The Keys to Inner Wisdom
A Conversation with Peter Russell
By Matthew Joyce
Note: This article is excerpted and condensed from a longer conversation. To read the entire conversation you can download a PDF version of the whole exchange. Or you can listen to it. Just click the triangle below to play now or right click the link to “Save As” to your computer and listen later. Conversation with Peter Russell
Matthew Joyce: Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Peter Russell. Peter is a visionary thinker and prolific author. He has written 10 books and produced three films on consciousness and spiritual awakening and their role in the future development of humanity. Among his better known works are A Global Brain, From Science to God and Waking up in Time. He’s also a spiritual teacher and trainer who teaches workshops at The Monroe Institute and in the San Francisco Bay area. Welcome Peter, and thanks for joining me.
Peter Russell: It’s lovely to be with you Matthew.
The Changing Superparadigm
MJ: Our conversation today is going to start with some big picture issues and then focus on what people can do to advance their own spiritual paths. Can you tell us a little bit about this paradigm shift that’s occurring and what’s going on?
PR: It’s something I call the super-paradigm because it’s a paradigm of paradigms. Just to remind people, a paradigm is the basic model behind any area of science. The theory of relativity is a paradigm. In biology it has to do with DNA and RNA. The super paradigm is the much larger paradigm in which all of science – physics, biology, astronomy -does its work. That paradigm says the fundamental nature of the physical world is matter. It is material in nature and in that sense it is dead unconscious matter.
Few people in science question it. But as with all paradigms certain things can’t be solved within the paradigm. The classic case was the old paradigm of the earth being the center of the universe. It couldn’t explain the movement of the planets. So Copernicus said maybe the earth is revolving around the sun, which was heresy at the time. But he questioned the fundamental assumption.
The problem today with the material paradigm is that it explains everything pretty well except for the fact that we are conscious – that we have experiences and an inner world of thoughts, feelings, and imagination. There is nothing in the scientific worldview that says the dead inanimate matter that constitutes our brain cells should give rise to an experience. According to modern physics all that activity in the brain should be going on in the dark without any experience arising. Nobody can explain that.
Science says the nature of the physical world is matter. The material paradigm explains everything pretty well except for the fact that we are conscious. When you take that view that conscious awareness is always there, then this problem of how dead inner matter gives rise to experience dissolves. As life grows more complex, so the inner life gets richer until we have the magnificent consciousness we experience.
MJ: That’s a fairly large hole in the paradigm.
PR: It’s a huge hole because in a sense the only thing we know with absolute certainty is that we are experiencing beings. We can doubt any aspect of our experience. We may be living in The Matrix. Our experiences may even be fed to us and there may not even be a real world. But even if I’m in The Matrix I can’t doubt that I’m experiencing something. So there’s always this problem of how does matter give rise to experience.
What a growing number of people have been doing is questioning the fundamental assumption that matter is not conscious. I believe there is no point at which consciousness appears. We know other animals are conscious. They experience. We see dogs and they seem to dream at night. It doesn’t mean an ant thinks and feels like we do. But there is an inner model of its world. There is a subjective experience. It might be a billionth of the intensity of our consciousness. But there’s something. It isn’t completely unconscious.
When you take that view that conscious awareness is always there, then this problem of how dead inner matter gives rise to experience dissolves. As life has become more complex, so the inner life has got much richer and more structured until we have the magnificent rich consciousness that we experience. It’s always been there.
MJ: Its one thing to talk about living things like ants or bacteria being conscious. But are you extending consciousness to what science would consider non-living matter?
PR: That’s the leap. Where science normally draws a line is the nervous system. They say as soon as the nervous system evolves you have consciousness. But you still have to explain why a particular structure gives rise to experience. If you go back further and say a bacterium has some inner light but a virus doesn’t, then you have to explain again this magical step of how come a bacterium has some sort of inner light. As soon as you draw a line you come up against this problem. So what we need to do is say there is no line. The consciousness of the bacterium is like a billionth of ours and the virus DNA is much less still. But there is never a point where that inner light is completely extinguished. That doesn’t mean rocks think or have experiences like we do, but they are not absolutely, completely dead.
The Quickening Pace of Change
MJ: If we think about the state of the world and how science and spirituality are coming together, there are some other changes taking place at the same time. We’re seeing ever-increasingly rapid developments in technology and communications, as well as rapid changes in our social norms and what’s happening with our environment. How does this pattern of accelerating change apply to this paradigm shift that we’re talking about?
PR: I think so much of our development is accelerating, which is a natural part of evolution. The pace of life has been speeding up throughout the history of life on earth. It took billions of years for cells and bacteria to evolve. Mammals took tens of millions of years. Human beings took a million years, and then we look at human society and civilization which was just 10,000 years ago; the industrial revolution 500 years ago; the information revolution less than 50 years. This speeding up is an inevitable part of evolution. We’re moving into a future where things are going faster and faster.
Whatever situation you’re in you realize you have a choice. You can get caught up in it and spend a lot of energy or you can step back into a state of being at ease.
The same thing is happening in terms of our inner awakening. Just look at how much has shifted since the 1960s. Interest in spirituality began then and it’s been changing rapidly. More people are becoming interest in it. It’s also affecting how we see the world.
As we shift our consciousness as individuals we begin to look at the world in new ways, and that helps us let go of the old paradigm. I suspect in 10-20 years this new way of seeing science – that the world is not dead matter but fundamentally there is an inner aspect to it -will be approaching a mainstream view.
Finding Ease and Compassion
MJ: We’ve talked about three good starting places for a spiritual journey. Can you give our readers an idea about where those steps might lead?
PR: In terms of becoming more conscious of your own mind, you begin to develop the skill of stepping out of those incessant thoughts that grab the mind. It doesn’t mean you are free of them completely, but you develop a skill so that whatever situation you’re in you realize you have a choice. You can get caught up in it and spend a lot of energy or you can step back into a state of being at ease. That choice is always there.
As we begin to exercise that, we start feeling a background level of ease more often. Not necessarily the whole time, but more and more. It doesn’t mean we have to accept the way things are. It doesn’t mean everything is fine and we don’t have to worry. There may be many things that need attention, but we don’t create unnecessary stress and anxiety. Instead of looking for ease out there, we begin to practice allowing it to come forth in ourselves.
As that happens, we find ourselves more compassionate towards others. If you’re feeling at ease in yourself, then you’re more open to noticing other people and what they need. Your social interactions are not governed by your own needs. Am I going to get what I want? Do they like me? How can I influence them? That begins to dissolve and you see what another person needs. So that’s another shift that happens.
A Spiritual Truth to Live By
MJ: As a student of consciousness can you share a guiding spiritual truth you live by. Is there a gem you refer to in your own life that others may find useful?
All the wisdom we need is within us. When I’m in a situation where I don’t know what to do, I pause and ask “Is there another way of seeing this situation?” And sometimes the answer pops out of the blue. It’s nearly always more compassionate and leaves me feeling more at ease.
PR: All the wisdom we need is within us. When I’m in a situation where I don’t know what to do, most of the time I don’t need guidance on what to do. I need guidance on how to see things. If I’m stuck, it’s usually because I’m stuck in a fixed way of looking at things. So I pause and just be present for the moment and ask “Is there another way of seeing this situation?” And I don’t try to answer it. That’s really important. It’s like dropping the seed of a question in, and sometimes the answer just pops out of the blue. It’s nearly always an answer that’s more compassionate and leaves me feeling more at ease, and it has a ring of truth to it.
The first time I did this, my partner and I were having one of those relationship arguments where you have different views on something. I was trying to persuade her and her and she was trying to persuade me. And I stopped and said to myself “Is there another way of seeing this?” And in half a second everything shifted and it was like – here’s another human being. She’s struggling through life like me. She has her own view. And instantly I fell back into love. I felt compassionate and realized for the last two days I’d been out of love. I’d been in arguments, aggression, fighting. I’d lost love and instantly it returned. It was there underneath, but I was blocking it when I’d got stuck. So asking “Is there another way of seeing it?” allowed me to reconnect with that deeper wisdom.
That’s a gem that I carry around, knowing deep down I have the guidance I need. It’s a question of pausing and opening to that. And I’m finding those sorts of questions are good ways of allowing that inner knowing to present itself.
To Learn More about Peter
MJ: That brings to a close our conversation with Peter. But I’m sure many of our readers and listeners will want to know more about Peter’s ideas. One of the best places to look is on his website www.peterrussell.com.
It’s a fascinating website, exploding with articles, book excerpts, meditations and lists of upcoming events and appearances. I’ve spent hours on it and I’m sure you will too.
So I want to give a big thanks to Peter. It’s been wonderful speaking with you today.
PR: I’ve really enjoyed it myself. It’s been wonderful, yes, thank you.
To Read More of this Conversation
This article is an excerpt from a much longer conversation that also touched on topics ranging from the significance of 2012 to how current world events are leading to a spiritual breakthrough, and from three things people can focus on spiritually to what it means to for us to wake up as a species and as an individual.
If you enjoyed these excerpts and would like to read a transcript of the entire conversation you can download a PDF.
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