Writer, Artist, Teacher, Reiki Master
and Creator of 12seconds for Peace
Steve: It’s wonderful to be able to talk to you and the readers of your magazine Jessica! I am not sure that I deserve the honour, but none-the-less, I am very happy for the opportunity to talk to you about my work and the various projects that I am involved in.
Jessica: You’re multi-talented and involved in a whole variety of things – writer, artist, teacher, Reiki master and the creator for 12seconds for Peace. I know that you’re also a spiritual man and have a passion for exploring inner landscapes of the mind and world around you in many manifestations. Can you share some of your observations and thoughts about this with us. What led you down this spiritual path in life?
Steve: As a boy, it was very apparent to me that there was a lot more to life, to reality, than the mundane physical world and the hum-drum of the every day. I spent a good part of my early years exploring my own inner landscapes, which revolved largely around writing, art and a connection that I had and still do have, to an energetic quality that seemed to exist on a subtle level in all aspects of life around me. The fact that I could somehow, pick up an energetic or emotional response from say a tree or a landscape, or create an energetic resonance within me when I tapped into the emotional state or thinking processes of another person, was perfectly normal and fascinated me, but at that early age, did not strike me as being anything particularly out of the ordinary. Seeing auras and energy and ‘feeling into’ the emotional states and thinking processes of the people in my life was something very normal for me to do and I didn’t really give it much thought, but it did become apparent much later on that what I had been doing as a young boy was tapping into something that many would describe as being a part of a spiritual reality. To me then, as now, what I was doing had no more to do with spirituality than any other aspect of my life – it was purely to do with my innate sensitivity to a level of reality on a much more deep and subtle level than seemed to be the norm.
At that early age; when I was around twelve or thirteen years old, I was, however already building the internal fire of my life-long drive to explore the world of spirituality and creativity: two things that I see as being intrinsically interwoven; and this was definitely informed quite profoundly by my sensitivity to the energetic nature of everything around me. I never had much of a religious or spiritual experience in my youth however. My father used to take me and my brothers to the local church but for me this was a chore, or more like a punishment; something that just had to be got through and tolerated. It was always a relief when it was over each Sunday and I could go back to living in the internal processing of my own mind where I discovered much more about spirituality than any priest ever revealed to me. During my mid to late teens I think I hit the ‘Off’ button for a while and not only ignored whatever energetic information was filtering into my consciousness, but became actively anti-God and the whole God concept due to what I perceived as being rampant religiosity in my upbringing. I look back now and am not so convinced it was as bad as all that, but I was a teenager and I wanted something to rebel against and God was it! If you are going to rebel against something, you might as well aim big!
Eventually, during my mid-twenties it started to occur to me that maybe there was in fact something in this whole ‘God-thing’ after all. I was not prepared to swallow my pride and buy straight back into Christianity as defined by my father and the Catholic Church, but I was certain there was something out there…something bigger, grander, omnipotent. But was it God? I had no idea but wanted to find out. So began a life long exploration of religion and spirituality that has taken me through the Kabbalah, Druidic paganism, Wicca, Christianity (particularly Gnosticism), Sufism, a skirmish with Hinduism before finding a resonance within the teachings of the Buddha. I don’t for a minute believe that Buddhism is the true or only path and have found truth and profound wisdom in all of the traditions that I have explored, but for me, Buddhism speaks the most clearly.
The more that I reflect on life, the more that I feel that all parts of it and everything that we do in it, are an expression of a spiritual endeavour or search. Everything that we go through is there to teach us something, to help us progress in some way, and through contemplation and meditation, I feel that the true nature of reality can, bit by bit, slowly reveal itself. I think the truth of reality is probably that it is just as we know it, but also profoundly different at one and the same time!
My exploration and my meditations will continue for the rest of my life I guess. I have no definite goals in this. I couldn’t care less about this mind-numbingly egotistical endeavour to achieve a ‘state of enlightenment’ that seems to permeate so much of modern Western new age thinking as well as some Buddhist thought. That will come, if it ever does, when it is the right time. I am having fun just being here right now, exploring life as I find it and taking part in the adventure. That is enough.
Steve: As an artist, my first response to the world around me is a creative one. I am constantly responding to life and everything in it from the stand-point of creation and manifestation. As a sculptor, everything in the world has the potential characteristics of clay it seems to me. I find that there seems to be an inherent mutability to everything. So when I come across anything new, my primary response to it is to explore it while endeavouring to mould it in my mind into something new – to discover the inherent potential within it, to find something that it has not yet become, just as I would with any traditional sculptural material.
Two or three years ago, just after the publication of my book on Reiki and meditation, I started to get involved in social media on the internet – primarily as a marketing tool for the promotion of the book. One of the sites that I came across – now sadly gone – was 12seconds.tv. 12seconds.tv was to YouTube what Twitter has been to blogging. It allowed users to upload short video-clips of twelve seconds in duration in the same way that Twitter allows 140 characters of text. It was a very limiting format and not surprisingly in many ways, never really caught on. But it occurred to me that there was within this format a huge creative potential. I started to think about the possibility of making a video-collage by putting together twelve second video clips from around the world all based on the same theme. Bringing together different cultural, social, religious, ethnic and gender perspectives – those aspect of human existence that are usually used as levers for division. I felt that this would be a great creative and expressive act of collective intent or thought. I was thinking at this time purely in aesthetic terms – what a powerful and amazing piece of art work this could be! Then of course my dilemma was to find a theme that people from around the globe would want to buy into – what was going to motivate them to send me a twelve second video clip? Peace was the obvious choice and something very close to my heart, so the theme was set.
Of course, beyond the aesthetics of the project, it then rapidly dawned on me that the act of bringing together voices, faces and emotions from around the world, all focused on a desire for peace, would be a hugely powerful political and social act. Imagine the world coming together over one primary motivating force? It’s awesome! But more than this, because the project was conceived as essentially social-media based, these faces, voices and emotions would not be consigned to the bottom draw of a filing cabinet or fading into memory after the event, as is so often the case with signing petitions or going on street protests. These videos, the collected expression of humanity’s desire for peace, would be out there on the internet, propagated via url’s and embed codes around the globe in all sorts of formats and on all sorts of platforms, and gathering in more and more individual expressions for peace as global public awareness of the project grows. This could go on for a very long time.
So 12seconds for Peace was born in early 2010. I have to say that the response has been phenomenal. I have had videos in from rock bands in Turkey, Bollywood stars, farmers in Canada, lawyers in Lithuania, artists in the UK, housewives in Singapore, media people in the States, peace activists in Palestine…it is astonishing! This is humanity coming together, incrementally, to make their statement for peace – to let the world know that, in spite of the war-mongering efforts of those in power, the mass of humanity desire and insist on peace. Look at what has been happening in Tunisia, Jordon and Egypt in recent weeks. Look at the power that ordinary people have when they decide to gather together and push for the change that they want to see. 12seconds for Peace is however, not nationally focused but globally focused.
I think that this project has huge, unbelievably immense potential for good in the world. No other project has ever given every single citizen of this planet access to having their voice and desire for peace heard before. This is a way for every person on this planet to make a statement and join together with every other person on this planet, collectively and in a spirit of mutual desire for a more just and sustainable world, built on the foundations of a desire for peace. Peace is not so hard to achieve if we all get together and insist on it and make it happen. We have the power to do that. We have all had enough of death and destruction and it is the ordinary citizens of the world that always bear the brunt of this. 12seconds for Peace is one way that everyone can come together and make their claim for their birth-right: to live in a world free of terror.
12seconds for Peace is currently, as it was at the start, on free sites on the net with it’s core built around a blog. At the beginning I didn’t really know if it would be a success or not so I just wanted to trial it in a small way, but it has proven to be a phenomenon with many people and organizations contributing and offering their words of support and so I think the time has come to get it up on it’s own website. What the project also really needs now, more than anything is financial support to help it grow and so I am making a lot of efforts to secure funding.
The core activity of the project has always been to encourage people to make a positive statement for peace. To make their stand and let the world know that they desire peace in the world. You ask how people can contribute: It’s very simple. Make a video statement for peace in twelve seconds and email it to me at: email@example.com Whatever your level of expertise, whether the video has high production values or is shot with a web cam in a living room, it doesn’t matter. You can just sit in front of your camera and make your statement, or you can do something more creative. However you wish to express yourself is fine. The only real rule for the project – apart from the core one of it being no more than twelve seconds in length – is that the video must be pro-peace and not anti-anything and should not point the finger of blame at governments, individuals, organizations, religions or anything else. It is very simple really. I very much hope that your readers will take a look at the project and the examples of the many videos already there, and feel inspired to contribute to the project themselves. It would be lovely to have a TSM 12seconds for Peace video in fact!
Jessica: What inspired you to get into Reiki? Being a Reiki master and having extensive knowledge of this field, could you tell us a little about Reiki for people like me who don’t know much about it? And how long have you been teaching Reiki?
Steve: The story of how I got into Reiki is an interesting one. I have long had an interest in alternative therapies and various forms of complementary medicine, but for the greater part of my life, my knowledge of any one specific area was bitty and ill-formed. Then in 1992, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was only fifty two years old. Not being willing to accept the fatalistic pronouncements of the medical profession, I immediately undertook a massive research project to discover anything and anyone, wherever they happened to be in the world, that could offer any sort of help or solution for my mother. I reasoned – and still hold firmly to this belief today – that if one person on the planet has at any point managed to cure themselves of a so-called incurable illness, then that illness or disease is not incurable. It was very apparent to me from the significant number of reports published all over the world, that many individuals had, through a variety of means, managed to cure themselves of the ‘incurable’ scourge of cancer. Although my mother eventually died, she did not die of cancer. This had gone into remission – and I would add emphatically, that this was based 100% on the work that myself and the rest of my family undertook to help her.
Sometime after my mother’s death on reflecting on all that we had done, it was obvious to me that there is a power in the universe that is beyond the normal scope of our senses – something that related very closely to the energetic imprints in things that I had always been aware of since my childhood. An energetic quality that can be tapped into, harnessed and focused for the greater good of those who come into contact with it. Whether you want to call this God or the energy of enlightenment or something else doesn’t matter much – it is all the same thing. But it was clear and stark that something beyond the scientific model of reality was active in the world. I was also aware of the fact that many healing methods – now called complementary in the West, have a great deal more to offer in therapeutic intervention than Western medicine is prepared to acknowledge. I made a decision at that point to pursue a career in some form of complementary therapy. The decision having been made, I was idly flicking though the pages of a magazine and came across a one page article on something called “Reiki.” I had never heard of this before, but I was fascinated and wanted to find out more. I scanned through the small ads at the back of the magazine and found a couple, Gordon and Dorothy Bell, teaching Reiki classes over a weekend in the north-east of England. I decided to attend and see if this might be a valuable method to employ in my newly chosen career direction.
If you are not familiar with Reiki, let me tell you something about it. Reiki is a Japanese word that means ‘universal life force energy.’ Essentially, Reiki is a personal spiritual development system, but is considered by most to be just another complementary therapy – a form of spiritual healing. It is in fact amazingly effective as a therapeutic discipline and anyone can learn how to do it, but its primary purpose is as a method to improve one’s own life on all levels.
The system was invented in the early part of the twentieth century by a devout Japanese Buddhist called Mikao Usui, who drew on many energetic systems and spiritual practices to develop the discipline that came to be known worldwide as Reiki. At the core of the Reiki method is something called an ‘attunement’ and this is a sacred process that a student goes through with a Reiki Master, enabling the student to go on to practice this energy discipline for themselves and others.
I have been teaching Reiki in the UK, Lithuania and Egypt now for about twelve years and it never fails to astonish me to see the incredible changes for the better that happen in those who come into contact with it. I am hoping in the near future to expand this teaching to other countries. Partly because most of the world has not been touched by the particular teachings and tradition from which I teach and I believe that it has much to offer that is not currently available in these countries, but also because I love to travel! I have an offer to go and teach in Georgia this summer (the country, not the American State) and have also been invited to Kuwait.
Jessica: I know you also teach art. Is there a specific aspect of art that you teach or just a little of everything? And not only did you teach in the UK, but also in Egypt and Sudan (where you are now). What led you to teaching in Egypt and Sudan?
Steve: I have been teaching art for a lot of years now and love it! Alongside my writing, art is my passion. I trained as a sculptor and print maker, but in terms of teaching the subject – certainly at a school level, one can’t focus in so narrowly. So in my classes, I cover the whole spectrum from graphic arts through all the fine arts, ceramics and design – you name it, I teach it. At university level, students are much more concerned to develop their skills in a specific discipline to the exclusion of others and this is fine, so I have tended to be a bit more focused in terms of my teaching at this level. But to see some of the astonishing work that student’s do is amazing and so stimulating on a personal level. I remember putting on a show of my students work at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo – these students were at the most, sixteen years of age. At the opening, we had many professors from the local art school and professional artists also – well known names on the Cairo art scene. They could not believe that the work they were looking at was produced by sixteen year olds. It was beyond them how teenagers could ever produce such work! They were astonished and I am sure did not fully believe my assertions that all of the work on display was the student’s and not mine! But I have seen my students produce work that would not look out of place in a national gallery anywhere in the world on a regular basis.
I ended up teaching in Egypt and later Sudan simply because I wanted to go and see more of the world and I was getting thoroughly disenchanted with working and living in the UK, where it seemed to me it was necessary to work harder and harder all of the time simply to stand still both financially and professionally. So I decided to leave and take my chances elsewhere. Egypt came up purely by accident: I saw the post advertised and got it. Sudan was an interesting story however. You may recall about that in December 2007, there was a huge story in the international news about an English teacher in Sudan that had been arrested for naming a teddybear Mohammed. I saw that news item when I was back in the UK, looked the school up on the internet and found to my surprise that a friend of mine was the Principal there. So I just wrote to her and said, “I know you have a vacancy, do you want to give me a job?” and she wrote back saying, “When can you start?” so in March of 2008, I came out to Sudan and have been here ever since. Egypt and Sudan are fascinating places to live and work and I have enjoyed my experiences in both countries immensely. Where I shall end up next is anybody’s guess, but right now I am content with what I am doing, where I am.
Steve: I trained as an intaglio printmaker when I was studying for my fine art degree at Bath Academy of Art in England and started out working on some commissions for the British artist Joe Tilson for an exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London. Later I also worked on a limited edition illustrated book of the poetry of Paul Eluard. I love intaglio. I love the earthiness of the process and the starkness as well as the subtlety of the results that are possible. It’s a very hands-on sort of method of printing – very akin to sculpture in a way. It requires a lot of sensitivity in the hands when you use the traditional method of wiping the plate with your palms to polish and remove the excess ink. I also quite like screen-printing – not the machine process, but printing by hand. But for me, you can’t beat intaglio. Right now while I am in Sudan it is impossible for me to pursue this due to the lack of facilities and materials, but I hope to get back to it again as soon as I can.
Jessica: Who are some artists you admire?
Steve: There are so many! One of my favourites has to be Pablo Picasso. That man was astonishing. If you have ever seen a film of him working, it is just beyond belief the way he was able to control the paint or the ink or whatever it was he was working with, and deftly produce, without a pause, a masterpiece in a few strokes! His work is just utterly astonishing and I am in awe every time I see it. Another favourite is the American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. His colour fields are just sublime. I remember going to an exhibition of his work at the Tate Gallery in London once and I must have sat there for about four hours…just soaking them up….if you want a truly spiritual experience from art, then sit in a room full of Rothko’s chapel paintings. In terms of sculpture, I love Henry Moore – the father of British sculpture. His work just redefined everything. His ability to express something profound in the human form through sculptural abstraction was incredible. Then there is Antony Gormley who made “The Angel of the North” at Gateshead in Northern England. I just love the audacity of his work. He is almost a throw-back to the great stone-circle builders and artisans that crafted living art from the landscape – the white horses for instance all over parts of southern England. There is something profoundly timeless about his work…something deeply connected to the earth and primeval forces. I could go on. There are so many artists. I love American comic-book art also! Will Eisner is a draftsman of exceptional talent. What that man could do was astonishing – the tensions and subtleties of light and dark in his drawings for “The Spirit” were incredible. I think his best work was his later “A Contract With God” – much looser but with the same sense of a noir-esque feeling of urban decay and hopelessness.
Jessica: I always ask this question…If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why? Think I know your answer to this one already – peace around the world, right?
Steve: Actually, no it wouldn’t be peace. I think peace is where we need to head in this mixed-up world that we live in and I hope that one day we get there, but the thing that I would want to see and do my best to encourage would be compassion. Compassion for one’s fellow human beings around the world. You could say for instance that the UK and I guess the USA and also many other countries, are relatively peaceful places – at least in comparison to some other parts of the world, but I don’t see that much compassion around. Living in a peaceful country that lacks sufficient compassion is like sitting on a time-bomb. It might not have gone off yet, but it is only a matter of time. We have to learn to love and have respect for others. We have to develop the ability to see life from the others perspective; to have empathy for them. Refraining from violence simply because it serves us politically when we fundamentally disagree with another, whether it be a person or a country, because we lack the ability to see things from a different perspective to our own, is not true peace. Peace should be the offspring of compassion – there should be no other choice open but peace when we have developed a deep sense of compassion that is born of empathy. When we have compassion in the world, then peace will follow. I think that it is possible to have peace without much compassion (we have that in many places already) but I don’t think it is possible to have compassion that does not lead automatically to peace. So the development of compassion is where I would focus my efforts.
Steve: There are two really: “Getting angry with someone is like picking up hot coals to throw at your enemy: who gets burned first?” – The Buddha. And: “I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.” – Dwight D Eisenhower. The first says a lot about the harm that people do to themselves due to their lack of empathy for others and their need to control, and the latter – well I just think that the time has come. Or if not, then it is up to us all to hasten it.
Jessica: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
Steve: Really, I think that the motivating force in my life has always been and will continue to be, to develop my sense of compassion towards other human beings. I see no higher goal in life and certainly no more satisfying ambition than to be able to add substantively and qualitatively to the lives of others – on whatever level. Of course, creativity, whether it be through art or writing, is also right up there as one of my prime motivators in life. I feel trapped and helpless if I can’t create on some level and indeed, I think that the energetic nuclues of creativity is the same as the nucleus that gives rise to compassion – it is all about seeing the world in a different way to the norm – from a different perspective.
Right now I am working on a couple of websites to bring my work together, but for now, you can find out a lot about my work with Reiki on my website at: www.omahhum.org and you can find out more about 12seconds for Peace at: www.12seconds4peace.blogspot.com I hope that many of your readers will see the value and the intention behind 12seconds for Peace and feel motivated to contribute to what is a ground-breaking concept and project. We can make a difference to this mixed up world, if we stand together. It is time we let governments know that they do indeed need to stand aside and let us have peace. I can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone has any questions or wants to know more.
Jessica: Thanks again for doing this interview and wish you all the best with everything in the future.
Steve: Thank you Jessica for the opportunity to talk about my work and allowing me to bring to the attention of your readers my work on 12seconds for Peace, as well as the other things that I am involved in. It has been a real pleasure! I also wish you continued success with your wonderful magazine!