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by Steve Taylor,

Hay House UK, 2010  (232 pp) ISBN-10: 184850179X

Reviewed by Elizabeth Marchetti

Steve Taylor believes that our normal 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, drug intake, sleep deprivation, sickness, and so on. For a short span of time, the world seems more beautiful, colors 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 of The Fall and Making Time, explores the ways in which mankind has generated ‘awakening experiences’, also known as ‘higher states of consciousness’, through space and time and questions their meaning and validity. He also provides general guidance on how to maintain this ‘wakefulness’ during our normal state.

Primarily, Taylor holds the Western capitalistic culture responsible for reinforcing the ‘ego’ and weakening the link between our souls and the primordial ‘spirit force’, religiously called God. 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.

In the first five chapters Taylor gives a detailed description of the many unorthodox methods used by indigenous tribes and literary, historical and religious figures to reach ‘awakening experiences’, often including their personal accounts. Drawing on his knowledge in the field of psychology, he also reports worldwide psychological experiments. The part about how Rimbaud’s life affected his poetry is worth a mention. While these often masochistic (flagellation, fasting, sleep deprivation) or hedonistic (alcohol and drugs) techniques bring results, they become possible by disrupting 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. Meditation closes down our normal energy leaks and intensifies our life-energy, inducing ‘low arousal-experiences.’ Ultimately, 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 friends’ real-life personal accounts, and provides scientific theories and counter-theories. Consequently, with 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 with a pristine, clear language devoid of jargon.

Although the book is hardly groundbreaking material and feels more like a collage of thoughts than a distinctive personal work, there are interesting and peculiar facts disseminated throughout the text. Being not a highly sectarian book, it makes for an enjoyable and fascinating read, especially as an introduction for those seeking to start yoga or meditation practice.