Living on Autopilot?
Awaken to a new state of bliss.
by Steve Taylor
Published: December 2, 2010
Let the poetry of life come alive.
My exploits as a musician have led me to Germany, where I’m scraping a living from doing gigs with my band and giving a few English lessons each week. Our gigs often involve long periods of hanging around with nothing to do but drink beer and smoke cigarettes and then periods of over-excitement after we’ve finished playing when we try to unwind by talking to our ‘fans’ – especially the female ones – and drinking and smoking more.
I used to meditate regularly and do chi gung exercises almost every day, but for the past year or so I haven’t done either of them. I used to be inspired by books on mysticism – I used to carry a copy of the ancient Indian text, the Upanishads, around with me – but lately I seem to have lost interest in them as well.
On this particular night we don’t have a gig, but I’ve been to one of the local bars for a few drinks as usual. The bars are always open into the early hours and I get to bed at about three in the morning, feeling slightly drunk. Just a couple of hours later I wake up, for no apparent reason. I should feel terrible, but I have a marvelous warm sense of well-being. I’m lying on my back, looking up at the ceiling. It’s dark, but the darkness is different from normal. It’s full of something, alive with something – a powerful harmonious force. The darkness is so thick with this force that I feel that I can reach out and touch it. It’s almost solid, as if the air is concentrated with 1,000 times more oxygen than normal.
But this force isn’t just in my bedroom; it’s everywhere – a kind of essence, something fundamental, which fills the whole of space and the whole of the universe. It feels like the heart of things, the source of everything that exists, and it fills me with a sense of calm euphoria, a sense that everything is well in the world, that there’s nothing to worry about. No matter how messy and frustrating life can be, no matter how much trouble there is in the world, in some way all of that is just on the surface. Below the surface the whole universe is gently vibrating with warm radiance and is filled with harmony. And in some way I am a part of this force. There is no ‘me’ and no ‘it’. I’m being carried along by it, out there in space, surfing on the waves of this ocean of bliss.
Now my unruly musician days are long behind me and I’m a semi-respectable member of society working as a lecturer, teacher and writer, and the father of two young children. We’re on holiday in Anglesey, an island off the coast of north Wales. On the last night of the holiday I decide to explore some of the farmland around our bungalow. I climb over a gate I haven’t noticed before because it is hidden by long grass and find myself looking down at a valley, with farmers’ fields sloping as far as I can see and hundreds of sheep dotted over the hills.
Suddenly, as if someone has pressed a switch, the scene becomes intensely real. The fields and the bushes and trees and the clouds seem to be powerfully there, even to have their own kind of identity, almost as if they’re sentient beings. Seeing so much land in front of me with so much clear sky above it makes me think of the planet I’m on the surface of and that at this very moment it is spinning on its axis, away from the sun, and that’s why it’s starting to get dark.
My normal sense of duality – of being an ‘I’ inside my head, looking out at the world – is an illusion. The whole of the cosmos is one vast living unity which I’m a part of. In some sense I feel that the universe is inside me and that I am it.
These are examples of the higher states of consciousness – or ‘awakening experiences’, as I prefer to call them. When I studied literature I found that many poets had described visions of mystical radiance and unity, from explicitly religious poets such as Thomas Traherne and Henry Vaughan to romantic poets like Wordsworth and Shelley and mavericks like Walt Whitman and D. H. Lawrence.
Awakening experiences seem to be universal. No matter what kind of culture a person comes from and no matter what their personal religious or philosophical beliefs are, they have essentially the same experiences. They might be interpreted slightly differently due to cultural differences, but they have occurred in essentially the same form all over the world throughout history.
The vision of the world that Walt Whitman describes in Leaves of Grass, for example, is essentially the same as that of the Upanishads (the earliest of which were written down 2,500 years ago and probably originated centuries before then), of the third-century Greek philosopher Plotinus, of the medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart, and so on. But these experiences certainly aren’t confined to famous mystics and poets.
I see these experiences as a kind of ‘waking up’ from the sleep of our normal state. Our normal consciousness is narrow and restricted and gives us a false and limited experience of reality. That’s why, in awakening experiences, there is a sense that our consciousness has become wider and clearer and that we have gained access to a deeper and truer level of reality which is normally hidden from us.
Excerpted from Waking from Sleep: Why Awakening Experiences Occur and How to Make Them Permanent by Steve Taylor. Copyright © 2010 (Hay House).
Steve Taylor is an author and teacher whose main interests are spirituality and psychology.