William Bloom is one of the UK’s most experienced teachers, healers and authors in the field of holistic development. His work involves exploring and clarifying the core concepts and strategies that lie at the centre of good spiritual practice. He has a doctorate in psychology, has lectured in Psychological Problems in International Politics. He is a meditation master and his books include the seminal The Endorphin Effect, Feeling Safe and Psychic Protection – and most recently Soultion: The Holistic Manifesto. He is director of The Holism Network and well known for his clear, practical and friendly style of teaching.
Q: What’s the best thing about living in the South-West?
A: I’m a Londoner and I’d always thought the countryside was rubbish. But then in 1971 I came down here with a small group of people who were helping to put together the first Glastonbury festival. I got about 25 miles from Glastonbury and something in me just chirped up – that’s the only way I can describe it. I just loved the landscape. When you live here you discover the different areas and the fact that the different hills have different atmospheres – it’s an interesting place to walk around. And I like the fact that for a town with only eight thousand people it is, in its own way, multicultural.
What’s your biggest achievement?
If you asked my partner Sabrina and the people who know me well they would probably say (and I would probably agree) that it’s the fact that I’ve developed from an aggressive, attitudinal person into someone who is quite integrated and loving. And that’s been a piece of work over decades and it’s required excruciating lessons as well as lessons that have been absolutely enjoyable.
What’s your occupation/vocation?
Basically I’m interested in exploring psychological and spiritual development and how that can fulfil individuals and the community. By spiritual, all I mean is people’s natural connection with the wonder of nature and the universe, that sense of connection and being in flow. And with the wonder usually goes the instinct to want to explore it and to unpack what it’s about.
What’s your background and how did you start on your spiritual path?
I was born writing, it’s just what I did. I understood writing and books and I became the youngest-ever commissioning editor in London when I was twenty-two. By the time I was twenty-five I had three novels published and was on my way to becoming very rich. But none of it was actually doing anything for me. I felt a deep sense, down in my gut, that my life wasn’t working. The longer I hung out in the ordinary world of media and novel writing and all that sort of stuff I was just becoming more of a prat. I was buying into it and it was not making me feel good. So, I went off for two years on a spiritual retreat.
My father, who was a psychiatrist, thought I was off on a tax dodge, he was really quite disturbed by it. But my decision was done quite thoughtfully, it wasn’t some kind of hissy fit.
What did you discover during your retreat?
That it was really worth surrendering to a commitment to just connect with the wonder and mystery of existence. How you think and feel about things is dramatically altered in a way that is exhilarating and challenging.
Hopefully you emerge with more wisdom, but there is also then the challenge of dismantling the compulsions and neurosis that can also be inflated by becoming spiritual. When people start to claim they are ‘quite spiritual’ that often goes hand in hand with certain other character traits such as being over-earnest, pompous, evangelical – that all happened to me!
So the last 30 years since then have partly been devoted to what’s called psycho-spiritual development – ie. how can you connect with the wonder of life and at the same time dismantle compulsions and neurosis and unhelpful ego in order to be a nice, decent human being whose spirituality is just a normal everyday part of life. You know, just because I talk about all this and write about it, it doesn’t mean I’m better at it than some warm-hearted person who’s pushing a trolley round a hospital who simply has a wise heart, a caring presence and intelligence embedded in them. I would honour that person perhaps more than I would honour the kind of person I am. I sometimes see myself as a remedial student. I have to put so much work into it because I had so much energy that needed healing and integrating. But I’m a happy traveller, listening all the time, trying to put stuff together.
What’s been your biggest mistake?
I’ve got quite a few, the biggest of which is being naive about the way I set up projects – I tend to allow everybody to have a say, so it just becomes an unmanageable group-soup.
What’s your greatest fear?
That the jewels and goals of spirituality get hijacked and commercialised. There are now so many workshops, books and therapies, the purpose of which is for you to achieve what you want and be happy. But that’s just narcissism and the shadow side of it all. Spirituality and spiritual development was never about getting what you want and being happy, it is in fact about expanding consciousness, building community and relieving suffering.
What drives you mad?
People who are precious or over-sentimental about spirituality. I dislike the sense that you can’t say anything critical or humorous about whatever the particular thing is, whether it’s a crystal, a deity or a sacred space etc. You should always be able to enquire and always be able to joke about it.
What gets you into trouble?
My vulgar sense of humour. I’m currently on a six-month vulgarity fast. Certain friends of mine are keeping notes and I have to put a £1 in the swear box every time I succumb.
How would you advise people to start to experience spirituality?
It’s very simple actually. Firstly, I wish everybody would pause once a day, just to connect to how extraordinary the universe and being alive is. I don’t care where or when they do that, they can do it eating a chip butty, they can do it looking at the sky driving to work, but just somewhere in the day pause and acknowledge the wonder of it all. And if I could extend that pause just a little bit, I’d like them to have the skills for allowing that sensation to be fully experienced in their body, not just as a mental cognition, but something that you actually feel. It’s the difference between a peck on the cheek and a full body orgasm.
How can people take it further?
If people are going to step onto the path of spiritual development they have to realize it will be an ongoing education that’s going to last through the decades of their life. There are no quick fixes. What they need to do is give themselves a couple of years of reading around the subject, of tasting what’s out there and what works for them and to approach the subject with some discrimination and patience. On my website is a reading list, which is a good place to start.
What’s your favourite book?
I really like one of the Hindu sacred texts, called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. I love it because it’s got some crystal-clear insights about spiritual development that are very sharp and prick many bubbles of pomposity, and it is also challenging, as parts of it are very difficult to understand.
Last cultural event?
I went to an emo gig with my daughter a few months ago and I liked the fantastic electricity of the mosh pit. It was intense and releasing and explosive.
What motivates you?
The possibility of feeling connected with the wonder of life and having that feeling embedded inside my body, so that every cell is happily humming with being alive and at the same time being the consciousness that’s loving, compassionate and intelligent. I think that’s a possible goal to go for - that’s the destination for human beings on the spiritual path and that’s what people taste when they have moments of bliss and ecstasy. All spiritual traditions have strategies that move you in this direction, whether it’s Buddhism, Christianity or whatever. There may be different stories, different mythologies and different symbols but the essence is all the same and they are all going to the same place. They are all saying “This is where you can get to” and that for me is totally attractive - a bit like a moth being attracted to a candle.
What has life taught you?
Don’t be fooled or over-stimulated by your status in society. Relax and enjoy simply being alive.
Interview by Fiona McClymont
Photograph by Jo Halladey
First published issue 52 (spring 2008)