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How aware are you?


How aware are we of the world around us? Do we all perceive it in the same way? These are some of the questions that a Leeds Beckett University researcher is seeking to answer by asking the public to complete a questionnaire.

Autumn trees at Headingley Campus

Dr Steve Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett, is working with Dr Kelly Kilrea at Saint-Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, to test their idea that we all experience different types, and degrees of awareness, of the world around us.

Dr Taylor explained: “We tend to assume that the world we perceivevis the world as it is. We trust that our awareness of the world gives us a clear, objective picture of things. When we look at the natural world around us—at the sky, the sun, forests or hills—we assume we are seeing them as they are.

“This seems a reasonable assumption; but we tend to forget that our view of the world isn't clear and true, like a camera, but is filtered and interpreted through our minds, and the psychological structures within them.

“In fact, many of us see the world around us as a fairly mundane place—so mundane that we pay very little attention to it, but instead immerse our attention in activities and entertainments, or else in the thoughts inside our heads. The world seems to be a fairly incidental backdrop to the incidents of our lives.”

However the researchers are intrigued by the many different cultures across the world where people appear to have a very different vision of reality. For example, many of the world's indigenous populations perceive the world around them as an animate place with spiritual powers. Similarly, young children, as well as artists such as poets and painters, perceive the world with intense perception and are more aware of their external world and feelings than most.

Dr Taylor added: “From time to time, we all experience moments when our awareness becomes more intense. This is what we sometimes refer to as ‘higher states of consciousness’, or which I sometimes refer to as ‘awakening experiences’. These are moments when our perception become more intense and expansive than normal. There is a sense of stepping beyond the limitations of our normal consciousness, bringing a sense of clarity, revelation and wellbeing in which we become aware of a deeper (or higher) level of reality.

“Our normal state of consciousness is just one possible state of consciousness. We tend to assume that it tells us the truth about the world, just because it's the one which is most familiar to us, but this is as illogical as believing that your home town is the best place in the world, just because you spend most of your time there.”

The new research follows on from Dr Taylor’s previous research into awakening experiences: the subject of his 2010 book, Waking from Sleep: Why Awakening Experiences Occur and How to Make them Permanent, and his 2011 book, Out of the Darkness.

Waking from Sleep suggests that our normal consciousness is really a kind of sleep from which we sometimes ‘wake up’ into a more intense and complete reality: an awakening experience; and examines the methods that human beings have used throughout history to induce awakening experiences, such as meditation.

Out of the Darkness examines the phenomenon of ‘enlightenment’ following intense turmoil. The book tells the stories of more than 30 people who have undergone profound personal transformation after intense trauma and turmoil in their lives, including a young woman who felt reborn after suffering terrible injuries in the 7/7 tube bombings in London, and a recovering alcoholic who shifted to a permanent state of enlightenment after hitting ‘rock bottom’ and losing everything.

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