. After the war he renounced his family property and inheritance, and began to study eastern spiritual texts. And later, after the Second World War, he came across many examples of a similar transformation amongst those who had lived through its horrors. As he later stated, “There are so many people who went through the battlefields, through the concentration camps, through the bombing raids…[who] were wounded and nearly torn in pieces, and they experienced a glimpse of their eternal nature.”

One example of this I came across recently in my own research was a man called J.H. Murray, who spent three years as a prisoner of war during the Second World War. While enduring the terrible deprivation of a German concentration camp, Murray had a powerful awakening experience. He wrote about it for the first time in a memoir towards the end of his life:

As I climbed upstairs, to the dormitory, I became aware of an extraordinary sense of joy. It suffused mind and body…I had stepped out of time into timelessness…I remember seeing through the windows the barbed wire fence with its sentry towers, and the prisoners in the compound, all and each transfigured by a beauty that glowed through them, engulfing all as if from another place. Its intensity had a new dimension, so that never afterwards could I bring myself to speak of it, or write down the experience until now, when I know that my life nearing its end.

After this experience, Murray wrote letters to his family, saying that he was “happy and thoroughly well.” They thought he must have gone mad, but he told them that “I have not lost my reason, but all worries, anxieties and frustrations.” He described experiencing “an undivided mind, inner stillness, self-realisation, and a fullness that I never believed possible.”

More Recent Examples

A few years ago, I published a book called Waking From Sleep. which is a study of awakening experiences such as Murray’s – moments in which our normal awareness seems to expand and intensify, and we become aware of deeper (or higher) level of reality, and perceive a sense of harmony and meaning. Last year I received an e-mail from an American man who said he had had such an experience as a solider in Vietnam in 1968. His combat base came under heavy attack, with major casualties, and he was sure that he was going to die too. As he described it:

At one point after carrying yet another severely wounded Marine to a waiting chopper something happened to me…I came out of myself. I expanded infinitely. I disappeared. It didn’t last long but it was the most powerful experience I’ve ever had. From that moment my anxiety disappeared and I knew that everything was alright, no matter if I lived or died. The Battle of Khe Sanh lasted 77 days. I felt peaceful for the remainder of the battle. I was not wounded in those 77 days although according to Ray Stubbe in Valley of Decision we had over 2,500 Marines wounded and over 800 killed. I’ve spent the last forty-seven years trying without success to replicate that experience. I even died on an operating room table. Nothing has come close to my “awakening experience” at Khe Sanh.

I’ve recently been reading a great book called Aftershock by the UK journalist Matthew Green, which is largely an investigation into cases of PTSD in British soldiers. However, the book also describes some amazing awakening experiences during battle, and the long term spiritual growth that these led to. Green tells the story of a man called Gus, who fought in the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in the 1980s. One day, while waiting for orders on the battlefield, Gus had a life-changing experience. As Green describes it, “As he waited for the order to advance, he felt an inexplicable sense of euphoria, as if past and future had dissolved and his personal fate was no longer of the slightest consequence. He was witnessing history, yet touching the realm of the timeless.” Gus suffered PTSD after the war, until he discovered meditation, and realised that he didn’t have to identify with his traumatic thoughts and feelings. He became a Buddhist, and in 2007 he returned to the Falklands Islands, and left a small statue of the Buddha at the site of one of the major battles of the war.

These experiences are paradoxical on many levels. It seems incredible that the brutality of war should be associated with such states of inner peace and harmony. And in a more general sense, it’s paradoxical that states of intense stress and turmoil should be so closely related to states of joy and liberation. It’s almost as if joy and despair aren’t opposites, but are somehow symbiotically related.(This relates to the question of why such experiences occur during or after combat, or in other situations of stress and turmoil. I don’t have space to offer my suggested explanation here, but see my book Out of the Darkness for details.)

In the meantime, I’ll soon be beginning a formal research project on these experiences. So let me know (in the comments section below, or by e-mail at essytaylor@live.co.uk) if you have had a similar experience, or know of others who have.

Steve Taylor, Ph.D., is senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK. He is the author of several books on psychology and spirituality, including Out of the Darkness. http://www.stevenmtaylor.com
Source: AWAKEN

Source: flickr.com

Source: flickr.com

We normally perceive ourselves as individuals, living inside our own brains and bodies. ‘You’ are an entity that seems to occupy your own mental space, inside your head, with the rest of the world appearing to be ‘out there’, on the other side. The conventional scientific view seems to validate this impression of individuality. It suggests that, in essence, we human beings are agglomerations of material particles, atoms and molecules that work together to form different parts of our bodies and organising the interactions between them. Our minds – and all our mental phenomena – are the result of the combined activity of brain cells.

So it seems indisputable that we are distinct, isolated entities living in separateness to one another. I have my body and brain, and you have yours, and we can touch each other physically or communicate with one another through language, but our sense of being – as produced by our brains – is essentially enclosed within the physical stuff of our bodies.

However, most of us regularly have experiences that seem to contradict this impression of separateness. I call these ‘interconnective experiences’, and identity three types of them.

Three Different Types of Interconnection

The first – and most common – is ‘interconnectedness of feeling’, or ‘empathic connection.’ Empathy is sometimes seen as a cognitive ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and imagine what they are experiencing. This is certainly a type of empathy, but only what I have called ‘shallow empathy.’ There is a deeper kind of empathy which stems from actually sensing – rather than just imagining – what another person is experiencing. In this ‘deep empathy’ our consciousness seems to expand outwards, and merge into other people’s. We seem to enter into other people’s mind-space, and share their feelings. If they are feeling sad, we sense their sadness. If they are hurt, we sense their pain. This often leads to altruism – acting to try to alleviate their suffering. We want to alleviate other people’s suffering because, in a sense, it is our own suffering.

The second type of experience is ‘interconnectedness of being.’ For many years, I have collected reports of what I call ‘awakening experiences’, in which people experience a more expansive and intense state of being. One of the most prominent characteristics of these experiences is a ‘transcendence of separateness.’ It’s very common for people to sense that they are deeply connected to – even one with – the natural world, other human beings or even the whole universe. There is a sense of sharing one’s being with other phenomena, a sense that we share the same fundamental essence as them. For example, in my research one person told me that “I feel a part of nature … I feel a connection with people, but I also feel connected with trees and birds and grass and hills.” Or more intensely, one person described to me how “the deep aliveness of space is so amazing it takes your words away. I don’t just feel connected to it. I feel like I am it.”

The third type of experience – which I admit is more controversial than the previous two – is ‘interconnectedness of knowing.’ There are many anecdotal reports of individuals spontaneously communicating with each other without any direct interaction. Common experiences are thinking of someone you haven’t seen for years and then receiving a phone call from them and bumping into them on the street. Other examples are having a ‘strong feeling’ that a friend is pregnant, has been diagnosed with a serious illness or has died without being told this – and then finding out that this is the case shortly afterwards. Such incidents might be explained away as coincidence, but there are also scientific experiments which appear to show that such communication can sometimes occur. Some of the most well known are ‘ganzfeld’ experiments, in which a person tries to ‘send’ a randomly chosen target image to a receiver, who then has to choose the correct image from four choices. Obviously, the success rate for this by chance should be 25%. However, ganzfeld experiments consistently show higher levels of success than this. Large scale ganzfeld experiments conducted under the most strongest scientific conditions typically show a success rate of around 35%. This doesn’t seem like a significant figure, but the odds against it occurring by chance are astronomical. Meta-analyses of thousands of experiments conducted over decades show similar results. (1) There is also evidence suggesting that animals – especially dogs – may have a telepathic connection with their owners, which enables them to sense when they are coming home. (2)
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Beyond Materialism

It’s difficult to account for these phenomena from a materialist point of view. Materialists would claim that ‘deep empathy’ doesn’t really exist, and that our altruistic impulses are not due to a sense of connection, but due to a disguised selfishness – e.g. a desire to impress other people, or feel good about ourselves, or a kind of insurance policy to make sure we are helped in return. The sense of connection which awakening experiences can perhaps be explained as wishful thinking, or in terms of unusual brain activity. Similarly, ‘interconnective knowing’ can be explained as coincidence, or in terms of flawed experimental procedures.

However, there is another possibility: that in actuality we are interconnected. It is possible that these three forms of interconnection are not illusions, but the manifestations of a fundamental lack of separation between human beings. This makes no sense from a materialist point of view, but it is possible that what we know as consciousness is not produced by the brain, but is a fundamental quality of the consciousness. This is what is sometimes known as the ‘panpsychist’ view, and it is becoming increasingly popular amongst philosophers and psychologists who struggle to explain consciousness from a materialist perspective. According to panpsychism, consciousness is not dissimilar to mass or gravity – a fundamental, irreducible quality which has always been ‘built into’ the universe. Consciousness is both fundamental and universal – that is, it is everywhere, and in everything (at least potentially). The function of the cells, nervous systems and the human brain is not to ‘receive’ this consciousness and channel it into individual beings.

If we take this view, our own individual consciousness is part of a wider network of consciousness, as a wave is part of an ocean. So it’s not surprising that we are able to tune in to other people’s feelings, to feel a sense of oneness with nature, or sometimes ‘pick up’ on information without any direct communication. We are simply experiencing the fundamental connectedness of all beings, and the universe itself. Feeling, being and information flow between us all, across this network of shared consciousness.
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So we are not enclosed within our own mental space. We are not islands, but part of the ocean. We don’t live in separateness, but in connectedness. We are not alone. Essentially, we are one.

Steve Taylor PhD is the author of several books on psychology and spirituality. http://www.stevenmtaylor.com

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(1) see Bem, D. J. (1996). Ganzfeld phenomena. In G. Stein (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the paranormal (pp. 291-296). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. See also Parker. A. & Brusewitz, G. (2003). A compendium of the evidence for psi. European Journal of Parapsychology. 18: 33-51.

(2) In a long series of experiments over two years with a dog called Jaytee, the paranormal researcher Sheldrake found that it would sit by the window for a significant proportion of the time that her own was on her way home – 55% of the time, compared to just 4% during the rest of her absence. (The difference is highly statistically significant, with odds against chance of over 10,000.) There was a great deal of controversy when the skeptical researcher Richard Wiseman attempted to replicate Rupert Sheldrake’s experiments. Wiseman’s 4 experiments actually yielded an even more positive result than Sheldrake’s – Jaytee sat by the window 78% of the time that her owner was travelling home, compared to 4% during the rest of her absence (Sheldrake, 1999, 2000). % during the rest of her absence (Sheldrake, 1999, 2000). That would seem to be an incontrovertible successful replication of Sheldrake’s experiments. However, Wiseman chose to ignore this data, and instead to use a different criterion of success: Jaytee had to go to sit by the window at the exact moment that her owner set off home. If Jaytee went to the window before this, this would mean that she had ‘failed.’ And not surprisingly, by this criterion, the experiments were judged to be unsuccessful and bizarrely presented as ‘proof’ that Jaytee (and dogs in general) do not have ‘psychic powers’ (Wiseman et al., 1998; Sheldrake, 2000).

In the UK, there has been a lot of publicity lately for the idea of “restorative justice.”
As part of this process, offenders are brought face to face with the victims of their crimes, to hear how they have suffered as a result of them. The aim of restorative justice is healing, both for victim and offender. The victim transcends their rage with some understanding and forgiveness towards the offender, and the offender empathises with the victim, becoming aware of the real meaning of their crimes. This process changes lives. Victims feel free of the weight of hatred and are able to move on; offenders have a wider sense of perspective, and are less likely to re-offend. Sometimes offenders don’t meet their specific victims, but just the victims of similar crimes. But this still leads to a new awareness, and new patterns of behaviour.

For me, this highlights the enormous significance of empathy. To a large extent, all human brutality — all oppression, cruelty and most crime — is the result of a lack of empathy. It’s a lack of empathy which makes someone capable of attacking, robbing, raping or oppressing another human being. It’s a lack of empathy for another tribe or country which makes warfare and conflict possible. It’s a lack of empathy towards other ethnic groups, social classes or castes what makes oppression and inequality possible.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to “feel with” another person, to identify with them and sense what they’re experiencing. It’s sometimes seen as the ability to “read” other people’s emotions, or the ability to imagine what they’re feeling, by “putting yourself in their shoes.” In other words, empathy is seen as a cognitive ability, along the same lines as the ability to imagine future scenarios or to solve problems based on previous experience. But in my view, empathy is more than this. It’s the ability to make a psychic and emotional connection with another person, to actually enter into their mind-space. When we experience real empathy or compassion, in a sense, our identity actually merges with another person’s — your “self-boundary” melts away and the separateness between you and the other person fades.

Our strongly developed sense of individuality — being a personal self, or ego — can make it difficult for us to experience this state of connection. The ego walls us off from other people, particularly those belonging to other groups: the other gender (in the case of female oppression), other tribes, nations, races or classes. It encloses us in a narrow world of our own thoughts and desires, making us so self-absorbed that it’s difficult for us to experience the world from other people’s perspective. Other people become truly “other” to us. And this makes it possible for us to inflict suffering on them, simply because we can’t sense the pain we’re causing them. We can’t feel with them enough to sense their suffering.

On the other hand, if you identify with another person, if you have a psychic and emotional connection with them, then it’s impossible to treat them brutally. You recoil from their experience of suffering in the same way that you recoil from your own suffering. In fact, you feel a strong desire to relieve their suffering and aid their development. But if you can’t identify with them, then there’s no limit to the amount of suffering you can inflict. You can’t sense their pain, so there’s nothing to stop you causing it.

As Restorative Justice shows, empathy can be learned to some degree. When people are brought together in a neutral context, with an open, trusting attitude, empathy naturally establishes itself. Distinctions of ethnicity, religion and other superficial identity badges begin to fade away, as does the sense of grievance and rage derived from past events.

And it’s this bond which is surely our true nature. Empathy shows that the concept of separateness is an illusion. Empathy is simply the experience of our true connectedness, the exchange of feeling through the channel of shared consciousness which unites not just all human beings, but all living and non-living things. The wider empathy stretches from victims to offenders, from one ethnic group to another, from nation to nation and religion to religion, the less brutal and more harmonious the world will become.

Source: Super Consciousness

We normally see time as our enemy…

We feel that it’s running way from us, bringing good experiences to an end too soon, and taking away our youth, our fitness, our good looks, and eventually even our lives themselves. We’re continually fighting against time to meet deadliness and make appointments. But since time is an ever-present factor in our lives, it’s essential for us to find a positive way of relating to it. Is it possible for us to live in harmony with time?

Throughout my life I’ve veered between two different attitudes to time, both of them positive in their different ways. These could be called the ‘positive pressure perspective’ and the ‘transcendent perspective’.

The ‘Positive Pressure Perspective’

The first perspective sees time as a precious commodity which shouldn’t be wasted. Ultimately, this is based on awareness of death. The fact that we are all going to die at some point means that our time in this life is limited. Time is slipping away from us every moment, so it’s incumbent on us to use it productively, to fulfil our potential, to achieve as much as we can, to do what we were meant to do. Life is temporary, so we should make the most of it.

This perspective can be very energising. I think of myself primarily as I writer, and I feel that there are a lot of books inside me that I have to write before I die. So sometimes when I feel a little lazy or lacking in motivation, the thought that time is limited – that I’m going to die eventually and could potentially die at any moment – can jolt me out of my indolence. ‘I haven’t got time to waste!’ I tell myself. ‘I have to get on and do what I’m meant to do!’ I already have my next three books planned out in my mind, and would be very disappointed if I ‘ran out of time’ before I was able to bring them into existence.

This view of time can be problematic though. It creates pressure, and can lead to an obsessive concern with not ‘wasting’ time. Every minute that is not deemed ‘productive’ is seen as worthless. It may mean that we’re unwilling to relax, even when we’re mentally and physically exhausted, and when we would actually become more productive if we allowed ourselves to take it easy. And more fundamentally, this attitude pre-supposes a duality between us and time. It views time as external force which we have to continually struggle against – and which will ultimately be victorious against us.

There is no Time except the Present – the ‘Transcendent Perspective’

The second perspective has a less combative attitude towards time – in fact, it doesn’t even accept its existence, at least in the normal sense. It sees linear time as a construct, a creation of the human mind (and of human culture). After all, the future is not a real phenomenon. It does not exist, except in our thoughts, in our anticipations and our plans. Similarly, the past is not a real phenomenon. All past events have faded away into non-existence. They only exist in our memory, and in the recordings we may make of them. We live our lives wholly and continually in the present. And in the present, there is no time. As a culture, we have decided to divide time into seconds, minutes, hours and days, but this has no basis in experiential terms. In the present, there is just a continual flow of experience. There are no isolated moments, or instants, there is just a flow. And we are part of the flow.

From this point of view, there is no need to worry about time passing. The present doesn’t pass away – its always with us. It stretches panoramically around us, without direction and without the divisions of different tenses.

This second attitude is obviously the healthier one. It frees from the stress and pressure of trying to keep up with time. It means that we live more naturally and authentically, in tune with our deeper impulses, doing things when we feel it’s right to do them, rather than forcing ourselves.

If there is a possible disadvantage to this ‘transcendent’ perspective of time though, it is that it may take away our sense of urgency, and reduce our motivation to complete tasks. It’s an unfortunate aspect of modern life that we often need to complete tasks and meet deadlines, but in a state of present-ness, it’s sometimes difficult to muster the self-discipline to do this. If the present is like an ocean all around us, and the future doesn’t really exist, why should we feel any sense of urgency? Why should I work hard to complete the latest chapter of my book? Why should I make an effort to meet my publisher’s deadline?

Integrating the Two Perspectives

However, I don’t think these two perspectives are necessarily incompatible. They can be integrated when we consider that, although linear time may not exist in the sense we normally think of it, duration still exists. That is, although we always live in the present, processes still take place, and those processes have a duration. They arise, they unfold and manifest themselves, and then they slowly fade away. Seconds, minutes and hours are just artificial man-made divisions, but processes such as days, months and years do exist.

And our lives are a process too. This process always takes place in the present, but we also know that it has a limited duration. Even though there is no future and no past, it’s still important for us to fulfil our potential while we can. It’s still important for us to uncover our authentic selves, to develop our skills and allow our creativity to express itself. We should still feel a sense of the brevity and fragility of the process of our lives, and feel an urgency to experience the process as fully and intensely as possible – at the same time as being aware that, as we do this, we can never be anywhere except the present.

Steve Taylor is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University. He is the author of Making Time. His website is stevenmtaylor.com
Source: Psychology Today

Why does time seem to speed up as we get older? Steve Taylor’s genre-busting, gripping book explores this all-too-familiar question… Why does time seem to drag when we’re bored or in pain, or to go slowly when we’re in unfamiliar environments? Why does it slow down dramatically in accidents and emergency situations, when sportspeople are ‘in the zone’, or in higher states of consciousness?

“Making Time” explains why we have these different perceptions of time. It puts forward five basic ‘laws’ of psychological time and uncovers the factors which cause them. It uses evidence from modern physics and unusual states of consciousness to suggest that our normal sense of time is an illusion ‘created’ by our minds.

On a practical level, this book also shows us what we can do to control our sense of time passing, to make it pass slowly or quickly in different situations. It suggests that it is possible for us to live through more time in our lives, and so effectively increase the amount of time which we are alive for. Finally using insights from Buddhism to show how we can live fully in the present moment, Steve Taylor’s brilliant book will astound all who read it.

Steve Taylor is the author of The Fall, Waking From Sleep, Out of the Darkness and his latest book Back to Sanity. Eckhart Tolle has described his work as ‘an important contribution to the global shift in consciousness.’ Steve is a lecturer in transpersonal psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. In 2012 he was included (at no.31) in Mind, Body, Spirit magazine’s list of ‘The 100 most spiritually influential living people.’ He also writes poetry – his first book of poems, The Meaning, has just been published. For more information see http://www.stevenmtaylor.co.uk

Look Inside

Steve Taylor on Book Making Time BBC Interview

Why does time seem to speed up as we get older. why does time sometimes slow down when we are bored or race by when we are having a good time. These and other questions are addressed by Steve Taylor, an English author in his new book, Making Time

From time to time, we all have moments when we feel completely and blissfully alive; moments when the world around us becomes more real and beautiful, when an atmosphere of harmony seems to pervade everything, when we feel one with nature and a feeling of intense well-being fills us. These are sometimes called spiritual experiences, or higher states of consciousness – but I prefer to call them ‘awakening experiences.’

I believe that normal human consciousness is a kind of ‘sleep’ which we wake up from in these moments. Most human beings are asleep in the sense that we normally perceive the world in an automatic way, so that a lot of time we don’t pay attention to our surroundings, and aren’t able to sense the is-ness and alive-ness of the world. We are asleep in the sense that we see all things as separate to each other, and experience ourselves as separate entities, as egos enclosed in our mental space with the rest of the world ‘out there.’ In sleep, life appears meaningless, and the universe can seem an indifferent and even hostile place.

But in my book Waking From Sleep, I suggest that this state of sleep is a psychological aberration, and it is natural and normal for us to be ‘awake.’ Many of the world’s indigenous peoples live in a state of wakefulness: they naturally possess(ed) a heightened perception, a sense of the aliveness of things and, an awareness of spirit-force pervading the world. Young children are naturally awake too. They see the world in a much more real and intense way than adults, experience a powerful natural well-being and often have intense spiritual experiences, where they become one with the world, or see it pervaded with an intense spiritual radiance.

As we grow into adults, we lose this natural wakefulness. This is due to the development of the ego. Our adult egos become too strong and powerful; they give us a strong sense of individuality and separateness, and so create a powerful barrier between us and the world. As a structure, and through their constant activity, they use up a massive amount of energy, leaving little energy available for us to put into perception, resulting in the automatic perception I described earlier. The development of the ego creates a ‘fall’ away from the natural wakefulness of children and indigenous peoples.

However, human beings have always sensed that their normal consciousness is limited and sought temporary awakening experiences. In Waking From Sleep, I examine the methods which we have used throughout history to induce the experiences: e.g. fasting, sleep deprivation, psychedelic drugs, meditation, nature, sex, sports and music. I also examine the paradox of how the experiences can be triggered by intense mental and emotional turmoil, and how the simple presence of an enlightened person can generate them.

I suggest that awakening experiences have two basic sources: they can be caused by a dramatic change to our normal physiology or brain chemistry (e.g. through fasting, sleep deprivation or drugs) or through what I call an ‘intensification and stilling of life-energy,’ through meditation, yoga, general relaxation, listening to music, etc.

If we know what causes them, we should be able to generate awakening experiences whenever we desire. But ultimately, we need to make wakefulness our normal state again. We can attain a permanent state of wakefulness by creating a new state of being in which our life-energy is permanently intensified and stilled. This means changing the structure of our psyche, so that the ego is no longer as powerful, and no longer monopolises our energy.

In Waking From Sleep, I suggest five essential practices which will change the structure of our psyche and create a state of permanent wakefulness: meditation, mindfulness, moderation, detachment and service.

We need to wake up for ourselves, to become free of the illusion of separation and of the psychological discord which fills our lives with suffering, and so that we can stop squandering our lives and our potential in discontent, anxiety and conflict. We need to wake up for the sake of the human race as a whole, in order to free ourselves from the social chaos and conflict which have blighted the last few thousand years of history. The only possibility the human race has of living in harmony – without warfare, inequality, and the oppression of women and different ethnic groups and social groups – is through transcending the over-developed ego which gives rise to conflict. We also need to wake up for the sake of the earth. The only sure way to avoid ecological catastrophe and learn to live in harmony with nature is to transcend our sense of separation to it, and become able to sense its alive-ness and sacredness.

View Here Steve Taylor’s
Waking from Sleep: Why Awakening Experiences Occur and How to Make them Permanent

To an impartial observer – say, an alien zoologist from another planet – there must be very compelling evidence that human beings suffer from a serious mental disorder, and are perhaps even insane.

The last few thousand years have been an endless catalogue of insane behaviour. Recorded history is an endless catalogue of wars, and the story of the brutal oppression of the great mass of human beings by a tiny privileged minority. The terrible oppression of women which runs through history – and which still exists in many parts of the world – is another sign of this insanity, as is the hostile, repressive attitude to sex and the body which most cultures have shared.

In addition to this insane collective behaviour, an alien zoologist might see signs of mental disorder in the way that many of us behave as individuals. He or she would be puzzled by the fact that human beings seems to find it so difficult to be happy. Why do so many people suffer from different kinds of psychological malaise – for example, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, self-mutilation – or else spend so much time oppressed by anxieties, worries and feelings of guilt or regret, and negative emotions like jealousy and bitterness? And why do so many people seem to have an insatiable lust to possess things? Why are we prepared to go to such lengths to obtain material goods which we don’t actually need and which bring no real benefits to us? In the same way, many people have a very strong craving for status and success; they dream of being famous pop or TV stars, and try to gain respect from others by wearing particular clothes, possessing status symbols or going to certain places or behaving in a certain way. ‘Why aren’t human beings content just to be as they are?’ the observer might ask himself. ‘Why are they so driven to gain wealth and status instead of accepting their situation and living in the present moment?’
Primal and Prehistoric Peoples

However, there are many groups of people in the world who don’t seem to be touched by this insanity – or at least, who weren’t until recent times. ‘Primal’ peoples like the Australian Aborigines, the tribal peoples of Siberia, Lapland, Oceania and other isolated areas, generally had a very low level of warfare, if any at all. They also have high status for women, and are strikingly egalitarian and democratic. Almost uniformly, anthropologists have been struck by how naturally content and carefree these peoples seem, as if they are free of the psychological malaise which afflicts us.

Even more strikingly, archaeological records indicate that prehistoric human beings were free from this insanity too. Archaeological studies throughout the world have found almost no evidence of warfare during the whole of the hunter-gatherer phase of history – that is, right from the beginnings of the human race until 8000 BCE. Archaeologists have discovered over 300 prehistoric caves around the world, dating from 40,000 to 10,000 BCE, not one of which contains any images of weapons or fighting.
The Over-Developed Ego

This suggests that there is a fundamental difference between us and primal or prehistoric peoples, a difference which gives rise to the collective and individual insanity which plagues us. Why should they be free of the insanity of warfare, oppression and materialism? I believe that this fundamental difference is what might be described as our ‘over-developed ego.’

We appear to have a more pronounced sense of individuality – or ego – than primal peoples. According to the anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl, for example, the essential characteristic of primal peoples was their less ‘sharpened’ sense of individuality. In his words, ‘the limits of their individuality are variable and ill-defined.’ He notes that, rather than existing as self-sufficient individual entities – as we experience ourselves – their sense of identity is bound up with their community and their land. He cites reports of peoples who use the word ‘I’ when speaking of their group and others who see their land as an extension of their self, so that being forced away from their land would be tantamount to death(this is why primal peoples are often prepared to commit suicide rather than leave their lands).

The naming practices of certain peoples suggest this too. For us, a name is a permanent label which defines our individuality and autonomy. But Australian Aborigines, for example, do not have fixed names which they keep throughout their lives. Their names regularly change, and include those of other members of their tribe. Other native peoples use tekonyms – terms which describe the relationship between two people – instead of personal or kinship names. On the other hand, our sense of ego is so defined and strong that many of us experience a basic sense of separation to nature, other human beings and even our own bodies. We are self-sufficient individuals who can exist apart from the natural world, our communities and even each other.

I believe this over-developed ego is the fundamental madness from which we suffer from, and the root cause of our insane behaviour. Intense ego-consciousness is a state of suffering. It brings a basic sense of isolation, of being separate from other people and the rest of reality. We experience ourselves as fragile entities trapped inside our own heads with the rest of the world ‘out there,’ on the other side. And our egos send a constant stream of ‘thought-chatter’ through our minds, a chaos of memories, daydreams, worries and fears which disturbs our being and creates a constant state of anxiety.

In addition, because we live in our thoughts so much, we find it very difficult to live in the present, and to appreciate the reality and beauty of the world in which we live. The world becomes a dreary, half-real place, perceived through a fog of thought. As a result of this, most people feel a basic sense of incompleteness and discontent. And this negative state is the basic source of the cravings for possessions and power and status, which are a way of trying to complete ourselves and compensate for our inner discord. We try to complete ourselves – and make ourselves significant – by gaining power over other people or by collecting wealth and possessions.

And in turn, this desire for wealth and power is at the heart of warfare and oppression. But just as importantly, our strong sense of ego means that it’s difficult for us to empathise with other people. We become ‘walled off’ from them, unable to ‘feel with’ them and to experience the world from their perspective or to sense the suffering we might be causing them. We become able to oppress and exploit other people in the service of our own desires.

Perhaps the desire for wealth and power, minus the ability to empathise, is the root of warfare and the oppression of women and other social groups. Maybe it’s also the root cause of our abuse of the environment. It means that we experience a sense of ‘otherness’ to nature, and that we can’t sense its aliveness, and as a result we don’t feel any qualms about exploiting and abusing it.
Beyond the Ego

However, there is a method of healing our inner discord and transcending our insanity: through ‘transpersonal’ – or spiritual – development. The whole purpose of transpersonal development is to transcend our intensified sense of ego, to blunt its walls of separateness and quieten its chaotic thought-chatter so that we can begin to experience a new sense of inner content and a new sense of connection to the cosmos and to other beings. This is what the practice of meditation aims to do: to generate a state of inner quietness in which the ego fades away. And this is what happens when we dedicate our lives to serving others rather than following our own selfish desires: separateness begins to fall away as we develop a heightened sense of compassion, a shared sense of being with other people and other creatures.

As we transcend the intensified sense of ego, we begin to see the world as a meaningful and harmonious place. We become able to live in the moment and accept ourselves and our lives as they are, without wanting. And we also move beyond the social insanity of warfare and oppression. Since there is no discord inside us, we no longer crave for wealth and power, and now that we are no longer separate, we have the ability to empathise with other beings, and so become incapable of abusing or exploiting them. When the ego is transcended, all of the madness of human behaviour fades away, like the symptoms of a disease which has now been cured. That is the only true sanity, and perhaps the only way in which we can hope to live in peace and harmony on this planet.

Streamed live on Aug 30, 2015

With the aid of some pieces from The Calm Center, we’ll be looking at how important it is to be aware of the reality of death, and how this awareness make us more present-centered, and free us from our psychological attachments. Through being mindful of death, we can become more mindful of life.

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