Steve Ford - An Invitation to Being
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: It’s interesting how we find our guests. We do very much respond to ideas. We were told, “There’s this guy Steve and he lives in Slough; he does talks on Friday nights…” After a time I tracked him down, Renate and I went to a talk - it was a very interesting evening - and I invited Steve along today to talk about himself and also what his experience of reality is.
So, Steve, you gave me some notes beforehand, and one thing that interested me was that you did have some experiences when you were quite young, and I just wondered if you could describe those experiences a bit?
Steve: Yes, they were childhood experiences; I would call it childhood contemplation where, as a child, my identity wasn’t as strongly formed. So there were times - maybe because I was quite artistic, or maybe because I would imagine or play with imagination… And I remember one day just contemplating on existence; contemplating “What if the world had never come into existence?”
Iain: That’s a very deep thought for a child.
Steve: And there was this playing around with imagination; there was just this idea of what would life have been like if it had not come into being, if something hadn’t happened and then there wasn’t the world. I was just thinking on this, and suddenly it was like a koan - you know, a Japanese koan, where you go beyond mind. Suddenly there was just a profound silence. I went into a space where there was just existence: no people, no world; there was nothing. And I remember the sense of enormity; there was a real sense of vastness within that. And then suddenly I came back into the world [laughing].
So there was that experience, and it’s funny because, at the time, I didn’t think it was amazing or anything like that. It was only years later, when I came into Being, when there was the rediscovery of who I really was, that I could look back and think, “Yes, it was there”. And it was that touch of Being.
Iain: And did you try to talk to your parents or other kids about it?
Steve: No, no, no, it was normal, you know.
Iain: You thought other kids experienced the same thing, basically?
Steve: Yes. As a child I would just go on journeys, fantastic imaginative journeys. There was another incident when I was about twenty, coming back from Paris on the train, and I remember just looking into the sky and then contemplating the infinite space, the world going on and on forever. And suddenly the mind just disappeared, and there was, again, that touch of Being, that sense of vastness. Then it went. But, again, I didn’t talk to anyone.
Iain: And then you found out, when you were about eighteen years old, that your father wasn’t your real father, and that triggered something in you, didn’t it?
Steve: Yes, it did.
Iain: It was quite a shock for you.
Steve: It was a shock. It was very sudden, and I don’t think anyone expects that kind of news.
Iain: That’s a huge thing to find out.
Steve: Well, it was, and there are reasons why that was huge for me. Looking back, I can see now what happened. At the age of eighteen, I was told, “You know, your father’s not your real father”. It was a real blow, a shock, and the reason for that was because, all my life, I’d always looked up to my father, and there was a lot of identification going on. I would look at my father as a kind of role model. I looked up to him and often, growing up, I would say things to my mum like, “I’m like my father, like Dad”. I would seek that kind of affirmation, but it never came.
So, when I found out that my father wasn’t my real father, yet my other brother was his legitimate child, very quickly there was this real sense of loss. There was also a sense of, “It’s all been a lie”. My life up until then had been a lie, because I’d invested a lot in trying to be like my father. And then there was the sense of feeling foolish as well, because in my family (which is quite a big family) everyone knew, except me. That was a huge blow to the identity. And where I’d been up until that point, trying to identify with my father, suddenly there were gaps, suddenly there was, “But I’m not him!”
Iain: So you saw yourself partly as an expression of your father?
Steve: Absolutely. At the age of eighteen, there’s a real sense of wanting to become someone, whether it was going to be an artist or a carpenter. I think my father played a big part in that, because I looked up to him and, in some way, I wanted to take after him. But suddenly there were just gaps. Where I tried to be like my father there was suddenly a gap. In that gap there was a loss that didn’t reflect who I was. So where it didn’t reflect who I was, there was then a searching: “Who am I then?”
Iain: So how did this impact on you on a practical level?
Steve: Practically, suddenly I didn’t know who I was; there were these feelings of, as I said, foolishness. I felt like there was a huge sense of betrayal as well. There was a lot of anger and a lot of unanswered questions. My whole history then came under review. I went into the world on a practical level at the age of eighteen, away from my family, angry, and thinking “Who am I? I need to find myself! I can’t take who I thought I was, so who am I?”
So then I started to look at aspects of myself that I’d kind of pushed down or pushed aside, so as to be like my father. One of those things was my artistic ability, and I went to night college and I began learning and just exploring art; and also I began to read copiously. But at the same time something else happened: I began drinking at the age of eighteen. I began drinking on what it was that I wasn’t able to deal with - and that was the feelings I had around finding out about my father, which were very big. That’s how it was.
Iain: So you started drinking. And I then know from what you told me previously, it got quite serious and you ended up looking for help with the twelve-step programme.
Steve: I did. I drank for a few years and my drinking progressed and it started to really impact on my life. All sorts of things got distorted because, what I didn’t find in myself, I kind of compensated for in alcohol. Alcohol gave me a false sense of self in a way…
Iain: It gave you a false sense of self?
Steve: Absolutely. It was something outside myself, that I put in myself. It dis-inhibited all the fear, all the inadequacy that I felt, and it gave me a sense of ease with myself. But the thing was, I started to experiment with who I was whilst drinking, and everything then got distorted because, ultimately ,everything always came back to the alcohol. It was just a mess. So at the age of twenty-seven, I found myself in a twelve-step fellowship programme.
Iain: OK. A big step to actually say, “I need help”.
Steve: It was a huge step, and this is just so interesting, because with alcohol, so much is invested. It’s not just a drink - it’s everything that it’s helped you with; and for me, it was my whole personality, everything I was trying to do. Without drink, it would all just come apart. And on some level, I knew that if I didn’t drink then there was something disastrously wrong, and I hadn’t wanted to look at that. But the thing is, in the end, at the age of twenty-seven, I came to realise that, really ,I knew I had to deal with this. And I went into a twelve-step fellowship and I put the drink down. That was nearly fourteen years ago.
Iain: So, to start with, from what I understand, you were going there to try and sort yourself out, sort your personality out and make life more smooth, more liveable. But you actually discovered something else, didn’t you? One day, something quite dramatic happened.
Steve: Something really dramatic, yes. I’d been working with the twelve-step programme for about three and a half years, and in that time I’d taken on board the suggestions that they’d given me - which are amazing, because it’s a wonderful structure which allows you to review your inadequacies, your thoughts, your feelings, your fears, resentments, etc. And it also gets you to look at your needs, your human needs, and how to get them met in a good way.
But working the programme gave me a perspective that came from a programme. It came from a prescribed way of looking at life. So, if something came up for me - a fear, an inadequacy - I could look at it from that perspective, and it was fine. I could look at it on a mental level, on an emotional level, and things would sort themselves out.
But after about three years, there was something on a deeper level, something gnawing at me, and something about the programme wasn’t working. Although it was working on a mental and an emotional level, I was beginning to realise that I was relating too much from it - I wasn’t relating from who I really was.
Iain: So your reference point was the programme, rather than…
Steve: Absolutely, rather than who I am, who Steve is. I started to feel uncertain. Whereas before the programme gave me certainty, it kind of stopped working. There was something else, something deeper. I found that when I was at a meeting sharing, I’d started to become tongue-tied, or I started to become conscious again of myself. And I felt uncomfortable and I felt that dis-ease in me. I couldn’t understand that; I didn’t then know what to do. It was quite a scary place, because I thought the programme worked on all these levels.
And at the same time I was at college doing an access course; I was looking to go to university and study theology [laughing]. I was very much searching and wanting to know what the answer was. I was studying psychology and sociology, and I was very intense and [laughing] other students were like, “Just take the notes - take the notes down and chill out”. But I didn’t know who I was; I didn’t know where I was coming from. I was searching for something but I didn’t know what I was searching for. There was just something in me, driving me.
Then, one day, there was a class tutor teaching sociology - her name was Sheila, an amazing teacher; she got me. At the end of the class, when everyone had left, I was still there, and I was still debating about something and it was quite intense. And she just looked at me and she said to me, very straight, very matter of fact: “Stephen, you’re not your thoughts or your feelings”. And I shut up and… oh, it’s quite emotional because...
Iain: No, I understand.
Steve: She took a risk. She stopped me mid-flow. She said, “You’re not your thoughts or your feelings”. And it stopped me. I didn’t know how to react to that, on a mental, emotional level or whoever I thought I was; I couldn’t respond to that. She just totally shut me down, in a good way [laughing]. She stunned me, and I walked away. And when I walked away, I knew there was something right in there. I knew that what she said was true, and I was OK with that because, for me, up until that point, working the programme, being in recovery, everything was under review. I wasn’t that defended, I was more broken than anything.
After that, my dilemma got worse. I started to feel really not settled in myself. I stopped going to meetings, and I stopped going to college. I was in a predicament.
And one evening… this is when it happened in one evening for me. It was late, it was at night. I was unhappy, I knew something was wrong, I couldn’t see a way out of it. And I thought to myself, “What haven’t I done?” And, looking over the past three and a half years, I could see that I had done loads. I’d worked the programme and I’d worked on myself, I’d been to college, I’d integrated in certain ways. But I thought, “What haven’t I done?” Because something in me just wasn’t living, something in me was dead. And I thought what I must do is look through quickly what is it I haven’t done. And I went through the twelve steps - step one, step two, step three - and I thought, “What is it I haven’t done? Have I skipped something?”
And I got to step three and, in step three, it talks about handing over our will and our life to a power greater than ourselves. And, straightaway, I realised that I haven’t done that, I haven’t done that! I’ve used my will on a mind level, the twelve-step programme on a mind level, I’ve used it on self, OK! But when I saw the step three again I thought, “I haven’t handed over my thinking and my feelings”. And I remembered what my sociology lecturer Sheila had said. She’d said, “You’re not your thoughts, or your feelings”. So I thought - and I knew. There was a knowing, and there was a profound knowing as it resonated deeply. And it was like, “OK, I need to do this”.
And up until then I’d not been around teachers as such; I’d never studied non-duality. I wasn’t looking for enlightenment or awakening in that sense - I was just looking to get honest, because I wasn’t feeling honest within myself. Even though I’d worked the programme doing all these wonderful things, there wasn’t a core honesty; there was instead a relating from all these aspects, but not from me. So, there was a real profound sense of this is what I need to do.
I found myself in the middle of the floor and I just got on my knees and I just knew that I had to let go of my thinking and my feelings; my whole reference point to what I saw as reality, the whole perceptual field of reality that I had - let it go. And for me that was what happened and it’s the way it happened for me, that I sometimes talk about in meetings.
But my experience was that, in letting go, I first had to accept. It was just a real knowing in me as I was there. I had this real acceptance of who I’d really become. Instead of doing, instead of ‘relating from’, I just accepted. So, I went from a doing, to an acceptance, which is different. I’d been ‘doing’ for years. Suddenly I just accepted who I was, self-acceptance. And it was like a prayer to life. I saw, This is who I’ve become, and who I’ve become is someone who doesn’t rate themselves highly, someone who doesn’t like himself, a person with low self-worth, a person who doesn’t know who they are, and I knew this, really. And that’s what I gave back, and there was just an acceptance of what I’d really become in my core.
And, as I did this, on a very profound level, because it was a very profound Yes, OK, there was pain as well, there was a sense of fear, but there was an ‘OK-ness’, there was a sense of ‘OK’. It was like, if you can imagine… it was a letting go.
Then suddenly there was like a full force. I could feel my thinking, the mental... just full force. I remained as awareness. Instead of engaging with it, as awareness there was consent, and it just went, lifted. All this mental activity lifted and there was an opening. Up until that point, I’d only related from my mind, from my thinking, and suddenly it’s going. And in that moment, there was a silence descending, and then there was a stillness; and in that openness, that stillness, there was no thinking. Then from that stillness, from that silence, there was a realisation… very much on a mental level, there was a realisation that I’m not thinking, but I’m aware.
Iain: So, it was a realisation of “I’m not thinking” rather than the thought of “I’m not thinking”?
Steve: There was no thinking. There was a realisation of My thinking is gone, but I’m aware. There was a realisation, and the realisation was just like an openness, there was an opening. It was very much on a mental level, but it was just open, no thinking. And it was very profound and, suddenly, where there was this openness, there was no investment. There was no energy being put into this space; there was no thinking; there was no attachment; there was something detached. And there it was - just seeing, without thinking.
Then, where there was no more investing in that, suddenly what happened for me was there was a dropping. Suddenly, from that place, there was a coming down, and I could feel something like a whirlwind in my heart area, I could feel a vortex. And as I was coming down into this, there was a realisation or something and it just said, “This is what you’ve been running away from all your life”. Because, as this vortex started to expand, there was like a pain - but it was a clean pain, it was a heart pain, but a pain without any story, without any attachment, without any mental or egoic consciousness pulling it. Suddenly, it came in on itself, the heart began to open and there was this pain. There was the realisation, “This is what you’ve been running away from all your life” - and my whole life had been built on this. So then there was a consent, just like with the mental. As it went, there was an OK and then, as it went down, there was the sense… and then as it started to open, there was... there was a not knowing, and in that not knowing there was… I could either go mad, or I may die. But I was so broken I went “OK” [laughing]...
Iain: [laughing] There’s not much option...
Steve: There was no option.
Iain: ...you’d either go mad or you’d die.
Steve: Yes. I was going beyond what I knew.
Iain: Yes, I understand.
Steve: You see, the mental awareness, the mental opening, was just like a mental seeing; there’s no thinking. But then, to go beyond your knowing into the realms of unknowing, the heart then needs to open, and mine opened. Suddenly I said, “OK”. And the next thing you know, I’m just coming to. And when I came to, there was tremendous presence; it was just this amazing opening. And from this opening I could see, but it wasn’t seeing from the ‘me’, it wasn’t seeing from the perceptual points I’d had before. It was seeing from consciousness. And when I could see from consciousness, it was like I was seeing from presence, seeing from Being. I just opened up and then, in that moment… I remember realising no one could have shown me this.
Iain: But when you say you were seeing from presence, from Being, were these words you understood at the time, or was it your interpretation now, looking back on it? Because I imagine it’s so radical, what happened, that maybe you didn’t fully have a comprehension of what was happening.
Steve: No. When it first happened, the only interpretation I had at the time was via the self, via what I had known in life. So as it opened, all I knew was... There was suddenly a sense of no time, there was an eternal sense, a timeless sense from this place. When I felt that, I remember knowing eternity and knowing that eternity is the Absolute. But from it there is the expression, there is ‘Steve’. But in the Absolute and in the expression, they’re One. So was the sense of eternity. There was the sense of intimacy, the sense of God, but not God as in a personal God but as an absolute consciousness.
That’s just how I saw it then. I guess it’s got more refined as time’s gone on when I talk about it. But at the time, there was realising as Jesus Christ or Buddha when they spoke about the ‘kingdom’, or they spoke about ‘awakening’; I saw things and they just fitted. But the experience itself was just... there was just this amazing place... this amazing place of Being.
Iain: And this basically all happened in one evening?
Steve: All in one evening, yes.
Iain: And so you went to sleep, and the next morning you wake up and you open your eyes and it’s still there as it was?
Steve: Still there, still there. And it was still there, and I was really happy [laughing] that it was still there. And I remember going out in the world, walking down the high street in Slough. I remember seeing from this eternal place, seeing from consciousness, where there was no image of who I was. That had gone; the abstract sense of ‘Steve’ had gone. There was just this seeing from the most intimate realm of Being, from love, from God, and seeing from this place realising there’s no image anymore. And that I found fantastic, that there was not this image of who I thought I was.
Iain: So when you say ‘image’, there wasn’t an interpretation...
Steve: No interpretation whatever.
Iain: ...through the mind?
Iain: You saw images as such, but you didn’t interpret them as
“That is the shop” and memories come.
Steve: No, no, not by association. Absolutely not. There was just a seeing. The way I interpreted things at the time was that there was a true-self and a false-self. The very core of Being was the true-self, Being was like pure mind – consciousness. I could see that I had, on a conscious level, the faculty to reflect Being. I could see that the true nature of the mental faculty is to reflect Being, honesty; to allow it.
Iain: And was that reference point experienced… whatever we call it, was it continual, or did you go through days where you lost it, or you reverted back to the old Steve?
Steve: In the beginning there was just being alone with that, because I didn’t know anyone who’d had this experience. When I would try to explain it to people, especially being within a twelve-step programme and going to the fellowships, I thought I’d meet people who had had the same experience and there’d be a connecting... there’d be the next level of recovery.
Iain: So you thought this was part of the programme?
Steve: Absolutely. Because at that time, for me, it was just pure honesty coming from this place. Pure honesty, which is really who you are as consciousness. But I found that I didn’t find people who’d had this experience, and I began to think maybe it’s different for everyone. But for me, there’s always been a sense of seeing from that place; always seeing from a place of consciousness that’s not necessarily stuck to form.
Iain: So I asked you this question in terms of when you discovered your father wasn’t your real father. I ask you the same question: how did this experience impact on your life practically?
Steve: Oh, like the Beingness? Oh, it was liberation, it was freedom.
Iain: I mean how... I’m really interested in life... because you had a job presumably?
Steve: Sorry. You mean integration?
Iain: ...day-to-day life?
Steve: In the beginning, I found the first thing that dropped away was my self-obsession about how other people saw me, and that constant mind stuff about “What am I like, what am I doing?” That just all went, and in its place there was a silence. I found it easier to be with people. I could see that where I was seeing from, this place of Being, is non-judgemental and it’s indestructible. And I just felt easy, I could rest in that.
Iain: So it’s indestructible?
Steve: Yes. It’s indestructible, yet at the same time very vulnerable. But with consciousness, what I’ve found is, it needed grounding. What I’m talking about is coming back into the self and allowing the self then to honour consciousness and consciousness to be within the self. That takes time.
Iain: You see, when you use the word ‘self’… I just want to get this clear. You use the word ‘self’ as Steve the unique expression of Beingness, as opposed to how we normally talk about the self, which is the personality?
Steve: No, not the personality.
Iain: I say we normally talk about the self as the personality, but you’re now using the word ‘self’. You describe it.
Steve: What I mean by the self is that, within the self, we have the capacity to think, to feel, to touch - physicality, sensuality, sexuality, all these things. And what I’ve come to know, or what I’ve come to experience, is that this is our portal of consciousness. Consciousness comes through us, and I find that the self can still have old ideas, old patterns, old thoughts, habits... but as consciousness, consciousness invites it all in. And, as it invites it in, then there’s change, because the true movement comes from consciousness, it comes from Being, not the outer [the world].
If you’re stuck in the self, trying to change the self, the self can’t change. But, as consciousness within the self, there is integration. Coming back into the self - not into the ‘me’, not into the personality, or who you think you are, but just coming back into the world.
A huge part of my awakening was rediscovery. I remember rediscovering my mental capacity. Instead of being stuck to it, I could see it, and it’s amazing I could play around with thoughts [laughing]. I could play around with thinking instead of being just stuck to thoughts and thoughts being defended as identity. And then relating from that outer identified reality means you’re not really relating, or seeing from true nature. Consciousness is one’s true nature, not thinking. But thinking can become something that can embody consciousness.
Iain: You mention that, to start with, there was no one you could really talk to about this. Because you went back to the twelve-step programme and said, “This has happened” - but it wasn’t actually other people’s experience. How long was it before you could actually sit down with someone and you could recognise actually… “Ah, this has happened to someone else”?
Steve: I mean, truth is everywhere, I could recognise truth in things. But the first ‘recognition’ I got was… I think it was 1999 or 2000, when I saw The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle...
Iain: The Eckhart Tolle book, yes.
Steve: I’d stopped reading books; I stopped searching once I’d started relating from consciousness. But people were talking about this book, The Power of Now, and I had a look at it. And I could clearly see this guy Eckhart Tolle had had an awakening. He’d had the realisation. But that was a book. I hadn’t spoken to anyone. It took seven years before I met someone and actually sat down, and when I spoke about the consciousness, they said, “Yeah” [laughing]. That was seven years ago, I think. I was hanging around, just doing my own thing, bringing up kids, working.
Iain: But you were happy during that time?
Steve: I was happy; I mean nothing’s ever taken that away from me, this knowing of who I am, yes.
Iain: And now you give talks...
Steve: I do.
Iain: ...how’s that?
Steve: Well, it’s interesting because it’s not something I planned to do. It’s something that just happened. I met some people about two and a half years ago, someone recognised that what I spoke about came from a real experience, and this person invited me to come and meet some of his friends, and I came to realise these people were seekers. I’d never met seekers before, and these people were very exact in what they wanted to know. And as I got to know some of these people, I could really see what they were looking for in regards of what had happened to me. And the next thing you know, we’re meeting once a week [laughing] and just talking in Being. Just being and talking and exploring consciousness within that. Talking about where I see from is what people like to hear, or connect with.
Iain: Steve, there’s going to be people watching this programme who want… they feel they want to have happen to them what happened to you. What would you say to them?
Steve: It’s funny, isn’t it? Because I said to you earlier on, “Nobody could have shown me this”.
Iain: I realise that, yes.
Steve: But the only thing that I did was nothing, I stopped. Acceptance, self-acceptance. Being accepts everything. In accepting something and not investing in it, it just undoes, and it reveals its true nature. All I can say is self-acceptance - it seems to be a huge key and, in accepting, there’s a stopping; and after the stopping there’s a revelation, or a seeing, yes.
Iain: It sounds very easy.
Steve: It’s easy, but it’s really difficult.
Iain: [laughing] I think it probably is. Do you feel that in our own way, most of us do have a taste of this in our lives, but we don’t always recognise it?
Iain: I think that’s maybe the key, you know. I was talking with someone a couple of weeks ago on one of these interviews, and the subject of the ordinary awakening came up. It’s as if we’re approaching a time - we don’t have time now to go into all the reasons for that – where one time awakening was for people in caves in the Himalayas, or people who had done seeking for many, many years and a lot of discipline. And now it’s happening to people like you, who weren’t even trying to... You were basically just trying to sort yourself out - you weren’t actually trying to get awakened as such, it seems.
Steve: No, not at all.
Iain: Yet something happened: you were awakened.
Steve: Yes, yes. And it seems to be happening. It seems to be happening to people spontaneously, people who are coming into Being. But it’s just the most ordinary, extraordinary thing. I am aware that there was tremendous pressure placed on the self. There was the not going back into childhood because it wasn’t true, and there was working the twelve-step programme, but relating from the twelve steps. And I remember thinking, “That’s not relating from me, and it hasn’t revealed me”. It was only in the stopping, there was the seeing.
Funnily enough, when I first came into Being I did see people of ‘high’ spiritual ranking’, and I remember knowing “I know”. It’s just seeing. It’s just as is; it’s seeing as life sees, seeing as consciousness sees. It can happen to anyone [laughing]. It’s a natural state. What’s not natural is separation. What’s not natural is not knowing who you really are as consciousness. It’s a wonderful form, you know, this humanity, which is here for a short time where consciousness can express itself, see itself.
Iain: And I think that’s what you’re doing, absolutely. Consciousness can see itself express itself, and what you’re saying is the potential is in all of us.
Steve: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s who you are.
Iain: Steve, thank you very much for coming on and talking to us. I know you’ve had these meetings in Slough and we’ll post your website address in the credits.
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