A time to act
© Ian Lawton 2018
I am sitting in a cafe in the seaside town of Swanage, on the beautiful Isle of Purbeck, which forms the eastern edge of the Jurassic Coast world heritage site in southern England. I have lived here off and on for several years, but my good friends Stephen and Margaret are new arrivals. We have had a cooling swim on a roasting late-June day, and still none of us can quite believe how lucky we are to live in such an idyllic place. The conversation turns to my writing.
I have been researching spiritual books for longer than I care to remember. But in recent years it's become harder and harder to compete in a massively overcrowded mind-body-spirit market, where even the big names sometimes struggle. Despite still believing strongly in the power and uniqueness of my research and ideas, poor sales mean that increasingly I have to take long breaks to recharge my batteries – to wind myself up to yet again undertake the thousands of hours of painstaking research that characterises my more scholarly books.
That is really not meant to sound arrogant. It is just a plain fact that it takes a certain mindset and huge dedication to collate evidence from all sorts of places, and to try to pull it all together with as much skill as possible to form a coherent picture. My particular focus is on who we really are as spiritual rather than just human beings, and on the ground rules that govern our time in this earthly existence – and beyond.
Does that sound a bit over the top, or maybe even off-putting – too serious a topic for the ordinary person on the street? Well, look at it this way. Whatever kind of life you lead, or want to lead, isn't it worth putting just a little thought into trying to work out ‘how life works’? By that I don’t necessarily mean answering the big theoretical questions such as ‘why am I here?’ Instead I mean more practical questions.
For example, when things are good can I take the credit or is it just blind luck? Can I make it last, or am I expecting the proverbial to hit the fan at any moment? When it does, can I blame someone or something called God, or karma, or everyone around me? Do I go into victim mode, or do I just shrug and say ‘shit happens’ and wait for the good times to come back. Or do I try to work as hard as I can to make them come back? How much do I believe that I'm in charge of my life – if at all?
I know we're all supposed to be super busy these days, but can there be any human being alive who doesn't ask themselves questions like this at least occasionally? They matter, to us all. They are part of the human condition. Some would say part of the wonderful mystery of being alive, meaning they’re questions that can’t be answered. But I'm afraid I don't buy that – which is why I've been on the hunt for answers for nearly two decades. Some seekers join spiritual or religious movements, or devote themselves to meditation, or follow various gurus, sometimes travelling the globe searching for answers. Instead I've been drawn to work with evidence. Very, very good, and very, very consistent evidence. Of which more later.
Back to the conversation in the cafe. My friends know that several years ago I started researching a book called Afterlife. My thinking is that if I can definitively prove there is one, and describe what it's going to be like, that should be pretty interesting, right? Pretty universal? Especially if it turns out that down the ages we’ve been given a somewhat distorted idea of what to expect. But there's a problem. It is an incredibly hard book to research. So much source material, and so difficult to pull together and present as a logical whole.
At the beginning I worked hard on it for about six months. But then my spirits waned at the thought I might just be wasting my time putting so much effort into a book that only a handful of people might ever read. So about eighteen months ago I stopped and just concentrated on my 'normal' work that pays the bills – which is running training courses to teach people how to manage projects.
But simultaneously I escaped into my parallel world of fast bikes, racing cars, drinking too much beer and all the other distractions I use when trying to mask the nagging unfulfilment that your life's work, the thing you really care about most, is on hold and may never really take off. I am hardly alone in trying to plaster over the cracks when it all gets too much, am I? Especially when you've already spent way too long contemplating what might really be going on to produce such a frustrating and seemingly endless situation, and just want to kick back and relax for once.
But finally, in the last few months, I've come back to the book with renewed vigour. In particular I’ve managed to finish off the part that deals with the less savoury aspects of the afterlife in what we might call the 'lower planes'. As you might imagine given the nature of the material this has been pretty distressing to research, but at the outset I promised myself that it would be dishonest, even pointless, to present a rose-tinted view that only delivered a partial map of the terrain.
So back to the cafe and my friends' question. I tell them that having finished this most difficult part of the book I'm taking a break again. After all it's mid-summer, the sea is inviting, the pubs are packed – and I’ve just bought a gorgeous American speedboat of the sort that appeared in the Bond movies of the late seventies. The only problem is it turns out to have not just one but two knackered engines, including the spare. But that’s fine. It has already been worth the money just for the hilarity it’s afforded my friends and family – and anyway there are still plenty of other distractions.
Stephen and Margaret understand my trials and tribulations. He has been editor of the world-renowned Watkins Review, or more recently Mind Body Spirit Magazine, for many years. Every quarter he has to scan lists of a ridiculous number of new books to potentially review – literally several thousands – so he knows better than anyone just how much the market has become saturated with tomes of questionable quality, often just rehashing tired old ideas. He might be too diplomatic to say that, even after several glasses of Chardonnay, but I need have no such scruples and can tell it how it is. Meanwhile she has run a highly successful astrology-oriented publishing house for many years, as well as becoming an author herself more recently. They both understand the market far better than I do.
By way of contrast several years ago I wrote a simple book about the project management method I teach, which is called 'PRINCE2' – some of you will have heard of it, it's pretty well known. That book is selling at the rate of several hundred copies a month and, while I’m proud of it and grateful for the income it brings in, there's bound to be some frustration that my spiritual books are performing so poorly in comparison.
Sat around the table, we all agree that that's because the commercial book occupies an important niche for which there's obvious demand. Whereas when you're trying to put out a whole new brand of what I refer to as 'Supersoul Spirituality', it's very hard to reach people unless you're in a university environment, or already a big name, or manage to attract the backing of a major publishing house – and they're under huge financial pressures themselves, so less and less likely to take risks.
Stephen and Margaret are both convinced that I need to write about my personal experiences, but I’m reluctant. There is nothing extraordinary in my back story, certainly not from a spiritual perspective. I don't talk to or see spirits. I don't travel 'out of body', although I've tried. I am not an Eckhart Tolle, who found enlightenment living on a London park bench and has inspired millions with his wisdom. Nor am I a Neale Donald Walsch, who has apparently communicated with ‘God’ – or whoever the wise entity behind his communications might actually be.
No. I am just a normal guy who didn't show any trace of academic excellence when gaining a degree in economics, or when subsequently training as a chartered accountant. Although work-wise I’ve done many other things since then, still the most interesting thing about me is probably that I used to race bikes and cars with a bit of success, and that when I packed that in I replaced it with my writing and research. But it seems to me that none of this qualifies me to write a spiritual book about my own experiences. There simply aren't any worth writing about.
But my friends are nothing if not persistent. ‘It's exactly the fact you're a normal bloke and just like anyone else that makes your spiritual journey interesting,’ they insist. ‘People have had enough of gurus they can't really identify with. They want to hear about the trials and tribulations of someone who still likes his bikes and cars, still likes to drink too much, talk rubbish and fall over occasionally, and still can't find true love even after decades of trying. That's real,’ they chorus at me, ‘that's what real people want now… someone who struggles with life sometimes, just like them!’
I can see their point, but I remain unconvinced.
Until Margaret hits me with the clincher. The conversation has turned to social media, with which she’s much more savvy than either of us guys, using it to promote her excellent debut novel about women suffering abuse. Now, one of the three fundamental planks of my spiritual worldview is the so-called 'law of attraction'. To put it simply the idea is that, however much it may appear that life is just happening to us, in fact each of us creates or attracts every single aspect of our life experience via our thoughts, beliefs, conditioning, expectations and so on.
The problem is that for some time now lots of best-selling books about this have been promising people the earth – that they can have literally anything they want simply by concentrating on it. While this is theoretically true, what most forget to mention or at least emphasise is that in practice most of us have a whole host of subconscious beliefs and programming – much of course stemming from childhood – which is often at odds with, and very effective at overpowering, our conscious desires. That is why as ‘creators’ we sometimes screw up. That is not to say there’s any sense of right and wrong about this, merely that in some areas our lives may fall somewhat short of what we would ideally like.
Yet for me, to use this undoubted practical difficulty as an excuse to completely walk away from the basic truth of the law of attraction would be a huge and catastrophic mistake. In my recent books I stress that at the start of the twenty-first century humanity has finally started to glimpse the reality that each of us is a 'creator god' with unlimited power. That at long last we have the chance to leave behind our arguably childish superstitions about God, karma, blind chance – and every other excuse we've ever come up with to avoid taking full responsibility for the life each of us is creating. No more victimhood. What a huge and empowering transformation that promises for humanity!
So when Margaret reports that right across social media people have indeed been rejecting the law of attraction because they perceive that it just ‘doesn't work', I need no more persuasion.
It will be difficult. It will be different from anything I’ve done before.
But I know I have to write this book.