Steve Taylor is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University and the author of several best-selling books on psychology and spirituality. He is the current chair of the Transpersonal Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. Steve’s latest book is The Clear Light, with a foreword by Eckhart Tolle.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Manchester, England. My dad was obsessed with sport, mainly soccer, and I spent most of my childhood playing soccer on the street or on the park with my friends and my dad. There was nothing really that shaped my adult life. My parents were good people and gave me stability and love, which was a great start in life. I didn’t have to deal with any childhood trauma. At the same time, my parents were quite simple people, not interested in anything intellectual or cultural, so when I started getting interesting in those things, they were not supportive. They thought there was something wrong with me because, at the age of 16, I started to borrow ‘heavy’ books about philosophy and psychology from the library! When I started to suffer from depression and became a bit of a misfit, they didn’t understand at all, and couldn’t help me.
At the age of 15, I became extremely self-conscious and shy and found it difficult to speak or behave in a normal way. I suppose it was the onset of adolescence. All of a sudden there was a ‘voice inside my head’ observing and criticizing my own behavior. It made it difficult for me to function, and I became quite depressed. At the same time, there was a birth of the artistic and creative side of my personality. I started to play music, and to write songs and poetry.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
It would have been nice to have parents who understood the creative and spiritual side of my personality. But never mind! I learned to understand myself eventually!
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In my lecturing role at university, some lecturers are dry and didactic and don’t make much effort to engage the students. I always make sure my lectures are interactive and experiential. Most of all, I make sure they are entertaining.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
As implied above, it was mainly a question of learning to understand the spiritual side of my nature and realize that there wasn’t something wrong with me. Then it was a matter of integrating the spiritual side of my nature into everyday life. Until my late 20s, I found it quite difficult to function in the world – to earn a living, to interact with other people, to feel comfortable inside myself.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Determination. My main ambition was always to be a writer. I started writing on a daily basis at the age of 20, usually a few hours a day. I received endless rejections from magazines and publishers and often felt disheartened. After 9 years, I start to have articles accepted in magazines. At the age of 34, I had my first book accepted for publication. At times it was very dispiriting and frustrating, but it came good in the end. I have now published 13 books and probably a few hundred articles. Ultimately, I didn’t have any choice, as I was definitely born to be a writer.
What is your morning routine?
Wake up at about 7.30, help get my kids ready for school. Do some physical exercise – usually a run or some yoga. Then I have breakfast, then meditate for about half an hour. Then I start work, usually about 10. If I don’t have any classes to teach at my university, I do my writing.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Meditation. It helped to heal my psychological discord in my late 20s, and it still has a marvelously calming and balancing effect. It puts me in touch with my real self.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I set myself goals. If I’m writing a book I clear space of 4-5 hours in the day to focus intensively. In those hours, I do nothing but write. I aim for 1500-2000 words a day. I also turn the Internet off so I don’t get distracted!
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Colin Wilson’s The Outsider was important to me because it showed me that it wasn’t a crime to be different. As a depressed and alienated 19-year-old, the book made me realize that there wasn’t something wrong with me – but possibly something right with me. A few years later, a book called Mysticism: A study and an anthology, was important for me. I had had spiritual/mystical experiences as a teenager but didn’t understand them. The book gave me a reference point for my own experiences. After that I started to investigate the field of spirituality – reading other books, going along to groups, learning to meditate. Then I had a framework to make sense of myself.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
‘Knowing that life is short, enjoy it, day after day, moment after moment.’ Shunryu Suzuki