Some time back, a friend of mine advised me to read ‘Waking From Sleep’ by Steve Taylor as she believed that the book would be of my interest. And to an extent, it happened to be one of those. Although the book had nothing groundbreaking to convey and was more like a collage of thoughts, there are interesting facts that I would like to share.
One interesting observation Steve Taylor made was that he believes that our day-to-day consciousness is a ‘deep sleep’ from which we sometimes wake up into a more complete, total reality. This can happen in many ways, accidental or not, such as near-death experiences, sleep deprivation, sickness, and so on. For a short span of time, the world seems more beautiful, colours are vivid, objects breathe life and all is full of love. But while these experiences feel life changing, they usually don’t last very long.
In this book, the author explores the ways in which mankind has generated ‘awakening experiences’, which he refers to as the ‘higher states of consciousness’, through space and time and questions its validity. Taylor holds the Western capitalistic culture responsible for reinforcing ego and weakening the link between our souls and the primordial ‘spirit force’, which we call ‘God’ in the spiritual sense. This has subsequently sent us into a life of dazed mechanical sleep. There are however, ways to train our minds into maintaining a childlike wonder and joyfulness towards our external surroundings.
The book describes many unorthodox and unconventional methods used by indigenous tribes and literary, historical and religious figures to reach ‘awakening experiences’. Drawing on his knowledge in the field of psychology, he gives some interesting examples. The part about how Rimbaud’s life affected his poetry is particularly noteworthy. As masochistic techniques such as fasting, sleep deprivation or hedonistic elements like alcohol and drugs bring results, they ultimately disrupt the homoestasis, or body’s internal equilibrium, and only last until the body’s natural rhythm is restored. He categorizes them as ‘high-arousal experiences.’
He then moves on to what he considers to be positive techniques. The most effective way to train our mind into maintaining awakening experiences, he states, is through the practice of meditation, as it intensifies our ‘life-energy’, our chi or prana. He states: “Meditation closes down our normal energy outflow and intensifies our life-energy, inducing ‘low arousal-experiences.’ Eventually, a devoted practice will lead us to become our ‘real self’, eradicating the ‘I’ from our reality. Spiritual development is the only way to maintain a permanent ‘isle’ state, which intensifies our life-energy on a permanent basis and would not be possible without moderation, mindfulness, solitude and self-discipline.”
The author, a tutor at the University of Manchester, backs up his points with quotes by famous psychologists, philosophers and poets. He also uses real-life personal accounts, and provides scientific theories to support them.
My impression was that with some of its traditional ‘report’ formula, the book has a strong academic feel. Yet, Taylor steers clear from religious and moral clichés, giving an objective representation of events in a clear language devoid of jargon.
As it is not one of those highly sectarian book, it makes for an enjoyable read, especially for those seeking to start yoga or meditation practice and I too, like my friend, would recommend it to like-minded people.