Interview with Steve Pavlina
C4Chaos (Coolmel) recently posted a great series of articles featuring an interview with Steve Pavlina. I’m a big fan of Steve, and have a great affinity for Integral Philosophy as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview and would highly recommend reading Coolmel’s posts.
If you’re a blogger or a regular blog reader, and you’re into personal development, chances are you already know who Steve Pavlina is. Pavlina is one of the most successful bloggers to date. His website, Steve Pavlina.com — Personal Development for Smart People, receives around two million visits a month reaching people across 150 countries.
The success of Pavlina’s site can be attributed to his uncanny personality and his no non-sense approach to the topic of personal development. Pavlina is the type of person who is willing to test out almost anything, using himself as the test subject. From his lifestyle choice of veganism, to his adventures in Polyphasic sleeping, to his exploration of psychic development, his purpose is the same: to find the most effective ways of doing things and share them with others. Pavlina’s purpose in life is this:
to live consciously and courageously;
to enjoy, increase, and share peace, energy, passion, and abundance;
to resonate with love and compassion;
to awaken the great spirits within others;
and to fully embrace this present moment.
That’s why I’ve always referred to Pavlina as the kick-ass personal development bodhisattva!
During the past week, Steve was kind enough to take some time to grant me this interview. Initially, I sent him the usual set of questions I ask in this B-SCAN series. To my surprise, it was Steve who suggested that I ask the questions that matter to me and that I don’t hold back. So I revised the questions and included those which are “controversial.”
Steve did not disappoint me with his thorough and insightful answers. We’ve covered such topics as: his philosophy in life, his response to (and constructive criticisms of) the integral community and the Integral theory, his spiritual life and his approach to psychic development. In this interview you will see Steve talk in “integralese,” share his experience with “temporal meditation,” and openly talk about his psychic experiences. Some of the things he said will either blow your mind or strengthen your conviction that Steve is way out there. I’ll leave it to you to decide and do your own interpretations. But for me, personally, I’ve learned a lot from my interaction with Steve. He has confirmed some of my personal beliefs and concerns about the integral approach. He has inspired me to challenge my existing beliefs. He has reminded me of how important it is to stay open-minded and not get trapped in a model of reality no matter how more embracing that model of reality is. In the end, this interview turned out to be better than I expected because of Steve’s genuine openness.
This is the longest B-SCAN interview ever! All in all it’s 7,500 words! So I logically broke up the interview into three parts.
And now, here is the first part of B-SCAN with Steve Pavlina.
B-SCAN with Steve Pavlina: Part 1: On Blogging, Veganism and Spiritual Practice
*** What’s your philosophy in life and how do you apply that to your blogging?
My basic philosophy is that life is what we choose to make of it. This is a personal choice with no inherently right or wrong answers. That personal choice is, “What kind of life do I wish to experience?”
There are two primary ways this question can be answered: consciously or unconsciously. Either way we’re making a choice, but in the first option we strive to become aware of that choice and why we’re making it.
I stumbled upon this choice when I was 19 years old, sitting in a jail cell, having been arrested for felony grand theft. As I sat in jail for three days, I had nothing to do but think. I realized that my own choices led me to this point, and I also realized no one was coming to rescue me. If I didn’t like the path I was on, it was up to me to choose a different one. In that moment I make a real, committed decision to turn my life around. I knew that regardless of my past actions and my present circumstances, in any moment I was free to make new choices, but only if I retained awareness of this power. I owe everything that’s happened since to that conscious choice made by a scared 19-year old kid, sitting in a jail cell.
One of the key realizations I had was that we can give up control, but we can never give up responsibility for our lives. Ultimately you’re the one who must enjoy… or merely endure… your life.
Today my role is to assist, guide, and support those who want to live consciously. Blogging has certainly been a great outlet for doing that, but the message is more important than the particular medium.
Through my writing and speaking, I endeavor to challenge people. I push people to question their beliefs and reexamine their motives. I write about many controversial topics to polarize people into deciding what’s best for them. I don’t aim to convince people to agree with me. My role is to keep them from falling asleep. Sometimes I can do that with a gentle nudge; other times I aim to give people a stronger kick in their complacency. Some people resist those pushes on one level even as they invite them on another, so I do get the occasional backlash, but that’s to be expected. When people awaken to discover they’ve been living in a jail cell of their own creation, they’ll often attack the person who points it out to them.
The purpose of my blog is to help people grow, specifically to help them make more conscious decisions and to understand why they’re making them. If you read some of the articles from my site, they’ll challenge you to consider a variety of different perspectives. Some of those perspectives will seem foolish to you, some will seem brilliantly insightful, and still others will appear contradictory. Everyone responds differently to each article. Ultimately your growth experience will be a personal one.
Since I want to positively impact as many people as possible, all of the content on the site (600+ articles and 19 audio recordings and counting) is freely accessible. There are also free discussion forums to help you get extra support and encouragement on any topics that interest you: spirituality, relationships, health, … even technical skills and psychic development.
I do my best to write articles in conversational English. I lose some precision by doing that, but it makes the content more accessible to a global audience. I also write fairly long articles for a blogger, about 2000 words each on average, so I can cover topics in sufficient depth.
I’m totally accepting of the choices people make, and no matter what path you’re on, my site is open to you. If you consciously choose to be a Christian fundamentalist, I want to support you in that choice. If you determine that making money is the most important thing to you in life right now, I want to support you in that too. If you want to be like Darth Vader when you grow up, I’ll support you in building your Death Star.
I believe that when we commit to mastery of conscious living, we’re naturally drawn to a path of serving the highest good of all, even if we must take a circuitous path to get there. Consequently, I see all of us as equals on this path. I don’t consider any human life to be a mistake or a tragedy, regardless of the judgments our social conditioning would encourage us to harbor. All of us serve the expansion and exploration of consciousness itself.
*** What’s your main spiritual practice? How often do you practice it?
These questions contain a hidden assumption — that our spiritual lives are somehow separate and distinct from our physical lives. Spiritual compartmentalization may be common, especially among integral enthusiasts, but it’s not a practice I’d recommend.
I regard my entire life as my spiritual practice, every moment of every day. This doesn’t mean I sit around meditating all day. It means I see the physical world as a projection of the non-physical, a projection of spirit itself. Our 3D reality is the physical manifestation of the contents of consciousness.
Spirituality isn’t something you check off your to-do list each day: “OK, I did my meditation. Time for breakfast.” If you are in fact a spiritual being, then your life is your spiritual practice. Trying to compartmentalize it – to bind it in time and space – implies that there are parts of your life where spirit is absent. But spirit is ever-present; only your awareness of it can be absent.
If you’re feeling very disconnected spiritually, then engaging in certain practices like meditation, inquiry, and introspection can help you re-connect. But in my opinion, this should only be a transitional process, not a permanent one. You may have some great “spiritual” experiences while in a state of deep meditation, but your challenge is to develop the ability to bring that awareness to all parts of your life. To pass through the dualistic experience of spirituality, you must eventually recognize that the physical world is a projection of the non-physical. There is no physical universe without consciousness. To cast a shadow, you must have a light source.
Even though you have a physical body, that body is just a projection of consciousness. It is the avatar of consciousness, the first-person lens through which the contents of consciousness can be experienced and explored. Just because you don’t readily grasp the spiritual logic behind your physical world experiences doesn’t make the underlying non-physical patterns irrational or nonexistent. The inability to sense the physical as a projection of the non-physical is an indicator of the limits of your understanding of the non-physical.
Maintaining the notion that the physical and spiritual are somehow distinct and separate is the equivalent of mistaking one of your dreams for a physically real experience while at the same time noticing that something doesn’t seem quite right. In both cases this state is the border between accepting the dream as real vs. becoming lucid and realizing it’s just a dream. You are no more your physical body than you are your dream character.
Your entire life is your spiritual practice. If you meditate deeply and then go to work at a job you consider totally non-spiritual, the job is just as valid a practice as your meditation is. Both reveal to you the contents of your consciousness, but each in different ways.
Managing your life in such a way that your physical existence is congruent with your deepest spiritual values isn’t easy, but that’s precisely what you’re here to do. If you really want to honor your spiritual existence, there’s no escaping this call.
*** When did you become a vegan? Why?
I went vegetarian in 1993 and then vegan in 1997. As for why I made these changes, I wrote a detailed article about that here: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/09/why-vegan/
Basically while I was in college, I decided to conduct a 30-day trial of vegetarianism to see what it was like. I liked the results and never ate animals again. Four years later I did a 30-day trial of veganism, this time with my girlfriend, Erin, now my wife of 9 years. We both liked the results and never went back. Our kids, ages 3 and 7, have been vegan since birth.
I’d be lying if I said I made these changes for spiritual or ethical reasons. My original motivation was curiosity more than anything else – I wanted to know what it was like. After each of my 30-day trials, it was a no-brainer to make these changes permanent because of the increase in energy and mental clarity I experienced.
In the years after going vegan, I gradually embraced a more cruelty-free lifestyle. Last year I began wearing shoes and belts made without animal products (purchased from VeganEssentials.com). I completely lost my taste for animal products and began having a greater appetite for fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Most of the food I consume today is organic as well.
Over time these lifestyle changes began to stir greater feelings of compassion within me, and I felt a stronger sense of kinship with all life. I started seeing animals as equally significant elements of consciousness, not subservient to human beings but rather an inseparable part of them. To me a cat and a chicken are equally worthy creatures – I find it rather incongruent to make one a pet and the other a meal.
From an objective viewpoint, I regard cruelty towards humans and animals as a dualistic, us vs. them approach to life. On the subjective side, I see the existence of such behavior as a reminder to continue deepening my own sense of compassion.
*** As a long time reader of your blog, I noticed that you cover a lot of topics and you tend to shift from the mundane, to the practical, to the esoteric. You seem to cover different levels of consciousness in your writings. So I wonder how you do it. Where do you get your energy and inspiration? Do you have any writing practice that you follow?
My site receives almost two million monthly visitors spread across 150 countries. That’s a diverse group. If I write only for a narrow range of readers, I’ll severely limit the site’s effectiveness.
Some people happen upon my site while deeply depressed, financially struggling, on the verge of divorce, and terribly confused. Other visitors are experiencing just the opposite. One person told me he found this site while searching for ideas on how to kill himself, since he’d decided to commit suicide. Somehow he stumbled upon one of my articles and kept reading. He read for six hours straight, and by the time he was done, he’d already begun to make some positive changes. On the other hand, some of my visitors are at very high levels of spiritual development and want to learn more about topics like alternative ways of perceiving reality, experiment with intention-manifestation, or pursue psychic development. Everyone has different growth needs, and I want to provide resources that will challenge and assist people at all levels.
I’d say the energy and inspiration for these articles comes through me rather than from me. I’ve never had an issue with writer’s block. What I experience is more like writer’s diarrhea. Ideas seem to take possession of me, and I know they won’t let go until I record them. Even though I only post a few articles a week on average, a great deal of thought goes into each one. Often when Erin and I are out to dinner, I have to stop and record ideas that start flooding my mind. I often point towards the ceiling and say, “Sorry, but they aren’t done with me yet.” Fortunately Erin is very understanding of this.
In terms of writing practice, I don’t write at any fixed times. Sometimes I’ll begin an article at 5am, and other times I’ll start one at 8pm. When I get a surge of inspiration, I’ll spend about 30-60 minutes recording the ideas that are coming through. It’s all stream of consciousness. Then I’ll spend a few hours analyzing, reconsidering, and structuring those ideas into a coherent piece. This includes adding analogies and personal stories to make abstract ideas more comprehensible. Then I’ll usually set it aside for a day and make another editing pass, which includes adding subheadings, doing a spell check, and crafting a suitable title if the article still needs one. Then when I hit the Publish button, the typo gremlin on my web server gives it one final pass.
Usually within an hour after posting, people begin commenting on the article in the forums, and I also receive lots of feedback via email. Some articles get a few dozen comments; others generate hundreds. Over the next couple days as the feedback piles up, I’ll usually interact with forum members to respond to questions and clarify key points as time permits. I also add ideas for future articles to my “to blog” list. Processing this feedback can be a growth experience in itself. I really enjoy and appreciate the direct interaction with my readers.
At any one time, I usually have 100-200 article ideas on my “to blog” list, so I can’t see myself ever running out. The hard part is choosing what to write about next. Sometimes I’ll write one-off articles, but usually I like to pick a particular area of interest and cover it through a series of related articles over a period of weeks.
With respect to shifting levels of consciousness, that’s something I enjoy quite a bit. When I begin a new article, I visualize the person who suggested that topic, or I imagine a certain type of person as the intended reader. I try to get inside their head and understand what challenges they’re facing and how I can help. Then I consider how I can help them right where they are. If I’m imagining a college student who has trouble oversleeping, I’ll write from that perspective. If I’m imagining a new agey reader while I write on some spiritual topic, I’ll include new age analogies and examples. If I’m writing for a technical audience, I’ll include examples from when I ran my software company.
Switching perspectives as I do tends to frustrate those who mistakenly assume I’m writing from a fixed perspective, but overall I find it extremely effective. It allows me to help a lot more people than I would otherwise. Some readers end up drawing some amusing conclusions about me, but that doesn’t bother me. My intention is to stimulate conscious growth in those whose lives I touch, not to build an empire of righteousness.
(to continue see B-SCAN with Steve Pavlina Part 2: On Integral Theory, The Law of Attraction and Subjective Reality)