A few years ago, Karen Talavera left a stereotypical life and career path for self-employment and an unexpected journey into spiritual exploration. What started as a simple yoga class at the local health club ended in a journey into eastern thought, self-inquiry and meditation. The outcome not only obliterated her prior conformist concepts of god, love and self but brought her to a place of experientially knowing them, knowing that they are one, and knowing that they are us.
A writer, entrepreneur, mother and avid international traveler, Karen draws on the rich and usually overlooked experiences of daily life and the lessons of her many journeys to illuminate opportunities for awakening in a conventional world. She writes about these on The Accidental Seeker where she explores the universal truths of our personal journeys and offers guidance, community and insight for those who are intentionally or unintentionally navigating the path of spiritual exploration, personal growth and conscious living.
1.A few years ago, you spiritually and physically made a shift from a mainstream lifestyle to one that is more introspective. Describe this transition or shift.
The shift wasn’t intentional as for some people it is. That’s why I call myself the Accidental Seeker – because I literally “stumbled” as I describe it into spiritual exploration. My coming upon a spiritual journey was not planned or designed but happened through sheer curiosity about a local ashram and meditation group I knew my yoga teacher was part of. The real truth is (and this is pretty embarrassing because I’m married) I had a pretty bad crush on this yoga teacher (a young guy) and wanted to see where he lived, what he was always talking about. The outcome was nothing like I thought it would be!
I went to an open meditation night, or “satsanga” at the ashram and although I’d never meditated a minute before in my life, I settled into their normal hour of silent meditation effortlessly. I thought I might struggle, grow restless, not be able to do it – all the things people dread or sometimes experience with meditation – but instead I found peace, calm and a doorway to a dimension of myself I didn’t really know existed – the spiritual.
We are multi-dimensional beings – those dimensions being physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. The modern world and conventional society puts so much emphasis on and we live so often in our bodies and thoughts and feelings that the spiritual dimension is often steamrolled, dormant and forgotten.
In retrospect I know my shift, although appearing “accidental” in the conventional surface-level world, was nothing more or less than a spiritual awakening. Because I deeply believe that each of us, at our essence, whether we’re conscious of it or not, is a spiritual being having a physical experience rather than the other way around. We just don’t realize that and usually it takes a certain degree of discontent with the status quo for our spirits (or what some call the higher self) to wake up and stop letting our egos run the show.
2.Was your attraction to eastern thought purely from going to yoga, or was there something else there that drew and motivated you to keep going back?
The initial attraction was definitely sparked by yoga, but what kept me going back to satsang repeatedly were two things:
1) The more I learned specifically about Eastern thought, specifically the path known as Advaita (non-dualism) the more it made sense to me and resonated as true, much truer than the traditional teachings of my Catholic upbringing did. Now, on a deeper level and with further study and interpretation of religious texts, the serious student will, I believe, find that the core doctrine of nearly all major world religions (Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Taoism, etc.) has several fundamental beliefs in common. They’re expressed differently, but most of these religions believe there is one force or consciousness we call “god”, that all is love, and that god is in us, etc. But that’s a topic for another post!
In a nutshell, what I came to learn about non-dualism made sense not just intellectually, but it rang true experientially. I could see concepts like projection, ego, karma, pain-bodies, and connection/disconnection to spirit playing out in my actions, relationships and the world around me. I could actually test intellectual “theory” and see it proved true in action. A lot of other religious beliefs and teachings just don’t hold up that way.
And that was also 2) the second reason I stayed on the journey. For the first time in my life I had not just an abstract conceptual knowledge of, but instead an experiential, direct knowing of god, love, self, energy, of what all of this is that we call the world, who we are, and what the heck we’re doing here.
It would take a while to paint a picture of what such knowing looks like in the context of my life, but ultimately it’s not meant to be explained, it’s meant to be experienced and known by each of us individually in our own lives. So for the curious who want that, I highly recommend the book Enlightenment for Beginners to kick-start your exploration. (Don’t let the idea of reading a book stop you – this one is literally a picture book that does the most exquisite job of very simply explaining some pretty advanced non-dualistic spiritual concepts. If you haven’t read it already it’s a must, and you can link to it on Amazon right from the Accidental Seeker recommended books list.)
3.You have spent a lot of time traveling. What are three of the top things you have learned from other cultures that you now embrace every single day?
What a great question! They are 1) People are far, far more similar than different. Despite how different you might find a co-worker with opposing political views or an abrasive personality, or how diverse cultural norms and traditions can be – that’s all surface level stuff. Under the surface we ALL yearn and ache for the same things – safety, love, belonging, growth, potential, abundance, and ultimately the chance to make a contribution somehow. So my advice is – not just when traveling but everywhere you go – make a concerted effort to look beyond someone’s outer shell and see the inner being.
2) Relationships are more important than things. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy material possessions and have material desires just like the next person. I just bought a pre-owned Mercedes for heaven’s sake; it’s the nicest car I ever owned. I believe in abundance and fulfillment of desires, but not at the expense of one’s integrity, relationships or self-esteem. Unlike many seekers I have NOT forsaken a life in the conventional, material world, but since spiritually awakening I’m much more conscious about why I want what I want, what I chose to spend on, and why I buy what I buy. (For example, I no longer shoe-shop like an addict!)
I learned this second point mostly from Latin cultures (Mexico, Spain, Italy, South America). My husband is Mexican so for twenty-five years I’ve had frequent and deep exposure to Mexican and Latin American culture. They value family above all else. They value friendships and a social life. Business relationships are intimate and fun rather than cold. Children are adored rather than an inconvenience. And at the end of the day, everyone seems a lot happier eating or dancing or talking together than plopping down in front of the television, trolling the mall, or working late. Which leads me to the third thing I learned:
3) Work to live, don’t live to work. I know a lot of solo-professionals, writers, bloggers etc. who totally get this because they’ve designed lifestyle businesses doing what they love so they can live the life of their choice. Once one has crossed into that territory nothing less will do. But millions more have succumbed to the myth that there is upward mobility, security and wealth working for someone else and that the harder and longer they work, the more they’ll be duly rewarded. The days of any sort of corporate loyalty to employees are long gone, so why not design your LIFE around your work rather than vice versa? Life is short, if you don’t enjoy every moment while you can, as young as you can, you might never get the chance later. Much of the first world outside America understands this and seems to have better work/life balance than Americans.
4.Traveling within the US is very different from traveling overseas to “foreign” countries. Is there one you like or desire over the other?
I absolutely crave international travel, the more far-flung the better. I’ve seen 39 of 50 US states so although there are parts of the US I’d like to go deeper into or spend significant time in (like the national parks of the West), I pretty much have a handle on the US. I’ve learned from experience that there’s nothing like leaving one’s country to awaken the senses, expand the mind, open the heart and breathe inspiration into life. As many will attest and I’ve found true for me, once the international travel bug has bitten you, you’re pretty much hooked. If we discover life on other worlds and inter-planetary travel becomes possible, sign me up!
5.You blog regularly on your website. What inspires your topics? How do you know what to post?
Ha! For me that’s like asking “where does inspiration come from”? I don’t know where it comes from but I know it when I feel it. I write about what inspires me, and what inspires me most – where those flashes of inspiration fire fast and furiously - are journeys. That includes not only literal journeys like travel, but also physical journeys and challenges (I’ve had some interesting hikes in Arizona!), emotional journeys, relationship journeys, spiritual journeys. What inspires me are the ceaseless opportunities we each have every day to grow and expand our awareness, and learn from everything happening around us, that we usually don’t take heed of or gloss over. I notice them, and I write about them.
6.From your life experiences and things you’ve learned in your travels, you were able to develop your website and business, “The Accidental Seeker.” What led you to the decision to share your life’s lessons with others?
Since I was in elementary school I had a passion for writing. I knew from an early age it was what I was supposed to do in life, although I didn’t know in what context. Initially I desired a career in journalism but abandoned that in college when I found news reporting stifling. Still, there was the love of writing, of more persuasive or creative writing, and a preference for writing and speaking as a craft for doing whatever I was going to do as a livelihood.
You know what they say – you can only write what you know. I was so amazed and transformed by what I learned on my own spiritual journey that I wanted that for everyone – I was driven to share my experiences in the hopes that others would be willing to make their own journeys as well. When it comes to writing a blog, or a book, but especially a blog, you really need to write what you’re most passionate about or it’s almost impossible to keep it going (you’ll basically get bored to death and quit). There is nothing I am more passionate about than spiritual awakening, conscious evolution, and travel as a means of facilitating both. So that’s what I write about. That, along with the lifelong desire to express in writing, is what led me to the decision to start The Accidental Seeker.
I’d love to become a book author and have actually created and pitched an Accidental Seeker book proposal, but with the publishing world the way it is today I decided blogging was a better outlet for me as a new writer than waiting around for the opportunity to get published. (If a book comes later though, once I’ve built up more of a readership and platform, I’d welcome it.)
7.On the same token, what inspired you to want to help others as they try to find their paths in life?
Someone once told me “we’re here to do two things – teach and learn”. While that may be a gross oversimplification, there’s a lot of merit to that statement. I heard that over twenty years ago and it really stuck with me.
Maybe it comes from insecurity in childhood – who knows – but I’ve always had a burning desire to make a lasting difference in the world, to move hearts and minds, and to do great things (or even small things but with great love). So for me it’s not enough just to be comfortable, work for security, and take up space. There has to be something more. Life must have purpose, even if it’s a purpose we each define for ourselves – it can be big or small, serious or trivial, but there should be a point.
If by sharing my stories I can teach one tenth of what I’ve learned, if I can be a catalyst for opening in others what’s been opened in me, my life won’t be in vain. That’s a rush for me, it’s fun, and it’s also what feels natural and good.
8.As people pursue their life’s path, in your opinion, how would they know that they were moving beyond contentment into happiness?
This sort of ties back to some of the lessons I’ve learned from other cultures. Americans for example (although this is not limited to Americans it is prevalent) are consumed with short-term instant gratification. To me, that’s contentment – the sensation of feeling satisfied and free from worry. But there’s a difference between contentment and true happiness. Contentment wears off, and our sources of anxiety or frustration or discontentment are waiting for us when it does. So as an example, a piece of chocolate cake, glass of wine, or party can make us forget about our anxiety over not being able to pay the bills, but can’t give us the means to transcend that anxiety. It returns, and we seek the next distraction from it. All the while, it festers deep down and gets worse.
True happiness on the other hand is found REGARDLESS of external circumstances because it always emanates from within. It is a chosen state of being vs. dependent on outer circumstances to be what we desire.
So how would someone know they are moving beyond contentment into happiness? They’d feel happy for no reason. They’d feel happy even in the face of loss, grief, death or divorce. They develop the capacity to open to joy despite rational reasons to be miserable. They develop practices (meditation being one) that allow them a deep connection to stillness and self which is where happiness is ever-present. They remain calm in the eye of the storm despite a constantly-swirling storm around them. That’s how one knows.
9.You mention on your website that you think we’re living through a stage of human evolution. What do you mean by that?
I’m among a growing group of people who believe we are living through perhaps the first period of conscious evolution. Obviously evolution is always happening, but for the first time in human history we have the technology, communication channels, physical longevity, health and mental capacity to reflect upon and direct our own evolution as a species and in turn to affect the well-being and evolution of the planet. This, if you think about it, is remarkable.
People forget that only a few hundred years ago the average human life span was half of what it is today! Information took weeks or months to travel around the world – today it takes seconds. In a nutshell, most of human history up until the last hundred years has been about sheer survival. Okay, we’ve mastered that now, learned how to combat hunger and disease and all the things that once killed us off by age forty.
(And by the way, the fact that we have mastered physical survival so exquisitely is also the reason it is so despicable that a third of the world is living in poverty - a shameful blemish on humanity. Although vast numbers of us are still living as we did hundreds of years ago, at a subsistence level, it doesn’t have to be that way. I do think it will change).
Despite that, enough of us are conscious not only of our ability to solve our problems, but of how to harness energy, thought, intention and action intentionally for the greater good and growth of all. I think in the past most people (except for genuine luminaries of history) were too consumed with short-term existence to think about human potential. Now, vast numbers of us can and are thinking longer-term.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as to why I think humanity is in the midst of an evolutionary leap. Other reasons have to do with topics too vast to get into – such as energy and dimensional shifts being experienced by the planet as a whole.
By the way, I completed the ACE (Agents of Conscious Evolution) Training because I feel so strongly aligned with this.
10.What is a mantra you apply to every area of your life to keep you going positively on the right path?
That mantra would be “Nothing is wasted.” Nothing – no matter how evil, horrible, frustrating, repetitive, etc. is without purpose in calling us into higher consciousness and growth.
This goes beyond the “every cloud has a silver lining” cliché by reminding me that every moment matters, nothing is without its purpose, usefulness, and worth. If God is infinite, then there is God even in the negative. Nothing is extraneous. This allows me to avoid getting bogged down or mired in negativity, prevents me from wallowing. Yes sometimes I feel sad, I feel emotions just like anyone else, but I always ask “What am I meant to learn from this? What is this meant to reveal?” and that helps me keep moving positively and not get stuck.
11.What’s next for you? Will you continue down this same path or simply embrace the next thing that comes long?
What’s next is building Accidental Seeker beyond a blog and into more of an established business. I plan to offer group coaching and spiritual practice programs, and in fact already have a few individual coaching and mentorship programs created which I haven’t publicized. No, I don’t plan to embrace “the next thing that comes along”, I will continue down the path I’m on. Of course what’s always next is also travel – ideally to places I haven’t been yet like Africa, Tibet, India and the more of Middle East. The inner journey will be reflected in the outer, the outer journey will deepen the inner, and so it goes for each of us, we’re all travelers. I just happen to be one with my passport always open!
Thank you for your wise words