Author, Steve Taylor discusses how near death experiences and serious illness have encouraged spiritual awakenings, based on real-life stories of inspiring people he’s met on his life journey.
The first inspiration for my book, Out of the Darkness, really came 15 years ago, when I was living in a shared flat in Manchester. One day, my flatmate arrived home in a state of excitement, saying: “You’ve got to meet the guy who runs the local launderette – he’s a really spiritual guy; a guru!” Intrigued, I took my next load of washing there, and as soon as I was walked through the door I realised it was no ordinary launderette. It was painted bright, attractive colours, and there were inspirational quotes pinned to the wall. The tall, white-haired man who was busy emptying one of the machines also wasn’t an ordinary launderette manager, I discovered.
Tony was his name, and he told me about the dramatic transformation he’d been through several years earlier, when he almost died. Until then, he’d been a successful businessman who devoted his life to making money. “I was just going through the motions, not really living,” he told me. When he had the heart attack, aged 52, it was like waking up out of a dream.
“It may sound ridiculous but it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said, adding: “It made me realise the only important thing in life is not to be successful or wealthy, but to be happy; now, I feel like I’m living a multi-coloured life compared to a black and white one. The world is an amazingly beautiful place if you look it at properly.”
I realised Tony had experienced a permanent spiritual awakening as a result of his encounter with death. Shortly after meeting him, I saw a TV interview with the playwright Dennis Potter, who had cancer. Potter remarked that although he was dying, he felt happier and more at peace with the world than ever before. As he said during the interview: “We forget that life can only be defined in the present tense. It is is is. That nowness becomes so vivid to me that in a perverse sort of way I’m serene. I can celebrate life. The nowness of everything is absolutely wonderful.”
As with Tony, Potter’s imminent death had brought about a psychological transformation – a shift to a higher state of consciousness.
I’ve encountered several people who’ve had similar experiences, though not necessarily through encountering death but by going through intense turmoil or suffering, such as severe depression or serious illness, bereavement, disability, reaching ‘rock bottom’ through alcoholism, and so on.
Then, four years ago, I had a similar experience myself, when I was ill in hospital. I had a little-known illness called quinsy, which led to a serious bacterial infection. But after the initial anxiety and frustration passed away, I was filled with a strange sense of inner peace and well being.
Shortly afterwards, I decided to research the topic more thoroughly, as I wanted to understand why death, and other traumatic experiences, often have such a liberating effect; so I sought out as many people as I could who had undergone ‘transformation through suffering’. In the end, I interviewed more than 30 people, and these interviews formed the basis of Out of the Darkness.
At that point, I decided to make contact with Tony again, but his launderette was no longer there. No one had any idea what had happened to him. He must be quite elderly now, in his late ’70s, but if anyone is reading this and recognises his description, please get in contact with me. I want to thank him for helping to conceive my book all those years ago.