Review: Stairway to Heaven

Tara is a respected psychotherapist, with a wealth of experience. She has worked with a wide variety of patients with a range of psychological ailments. Her experience and knowledge are extensive and inform her writing throughout the book. She uses numerous case studies to support her ideas and with each one it is possible to draw parallels with one’s own experience. The Stairway aludes to the various levels of consciousness, from ‘innocence’ through to ‘enlightenment’. There are 9 stages in total and the seeker will pass through each stage on his or her way to enlightenment.

With these 9 stages of consciousness, Tara provides a complete framework for spiritual development, which provides help and support – as well as theoretical explanation – no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.

One of the first things that struck me about “The Stairway to Heaven” was Tara’s uncanny ability to reflect you exact circumstances and offer relevant support. One of her early observations has stuck with me. Mirroring my own feelings,  she points out that much contemporary spiritual literature focuses on the dissolution of ego, yet this is not always the best starting point. It is all very well and good for people to transcend ego, but what about victims of child abuse who have been so broken by their early depravation that they have little or no sense of identity to begin with? Does it really make sense for such people to work on dissolving their fragile sense of self? As Tara points out – she actually had to build up her ego before moving on to the next stage. This was certainly the case for me.

The ideas in the book make intuitive sense to me, and when I read it, the whole of my spiritual journey – thus far – seemed to fall in to place. I suddenly saw the various stages of my journey with vivid clarity. What is so remarkable, is how relatable each stage is. I could clearly recognise each of the traits and behaviourisms and I could pinpoint – at least symbolically – the exact moment when I moved up to the next stages.

What amazes me is that I can relate to much of what Tara describes in each stage. I believe I was predominantly at the 3rd “obedience” stage for much of my early life. Despite recognising many “sharing” (stage 5) traits at this time – such as empathy for others – I was mainly stuck in a world of guilt and fear. My Irish Catholic upbringing provided a framework of blind obedience and self-loathing. I was painfully shy and terrified of my parents and teachers. At this stage, I had a very weak sense of self. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted from life.

I was also prone to instant gratification – something that is more associated with even lower stages. Of course, after every shopping or eating binge, I would be filled with guilt and shame. Especially after eating, I would despise myself and curse my lack of control. It’s not difficult to see how this dynamic led to a severe eating disorder. I would overeat to satisfy my need for instant gratification. I would then feel intense repulsion and shame. A desperate need to “remove” the offending food followed; a need satisfied only by purging. It was a vicious cycle, repeated again and again. Naturally, my weight went up and down in an erratic fashion. The excess weight – a symbol of my lack of control – repulsed me. I became depressed and socially isolated, which in turn fed the addiction, as I ate more “comfort food”. Only as I have moved up to the higher stages have i developed a natural self-control. Amazingly, the weight just dropped off without effort.

Tara emphasises that one can’t simply jump from a lower stage to a higher one, skipping one or more stage. You must learn the lessons from each stage, integrate this new learning, and naturally move upwards.

For example, when I was 20 I started feeling very depressed and disillusioned with my life. I remember it was at that point when I decided to go to the book store and buy my first self-help book. It has always been an important point in my life, and now I know why. It represents the point when I moved out of the “ambition” stage and into the “sharing” stage. As Tara points out, these stages are fluid; you may have traits and behaviours from lower stages whilst predominantly being in a higher stage. I can certainly relate to this, and it can be very evident when you are moving between stages.

The descriptions of each stage in Tara’s book are uncanny and immediately relatable. Her portrayal of stage 5 – sharing –  is remarkably similar to much of my own experience. It was quite wonderful when I first  moved up to the sharing stage. My life developed a depth that it had hitherto lacked; I found new meaning and understanding of my existence thus far and I had numerous insights about my behaviour. I could easily trace back the cause of any mal-adaptive coping strategy to my childhood. Such insight gave me hope and a possible way forward; a starting point from which to develop spiritual and emotional health.

One obvious question arises early on: how do you know what stage you are currently at? As Tara says:

“I would suggest that reading a self-help book with the intention of actively improving your life is something that belongs to the sharing or responsibility stages. If the rest of your life is geared to a similar direction, it would be a sign that you are predominantly at the second
flight of stairs.”

From this I concluded that I must be on or around this stage. As already mentioned, I started reading such self-help books at 20, and that trend has continued. I’ve read every self-help book in the library and bought even more. When my daughter was born, I read child psychology books and began to have vivid memories of my own childhood. I became quite obsessed about being the “perfect mother” and give my daughter everything I had lacked as a child. Self-development books were a means of doing this.

Through self-inquiry, I came to realise what a catastrophic effect my abusive childhood had had on my own development, and I desperately wanted to break the cycle of abuse. I went through a stage of immense sorrow. I grieved my childhood and when my daughter went to nursery, I spent my days lamenting my childhood and cursing my parents. Tara makes reference to the immense self-pittying that comes with the sharing stage, and I had a little chuckle when reading this – it was as was such an apt description of myself!

To begin with though, reconnecting with past pain was very cathartic and thereputic. I devoured books by Alice Miller (I believe Miller’s books symbolise perfectly what’s going on in the sharing stage) and I saw child abuse & neglect wherever I looked. I read books by Lloyd de Mause, such as “A History of Childhood” and the horrors therein both comforted and re-traumatised me. The books allowed me to connect with my inner pain and give expression to my angst. I really felt I had to bring forth every bit of pain within – otherwise I would never be free.

It has been said that if you want to love another person, you must first learn to love yourself. By connecting with our own hurt, we can finally learn to accept other people and all their foibles. As Tara so aptly puts it:

“By allowing themselves to feel these vulnerabilities and grievances, they develop the deep wish that everyone should be loved and embraced with all their weaknesses
and short-comings. In this way, sharing people become very humble and give up the vanity and conceit of the ambition stage [stage 3].”

True to these observations, I developed a deep and powerful empathy for those poor children who had suffered so much at the hands of their parents and society. I find it hard to put into words, but I was affected terribly by the suffering I saw all around me. If I heard a parent screaming at a child in the supermarket, I felt physically & emotionally sick. I could actually feel their pain, as if it was happening to me or my daughter, and it was unbearable. I even saw the ‘standard’ mother or father as an abuser. The Psychologist, Donald Winnicot, argued that every child needs a “good enough” mother – as opposed to a perfect mother. I tried to agree, but I found it difficult. Surely ANY level of poor parenting was unacceptable to a developing child? Any level of child cruelty was anathema to me; I simply couldn’t bare it or tolerate it.

This criticism may seem contradictory; Isn’t the sharing stage about extenting love and acceptance to all? As Tara puts it, it is one of the inbuilt frustations of the sharing stage, the downsides that push you forward lest you get too comfortable. You are able to feel your own pain and you have the capacity to feel the pain of other people. However, those at stage 4 tend to harbour grudges for certain people – notably parents or the well-off. It is not until you move to the higher stages that you begin to develop a deeper level of acceptance, and are able to accept EVERYONE equally, even those that would do you harm.

In the sharing stage, I was prone to criticising “bad” patents – I wasn’t proud of it, but I couldn’t help it. Nor was I completely accepting of my self. Although I had made remarkable progress, I was still deeply conscious of my inability to be the “perfect mother”. When I look back to my daughter’s early years (0-3) I can see now that I did a good job. I broke the cycle of abuse and helped her develop a healthy sense of self. However, I found that very hard to accept at the time. Nothing is did was good enough. I just wanted to be the perfect mother – no shouting, no being grumpy, playful, full of energy, and unconditionally loving ALL of the time. I set myself up to fail with such impossible criteria. However, I can see now that by being critical of myself and others, I was, in a way, “setting myself up” to move to the next stage in Tara’s Stairway; the responsibility stage.

The 5th stage; responsibility, marks a transcendence of the sharing stage and it’s focus on one’s woeful history, the often painful feelings it elicits and the critical attitude.
I started to see that I had been wallowing in self-pity. Although I had begun to accept myself fully, that acceptance lacked real depth. Nor was I taking responsibility for my own wellbeing. By blaming other people for all that was wrong with my mental health, I had begun to stagnate. I was no longer moving forward.

I began to feel empathy for my parents, rather than hate. It started as a small voice in the back of my mind that cast doubt on my saint/sinner convictions – “Dad had a horrific childhood himself…he was a scared helpless child when he faced tragedy and loss”.  Does that perhaps explain – though never justify – his actions? My hate and anger dissolved.

Prior to this I had railed against such notions of forgiveness and acceptance. I was disgusted when psychologists recommend forgiving your abusers. It seemed to me that forgiveness was forced upon people by controlling elders who didn’t want to face up to the truth of child abuse.  I have no doubt that this is largely true when it comes to traditional notions of forgiveness (ie at obedience stage). However, I started to develop a different understand of forgiveness which looked more like a deep ACCEPTANCE  of what is. The traumatic event/s were NOT OK and never justifiable, however IT HAPPENED. It’s horrible, but we cannot change the past. We must try to integrate our trauma and even love that painful part of us. In such a way, out of great pain and suffering may come great love, understanding, and strength.

Tara gives wonderful advice on this matter, suggesting we should send love to our abusers. Yes – as abhorrent as it may sound, we should actually send unconditional love to those people who perpetrated such heinous acts of violence against us. I can just imagine the sharing part of myself recoiling in horror from such a notion. I can imagine Alice Miller’s followers throwing Tara’s book down in horror! However, I can not imagine a more beautiful nor more powerful excercise than sending love to those who wrong you. It has worked wonders for me and I can only imagine the transformative effect it would have if this is how everyone resolved their conflicts. I have practiced sending love myself, with amazing results.

I started off sending love to aquaintances – for example a very unhappy and depressed checkout assistant in my local supermarket. She was always in a bad mood with me (and everyone!), but after weeks of sending her love, our exchanges had become more genuine and pleasant. Now, 12 months on and we have a chuckle and a chat every time I go to her till. Even my daughter has developed a bit of a bond with her and they get on really well.

Later, I started sending love to my parents and have had quite miraculous results. My relationship with them has completely transformed. I rarely see them, and we will never fall back into our old roles, however we send each other emails and birthday gifts, and our new relationship is based on mutual understanding and respect.

I now see very little use in regressive therapies to ‘dissolve’ your past trauma. Studies have shown that the more you express a certain emotion, the more you strengthen the neural pathways in the brain which elicit that emotion. This does not bode well for the types of regressive therapies I used to favour, nor those therapies that tell you to punch a pillow and scream, while imagining your abusers. Tara rejects such ideas, arguing that it is not necessary to resort to such practices. Only once I passed up to the responsibility stage was I really able to accept this idea.

Moving Towards the Responsibility Stage

Tara says: “John is at the responsibility stage of consciousness. By taking full responsibility for all his thoughts and feelings he has learnt to accept himself deeply with all his inner contradictions. This positive attitude gives him an inner freedom that he never felt in his life before and he can talk about his short-comings with radical honesty yet with refreshing self-deprecating humour”

“His political beliefs are a curious mixture of liberal and conservative ideas that can’t be found in anybody else. He calls himself left wing; yet he has no patience for people who try to make society responsible for the anti-social behaviour of others. John reads everything from philosophy, to biographies and spiritual self-help books – he even enjoys reading a tabloid newspaper from time to time.”

When I read this, I was astonished. It sums me up perfectly!  [July 2017] I am unashamedly progressive in my political beliefs. Usually, left wing parties are where my loyalties lie, however, some progressive, forward-thinking conservative ideas can greatly benefit individual and society as a whole. Empowering people to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own lives is critical. For example, I like the fact that the Conservative party in the UK encourages individuals to start their own businesses, and gives them help to do so. I like to think that this would make it easier to set up an ethical business to help solve one of the most pressing environmental issues.

It’s interesting that at the sharing stage, I would have been loath to admit seeing anything “good” about the tories at all. Likewise, it would have been difficult for me to make any critical judgements about the Labour Party whatsoever. However, I now take a much more balanced approach, and can see positives (and negatives) in a variety of different political ideologies.

Taking responsibility has also led me away from the self-pittying and regressive therapies of the sharing stage. I had gradually become disillusioned with these ideas, and some of the practices were beginning to sound outlandish – even dangerous (who fancies a spot of re-birthing therapy, involving adult sized birthing canals and faux vaginal fluids?!).

Having drifted away from such sharing-level ideas, I became aware of witness consciousness. Eckhart Tolle was my biggest influence at this time and I became much more balanced and far less attached to my emotions. I practised ET’s teachings with diligence for several years, until I had my spontaneous Kundulini awakening. In the aftermath of this life-transforming event, I became intensely interested in non-dual teachings. Regarding such teachings, Tara comments:

“In recent years, advanced spiritual ‘practices’ of non-duality have gained popularity which is hopefully a sign that more people are advancing on the staircase of consciousness.”

I have read one book by a teacher called Fred Davis, which spoke deeply to me and has undoubtedly moved me forward. The author guides the reader through non-dual inquiry, and shows you glimpses of your true nature –
just like Tara demonstrates in meditation F:

“Rest in the insubstantial, space-like and boundless nature of spiritual happiness. You might feel peaceful, loving or even blissful. You are experiencing a first glimpse of your divine nature.”

This “space-like boundless nature” is exactly what I discovered when I started practicing non-dual awareness. Eckhart Tolle does talk about it – as Tara does – as the space between one’s thoughts. It was only when I started doing non-dual enquiry, however, that I really experienced this spaciousness within and without. No words can really do it justice, as it is not an “it”; it is no-thing. It is the vast space behind all thoughts.

I have repeatedly felt that Tara’s book ‘came to me’ at the perfect moment in my journey. I was drawn to it in some instinctual way. Right from the start, the parallels with my own life were astounding. I can clearly see which meditation helped me at which point in my journey. As described, I first developed witness consciousness, and after a few years I moved on to non-dualism.

Other non-dual authors were somehow lacking. As Tara describes, there are some such teachers that freely describe themselves as “enlightened”, yet appear to be at a lower stage. Tara says:

“Unfortunately, there are quite a few ‘practitioners of non-duality’ who are in fact stuck in the aloofness of the distorted responsibility stage.”

One such author; Jed Mckenna appears to be ‘stuck’ in the responsibility stage – at least in my very humble opinion. He seems to have a rather disdainful attitude towards spiritual seekers. In his book he describes meetings with pupils, openly mocking them. He seems to be lacking in compassion, and apparently forgetful of his own journey. Surely there was a stage when he felt just like his pupils? Surely compassion and love is most important when teaching students? He seems to be taking himself way too seriously and lacks humility. He repeatedly tells us about how enlightened he is. This doesn’t necessarily mean he is not enlightened, but he doesn’t seem to be able to back up his claims. My main reason for not believing him is due to his apparent lack of loving outlook. He seems to keep his distance from other people (symbolically), whereas I imagine a fully enlightened  person (or a person in a higher stage) would act in constant loving union with all living beings. It is an oxymoron;  a fully enlightened being with such flippant, such uncaring words and gestures – and so lacking in love.

UPDATE: Feb 2017 I have re-read this and realised that I am placing expectations on what ‘enlightenment’ should look like. I’ve realised that it is meaningless to make such sweeping generalisations about a state which my mind cannot even begin to grasp. All attempts to describe enlightenment will fail. Nevertheless, I still struggle with this spiritual teacher and my instincts tell me that he is not a fully enlightened being.

Another teacher repeatedly describes enlightenment as “ordinary” and joyless; bland, even. I found his teaching very confusing. He argued that if you are experiencing happiness or joy then that is NOT your true nature. These feelings are just that; feelings that you (pure consciousness) are currently aware of. If You are experiencing feelings, then there is separation and duality – there is more than one; you PLUS feelings. Joy, bliss, happiness…all these states are absent from your true, non-dual nature.

On a rational level, this does seem to make some sense, and I certainly was confused upon reading it. Were my brief glimpses of my true nature even real at all?

However, something told me that this view was lacking. My reluctance to accept it seems to be supported by Tara, who comments:

“Unfortunately, quite a few of the authors who write about this state of mind [non-duality] describe it purely from a philosophical point of view or as a dry (non-joyful) experience of non-duality.”

However,  what if your true nature IS bliss? As Eckhart Tolle puts it, when you reach higher stages of spiritual development,  you still experience feelings & emotions – happiness, sadness etc. However, these feelings “don’t go that deep anymore”. What does become apparent though, is the deep underlying bliss that IS your true nature – “the peace that passeth understanding” as Jesus says. It is not a feeling or an emotion, it simply IS your natural state.

Diagnosing a Person’s Position on the Stairway Through Their Reading Preferences

When I read the section that initially described the sharing stage, I immediately felt that the work of psychotherapist Alice Miller summed up perfectly the dynamic at that stage. I found it extremely pertinent, therefore, that Tara’s ‘famous person case study’ at the sharing stage was, in fact, Alice Miller and two other similarly influential authors. This led me to ponder if it was possible to diagnose a person’s level of development through their current favourite author or book. When I was predominantly at the obedience phase, my New Testament Bible was very important to me, and I had my own special copy which I frequently looked to for advice.

When I started reading Philosophy at University, my doubts about God and religion were given a voice by the many thoughtful philosophers I encountered.  However, the book that I instantly think of when remembering the ambition stage is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I think because of its accessible style and accompanying BBC documentaries, as well as Dawkins’ likable nature; it affected me deeply. I will never forget the Christmas it came out, our Catholic priest gave a sermon about it (about how outrageous it was)…truly the Devil’s work!

During the sharing stage, the work of Arthur Janov (The Primal Scream) and (as mentioned) Alice Miller were incredibly important to me. I found a depth and solace in these books that I had never felt before. The author of the  responsibility stage is definitely Eckhart Tolle. Without a doubt, ET was the teacher who pulled me up from the self-pittying, pillow bashing, sharing stage.

However, where does non-dualism fit? In my heart, I would say it demonstrates spiritual development from the very highest stages of the stairway – Love & Bliss – even Enlightenment. However, this is where I become confused. I certainly do not feel I have reached these levels.

However, over the last couple of months  (baring in mind I started writing this review in July 2017 – 8 months ago) I have felt another shift. I experienced great upheaval and despair for 12-14 months after my Kundalini awakening. I can now say with some confidence that this is greatly improving. This development corresponds with this new shift. I feel greater connectivity with other people and I feel great union with nature and other people – not all, but much of the time. I feel I am having heart expansions every day, and I feel effortlessly loving to all beings much of the time. However, this state has not as yet stabilised and I still have moments where I act in less-than-loving ways! I also have certain mal-adaptive behaviours which have followed me from the lower stages. This causes me confusion and – ofentimes – doubt.

As for this book – The Stairway to Heaven – I am still trying to work this out. Without a doubt, it belongs high on this list…though, I can’t necessarily place it in a stage yet. However, I instinctively feel that this is the book that joins all the different stages together. It is a book for all stages and none.

Children and Their Parents

I must admit, I am struggling with this section. When I had my daughter, I fully moved up to the sharing stage. Almost immediately, I adopted a parenting style similar to “attachment parenting”. I wore my daughter in a sling, we co-slept, I breastfed for 2 years. I baulked at any notion of baby training aka parenting guru Gina Ford. When my daughter was new born, I went to the book shop and picked up numerous books. One of which, ‘Contented Little Baby’, by Ford, suggests strict feeding and sleeping routines. One piece of advice: to “avoid eye-contact with your baby after 6 PM” still causes me disbelief. Luckily, there is a counter to these arguments.  The child psychologist, Oliver James quips that the title of Fords book should really read: “Contented Little Parents”.

Another piece of advice discusses parents who cuddle their babies too much. Ford clarifies that she is not suggesting parents should refrain from cuddling their baby altogether, simply that some parents over-cuddle their baby to meet their own [selfish] emotional needs. I believe that this latter suggestion is the most insidious of all her recommendations.

Obedience parents will already believe in their own innate wickedness, any suggestion that they are selfishly using their baby will deeply connect with these inner convictions. Even for myself, I had a few moments of self-castigation; was I using my 8 week old baby to soothe my inner pain? Was it better to just let her cry? Luckily, I came to trust my instincts; babies need closeness and tenderness as much as they need the air to breathe.

I can see where this sharing attitude is completely perfect for babies, however as babies grow into toddlers, this gentle parenting style can easily become overly permissive. Recently, I read an article about a couple from Brighton who had 2 children. They prided themselves on their permissive parenting style, and basically let them do as they liked. They had been asked to appear on ‘This Morning’ with Phil & Holly

It was actually painful to watch. One child urinated on set, and the other was shouting and jumping all over the sofa. The parents felt it was critical that the children should be allowed to express themselves, and refused to discipline them. They have a completely natural approach to parenting, only using herbs to heal medical ailments and homeschooling.

On first glance, it would appear that these parents were at the sharing stage, their naural approach to parenting seems to correspond with Tara’s description. However, I wonder if many of their traits demonstrate some innocence attributes also. They were clearly neglecting their children by failing to toilet train and for ignoring destructive behaviour. They didn’t seem to realise or care about the consequences of their permissive attitude.

The above example is an extreme one,  but having read Tara’s book, I have been keenly reassessing my motivations behind my own parenting style. I can say with some confidence, however, that I am not a permissive parent. Even when I was at the height of the sharing stage, I could still see the importance of firm boundaries. After reading The Stairway to Heaven, I was amazed to discover that I was most strongly ‘sharing’ when my daughter was a baby (0 – 2). In the book, Tara explains that a child’s ‘innocence’ stage occurs from birth until about 1 or 2. Tara says:

“The innocence phase is extremely important in children’s development because it is during this phase that they develop primordial trust in life and the ability to bond deeply with others. In order for this to happen babies must never be punished and instead receive plenty of unconditional love and cuddles.”

What amazes me so much is the timliness of my transfer to the sharing stage; right when my daughter needed it most. I was able to sense my daughter’s emotional needs and respond to them with an unconditional love that I had hitherto been unable to express. Of course, it was no coincidence that this happened. My daughter’s birth seems to have triggered something deep within me that made the transition possible. Nor is her name a coincidence: Grace. Lots of people were talking about the end of the world in 2012; the year of my daughter’s birth. I’ve come to realise that these predictions can be symbolic. Grace’s birth has been deeply symbolic for me, destroying the self-obsessed suffering of the lower stages (my old world) and introducing me to a new world of selfless love (my new world). This new world has not been without suffering and pain. However, it has been a more constructive pain – as opposed to the hopeless and pointless paid which I suffered in the lower stages.

Unfortunately, the chapter on parenting is fairly brief (perhaps there could be a parenting book in the future?). I am left with many burning questions regarding this crucial issue. I understand that children must go through each stage of development; that makes intuitive sense. However, what does it mean in practice to guide your child through the obedience stage? Since tossing Gina Ford’s tomb in the rubbish bin, I have been vociferously against any kind of child training. I am reluctant to use any behaviour modification, or pointless, arbitrary rules. That’s why I felt slightly aghast when Tara suggests using a ‘naughty chair’ to discipline unruly children. When I was at the height of the sharing stage, I was deeply against any kind of labeling, and the label ‘naughty’ was the worst of all. Naughty chairs horrified me and I refused to use them. Of course, I can see now that just because you label a child’s behaviour as ‘naughty’, it doesn’t mean you are saying the child is inherently naughty or bad. Still, the word retains a negative connotation for me, and is evidently something I need to work on.

Eckhart Tolle

Tara describes ET as being at the Bliss stage. Many people might take issue with this, believing him to be a fully enlightened being. After all,  he has described the transformation to enlightenment having happened to him – “for once and for all, in one go”. Presumably, this means that he has no further development to go. Interestingly though, Tolle has said that he does feel sadness at times, and can break down in tears at some form of suffering he has witnessed. This looks a lot like Tara’s description of the Bliss stage, where people can find they have a heightened senativity to the world around them.

Distinguishing Between Pain & Suffering at Different Levels

As previously mentioned, in the 12-14 months after I had my Kundalini awakening, I suffered immense emotional upheaval (thankfully this is improving greatly). Is this suffering from unresolved issues, rooted in the lower levels…or is it in fact the inbuilt frustation at the bliss level? As Tara puts it:

“The truth is that at the bliss stage there are still enormous challenges to be overcome. Through the experience of ecstasy a process is set into motion that confronts the person with powerful negative emotions, illusions of grandiosity, anxieties and unresolved greed that were all stored in their unconscious mind.”

After my Kundalini awakening, it seemed as though the entire contents of my unconscious mind had been made conscious. Emotional Issues that I hadn’t seen for years have come up with ferocious force to be finally dealt with and put to bed. Suddenly, parts of myself I hid from others were exposed. My most embarrassing and cringe-worthy thoughts become actual words voiced to other people. Things have certainly improved since the early months of my awakening – dramatically so.

The work I did with Tara was instrumental in helping me deal with my exploding anxiety and depression.  The sensitivity is still with me, and I need space to myself to recharge and recoup. At the same time, I do love being with other people now more than ever before. My relationships feel so much more genuine, and I often feel myself being overwhelmed by feelings of love for people I am with.

I struggle to discern which level I am now at, but I certainly do experience brief glimpses of the higher stages. I am also struck by how much of the bliss level I can relate to. For example, in discussing those at the bliss level, Tara says:

“In order to stay in the sublime experience of bliss people have to focus on the sense of wellbeing that is already there while determinedly letting go of all their negative thoughts and feelings. By focusing in this way profound states of bliss will develop. Doing this does not require any technique or method whatsoever but is more accurately described as a form of being.”

This is amazing. It describes my current meditation practice that I am striving to maintain. When I have a negative thought,  I try to revert back to the sense of pure being that I discovered from my non-dual inquiry. In the past, my aim was to switch back to a positive memory or feeling. Now though, if something unpleasant comes up (which is becoming seemingly less frequent) I try not to replace it with another thought or feeling, but rather I aim to replace it with ‘no-thing’; simple being, awareness of the spaciousness within and without.

“They also recognise that all stages of consciousness as described in this book are illusory and that the stage of bliss is available to everybody at any time”

I can relate to the above statement also – at least when I am calm and meditative. In these beautiful moments, my whole journey makes perfect sense and the feeling of wholeness and oneness is everywhere – within and without. These experiences have become ‘stronger’ and more the norm. I no longer fear getting older or dying, and life is more meaningful that I could have thought possible.

I am continuing to use Tara’s beautiful book to guide and inform me through this journey. I feel there is so much more that I could say; so many more of Tara’s ideas have such resonance and meaning for me…and for all spiritual seekers. In fact, this isn’t just a book for spiritual development, or for those interested in it; it is more profound than that.  It is a book that speaks to ALL people, wherever they are in life.

People on the first staircase might benefit indirectly, if they can find a therapist that has read and understood the book, and is therefore able to steer her client towards greater clarity and the next stairstep. Equally, Tara’s book can be of enormous benefit to those on the second staircase – as it has been for me.

This review has taken me 9 months to complete. It has changed and grown with me, and I have allowed the book to guide me and inform my actions and practises. I have grown enormously since writing the first word, and I hope I will continue to grow and be informed by Tara’s great work.