Elliot Killian is a spiritual teacher/guide integrating the Enneagram with perennial spiritual understanding; inviting people to discover the peaceful, loving, joyful presence beyond their personality.
Elliot graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in Exercise Science and Psychology. He briefly attended medical school, but left to pursue a spiritual calling towards truth and freedom.
In addition to his Enneagram work, Elliot is a multi-instrumentalist, music producer. He has played in groups ranging from the heavy metal band Lords of the Trident (2010-2015) to cover bands with 500+ song repertoires.
He currently produces and plays music with his partner in the group Laura Petersen and the Old Souls.
A book(s) expanding upon the themes that I’ve shared is in the process of being written. Although the book is not autobiographical in nature, the following excerpt provides something to that effect for those who are curious:
“If only I had this, then I’d be happy.”
I was an accomplished young man, although not necessarily a happy one. In college I studied Kinesiology and Psychology; driven by an interest in using science to achieve peak human performance. I wanted to better myself so that I could just get that one thing, that one “If only I had this… then I’d be happy” kind of thing.
As it turns out, in a few of the proceeding years I became rather unhappy. My “this” didn’t go exactly as planned, and some of the dormant seeds of obsession and pain that I’d unknowingly sown over the years finally started to sprout, seemingly all at once. It all began with the stress of a relationship, leading to a sleepless night filled with rumination. No biggie right? Everyone has nights they can’t sleep.
Well, first the stress of the relationship caused me to not sleep, then the stress of not being able to sleep caused me to not sleep, and then the stress of not sleeping affected my relationship and my health, which then led to more sleeplessness. In short: my days were hell and my nights offered me no relief or temporary pause. That one sleepless night spiraled into nine months of full-blown insomnia.
So I did what anyone would do, I sought relief from the suffering. My “if only I had this…then I could be happy” narrative turned into “God, if only I didn’t have this…then I would be happy!”
Not that I believed in God or anything. I grew up Catholic, but thanks to the hyper-rational new atheists that I admired, any possibility of holding such a deluded belief system was rattled out of me. I was a proud practitioner of logic and reason. The solutions to suffering that I sought needed to be proper and come with the stamp of scientific proof.
I tried to de-stress through magnesium baths, I took herbs, I took sleeping pills; I even got a doctor to prescribe me a cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) device to wear on my head. Some of it had some effect, but none of it to the meaningful degree that I’d hoped for.
Feeling trapped, I decided to give a meditation retreat at my college a try as a last resort. It was permissible, meditation was still scientific to me; I wasn’t going in expecting some mantra to magically open my crown chakra. As part of my upper level psychology studies I’d actually done a project on the role of meditation in reducing criminal recidivism (the likelihood that a convicted criminal would reoffend). It turned out that meditation—something that I previously thought amounted to little more than hippies singing “Imagine” by a fire pit—could actually decrease the stress hormone cortisol, grow gray matter in the brain, and regulate all kinds of other bodily systems. I even discovered that one of the world’s leading meditation research labs was right at my college. (University of Wisconsin-Madison, The Center for Healthy Minds founded by renowned neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson, Ph.D)
While I was convinced that meditation would be good in theory, in practice, I found it to be rather daunting. It certainly wasn’t as easy as just taking a pill; in fact, it was extremely uncomfortable. For the whole time that this suffering had been going on, I hadn’t had any relief from my anxious thoughts. Trying to focus on my breath rather than my thoughts seemed akin to walking on a loose tightrope—it only took a second before I’d lose focus and have to start all over again. If I hadn’t been part of a group, I might well have given up on meditation right then and there, but no one wants to be a quitter, so the peer pressure of seeing it through to the end got me through most of the weekend.
As the last meditation of the weekend was about to begin, I was there physically, but mentally, I’d checked out. I was already stressed, and I wasn’t keen on adding the frustration of not being good at meditation to my growing list of life grievances. So I meditated, but unlike before, I just didn’t try so hard to meditate. I decided that instead of trying to stop my thoughts, I’d just go through the motions and breathe–letting my thoughts do what they wanted to do. While surrender may be the pinnacle of spiritual wisdom, I would describe what I did more along the lines of just giving up. But the thing is…it still kind of worked.
The breathing exercises lasted for about thirty minutes, and by the end, I found myself surprisingly at peace. Afterwards, we were instructed to lie flat on the ground, and just be with whatever we were experiencing. I was initially baffled by the vague guidance, “how am I supposed to do that?” I thought. But soon, “be with whatever you’re experiencing” transformed into a life altering experience of – “whatever I’m experiencing now is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Within about thirty seconds I just burst into laughter; somehow peace had managed to turn into joy. About another thirty seconds later, I was so joyful that my body didn’t know what to do with itself. I started shaking in ways that would, to an observer, look like an epileptic seizure. It was controllable, but I felt no urge to control it. Why would I want to get in the way of joy turning into bliss? Trying to stop thoughts was out of the question; there was such a compelling aliveness pulsating through my body—thoughts simply seemed irrelevant. The conditions of my “If only I had this….” hadn’t been met, nor had my “God, if only I didn’t have this…” been resolved; yet there I was, in perfect contentment.
And then it ended.
The bliss didn’t last long, the peace was there for a few days, but what stayed with me was an intense curiosity and a burning desire to return to that state. Before the experience, I thought the same of Eastern religion as I did of the Western religion that I grew up with; I wrote it off. The West had their delusions – Jesus and Heaven – and the East had its own – Buddha and Enlightenment. But now, I wondered…
“What if you could bring that absolute peace, joy, and contentment with you wherever you went? What if you could reverse engineer yourself back to that state, and slowly but surely, become once again blissful and free of suffering? Could that be permanent, or hell, even semi-permanent? Is Enlightenment, Self-Realization, or whatever various spiritual paths call it really a delusion or is it merely our delusions that prevent us from realizing it?”
Since that day, I’ve put a lot of life energy into resolving those questions; this book is my answer.