My next guest’s new book is about how reviving civilization requires change-makers to step forward and lead with their own unique genius. Creating a regenerative future means committing to self-cultivation. Once you learn to navigate the four primary landscapes and awaken to your life’s core purpose, you become a catalyst for true cultural transformation. Welcome to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host, Hussein Al-Baiaty. I’m joined today by author Ian Williams, who’s here to talk about his new book called Soil & Spirit. Let’s flip through it.

Hello, my friends. Welcome back to the show. This is Author Hour, and I’m here with my friend Ian Williams. Ian, thank you for joining me today.

Ian Williams: Thank you for the opportunity, Hussein.  Appreciate it.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. Absolutely, man. Before we got on here, I really fell in love with the book man, Soil & Spirit. It’s really powerful. Like I said, the poetry started pulling me in, the purpose started pulling me in, but I’m really excited to get into the book. However, before we do that, I really want to give people a little bit of a background about you, where you grew up, perhaps, maybe one or two people that encouraged you or inspired you to be on the path that you eventually got on and unraveling this book in wisdom. But yeah, I want to give our audience a little bit about you and who you are.

Ian Williams: Yeah, okay. I think growing up it’s a, well, I guess it’s traditional to me. It’s a vanilla story to me, because I lived it. But I had a pretty stable childhood, four people, a family dog. I always joked I had everything except the white picket fence. I grew up in the Midwest, Twin Cities in Minnesota, United States. I had, like I said, a really stable childhood. I had a father who was a college professor, and a mother who was a kindergarten teacher. So education was big in our household. Mother’s a naturalist, loves the outdoors. So we spent a lot of time outside traveling and camping. I think that’s probably where some of my initial values took root out in the natural world.

Again, very stable, lived in the same house growing up. It was probably sophomore year of college, really, which is when I had my own big transformational change. It’s a bit of a story. I call it a mystical experience, because I don’t have any other words for it, but right around 2013, the end of 2013, I had inherited a dog. I had her for a couple years. She wasn’t the healthiest of animals. So we ended up needing to put her down a little early. This is after about a decade worth of substance use and abuse. We took her to the vet one final time. For anyone who’s had a pet in their lives, they know that there’s this period of time where a couple days a week, a month where it still feels abnormal for that pet to not be in the home.

I was laying in bed one night, just staring at the ceiling, thinking about some of the dreams I’d been having. She poked the door open with her nose and she hopped up on the bed next to me, and she curled up, and she let out a sigh. I rolled over and I fell asleep. I was using journaling at the time to process a lot of this. I’m just my emotions. This is probably five days after we let her go. It was a pretty profound morning to start in on that journaling session. I started writing as if it were a dream. It was probably fifteen, twenty minutes into my writing session where I realized I was awake when it happened. I still say it’s a good thing. I was home alone, because I had an ugly cry. Really cathartic, really healing, but it was a profound experience. It really changed the trajectory of my life. So I would say if there’s one person or one event that really put me on this path that would definitely be it. That was the beginning of an entirely new chapter in my life.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s so special, man. I mean, I feel like many people out there have definitely lost a pet to one thing or another, especially age, of course. I know I have and you’re right. It is intense. It is a journey, but we all process it differently. It sounds like for you it was transformative in so many ways. Lead me to what happened next, how did that transformation take hold in life and what changes did it start to create?

Ian Williams: It happened on two different planes. There’s the conscious part of you, the human part of you, the intellectual part that knows it’s coming. So I was already bracing for it in that sense. I knew she occupied so much space and time and energy for me that I knew that if I didn’t fill that void after she was gone, that I was just going to fill it with more drugs and alcohol basically. So it was a cliché January 1, is how the timing worked out. I started training for a marathon, and I got back into therapy. I started doing a lot of writing. I started attending yoga classes on a weekly basis. I just tried to replace, I tried to fill that void.

I think that was all the stuff that I started doing consciously, but the other plane that I would say the change happened on was, I mean, it was a very spiritual plane. I woke up the next morning, and as it all, as the dust settled from that experience, I realized there’s a whole world out there beyond the veil that I don’t know anything about. I just had this experience that I can’t explain in words. I don’t know anybody who can explain it to me. At the time where my mindset was, I need to go figure this out, as if it were something that could be figured out, right? I no longer feel that way, but that’s when I really started diving deep.

Going to that first yoga class, which was three or four days after I was there with a different state of existence. I wasn’t going there just to move. I was there feeling like I was embarking on a spiritual practice. Yoga was the gateway practice for me, I guess you could say. It wasn’t too long after that. I started studying Qi Gong, Tai Chi, martial arts, and meditation. I just went all in on that self-cultivation piece and really shaped the next decade of my life. It was certainly a challenging loss, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I still give thanks every day for her, because that dog gave me a gift that it was the right timing, it was the right context. It was something that I can’t help but cherish at a really deep inmate core level. Yeah, so that change really happened like I said, on those two different planes. One was the planful one. Then the other one, I just felt swept up in the way of whatever life was thrown my way.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Man, I love that so much. I know, throughout your books was at the beginning, you talk about today’s modern world, of course, especially in the West, right? Tech-obsessed, maybe by choice, maybe not by our choice, really depends on how you look at it from different perspectives, but technology, materialism just the way the culture is, it’s bound around this idea that what we buy, what we consume is what makes us, is what makes us “happy, loving, kind,” right? Like to show our love, we got to buy our love a bunch of gifts, right? To show our this, anything you want to express, it’s through some material object, if you will, which is interesting, because I feel like the further we’ve gotten into that rabbit hole if you will, of life and culture, it seems like we’ve gotten further and further away from our natural instincts, our quality of life, what really drives us.

Those things seem to be abundant. However, we’re seeing how impactful our buying decisions are, of course, to the world and all these things. You briefly touch on that, but then you offer this other perspective of whether it be spirituality, self-actualization. I want to talk about that a little bit. What inspired you to focus on this interconnection between self-actualization and this idea of regenerative futures? Because I think that’s really profound.

Ian Williams: Yeah. I guess, just to draw an analogy, it was really all born out of my own self-revival, right? So talking about the context of the first ten minutes of this conversation, one of the things that I realized in that period was, okay, I really want to address my substance use and abuse. I know that I’m using substances in order to mask my depression and anxiety. I’m fed up with this hamster wheel of consumption. I know that it’s not really bringing me the satisfaction that I seek. I guess just an aside here, I tried to be cognizant in the book to not paint all of the gifts that Western development has provided in a negative light. I’m not suggesting that we need to go back to a tribalism and do away with our technology.

I think, there’s many benefits to it, but for me at that time, there’s something deeper here and I just need to start digging. I don’t know what it is. I’m not even necessarily sure if I’m going to find it or how I’m going to find it, but I just need to start digging. It turned into this chapter in life which was entirely about self-study. Who am I? What are the emotions that I’m feeling? How do I allow myself to actually feel them and not escape them? Etc. etc. etc. To come back around to your question, what I learned from all that, what I took away from all of that was, really, that’s the greatest gift that I as an individual could give the world.

Perhaps many of us are familiar with that common saying out there, “You can’t help others until you help yourself.” Right? You got to make sure your own cup is full before you can give to others type of thing. I always really struggled with that growing up. I think that was a chapter in life where I learned that lesson. I was so hell-bent. I was so solely focused on figuring myself out. Just through sheer dedication and willpower in some instances, I started to recognize things changing around me, right? People were responding differently. Physical environments were responding differently. Social environments were responding differently. Professionally, things had shifted. That was a major takeaway.

I think that’s one of the central messages in the book is saving yourself is the greatest gift you can give the world. I think it’s also the simplest thing. It’s easy to comprehend, right? I think that that’s really the most integral part of the entire message and my entire theory of change. I think we’re in an era right now, where we’re seeking outside ourselves for answers. We’re wanting organizations to solve the problems. We’re wanting government to solve the problems. We want other people to help us solve our problems. Taking responsibility for ourselves is really the best thing that we can do, not only for ourselves, but also the world around us.

That realization, right through that process of self-revival, I realized is the Yin, to the Yang of regenerative environments in the natural world. We are natural beings. We are of the natural world. We do not exist outside the bounds of natural law, as much as we might like to think. So we need to get back to honoring those roots and learning how these last really 100, 150 years of human development can now be harnessed in such a way that they operate within the confines of Mother Earth, nature, natural law, because I think we all know. Well, I shouldn’t say we all. Many of us are aware that the path that we’re on environmentally is not sustainable. It’s one thing to just try and tackle that challenge in and of itself. I feel like trying to tackle the climate crisis without doing this personal and spiritual development work along the way is it’s going to be hollow and not as effective as it could be.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. I love that. It’s so powerful, because the reason I resonate with that, specifically, is because I used to own an apparel printing company, right? We used to do, we print a lot of T-shirts and all kinds of stuff. As much as I loved that I was a graphic designer, graphic artists and all these things. I still am in a lot of ways. I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was just creating more consumption, right? I came to turn, I read a few books that really one being the power of intention, just—I was like, “What is my intention here? What am I trying—yes, I’m going to make some money, I’m going to have employees, I’m going to have a company, I’m going to have the production facility, all these things, but what are we doing at the end of the day?” It’s like, okay, putting more out in the world, more and more. I couldn’t sit with myself anymore.

It got to the point where I loved what I was doing. I knew I was serving people. I knew I brought good service. All this good stuff and that’s great. You talk about this, too. Like this idea of okay, great. We’re making all this profit, but like at what cost? What is being harmed that I’m not aware of? That’s really where things turned around for me. I started to make up. Started making small decisions that led to bigger decisions of just the ultimate change and getting out of that space entirely, because I just couldn’t vibe with it anymore like, I just felt like no matter what I did, no matter how sustainable the fabrics are. Again, there’s nothing wrong or bad with organizations and companies that do those kinds of things. However, for me, I was just like, I don’t want to add any more. That was a personal decision that I feel really good about today, because it was one that was, I thought for me, was based in my purpose.

I think for me personally, my purpose is not to create more material things to put out in the world. Although again, that’s not a bad thing, but it is a part of my consciousness, I feel like developing and evolving in a way that says, “I can do what I want to do without harming people, things, planet.” That’s really powerful that you really brought all those things together in your book. How you surfaced out of it. You really talk about these four primary landscapes, which I want to get into a little bit, if you don’t mind. You obviously bring this in the book. How do these concepts, the four primary landscapes that you talk about contribute to the personal and this planetary transformation? You talk about this idea of purpose, all these things, but I’ll let you elaborate on that, if you will.

The Four Primary Landscapes

Ian Williams: I guess, let’s just start with what the four primary landscapes are. I think about these things, concentric circles, or rings around one another. At the center is the internal landscape, right, what’s going on inside of ourselves. Next circle, next rung out, social landscape, environmental or physical landscape and then spiritual landscape. My theory of change is really one that’s in to out, right? Starting from within and letting those ripples of change move outward. What I’m passionate about is generating solutions to global challenges at scale, from how I look at where civilization is at right now. It’s one reason why I’m not fond of the term sustainability, because if we sustain the path we are on, science tells us we’re still heading for the cliff, right? We need to find a way to turn the wheel and change directions.

In order to do that we need to—I don’t mean a literal revolution, but we need a revolution of self, right, a revival of self. So starting with that internal change to reference your story, right? You’re aware of these things in what you’re contributing to the world, but yet, something’s still not aligned internally. So you start to pluck those chords in order to try and find resonance or alignment. Then that naturally begins to change your actions and interactions, right? So that internal work you’re doing manifests in the social landscape, your communication patterns, your relationships, the community that you’re a part of, the businesses that you run, which naturally impact the physical environment, right, the natural world, the physical landscape. Then moving on from there the spiritual landscape, right? The parts of life that are beyond third-dimension perception, right? The five senses, the more subtle aspects of life, which are always operating, it’s just a matter of to what extent are we conscious of them.

I think that theory of change again, is always an inside-to-out manner. In order to really generate regenerative solutions, holistic solutions, I think we need to involve every single landscape that we’re a part of. I see them as intimately connected, right? They’re threaded together. It’s at minimum, a two-way exchange in to out and out to in. I happen to be introverted. So a lot of my processing around the world is internal, right? I’m sitting with my journal alone in silence. I’m reading books. I’m contemplating. I’m staring off into the woods, but many other people don’t process that way, right?

Back to your point, everyone has their own passion. Everyone has their own place. We need companies out there developing sustainable products, truly sustainable products, environmentally aware, friendly, products. We need people out there working on regenerating the physical environment, right? We need companies that are innovating to address the big three, energy, transportation, agriculture. We need innovation. We need spiritual leaders who are serving as a lighthouse for people who are seeking and really trying to do their internal work, but as individuals, we all need to take responsibility for ourselves in this process as well.

My fundamental belief is if we all do that internal work, we’re willing to roll up our sleeves and get our hands in the dirt, right? The soils of self will naturally find the places in the world that we’re meant to be operating in and the ways that we’re meant to be operating from. That’s going to naturally create alignment and resonance, which is naturally going to create more regenerative, holistic solutions. The book and the way that it has structured internal landscape, social, physical, spiritual landscape, again, these concentric rings is really just a macro representation of my own personal theory of change, right? Again, going back to that saving yourself is the greatest gift you can give the world, because it’s what’s going to be the ripple in the pond that impacts others to make changes in their lives. Then that creates the exponential growth curve that we really need in order to address these grand challenges at scale.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. So beautifully put, man. Again back to this idea of how you talk about all of these things, I found just ease moving through your book, because there’s a poetic sense. I mentioned this earlier. I genuinely mean it. I think the four components that you really talk about, for me relate to this idea of The Four Agreements, like the book was so powerful that it really helped me see how my reactions and my responses to the world are connected to what, right? and I think what you’re doing here, is really exciting, because I feel like these four components, the primary landscapes that you call, I feel like, it’s me trying to figure out how externally and internally, how are things connected to the world, right. That’s really powerful, because it helps you step out of yourself for a minute and just become aware of everything around you to a degree.

I think, that’s just so powerful, because like I said, the thing about your book, specifically that I found exciting was that it was easy to navigate. Sometimes, I’ll be honest, whether it be spiritual books or scientific books, or even business books. They take me to the weeds so fast that it’s hard to transition. However, you took me to these lands, just eloquently. Again, you are explaining it that way. Can you tell me a little bit about in your opinion, maybe a couple of practical steps that individuals can take to awaken that soul’s purpose and bring about that cultural transformation that we all hope to seek.

Practical Steps

Ian Williams: I’ll try and choose my words wisely, because I’m not a huge fan of a “ten steps to a new you.” I think it often oversimplifies, but you said a word in there—awareness. For me, I really feel like that is one of the two foundational tools. It’s a cornerstone piece, self-awareness and behavior modification. There are some other things in there, but I think I’ll step back real quick. I think it starts with acknowledging, right? I have a section in the book, ‘The Five A’s.’ Acknowledge is the first A. We just have to acknowledge the dissonance, right, and to people that have blinders on caught up in consumption, growth, right? I mean a lot of these Western values, cultural values of status and wealth.

Often what I asked people in my work presentations, etc. is think of something a year ago, three years ago, five years ago, that you were just on the moon about, you were so excited about it, right? Whether it was a new job, a new car, a new house, the raise whatever, your relationship, from that thing, that time ago, has that joy and that bliss, have you been able to sustain it every moment of every day, henceforth? Inevitably, the answer is no, right? If there’s a person out there who has the answer, yes. Then I’d to talk to them, because I still have something to learn from that person. But for me in my own self-revival, self-awareness and behavior modification were these core fundamental drivers of change.

I like to think about it like it’s a scientific method approach to personal development. You have to be able to have your fingers on the buttons and on the knobs and on the levers in order to know when I change this input, it creates that output. In order to have that I don’t want to oversimplify it, but in order to have that level of awareness around your personal development, self-cultivation, is I think, truly important, because without that, we’re just shooting from the hip in the dark. Maybe it’ll be this today. Maybe it’ll be that today. Maybe it’s this flavor or that flavor. The reality is that, that consumptive paradigm is really just us trying to express and satisfy our neuroses, right, our compulsive behaviors and inhibitions. Those are good in the sense that they serve a role, right, they’re survival, pleasure-seeking, they have their place. It’s not that we need to disown them, but rather, we need to understand that it’s not the only operating system we have.

Again, acknowledging I think is the first step. The second step, and this goes back to the five, is accepting. To your point about leaving the business that you were in. At some point you accepted, this isn’t really meeting my needs. It’s not serving me. That leads to the next stepping stone, right? Which is, what actions am I going to take? What change am I going to make? Your question was what are some tangible, concrete things that that people can think about? I would start off with self-acceptance. Again, I’d go back to self-acceptance and behavior modification. Learn how to learn about yourself. Then learn how to take responsibility and develop accountability for your actions, your behaviors, your emotions.

The more you learn about yourself, the more insight you have on how to regulate yourself. If you can begin to really regulate those kinds of base instincts and desires, you can elevate your awareness, right? I’m hesitant to use the word consciousness, because a lot of people have a new age-y feel these days, but elevating that awareness about yourself is going to provide more insight in terms of the next steps you need to take for your personal and spiritual cultivation, as well as the next steps you can take in your environment, whether it be social, physical or spiritual, to move into the next chapter of life and the next chapter of change. I would start there, but I certainly wouldn’t end there.

I think the last maybe practical thing that I would toss in here is, I had a teacher tell me one time. It’s an energy arts teacher, right? So one of my instructors that was teaching me in the energy arts, they said, “Don’t practice for the sake of practice. Practice for the sake of discovery.” Right? I’ve turned my energy art practices at times into a to-do, right? It’s a task on the list that I have to check off, and when you do that, you’re practicing for the sake of practicing. You’re not practicing for the sake of discovery.

I think the last tangible thing that I would toss in, maybe it’s not so tangible, is curiosity. Get curious. Accept where you are, don’t judge it. You don’t need to label it right or wrong, good or bad. Just accept where you are and then get curious about where you’re going. For me, those three things have been—they’ve been really integral pillars in my own personal spiritual development work, self-awareness, behavior modification, and just staying curious, being interested in the process.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. That’s so powerful, man. I mean, those are about as actionable as it gets, right there. Starting with really the acceptance piece, I think that’s probably the biggest component of all. It is to accept where you’re at and decide how you want to move forward from there and one step at a time, one movement at a time you start to really find more of yourself, for sure. I definitely resonate with that deeply. Ian, I mean, I feel like you’ve taken us through this amazing journey. I want to ask you one more question. It has to do with the book, but in a sense of, what was your favorite part of pulling it together? What did you learn from that journey and of itself?

Ian Williams: From the day of inception to launch date. I think it’ll be a two-and-a-half-year saga.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Saga. I love that.

Ian Williams: My wife and I moved in there, I was going to grad school full time, I was working full time. Amidst that two and a half years, I left full time work and started full time entrepreneur, I had been part time entrepreneur in there as well. It was certainly a lot of hard work, but that’s not nearly—it’s not a very elegant or enticing response. To be honest, I’m glad we’re doing this interview today, as opposed to last week, because what I’m learning through all of this is my favorite part wasn’t necessarily about crafting the words, although I seriously enjoy writing, right? But anyone who’s written a book, dissertation, or anything, I’m sure they all can resonate with. You just get to a point where you’re so fed up with it. You just want to hand it off to somebody else. I feel really fortunate to have some great support from Scribe on that end.

The lesson that I’m learning now, I think my favorite part about this now is my last decade of life has been largely about internal cultivation, right? The internal landscape and understanding what is my message? Similar to your story earlier. What’s my message? What’s my role? What’s my work to do here? Now that we’re just a couple of weeks shy of book launch on February 21 of this year. What I’m learning is, I’m starting to see the next chapter. The next chapter is taking all of that internal work and really being a lot more intentional about sharing it outwardly, right? So one of my themes for this year is exposure, share the message, talk more with people about it.

I have a love-hate relationship with social media, because it touches back to so much information and so much stimuli all the time, but this is my truth. Now my next part of personal and spiritual development is sharing it with others. That has really come more clearly into my vision, just in the last week or two here. I think that’s my favorite part. I am obviously hopeful that it serves the book and the message. It serves not only as a message, but also a methodology to help people along their own path of personal and spiritual development. The book is fundamentally an act of service. I really enjoyed writing it. I really enjoyed working hard on it. I really enjoyed the design elements of it. I love the cover arts made by a good friend who I think just does a fantastic job, communicating nature, right, through his artwork.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes. You hit me hard with the illustrations and the graphics. That’s one thing I didn’t talk about, but yes. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off.

Ian Williams: No, that’s okay.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love it, dude. I loved all the poetry of it all. It’s beautiful.

Ian Williams: I appreciate it. I appreciate it. I mean, crafting it was certainly a joy, but my relationship with it now has changed that we’re so close to launch. I’m not in the weeds anymore. I’m not doing the wordsmithing and the design anymore. I’m moving into this phase of sharing it. That leads me to my own next phase or steppingstone to personal and spiritual development. I’m really enjoying that process right now. I’m really reveling in this, because ten years ago to bring this conversation full circle. When I let go of my dog and decided to address some of these core challenges. That work was, it was internal.

It was the biggest risk I could take was that emotional vulnerability, right? To be vulnerable enough with myself to address my emotions, and I’m a risk-taker. Now the biggest risk I can take is putting this message out in the world and having people say, yay and having other say, nay and holding space for that and continuing to learn and continuing to grow and develop. I’m really excited with where we’re at in the process right now. I have changed my relationship to how I think about it, which has been definitely one of my favorite parts of this process.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Man, it’s so powerful. If you’re out there and you’re listening, go get Ian’s book. Ian, thank you so much for sharing your stories and your experiences. I’m simply changed because of your book. I’ve just read about three chapters and swam through the rest. I’ll be definitely swifting through it throughout the rest of the week. I’m excited to do that. The book is called Soil & Spirit: Seeds of Purpose, Nature’s Insight & the Deep Work of Transformational Change. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you, Ian?

Ian Williams: They can find me on all the social media channels, the major ones. My handle is @reviveuandi. That’s revive U-A-N-D-I, and that is also a one-stop shop for my own personal URL and brand., send me a note, reach out to me on social. Promise, I’m working harder to be a little bit more active there the last couple years have been pretty busy. That’s the place to start. Aside from that, I do my best to get out. I do my best to get on podcasts like these and find other speaking opportunities that are in person. If there’s other people out there who feel like they resonated with this message, reach out. This is really my life’s work is the speaking and the teaching. Please do reach out. I genuinely mean it. We’d love to interact with people out there.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that so much. Congratulations on your book. I think it’s going to profoundly impact others. Thanks again for sharing your time with me today. Your experiences of course, your story, and your vulnerability, so thanks again, man. Time well spent this morning. Thank you.

Ian Williams: Thank you so much, Hussein. I appreciate the opportunity.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Author Hour. You can find Soil & Spirit: Seeds of Purpose, Nature’s Insight & the Deep Work of Transformational Change, right now on Amazon. For more Author Hour episodes, subscribe to this podcast on your favorite subscription service. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time, same place, different author.