Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done nearly 500 of them now and if you would like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look under the past interviews menu. This show is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. I say listeners because it also exists as an audio podcast. So if you appreciate it and would like to support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the site and there’s also a page about other ways to donate if you don’t like dealing with PayPal. My guest today is the Reverend Peter Panagore. Peter has a Master’s of Divinity from Yale University. He had two near death experiences which transformed his life and we’re going to be talking about those, but also about some other stuff because his life was already sprinkled with interesting spiritual experiences before he died. The first of his near-death experiences was while ice climbing near Banff, Alberta in 1980, and the second was in 2015 when a congenital heart condition caused him to have a heart attack. He’s been practicing Zazen and Centering Prayer and also Kundalini and Kriya Yoga for 40 years. For 15 years he hosted a daily TV broadcast reaching 30 million views a year across Maine and New Hampshire in which or on which he told inspirational devotional stories. Before that he served as a United Church of Christ minister and pastor in Maine and Connecticut and published 150 sermons and many prayers. His second book is called, I have a picture of it, I’ll flash on the screen here, “Heaven is Beautiful – How Dying Taught Me That Death is Just the Beginning” and it’s an Audible bestseller. And his first book, “Two Minutes for God” is a best-selling inspirational devotional book. Peter runs a global spiritual counseling service and travels as an inspirational speaker and teacher. So just before we start, since we’re going to be talking about NDEs or near-death experiences today, I just want to take a minute to explain why I consider these experiences relevant to the theme of spiritual awakening and thus to the theme of this show. I just wrote out a little paragraph here of some thoughts I want to express. I consider spirituality to be not just the aspiration to know the ultimate reality or one’s true nature, although it very much is that, but also to understand the subtle mechanics of creation, at least those relevant to the process of spiritual awakening. Such knowledge safeguards one’s path and may improve one’s effectiveness as a teacher, should one become a teacher. For instance, some spiritual teachers reason that there is no personal self ultimately and that therefore life after death and reincarnation can’t exist because there’s no one to survive physical death or to reincarnate. If they teach such views to their students, how will it influence their spiritual journey? What if they’re 80 years old or dying of cancer and feel they are far from spiritual awakening? Will they feel that their life has been in vain and they will die and cease to exist without having attained life’s highest goal? Contrast this with someone who realizes that the death of the body is just a milestone on a long journey, and that whatever spiritual progress they have made in this life will carry on, either into the next life if that’s the way it works or whatever, it’ll carry on. So anyway, I just wanted to express that thought and maybe as a start I can get Peter’s response to those thoughts.
Peter: Well, I learned when I was dead that I continue on, so I have no problem whatsoever if somebody’s teaching the other thing because from my point of view they’re going to find out when they die. And so I’ve never been about evangelizing because everybody’s going to find out the moment that it happens to them.
Rick: That’s true, I often think that it’s kind of amusing in a way that hardcore atheists who are materialists are going to have a bit of a pleasant surprise, hopefully pleasant, when they die. They go, “Wait a minute!”
Peter: Right, “He was right!”
Rick: “Now I can’t… how do I tell him now?”
Peter: Maybe they know, maybe they can figure that out.
Rick: Yeah, like the movie Ghost, they can go find Whoopi Goldberg and communicate with their friends and tell them they’re still around.
Peter: Yeah, well, that happens a lot actually, but visitation and dreams from deceased loved ones is a frequent occurrence that when I was a pastor people started whispering to me, “My aunt, I saw her in the kitchen doing dishes, she looked at me, and I had this incredible feeling of telepathic love, and I knew that all was well with her.” And people don’t talk about it much because it’s kind of kooky, but it happens all the time.
Rick: Yeah, you know, various polls have been taken by Pew and by, who’s that other famous pollster in New Jersey? I forget, I met him once, George, it’s not coming to mind. But anyway, they’ve done polls about people having these kinds… Gallup, George Gallup. …about people having these kinds of experiences, and they’re very common, I mean, extremely common. So it’s a little weird that there should be any stigma about having them or any fear about telling others you’ve had them, seems to me.
Peter: Well, I think that there’s a reason why there’s a stigma, and I think it’s a biblical reason. I think it goes back to, I want to say Deuteronomy, but I’ll just say Hebrew Scriptures, there’s a passage about, it’s bad to cavort with mediums, spirits, all that kind of stuff. So there’s a prohibition that’s built into the culture to distrust the direct experience of the transcendence — that’s mediated through pretty much through anything, really. I mean, once the Bible was zipped up and sewn shut, the Western church took the perspective of, you know, “that’s it, no more revelation, no more direct communication”. And that is also true of these experiences that so many people have about the deceased loved one coming back and communicating all is well.
Rick: Yeah, although Christian iconography and art of various kinds is full of images of otherworldly things, you know, angels and devils and all kinds of stuff that we don’t ordinarily see around us. So it’s there, and obviously not only Christian Scripture, I mean the very birth of Jesus was, you know, the shepherds were visited by angels in the field and were fearful and so on, told to relax. It’s not a bad thing that’s about to happen. There’s so many stories like that in every single spiritual tradition. So it’s a bit of a schizophrenic attitude.
Peter: Yeah, I agree, 100%. Yep.
Rick: Yeah. Anyway, I guess the main point we’re getting at here is, you know, there’s more to life than the snap of the fingers that, you know, our 70 or 80 years on earth is represented by. And it would be — and if that is true, which, you know, I believe it is and have experienced that it is — then it would behove people to get to know about that. It changes your whole perspective, does it not?
Peter: It completely changes your perspective because you begin to understand that the temporal nature of all reality, including yourself – it’s all passing away, and especially us. I mean, the cosmos is going to last another how many billions of years? But each individual consciousness, each person, you know, we get a short time here. And if we begin to understand that this is just a passage through physical experience and that we had a beginning before and that we have existence after and existence before and existence after, we got this little bridge, and I hear it seems like this bridge is really long, but when I was dead, it was that big, and it was pop. I was, oh my gosh, that’s the length of my life, the wink of an eye.
Rick: Well, when you consider the time span of geologic time or astrophysical time and so on,
Peter: It’s nothing. Humanity’s existence on the planet as sapiens is nothing.
Rick: Yeah, they do these things where if you take the length of the universe as a 24-hour clock, you know, humanity has shown up kind of in the last seconds of the last minute on that clock.
Peter: Yeah, yeah. So it seems to me to be a fallacy to think that we’re the most important thing there is.
Rick: All right, we’re going to get into a lot of things here. In fact, the person who recommended that we interview you said, “Oh, his near-death experience is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more.” So we’ll get into everything we can. So from what I understand, having read much of your book and listened to some other interviews, you had a proclivity for spiritual experiences or unusual experiences even from your childhood. Perhaps it would be interesting for you to recount a few of those.
Peter: Well, it kind of came unexpectedly when I was maybe five or six years old. My parents had had another boy. The fourth child to be born was the baby, and at some point he moved into my room, which upset me. And now I had to share this room. I was five or six years old. And I remember early on when he moved into my room — and I loved my brother, okay? If you’re listening, David, I love you.
Rick: I’m glad you’re not in my room anymore, but otherwise…
Peter: Well, it’s mutual. It’s mutual, okay? So my brother moved into my room, and it was a small room that I had, and I was sharing it suddenly with this little baby. And he always went to bed before me, and I would go… Now my new bedtime routine was to do it in the dark with my mom. And she would always tuck me in, and I would… Kiss me, we’d say a little prayer, and she’d leave the door open six inches with the nightlight on the hallway, and I fell asleep like I always do. And then one night early on when he was living in my room — and I love my brother, just to be clear — and I heard, “Peter, Peter.” And so I awoke to that, and as I sat up in bed, and I heard, “Peter, Peter.” But it was a voice I’d never heard before, but it was compelling to me. And I turned, and I looked, and the room, as I looked around the room, the room was the color of sepia tone, and it was illuminated, even though the room was no lights on. It was all this coppery color. And I kept hearing my name called, and I got out of bed. And as I got out of bed, and I put my feet on the floor, I happened to look to my left, and there I was asleep in my bed. And the covers were over me, and I was sound asleep, and I stared for a while at myself, and not afraid. I was in wonderment, and I kept hearing my name called, “Peter, come here, Peter, come here.” And so I moved forward to peek out the doorway, the six inches, and I didn’t see anything, but I kept hearing my name, and I went to touch the door, to open the door, but my hand passed through the door. And so I kept hearing my name and felt called, and so I passed through the door, and I went into the hallway where the light was off, because everybody was in bed, asleep, and the doors were all closed. And I went to the edge of the stairwell, and the stairs went down seven or six steps, and then there was a right angle turn and a landing. And on the landing, there was a little baby elephant. And the little baby elephant was speaking to me telepathically, and calling me, and motioning me with its trunk to come down, and it was covered in Indian clothing.
Rick: You know about Ganesha, don’t you?
Peter: I do, and at the time, I didn’t then. I was a little tiny boy, and I was raised Orthodox Catholic, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox. Ganesha, I’d never seen an elephant. And so I went down the stairs, and I floated down the stairs to the elephant, and when I got to the elephant, it was expressing love and compassion and wisdom through its eyes. Its eyes were, there were no pupils, there were no irises, there was no white of the eye, they were just black. And the blackness of the eyes, as I looked into them, was like looking into an everlasting expanse of beauty, and feeling love and compassion coming from this little tiny elephant. And it expressed inside me, like what I felt was belovedness, and trust. I trusted, and it said to me, “Now go down the stairs, go..” And it took its trunk and it pointed down the stairs, and I went down the stairs, floated down the stairs into the front hall. It told me, communicating to me constantly, told me inside myself, “Go through the doors.” I passed through the door with the curtain on it and the screen door and out onto the little porch and down the steps, keep going. I went down the steps, down the walkway, out into the middle of the road. And I lived in a, sort of like a 1910 cul-de-sac. And so there was no traffic ever, and there was a woodland behind us, and I’m in the middle of the road, and it says to me, “Now look up.” And so I look up into the starry night sky, and suddenly the starry night sky becomes eternal, and I see into… I see infinity. I see an expanse that I was incapable of seeing from where I was. It suddenly expanded into infinity and eternity, and I became frightened, and I popped back into my bed. So now I’m awake in my bed, and I’m wide awake in my bed, and I think, “What has happened?” And it’s dark in my room, but I’m all worked up. And so I do something I’m not allowed to do, except for to get up and go to the bathroom. So I get up out of my bed, and I open up the door, and I go to the bathroom just so in case I get caught, everybody, “I went to the bathroom, Mom”. But the first thing I did before I went to the bathroom is look over the stairs to see if the elephant was there. The elephant wasn’t there, went in the bathroom, went to the stairs, went down the stairs, crept around the house, looked in the living room, looked in the kitchen, looked in the dining room, went back upstairs, went in my sister’s room – which I wasn’t allowed in at all, ever, but I went in there – and I, you know, Andrea’s asleep, Cynthia’s asleep. I close the door, sneak to my parents’ room. I listen at the door. I don’t hear anything. I went over to the railing – so there was like this railing with these spindles, and I dangled my feet over – and I just stayed there for, I don’t know, a long time, looking and wondering what had happened to me, because I knew something had happened to me. I must have spent an hour there. I did other stuff hanging around, but I kept wondering if the elephant would come back, and then I went to bed. I got tired, went to sleep, and never told anybody about it, because what was I going to say? I popped out of my body, and I met an elephant. That’s nice. Right. Have some more peas. Eat your peas. You had a dream. Move on, and I kept it to myself, and so then later that year or a year later, it’s kind of fuzzy, the timing of it, but we had a little maple tree in my front yard, and it was my tree to climb, because I could get into the lower branches. It was my safe space, and my brother was sleeping, because he’s the baby. My mother’s ironing. “Go outside and play, Peter”. So I went outside, went into the front yard, climbed the tree, and I’m sitting in the tree. And I hear the same voice inside me, and I hear it from behind me, and inside me, a singular voice says to me, “You belong to me. You’re mine. You work for me. You’re mine,” and I was like, “Oh, okay. It’s God. God’s talking to me. An angel’s talking to me. Heaven’s talking to me.” There was no language to it. There were no actual words, and so I climbed down on the tree. I went into the house, and my mom’s ironing the clothes, and I was banned from being inside, and she, “What are you doing in here, Peter?” “Well, something happened.” “Okay. Tell me what happened. Don’t wake the baby.” I tell her, “God, an angel came to me and told me that I belonged to God and that I was going to work for God, and I think I’m going to be a priest, Mom,” – because Catholic, Orthodox, one sort of way to do this thing – and she says, “Oh, really? Well, then you’re going to need to learn. You’re going to be living alone for the rest of your life. You won’t be a married housewife.” This is like 19-whatever, ’66, okay? So my mom’s ironing my dad’s shirts or shorts or something for work, and you’re going to need to learn to do this stuff for you. You’re going to need to iron, do your laundry, sew, and clean the house, and today, you could begin by dusting because you came in. So I ended up starting my … and I still dust and clean, but it was the beginning of my independence and punishment for whenever I was disobedient, I always cleaned the house.
Rick: So what do you make of that whole experience now?
Rick: The elephant and the stuff that… the fact that you had these experiences, I mean, you must have thought about them over the years, what do you …
Peter: Well, they were always an anomaly to me, and then there were a couple of more that happened a year before I died, and only in hindsight do I understand now what their meaning was. But I can say this about it, is that I seem to have been born a mystic. It seems that maybe it’s in my DNA, maybe it’s in my soul or some combination of these two things, but there seems to be people in the world – and I’ve met others like me – who seem to just have this happen to them. God somehow calls them or their soul is advanced enough or whatever that is, I don’t really understand it. I just know that… it’s like a talent. It’s like I was born with this thing and I am able to use it. That’s really kind of what it is. And it’s isolating, because there I was, a six-year-old, and I knew that I was not my body. I didn’t travel very far, I saw very deeply, but from that day forward, I was always sort of on the outside. And I think it was around that time that I started not talking much. My parents nicknamed me “Silent Pete” because I just didn’t say anything. I was kind of in wonderment a lot.
Rick: Yeah, that’s great. I mean, I was going to say I envy you, and I don’t want to envy you. But kids should be supported if they have such experiences and not dismissed as kooky or crazy or overly imaginative or something like that, because I think you and I would agree that everyone has the capacity or the potential to have deeper insights, and a lot of times people are dismissed when they have them, and then they kind of clam up. I mean, I’ve interviewed a number of people who saw angels as a child or had some kind of mystical experiences, and the adults just didn’t get it, so they stopped talking about it and eventually lost the ability, which is a shame.
Peter: I agree with you that we should be more open in our society if we’re talking about the things that we don’t understand. And so my parents didn’t–I didn’t tell them, so they didn’t know, except for my mom knew about the angel, but nobody knew about the preceding experience. I kept that to myself, and why I kept it to myself, maybe because I didn’t understand it, maybe because it seemed special to me that speaking about it would somehow lessen the experience. And maybe if I talked about it, nobody would believe me, and then I would begin to doubt myself. It’s true.
Rick: I don’t think they would have believed you. Most of them, they would have just felt you had too much spaghetti sauce for dinner or something, you had a vivid dream.
Peter: Right. And it was unlike any other dream that I’d ever had, or had until I was in college. And we mentioned before we were on air, you mentioned Thomas Keating, the abbot from St. Joseph’s Abbey, and outside of Boston, west of Boston. I went to a Catholic high school near there, a Catholic prep school. And my religion teacher, my senior year, at the end of school, went to a retreat at the monastery and learned Centering Prayer, or meditation. Came back to our class, taught us how to do it. I was adept at it from day one, and began my daily practice from that time forward. I was the only one in my class who even liked it, let alone kept at it. And I find, over long practice that it strips away, as Keating says, the false self, which allows more room for the divine to enter in. And so by the time, now here it is, sophomore year of college, three years later, just three years into meditation, I’m out on the Appalachian Trail for a winter break, pardon me, a March-Spring break with an atheist buddy of mine who’s still one of my best friends. And because I know he’s going to find out when he gets to the other side, it’s a joke between us. So anyway, we’re out on the AT in Massachusetts, it’s like eight inches of snow on the ground. We’re tenting and half-cabining, and one night we get to this half-cabin and we go to sleep. And as soon as I fall asleep, I’m plucked out from inside my body. And I’m instantaneously, it feels like, at first, and then it realized that this instantaneous experience was longer – it’s both these things, long and slow at the same time. And I felt like I could see that I was being raised up on a cable, a cord, I come to understand later, out of my body, out of the cabin, above the treetop, and up to the edge of the atmosphere, where there seemed to be some sort of opening that I went into another space. And now I’m in a bubble of containment that’s made especially for me, and I’m in a darkness, an impenetrable, infinite darkness that I can see with my spirit eyes, because I’m a spirit body and not my physical body. And I’m wondering what’s going on, because I know I’m asleep, I know I’m in my sleeping bag, I know Bob is in the half-cab, and I know where my body is, and I’m completely cognizant of, with capable mental processing. I’m thinking about all this stuff. And “this isn’t a dream, this is like that time before”, I’m thinking. And then suddenly… oh, and also I can see myself – I have two perspectives simultaneously, I’m looking out through my spirit eyes, and I can see myself in this bubble, my spirit form. And suddenly, these two hands appear, and they kind of come into my bubble, and they’re like this, and then they’re like this, and one hand disappears, and it’s holding a glass vial full of gold dust. And I hear inside myself and outside myself, with words, without words, hard to tell. And it says, the voice says to me, “This is my gift for you, I give it to you.” And my hands, through no will of my own, come up into a cup, and this gold dust pours into a pile in my hands, and the voice says, “This is my gift to you.” A breath comes, now give it all away. It’s gone. I’m awake. I’m in my tent, I’m… pardon me, I’m in the half-cabin again, and I’m, “What was that?” And I’m thinking about this, and Bob’s there snoring, and I fall asleep again, and I am suddenly instantaneously taken out a second time. And I’m in the same, a new bubble, but the same bubble, in the same infinity, only this time my spirit, and I have two perspectives, and my spirit is standing, and suddenly I am a call, I am in, and I am a column of fire. This fire is consuming to the marrow of my bones, and surrounding my entire flesh like a tower, pouring through me. And I was, not scared, but astounded, and the voice says to me, “I will not consume you.” But I felt consumed. I didn’t feel burned, but the voice, I felt consumed, and the voice said, “I won’t consume you,” and it was over, and I was awake. And I, you know, shut up, and I didn’t tell Bob, and we finished the hike, and I wondered, “What was this?” So I spent the entire next year wondering, “What is this? What does this mean? Who am I?” I remember coming home. I remember coming home to my parents’ house and saying, you know, well, not telling them the truth, but there’s something different about me. I, something’s, I can’t, I’m feeling like I’m special somehow, like there’s something, and not special in a good way, just like special in a way I don’t understand. And of course my mom, God love her, “Oh, Peter, you’re just like everybody else. You’re fine,” and she’s right, I am exactly like everybody else, but I also felt completely off my pins, and I didn’t really understand what that was all about until I died. And can I toss in, I’m going to skip forward. After my near-death experience, I was in the monastery, Keating… Keating had a novitiate master named Theophane Boyd. And he was also the guest master, and I became a disciple of his after my near-death experience. And so when he retired, he went to St. Benedict’s in Snowmass, Colorado, which is a Catholic Trappist monastery, and I would visit him out there. And one night during the 3 a.m. prayer, I walk from the guest house up to the chapel, and I’m in the chapel with the monks, and they’re chanting beautiful, beautiful Gregorian chant in this echoing, beautiful stone structure. And I’m just listening because I don’t know the chant, and I’m listening with my eyes shut. And suddenly I feel like someone’s staring at me, and I’m like, “What is this?” and I look over to the corner. And there’s Theophane sitting in the corner, and he’s staring right at me with his laser-beam blue eyes, and he’s a column of fire. He’s like a column of fire coming through the floor, completely engulfing him and going right out the top of the chapel, and he’s looking at me with this intent look, and none of the other monks are… they’re all like eyes shut or into their prayer life. And he’s like communicating to me, “See this! See this thing!” So when I was dead, I also went through a fire. And the fire, and that’s a metaphor because there’s really no way for me to explain linguistically or conceptually exactly what happened, but it felt like I went through what Catherine of Genoa calls the purgative fire of divine love. It felt like I went through my life review was to experience all of the pain I’d given everyone in my entire life.
Rick: You’re getting ahead of yourself here.
Peter: I am! Let’s stop! Let’s stop! [Laughter] Alright, there’s a cliffhanger. We’ll come back next week.
Rick: Yeah, there’s literally a cliffhanger, actually. We’re going to be getting into it. Yeah, so this is, I find this stuff fascinating. And I was reading near-death experience books way back, you know, Betty Eadie and Danny Brinkley and James R. Prague and all that stuff, so I love the topic, and we are going to be getting into your near-death experiences. So far we’ve been talking about sort of experiences that happen during sleep, which maybe we could just kind of embellish that a little bit. I think that sleep is a very innocent time, and you’re not in control, you’re totally relaxed, and probably you’re more susceptible to having a deeper or transcendental or out-of-body or some kind of experience like that than you would be in the waking state. So there’s that. That’s one thing. And a lot of people report having had cool experiences like that during sleep. I recently chatted with some people, and we were comparing notes, and several people said when they were little kids and had a high fever, they had far-out experiences, a feeling of sort of infinite vastness and infinite tininess and infinite heaviness and infinite lightness, and they just sat there amazed by this. You’re nodding your head. Did you have something like that too when you had a fever?
Peter: When I had a fever as a kid, I had kind of the… well, it just felt crazy to me. So I didn’t get that kind of out-of-body experience at that point. But the three dreams I had were unlike any other dreams I’d ever had before, and like any other type of dream. I’ve had other experiences in dream state, but it’s not a lucid dream, and it’s not out of, like I wasn’t in control. It wasn’t like I was astrally projecting myself out of my own body. I was taken the second two times, and the first time I was invited. I was welcomed. So although I had a choice the first time, it seems to me, but I also felt like I was compelled by the attractiveness of this beautiful voice of compassion that was calling me that seemed irresistible to me. Like, although I had a choice, I had no other thought than to go.
Rick: So what do you make of these elephants and voices and different things that have sort of intervened? Do you feel that there actually are some sort of subtle or angelic or astral or celestial beings that are interested in our welfare and that check in from time to time and perhaps give us an experience and imbue us with some kind of knowledge that we might not have had, like guardian angel kind of thing? Do you feel like that’s going on?
Peter: I think that happens a lot. I think there’s a lot of anecdotal information out there that is more and more people are talking about it and have the courage to talk about it. We’re discovering that there’s more truth to that. We can’t prove that empirically. There’s no science that we can show that that’s the case. I have a lawyer friend who says, an accumulation of anecdote is evidence.
Rick: It’s true.
Peter: And so you get enough of that, then you can convict a person of crime in a court of law. So, yeah, I think it’s real. I think that people experience the divine in lots of different ways. I think that the oneness of being speaks through many voices and that the individual hears the voice that they’re capable and comfortable of hearing. And so there are stories of people seeing a physical manifestation of angels with wings. There are people like me when I was a boy hearing the voice of God, for lack of any other word, speaking as if through a microphone to a speaker behind my head and inside my soul, but the speaker and the microphone seemed to have some sort of entity-ness to them. So when an angelic being comes to speak to help us or guide us, it seems always to me to actually be the oneness itself manifest in a form that we’re capable of comprehending. Does that kind of make sense?
Rick: Yeah, totally. I’ve heard other people say that, I don’t know how they would know this, but that when we die, maybe initially we go to a sort of a realm that makes sense in terms of the tradition that we’ve grown up in that has been explained to us so that we’re not startled by something radically different than our expectation. But it’s sort of customized to the culture or even to the individuality of the person.
Peter: I think that that may be true. And if I had $3 million, I would do a global-sized near-death experience study on that particular subject, and find out if in India and in Malaysia and in Australia and in Zimbabwe that that holds true, because I don’t think that we have enough. I think that we can gather that anecdotal evidence and make some sort of data analysis to see what the percentage of experience is like that. Is it 100%, is it 80%? Even if it’s 60%, that has a significant cultural… the cultural social context of the experience matters. But there are Jews who see Jesus and Buddhists who see Jesus or Christians who see Buddha.
Rick: Krishna, somebody.
Peter: Krishna, right, right. And I saw a baby elephant when I was dead. What did I know about India? Nothing, you know?
Rick: You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need, right?
Peter: Right, but what I did get was the communication of compassion. And the containment unit, the little baby elephant, angelic form, whatever, Ganesh, whatever you want to say, was… I could perceive that it was not the thing itself. And that inside the eyes of this, when I looked into the eyes of this baby elephant, it wasn’t like looking into your eyes. I could see the expanse of the universe. And it was unlike when I looked outside, when I was outside and saw the, without the, sort of kind of saw it raw, without the containment of compassion. I just saw infinity and it was awful, that word, full of fear and wonderment at the same time. It wasn’t negative, wasn’t bad, it was just overwhelming. And I was shocked. There’s a lot of angels that come to people, there’s a lot of deceased loved ones that come to people. And if in our culture… and you’re helping a lot, Rick, by having this, doing these sorts of 500 video interviews, you’re helping to allow people like me to speak these things, to take the risk. Because I was pretty much a rational person, even though I was a mystic, I’m really into science, I like evidence. Well, it gives the opportunity for those whose circumstances don’t allow them to speak as loudly as they would like to, to be able to do that.
Rick: That was one of my initial motivations with this show was, I’m in a town where a lot of people have been meditating for a long time and people were having spiritual awakenings, and their friends would be very skeptical because they weren’t having them, because this guy looks like an ordinary guy, how could he be having anything special? So, one of the motivations was to sort of showcase various people’s experience so that people could see that their peers were having these things, and if their peers could have them, why not they? You know, to increase their confidence, maybe.
Peter: Right, and so I seem to be a natural-born mystic, but I think that everyone has the capacity for mysticism. Everyone is connected innately and interiorly directly to the divine. And even our souls and our spirits. If you’re going to give it some sort of physicality, you get your physical body, metaphor, spiritual body, like that people astral project in soul, which is this non-being consciousness that has no physical form. I mean, even the non-physical consciousness that has no physical form is made of like a photon of divine light at its very center core of being. Everybody is exactly the same, made of the same substance. And therefore, because we’re all the same, if we pick up tools that work with our biology, meditation being the primary one, but you can qi gong or any form of focus, any form of mental focus that isn’t focused on the self with a little s. I’m not talking about self-realization, about Peter. It’s self-realization about what Emerson called the Oversoul, the big capital S. Self-realization is like Vispashana yoga where it’s really not about you, it’s about connecting to the Atman. And anybody can do that if they set their mind to.
Rick: Sure. Well, if the divine is what it’s supposed to be, which is omnipresent and all-pervading, then it pervades all of us. It pervades a cat or a rock or anything else, but human beings have a more sophisticated nervous system than cats and rocks and have the capacity to use that nervous system as an exploratory tool in order to tap into that divine consciousness and begin to live it and experience it.
Peter: Exactly so. We are nature with a capacity for self-reflection. And we spoke early on about human beings, sapiens being on the planet 100,000 years. Not very long, but here we are 100,000 years into it and we discover this about ourselves that we can access the divine directly if we look within. And it’s on the inside that you find the outside. That’s really how it works best.
Rick: Yeah. Okay, so let’s move on to your near-death experience. You were a big outdoorsman, you were really into skiing and hiking and climbing and all that stuff all year round, summer and winter. And so you went on this adventure up in Canada and you take it from there.
Peter: Yeah, so I was a college student on exchange, hiding out from my family back East. Sister had vanished when I was a kid. I ran away from home, broke my mother’s heart, and I was escaping from a family emotions. And so I didn’t want to go home to Boston for vacation. I found a buddy, I found a fellow who would go snow caving, backcountry skiing and ice climbing. It was his trip, I joined his trip. Like you said, I’ve been an outdoorsman, it wasn’t the first winter trip I’d been on. So after our snow caving tour, which lasted about eight days and it was fantastic, we did this one day of ice climbing. And Tim, I’d been a technical climber rocks, but never been on ice. Tim was a lead climber on ice and on rock. And we had… he had all the gear, I had most of the gear winter-wise, and I borrowed what I couldn’t find. So I borrowed crampons, I had boots, climbing boots that I bought.
Rick: Crampons are these spiky things that you put on your boots.
Peter: Spiky things. Actually, I rented those from the outing club. Yeah, they strap on your boots. They’re there. Yeah, that’s a good description. They’ve got two, they’ve got points that look like fangs that come out, and then points that go down. So you can kick your, kick the fangs that are here into the ice and the points that go down, you kind of lean back a little bit and you get four points of contact on the ice. So you can toe grip onto the ice. And I got an ice axe and I couldn’t find another one. So I had one ice axe, you need two. I found an ice…
Rick: Showing a picture of an ice axe on the screen right now. And your second thing was an ice hammer. I’m showing a picture of that on the screen right now.
Peter: They both have wrist straps on them. One of the hammer has the strap on the bottom and the ice axe has a strap partway up. And you can put your hand through the strap and slide like a bead down, at least the one I had, and hang. You can set the axe and then let go and hang and rest. But the hammer, you have to hang onto this thing because it’s really not useful. It’s primary use is not climbing. It’s putting in screws and taking screws out and chipping ice away. But you could use it in a pinch. Tim and I decided we wanted to do this climb. I didn’t have enough ice axe. I only had the one, but we did it anyway. And that was our fatal choice because it’s a world-famous climb. It’s just between Jasper and Banff in Western Canada. And there were maybe eight or 10 or 12 other teams there that day climbing. And we made our ascent, but because I had a hammer and an axe it slowed our ascent down significantly so that we reached the top of the climb, maybe 500 feet, something like that, at dusk. And all the other teams had already descended and were leaving. I watched them walk out. They weren’t even on the ice anymore by the time we got to the top. And so at that point, we knew that we were in trouble because the sun was setting and the temperature was dropping fast. And we had eaten up our food. It was a day climb. We didn’t bring up a stove or a tent or any of that kind of stuff. And we were soaked because it’s a wet sport. And Tim hauled up the rope pretty fast and it became a 300-foot knot. And hypothermia set in. I got clattering jaw like in a cartoon where that’s a real thing. And I had to get the rope untied. So I took off my gloves and began getting frostbite pretty immediately because I had to untangle the rope. As we talked about what we would do, we knew that our situation was desperate. We…
Rick: You were just hanging there, right? Or on some little ledge or something?
Peter: We’re sitting on a ledge. Thanks. Yeah, we were sitting on a ledge. Our legs are dangling over it. There’s maybe about 10 or 15 feet behind us. There’s a wall that goes up. The mountain keeps going. We’re only 500 feet up. The thing is 10,000 feet high or whatever it was. I don’t know the height. It’s probably 5,000. But we’re behind us maybe 10 feet is this wall. And we got hypothermia. It was starting to set in. I was on the National Ski Patrol at Bridger Bowl. I’d been on the Ski Patrol since I was a freshman in high school. And not at Bridger Bowl, but elsewhere. And I was trained. I was a first responder, a Ski Patrol guy. I was observing to Tim that we had hypothermia and that we’re getting frostbite. And so we decided that we were going to die there if we stayed. We might die if we’ve tried to get off. We talked about snuggling up against the cliff and kind of canoodling for warmth, but decided that both of our core temperatures were so low that when we were wet and we were shivering and shaking, we were never going to get warm. If we did that, we were going to die. And so the only choice we had was to try to get off the cliff. The sun had set. The moon had not risen at this point. There was a bazillion stars of every color imaginable filling the sky. So there was some light, kind of black and white, enough light to see by. And Tim roped up. We took the same rope. And he roped in front of me. I roped behind him maybe 10 or 15 feet, put on our gear and in the dark, the semi light, traversed to the first rappel. And by this point…
Rick: And a rappel is a thing where you can slow yourself down on a rope, right?
Peter: Yes, exactly. So we have, I should say that we have harnesses on and the harnesses are around our waists. And it’s what the climbing rope wove through a connecting place so that we would be able to be safe in our climb. It’s the same kind of situation on a rappel. You throw the rope over the edge, you clip in your equipment on your harness, you hold the rope for friction, and you can walk down walls. Probably lots of people have seen this kind of thing on TV. And so we, at this point, we both super like trim 20 year olds. I was 21. No fat on me at all. Had already eaten up all our stores of food. I don’t know what time it is now, hours after sunset. And we’re feeling our energy levels depleting rapidly as we move and as we speak. So we decide not to speak unless it’s absolutely necessary, to conserve whatever energy we had for our survival. We knew that this was… we were in serious, serious trouble. And so we get to the first rappel and this particular place had a spruce tree or some kind of small fir tree that you’re supposed to take a piece of nylon webbing, which is this flat tubular webbing tied in a square knot. It’s a climber’s thing. Wrap it around the tree, put the rope through the webbing and throw the rope over the edge so that when you pull the rope through, when you’re at the bottom, it slides. But we were already beginning to lose our cognitive capacities. And we decided that we didn’t want to waste a piece of webbing that costs money. And, you know, we were poor, stupid, dumb college students losing our ability to think. And so we threw out the tree with the rope itself and Tim descended down 100, There’s an open space. And so now you have to go through kind of sliding down the rope, feet aren’t on the rock anymore. You’re just sliding down in space. I get down to this platform area. It’s probably like 12 by 12 or something like that. Snow is up to my knees. Tim’s there. At this point, you know, my coordination was wrong. Now, now I’m in a state where my lips are frozen. My feet are frozen. My jaw, I can’t really talk. My lips are too hard to talk. I’m not able to stand well. I’m falling over in the snow. We finally, Tim and I get our, you know, he’s helping me up. We get our act together a little bit and we go to grab the rope to pull the rope through and the rope is stuck. And now it’s frozen because the rope was wet. And now it’s…
Rick: Got caught on the tree.
Peter: Caught on the tree. It has rough bark and we can’t get the thing, we can’t get it loose. And both of us hanging on this thing, we just can’t get it loose. And our, and then the night’s getting colder. Our situation is getting more serious. Every minute that passes, we’re in more danger. And so…
Rick: So you need to get the rope loose in order to attach it to a new thing, lower down and then lower yourself down from that point?
Peter: Correct. Correct. And we eventually… there were three rappels and each one, we had to use the same rope to descend down this whole length. And, and so we’re in this situation where Tim says… you have knots, hitches and bends. Those are three types of rope uses – knots, hitches and bends. Tim knows a hitch called a Persick hitch. And what it is, is hitches are friction-based knots where when you pull on it they become super tight. And if you slack them they become loose. And this particular hitch, which he had this really super fine line with us, it was, I don’t remember how thin it was, pretty, pretty skinny, nine millimeters or something like that. And if you tie it on a rope with a big, huge loop, you can slide this thing up and slide the loop up for your foot. It’s an ascenders hitch. And when you step on it, it becomes like 98% locked. So he knows this hitch. I don’t know this hitch. He ties two of them, one on this side of the rope, one on the other side of the rope, makes these huge loops, steps one foot in, steps the other foot in. He’s going to, he’s going to ascend back up because there’s really nothing else that we can do. Someone has to go up and get the rope free. He’s the better climber. He’s the better rope guy. And he’s the leader. So bravely, courageously, he… I take the, I take the, the climbing rope. I wrap it around my waist. I kind of curl up in a, in a, like a spindle. And I lay in the snow trying to make this line, these two lines as taunt as possible. And Tim gets on these lines and he begins to ascend back up one leg, the other leg. And he, he’s climbing up and I don’t know, I’m not, I’m the way I’m lying. I can’t see him. My face is kind of in the snow and suddenly I feel the rope move and I hear him yell “falling…”. And I, you know, in that fast, the rope, the rope is free and, and, and I’m kind of unspinning a little bit because his weight’s on the rope and, and he falls down, whatever, but no rope is free. And we coil up the rope. We’re ecstatic. We’re now, we can move on to the next rappel. And at this point, we’re on the Icefields Parkway, which is this road that runs between Banff and Jasper along the Saskatchewan River which… right next to the river is the road. And right next to the road is this climb. So it’s very close to the highway. And this, this truck comes down the highway, this headlights with no, no traffic all night, pulls into the parking lot, turns to face us. It’s the warden because the night before, we had bribed the warden into letting us spend the night in his cabin with him. So we wouldn’t have to set up our tent because it was after dark. We, we cooked him dinner, a good dinner, and we cleaned up. So he let us spend the night and we signed into the log as we went out into the wilderness to the climb the next morning. And we didn’t sign out with all the other teams at sunset. So at some time in the middle of the night, he came looking for us. And so he pulls in the parking lot and he flashes his lights. And now the moon’s up, a three quarter moon or so. And we jump up and down and we wave our arms and he flashes the lights and we can see him and he can see us. And we’re heartened. We’re like, oh my God, thank God. He knows we’re here. He’ll, you know… we’re going to make it. We’re going to make it.
Rick: But there’s nothing he can do to help you.
Peter: No. No.
Rick: Because he can’t climb the thing and he can’t bring a helicopter in in the dark and whatnot.
Peter: Nope. Nope. But, but just enough to be known… just was enough to like… at least, at least they know we’re here. So we make the next week, we traverse over to the next rappel. And in this, this rappel, we’re off the ice. Now we’re on granite and there’s an iron pin into the mountain with a ring on the pin and you run the rope through the ring and you descend down this kind of craggy, rocky space. And off to the left of this, the mountain comes out and makes a corner and you come down a hundred, another hundred, 150 feet. And you make this corner and you step onto a ledge around the corner. So the rope is over this way. We’re over this way. And on this ledge are two iron pins with rings and harnesses straps that are permanently there for climbers. And I clip into the one closest to the rope and Tim’s off to my left because he got there first. The warden flashes his lights and he drives away because we’re only one rappel left. We’re 150 feet up. You know, at the bottom is our tent and, and safety. And so now, you know, my feet are are blocks of ice. I, they’re blocks of ice. My hands are, are hard to move. My fingers, my jaw, my lips – I’m frozen. And I take one – and I have to take my gloves off to do this, I take my gloves off, I put them down. I tie a knot with one end of the rope onto my harness, so I don’t lose it. And I put my gloves back on. I take the other end of the line called the bitter end. Ironically, I take the bitter end and I toss it out to the side with the intent to grab the line and pull it through. And I grabbed the line and I, and it’s fricking jammed. First yank, it’s like, it’s stuck. And, you know, and I like pulled it a couple of times and I’m sure it was like a cleft and the rope, just every time I pulled it got tighter and tighter. And, you know, Tim’s aware of this and I’m aware of this. And so we discuss what to do. Because there was not much slack in the line when I tied the knot, there was just… there might not be enough rope to get to Tim to have him pull with me. And if I take my gloves off – because my fingers are frozen, what if I drop the rope? You know, the rope is secure. Now we have it. If I drop it, we’re definitely dead. And we dove deep into our willpower. I don’t even know how to describe this, that the drive for survival was so powerful inside me that I had a singular focus to my entire will. And it was, it was life. It was like stripped, everything was stripped down to live. And so everything we did was driven by this will for survival. So I kept pulling on the rope, then I got hot, which is like last stage before sleep. And even though I knew better, but I lost my… one of the things that happens when your brain freezes is you really lose your ability to reason. Reason kind of goes away and kind of craziness sets in. And so even though I knew that I wasn’t actually hot, that I was actually freezing, I didn’t really care. And I unzipped my coat and got kind of made this happen faster because that’s kind of what happens. And, and I realized that I wasn’t going to get the rope free and that I was, I was going to die here. And that was just it. And so I remember like I looked out over at the beautiful sky and the mountains that I could see in the distance. And, and I got up, I was peaceful. I was sad, but I was peaceful and I was accepting. And I thought about my parents and I thought, you know, my sister had run away and hurt my mom. And here I am – I’m dying and they’re going to lose me. And it’s going to be worse for them. As bad as it’s been, it’s going to be worse. And, and then I began to fall asleep and I would pull on the rope. I’d fall asleep, I’d collapse, I’d hit the ledge, I’d slide off the ledge, I’d wake up, I’d pull myself back up. I’d pull on the rope and repeat. I don’t know how many times. And then I pulled myself up. And as I stood there about to pull on the rope, this very wide black circle appeared in my peripheral vision – all the way around me, like a fade to black on a spotlight on a stage, and that comes in on the center actor and the whole place goes dark. Well, this, this spotlight was coming in on me and I couldn’t see any more of the world, this world outside the edge of this collapsing black circle. And I remember looking this way and looking this way and looking forward and it got smaller and smaller and smaller really rapidly. And it was out blackness. And I thought, well, I was thinking, what is this? What is this thing? And when it went black, I thought, oh, it’s gone black. And I felt myself collapse, but I thought, “I’m still awake. I’m still conscious. I’m not asleep. Why am I not asleep? I should be asleep. I didn’t feel myself hit the rock. Did I hit the rock? Why am I not awake? How come I can think?” And as I’m thinking all these thoughts, my vision – this blackness – becomes an infinite darkness and this infinite darkness in this greatest distance from me, I see like an entity. I can’t hardly describe it to you. It’s a consciousness that is independent. And is in an instant of a thought, from the 13.7 billion time span of the universe, from the big bangs beginning that far away and further – in the space of a thought, it rushes toward me and, and expands to fill my entire horizon while also being very localized. And communicates to me telepathically without language. “I’m taking you”. And I thought, “no, you’re not.. I don’t know what you are, but you’re not taking me”. And I took all this willpower, this drive to survive and strength of myself to be alive. And I put up my will against it. And it just took me like my will was nothing. And I traveled with it. I traveled with it and a speed of thought. And then, then I kind of was in suddenly alone in a greater darkness that was illuminated. So this, this first fade to black was not illuminated darkness. It was just darkness, but this new place, it was darkness and illumination at the same time. And so from, from here on out, I need to tell everybody I’m speaking in metaphor, I’m speaking in concept and in words, but there are no words there. And there are no things. I was not a thing. I had no thingness. I had self-awareness as a consciousness, but I had no physicality. There was no thing there that I could conceive of as being a thing here. And I tell it in a sequence of events, but there was no sequence of events because there was no time. It wasn’t like… out of time. It was like all time and no time at the same time. It was. And so I’m in this, I’m now much bigger than I am. And I, my physical Peter and I know I’m big. I know that I’ve expanded. I am utterly unafraid. I’m completely calm. I’m content. I feel like this is me. I feel like….
Rick: On this note, this would be a good chance to ask a question that just came in. It relates to what you’re saying right now. From Jill Brody in Connecticut. She asks, “When you’re out, when out of your body, did you ever totally dissolve beyond subject-object?” She said, “I have had numerous awakening events, including 360 degree views with crystal clarity, though through all these experiences, there has never been a total dissolution of viewed and viewer.”
Peter: That is an excellent question. And my answer is in this particular, in my near-death experience – no. But it’s a yes and a no. And I’ll tell you about that in a minute. But in my subsequent out of body experiences of what the Christians called a beatific vision of union, even more so, yes and no, almost disillusionment, but not. Which leads me to the conclusion…
Rick: Dissolution, you mean?
Peter: Dissolution, yes. Not, right, dissolution, which leads me intellectually to reading through the literature, centuries of literature, that yes, yes, the divine sense of union, it can lead to the obliteration, obliteration of the self, but it’s not a negative obliteration, it’s a reabsorption of totality into the oneness. And, while I haven’t experienced that to the fullness of what I just described, I’ve had enough of that to know that I am that other thing, but in sort of the same and less at the same time. And so let me answer that question a little bit by continuing with near death, because that’s kind of what happened. And so I’m this orb of consciousness and I can see in every direction all at once, I am one big eyeball, I am one mind, I am one… my whole physicality of my spiritual soul, my consciousness is all of me all at once. I’m an ear, I’m a tongue, I’m an eye, I’m every… I’m all of this all at one thing. And I can see in every direction at once and I’m alone and content and I know that I’m in eternal place. And, then a portal opens like a – I describe it as a doorway, a gigantic doorway, as an opening, like a womb opening. But it’s a tunnel and this tunnel goes off into infinity. And I look through this transparent and translucent opening and I see this tunnel, and I know that I’m welcome to go through it. And the first thing I do is I touch this translucent flow – it’s this flowing, sort of shimmering, translucent, transparent covering. And I touch it with the beingness of my soul, of my consciousness and it’s living. It has life in it. And as soon as I touch it, all – it’s not just like with a little L, it’s like living with a capital L. It’s the totality of all, all livingness. And it’s flowing of all energy, of all, of everything. And it flows into me. And as it flows into me, I hear my name called, but it’s not Peter… I know that I’m a creature created by creator and the calling of my name, which I cannot pronounce, but I know because there’s no… it wasn’t a word, it was a description of my created being. And, I could see lots of things all at once. I could see that I was absolutely fully known, that there was nothing about Peter that was unknown, that my entire existence was fully absorbed. I knew by the all knower, I could see that, that my consciousness that I was sort of riding on the top of was actually this long, long sort of conical snake tail of my everlasting soul, extending back into the moment that my name was called into beingness as a, like a photon of lights, like a wave and a particle at the same time. And I was spoken into being, and I had this soul form and I could see my life passed before me. Only it wasn’t really before me. I watched all of the suffering that I gave every single person in my entire life from their point of view, times 10,000. With all the pain that I’d caused intentionally and all the pain I caused unintentionally, and there was more unintentional than there was intentional, because you just hurt people and you don’t know it. But all, but every single drop of pain that I’d caused was 10,000 times more than I thought it was. And so not only… I didn’t like witness this from the outside, I witnessed it from the inside of the people that I hurt. I felt their feelings, times 10,000, simultaneously experiencing all of my justifications or reasons for causing that pain.
Rick: Let me ask you a question here. Why should it be times 10,000? Because it was so brief and it had to be magnified in order to do it all in such a short flash of time or what?
Peter: Maybe it seemed to me that it was that the pain that I caused was much more extensive than I had any idea. That was what it seemed to me is that, the very little pain that I, say for instance, I caused my second sister. And in one particular instance, I thought, ah, you know, she’s okay. Well, what really her soul was not – her soul was damaged by me 10,000 times the pain in the moment that she experienced it than what she experienced in life. And at least that’s how it appeared to me.
Rick: You weren’t a particularly bad guy. I mean,
Peter: No, I was just…
Rick: a pretty, pretty nice guy by some standards.
Peter: Right. I wasn’t a bad guy. I not killed anybody or, you know, I wasn’t, you know, manipulating narcissistic, you know, sociopath, genocidal kind of, I was just a guy. And, simultaneous to experiencing all this pain that I caused, I was also experiencing all the justifications and I judged myself shameful. I was not just ashamed of the pain that I had caused because now I knew that I had caused the pain. There was a bunch of other stuff going on. I knew that I also knew that all the love that I’d given away in my life was brought with me, was part of my treasure and all the love that was given to me was part of my treasure. And somehow this lens of love allowed me to see the infinite amount of love that was the divine. And it was in comparison to the divine that I felt shame. It wasn’t so much just that I hurt people. It was the purity of the one, the purity of perfection was not me. And simultaneous to all of this, I could also see, the structure of humanity’s sinfulness, which is causing when we hurt other people, that’s what is sin. It’s hurting other folks. That’s it. And, you know, we can’t really seem to help that too much at all, actually. And it seemed to me from this heavenly view that I had, that the sins that I had committed were no worse or no better or no less or no greater than anyone else’s. And that there was this equality of brokenness between all humanity. And that because I could see from a heavenly view that this is just the way we’re made. It’s not bad. It’s not good. It just is who we are. And it’s not really our fault that we’re made this way. It’s not our fault that we’re made this way. It’s the structure of the reality in which we live. And therefore, therefore forgivable. And the voice….
Rick: One question I had when I listened to you say this in other interviews was, how come the pain you had caused was such a large part of your experience without a counterbalancing experience of the good you had done? You mentioned something about love, but even there you said it pales by comparison with the love of the Divine. So, why shouldn’t you have been shown the sum total of your life, both good and bad?
Peter: I have no… I don’t know.
Peter: I mean, why did I see a baby elephant? Why? I was not, I don’t know. I wasn’t in control. But what I did see, what I did to this voice of the Divine, I knew that I was, I knew instantaneously, unequivocally, and self… what’s that word? Self-evidently that I was in the presence of the Divine. And the Divine completely surrounded me, but I couldn’t see the Divine. But I knew the presence was there, and this voice, a non-gendered voice with no breath and no words, no language, direct communication was saying inside me simultaneously, I love you. I’ve always loved you. You’re my beloved. I love you. I forgive you. I love you. I know you. I’ve always known you. I’ve known you since the moment of your creation. I love you. I’ve always loved you. And my love for you is a septillion times, a septillion times greater than anything you’ve ever experienced. And so, you know, all this love that I brought with me, this little tiny bit of treasure, this little, little, little teeny tiny bit of treasure was nothing in comparison to the immensity of the Divine love, abundant storehouse of love, that exists everywhere all the time, unending. And so, it was the love that I brought with me, the key that allowed me to see this? It seems to me that the love that I brought home with me allowed me to see the Divine love, but that I needed to be, I needed to go through the… I describe this as the hell of my own making. I went through hell. And the hell that I went through was the hell that was the pain that I caused other people, but it was a necessary hell, because I needed the Divine fire of purgative love to cleanse me for what happened next. I had not, I did not have enough room in me to be – and this gets to the woman’s question in Connecticut – to be infilled with oneness. So, I experienced God, the Divine, as the oneness of being, predominantly as beauty and love, but also joy and knowledge, information, data processing, wisdom, glory, awe, radiance, blissfulness, wholeness, health, truth, all smushed into one thing. And that oneness entered into me, and I was infilled, I was already this large, expanded self, but I was like a balloon that was pushed even further to the point of popping, to the point of popping. Like, if I had one more drop of oneness infilling me, then I would have gone to the state of obliteration of being, and that it was beautifully painful. It’s sort of like, it’s like when, in pre-orgasm, where pain, where it’s so, it’s so pleasurable, it’s almost painful, and that’s, but I was so to this place of awe and absorption of knowledge, anything that I could want to know and did want to know was instantly downloaded into me. I had no brain in the way of my thinking. I processed information that fast, and I was beloved, utterly beloved.
Rick: It’s interesting with all this that you’re describing, to contrast that with the doubt that skeptics usually air, which is that, “Oh, a near-death experience is just the reaction of a brain to oxygen deprivation as it’s dying.” I mean, how could oxygen deprivation result in experiences like this?
Peter: That’s where Eben Alexander and Mary Neill, they take the lead with that. But what did I know of non-being? How could I possibly understand that I’m not my physical self? So what happened next was I was infilled, and I said to the voice, “Am I dead?” And the voice said, “Yes, you’re dead.” And I said, “Well, I haven’t gone through the portal yet.” And the answer was, “No, you haven’t, but come. Welcome, welcome.” And I said, “But my parents, my parents, my sister’s ran away, my mom’s broken, it’s 10 years of suffering for her. I can’t take another child.” And in an instant of a thought, I was transported to… I was right up next to Earth, but also far away. And I could see Earth like a hologram, and I could see every single person on Earth, 7 billion people, sleeping, eating, wars, violence, lovemaking, every single human action, all at once, everybody. And everybody’s covered by a veil, everything’s like this veil over every single thing, including the Earth. And the voice says to me, “In the way that I now love you, you now know I have always loved you, eternally, was, is, and will be. And that my love is a trillion times, a trillion times anything you’d ever experienced, and that I love you in particular. And my love is healing love, it’s wholeness love, it’s beauty love, and that all is well with you, was well, is well and will be well with you, eternally, because of my love, and so will be everyone, because my love is so vast.” And then I could see my parents’ faces in particular, but I could also see their suffering on their faces. And I said, “Well, I got another reason, I was in this theater company, we’re leaving on this national tour, I made a promise to the director who told me not to get hurt, there are no understudies – it’s a big show, it’s 24,000 miles, we can’t replace it, no understudies, so here I am dying, I’m not hurt, I’m dead. So I’m not even going to show up.” And I had made this promise, and God made no response. And I said, “Well, I still haven’t gone to the door yet.” And the voice said, “No, you haven’t.” And I said, “Well, do I have to go?” And the voice said, “No, I want you to come, you don’t have to go, but I want you, come home now, come home.” And I say, “Well,” being the argumentative sort, troublemaking kind, I say, “Well, if I go back to my life, can I come back here to this place of divine oneness of being?” And the voice says, “Yes, you can come back, because I love you.” And I say, “Well, then I choose to live my life.” And the voice says, “You’re not going to live your life.” Boom, I’m sent back. And I felt myself approach my body from the outside, like I had no willpower over this, I had no choice over this. And I felt myself crushed down from this much larger self into this tiny, very uncomfortable package that was painful to be in, and screwed back into my body. And suddenly I’m inside this physical form, and I know that I’m not this thing, and that I’ve been reduced into this crude corporeality of mortal frame. And I don’t like it when I’m in pain, and I don’t even know how it works. I sound and feeling and movement, and I’m completely at a loss in this thing. And at some point, I start to come up to the surface, and I hear this noise, and it becomes the voice of Tim, I later learn, screaming, “Don’t die, don’t die.” And he’s got me, and he’s jiggling my body. And at some point, I’m able to stand, and he gets me up. And I don’t even really understand what he’s saying still. And I’m looking at him, and I’m like, “What is this place? Where am I? Who am I? What is going on here? What are thoughts?” And I suddenly come clear, and I hear him say, “You were dead. You were dead. If you died, I’m going to die.” And I’m standing there, and at some point, he convinces me to work on the rope again. I pull the rope, and on the first pull, the rope comes free. He takes the rope, he puts it through the pin and the ring again, like I described before. He unhooks himself, and he descends. I’m trying to… He gets to the bottom. I’m standing up there like, “What has just happened?” But I’m also aware that I’m in trouble. And so I clip onto the rope, and I rappel down. And because the car is right across the street, and because I’m trained in first response, we can’t just get hot. He’s like, “Let’s get in the car and fire up the heater.” I’m like, “No, I can’t do that. Let’s get the tent. It’s a winter tent with a chimney and a vent. We fire up the stove, we heat up the tent, we make warm water, we get in our sleeping bags, we bring our body temperatures up slowly, slowly, till our feet can move and our hands can move. And when we’re able to move again, then we get in the car and we blast the heat. We stay in the car for like, I don’t know, an hour or something. Now it’s dawn. We move the car back over across the street to load up our gear, and the warden shows up as we’re packing up our gear, and he gets out of his truck, and he says to his boys, “Are you the boys in the mountain last night?” “Yes, sir. We thank you for coming and seeing us.” And he said, “Well, I came to see if I needed to get the helicopter…” – you mentioned helicopter – “…to get the helicopter to get your bodies off the mountain.” I’m like, “Oh my God. That was serious?” And Tim – I didn’t mention, Tim’s an atheist. So, I can’t talk to him. We actually made a rule early on in the trip, no talking about God. And I’m a meditator. I’m reading the Tao Te Ching. He’s like, “No, let’s listen to jazz.” So, I went from there. The next day, Tim drove south, and we drove through the day, and we get down to Calgary, and stopped and had pizza sometime after sunset. And driving south of Calgary, we totaled the car, hit a semi, blew the car apart, spent the night in a hotel, begged our way, the Mountie begged our way into the hotel. I should also mention before that even happened, we got arrested and spent time in jail for speeding, bribed their way out of jail. Tim’s driving this whole time. I’m exhausted. I wake up in the middle. I told the story a little out of order there. We’re driving. We drive through, where there’s lights behind us. I wake up, there’s a Mountie. We’re pulled over. We’re Americans. We don’t have any money. Wink, wink. We’ve got some money. We stashed it in our boots because we’re in a foreign country. We don’t have any money to pay the bill. We’ll just give us the fine. We’ll pay it when we get home. He’s like, “No way. You’re coming with me. We’re locking you up.” We get in the Mountie’s car. We drive. We get locked up. We’re locked in this cage in some small town somewhere. We decide that we’re going to pay as much as the fine as we possibly can. We go into our boots. We come up with the money. We say, “Here’s the fine money.” He takes the money, lets us go, drives us back to the car. We’re driving south. I wake up in the middle of the night. I’m like, “Tim, you’re on the wrong side of the road.” He’s like, “No, I’m not.” I’m like, “Yeah, man. You’re on the wrong side of the road.” His headlight’s coming toward us. He’s like, “Oh, oh.” He steers off. He was on the wrong side of the road. “You okay? Do you need to sleep?” He’s like, “No, I’m good. I’m good.” I go to sleep. I wake up again. Then we hit the semi because I wake up. I see we’re on the wrong side of the road again. I’m like, “We’re on the wrong side of the road.” He’s like, “No, we’re not.” This time, I jerk the wheel. I reach over. I just grab the wheel. I jerk it. Boom. Suddenly, we’re up. I don’t know how fast we’re doing. I don’t know what the speed was. It was on the highway. We’re off to the side of the road. We’re like, “Oh, we’re over to the side.” We’re back over here. We go past the front of the semi. Now, we’re in slow-mo. Everything’s flying around inside the car, cassette tapes and pens. It’s all going really slowly. We’re screaming. Stuff is flying by my head. I see my life review this time, but only it’s like a movie. I see a movie go by me. Everything, good and the bad, it goes by my eyes like a movie. We go past the front of the semi, right past the front end, up on our wheels and underneath the flatbed into the rear wheels and blow the car apart by hitting the rear wheels. The front of the car is totally shredded. I’m into the front side here looking at the flatbed is this far up against the glass. I didn’t hit it. I’m bruised. I’m whiplashed. We’re not hurt. Other than that, no broken bones, no blood. Tim is livid. He’s screaming at me. I’m now like a wreck. We get out of the car and the trucker’s like, “What are you guys doing?” He’s yelling at us. The Mountie shows up pretty shortly thereafter. We’re blocking the highway. They got to get the traffic flowing. We push the car off the highway so traffic can get around. Then we beg our way into this hotel, which is right nearby. The Mountie drives us. I’m leaving on tour in days. I should tell you it’s a sign language theater. It’s the sign language theater for the deaf. I was a practicing mime at the time. Next morning, we split up. Tim is so angry at me for ruining his car, incredibly angry at me. He takes the skis and the poles. I take the axes and the rope, the crampons. We have enough money for one bus ride back to Bozeman. He gets the bus ride with the skis because I totaled his car. I make a little sign that says Bozeman. I stand out on the side of the highway. I’m in a foreign country. I died. I don’t even understand what had happened to me. I have a stutter now. Now the car wreck gives me a stutter. I’m a nervous, crazy wreck. I’m wondering inside me. While all this is happening on the outside, inside me, I’m still hearing the voice of God speaking to me. This soundless, voiceless voice is still coming into me, pouring my name into me like I’m overfilled with this sound, like tinnitus. Only tinnitus is a gong, and it’s inside me gonging, and it’s very distracting. The voice is calling me saying, “I own you. You are mine. You are my messenger. Your job is to speak me.” That’s like no effing way. I don’t even understand what this is. I can’t even articulate. I don’t even understand in my head how can I possibly even do what you’re saying. I’m not your guy. I’m not your guy. Then I hitchhike back to Bozeman. Tim and I meet up. We exchange gear at some point. I go on this theater tour. We get a 15-passenger van and a pickup truck with a trailer behind it. I’m supposed to be a driver of the van. I’m like, “I can’t freaking drive.” I go. I take my camping gear and my sleeping bag and my pad, and I spend the entire 24,000 miles in the back of the pickup truck by myself. All I can think to do is meditate. What am I going to do? I have no tool set for this thing but meditation. I meditated and meditated and meditated and kept this thing a secret for 20 years. I went back to Boston and later didn’t tell my parents what had happened to me. About three years ago, I said, “Mom and Dad, what did you experience for me?” They said, “Well, we knew that you had changed. We knew that when you came back, you were a different person. We didn’t know why. We knew something had happened to you. You wouldn’t tell us.” I said, “Well, how was I different?” They said, “Well, you were kind. You were just kind all the time.” I changed my career plans. I was an English major, but my family had an architectural firm my dad was the president of. I was going into the firm like my sister, who was in graduate school right then. I was going to grad school, but in architecture, no, I didn’t. I escaped to the monastery. I hung out with the monks. I decided that I would go to divinity school to put off the monastery for a couple of years because the monks were the only people I’d ever met who radiated light that I could see. I saw that the first time at the monastery when my religion teacher, in my last year of UMass, took us on retreat. I was in front of Theophane Boyd with my class on a Zazen retreat for the weekend of silence, and I could see his radiance. I could see it. It was a first experience for me of seeing the light of God inside a human being be visible to me in such a way that it was perceivable with my eyes. And so I adopted him against his will as my spiritual director, kind of forced myself on him for the next 15 or 20 years. He was eventually very accepting, but I’m just some guy coming in from the outside. I went to divinity school instead to study mysticism, which wasn’t taught at Yale, but I got into Yale and I talked to the dean of admissions into creating a three-year independent study for me. Utilizing university resources and bringing in other professors and doing independent study, I studied the history of Western mysticism in order to create a conceptual context, a containment unit for what had happened to me to explore it. I realized that I felt alone. I felt like in this time period there was no internet. I didn’t know about near-death experience. I didn’t even know the name of it. There were no books out there for me, but I knew that having read enough that there were mystics and that there were mystical geniuses throughout history who’d had divine, transportive, and unitive experiences that I could learn from and maybe find a way to understand what had happened to me and go from there.
Rick: One thing I heard you say in several interviews was that after your near-death experience, the world seemed flat and sad. Life was dead, you know, and here you were in this beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies, but everything just looked like two-dimensional as if black and white kind of like drab compared to the heavenly experience you had just had.
Rick: And I thought about that and maybe you would like to say something about that before I say anything more.
Peter: Sure. That very first morning when I was hitchhiking back, I was in this incredibly beautiful place. It was at sun-up and it was clouds, a million colors, and I felt crude. I felt like two-dimensional, like you described. Like this place here is flat and broken and less than, and not by mere percentage points, by cosmological factors, like that kind of measurement. It’s so reduced here and so cartoon-like and so… I felt like I’m inside a biological machine where I am outside looking in and having two perspectives at once. I know that I’m not this thing and yet I’m stuck inside this thing that is… Let me explain it this way. The first time we had pizza in Calgary, we went into this place and I was like, “This is so broken. It’s so ugly.” And I had to take this pizza and I had to put it in this and machinate it and swallow it in order to… It was disgusting to me. It was repellent to me and repulsive to me that it was so not what I know was real. And so I’ve adjusted now. I still have that perspective, but I’m better adjusted to the world at this point. But I’m always in the experience here as an outsider. I’m always like an alien, like a stranger in a strange land, like I can’t wait to go home.
Rick: Yeah. That experience reminded me of a verse in the Mundaka Upanishad which reads, “Two birds living together, each the friend of the other, perch upon the same tree. Of these two, one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, but the other simply looks on without eating.” And the interpretation of that verse is that the two birds are the Jiva, the individual entity, identity, and the Ishvara, or the universal spirit or God, indwelling within us, and that both exist within the individual. And people often speak of the experience of witnessing in which they feel they’re engaged in the world, but they’re not. You know, they’re doing stuff, but they’re not. The world exists, but it doesn’t. And both of those experiences happen simultaneously without really conflicting with one another. They’re just paradoxically opposite, and yet one can sort of incorporate them within one life.
Peter: Exactly so. It’s exactly… That description is accurate for my life, from the moment I came back. And I was pretty upset that I was sent back to this… I felt like I was tricked. Yeah, you can go back, but you’re not going to live your life. But really, I come to the conclusion through decades of reflection that I was youthfully angry at God for letting me make my own choice, and that I chose to come back to this crude place and live this life of… I live in a duality. I live in two places at once. I see from the outside, I see from the inside. There’s this… And here, any emotional experience that I have here, joy, love, beauty, anger, pain, it’s so… – there was no anger and pain on the other side – but it’s so not… It’s at such a small level that I can’t help but compare it to the oneness of being. Everything is always compared to the oneness of being, and everything here is just so much less than.
Rick: But I would suggest – and you must know this – that that oneness of being or that heavenly quality can be lived in the midst of earthly experience. You know the line from the Lord’s Prayer, “The kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and that the grossness of perception that usually characterizes people’s life can be refined to the point where the heavenly quality that you experience in the transcendent, or that you experience in your NDE, it actually characterizes everyday living.
Peter: That very well may be true. My experience of that is twofold. One, that I know that through long practice of prayer and meditation and yoga, and based on my near-death experience and the multiple mystical experiences that I’ve had subsequent to that, that I am a carrier of divine light, that I am a channel, I’m a lens, and I work to make that happen. And I think that every single human being has the capacity to open a channel to the divine heaven of light here. And that the more of us that do that, the more of heaven becomes present for everyone.
Rick: Sure. And two people can be experiencing the exact same situation, sitting looking at a sunset for instance, and one of them can experience it as this divine play, you know, just they’re seeing God in action, and the other is depressed and miserable and the whole thing just looks drab and ugly. So, so much depends upon our individual orientation.
Peter: It does, and don’t misunderstand, please, that just because I feel like an alien here and that it seems drab and ugly to me, that that is in any way my primary perspective, because it’s not. One eye always sees the divine, and by one eye always seeing the divine, when I look over here, everything is less than, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It doesn’t mean that it’s… it’s not a negative thing. It’s an experiential reduction. It’s… and I find that my interior practices of seeking the oneness inside myself give me the stability and capacities to live a more stable life in balance in this world. And it’s… people say, well, don’t you ever feel joy? Well, yeah, sure I do, but it’s not anywhere near comparative to the other side. So it seems to me this, it seems to me that the amount of the divine that I’ve experienced anyway on this side is always filtered and reduced through the physicality of my DNA self no matter what I do, even though I have a direct experience of contact with my own soul constantly.
Rick: True, but ultimately if all is one, there are no sides.
Peter: Oh, right.
Rick: And so, not this side, other side, but you read beautiful accounts by mystics of seeing the divine in a garbage pile or a pile of cow dung or something like that, because obviously God can’t be sequestered off into some transcendent realm. He or she or it pervades everything. So I think the name of the game is to get to that level of perspective.
Peter: Well, I totally agree with you. The divine is transcendent and imminent at the same time, simultaneously. And I think that the saints who say that they see the divine in the dung pile, which is true, is an experience that may or may not be a continual experience in their life. You can see, because I’ve had those kinds of experience, where in a flash of a moment, see the totality of the divine being in the experience of great beauty or even ugliness. I worked in the homeless movement for a long time when I was in grad school and after, and in the eyes of the most desperate, I sometimes see the light of heaven’s light. But I also know that Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa, had one divine experience in her entire life that drove her actions till the day she died by serving the poor and never had another one. Whether we can live in a constant state of oneness of being where everything is beautiful in life is possible, but it’s not my experience. My experience is that in individual moments of life, I can see the light of the divine in the purity of itself. And I’ve seen it directly in people. I’ve seen by… about three years ago, this started happening because NDE is a gift that keeps on giving. And if you practice in meditation, you remain connected to it. And my goal is not only to remain connected to it, it’s to deepen my experience of it, to become more of a lens through which the light can enter into the world. Not Peter, okay, because Peter is this false self that I saw as a false self when I was dead. It’s just the thing I live in. And the light – I saw the light from a forehead to a nose three times so far. And in seeing that light, I see the totality of the oneness of the being. I don’t just see light reflected in people’s eyes or the aura around people. In particular experiences, I see the oneness of self. And when I see that oneness of self, I see in that other person that I am no longer me and that she is no longer she, and that it’s God seeing God’s self. It’s the eye of God seeing the eye of God. And so yes to what you’re saying, but no to living that experience in a daily way.
Rick: For you so far.
Peter: For me so far. But what I do experience in a daily experience is that the radiance of God, I live in a very rural place on purpose. I live in a rural place, it’s high aesthetics. I live in a rural place because every time I step out my door, I get nature bathed with the radiance of the divine that pours through every twig and stick, and bug and bee, and hurricane and cloud, and vicious fox that takes ducks, which nearly happened yesterday. Even the fox – which is beautiful and intelligent. So I live in this constant state of the divine’s presence, inescapably so now for me. But to have the intensity of the eye of the self seeing the self, it’s new for me.
Rick: I imagine even great saints who claim to have that sort of divine perception all the time have their peak experiences. Probably everybody fluctuates high and low, but always perhaps on a higher and higher baseline.
Peter: Yes, it’s probably so. That’s been my experience, in that from the time I was a boy to when I was a sophomore to when I was a junior near death experience. And then subsequent divine beatific visions where I’ve been taken out of myself and brought into another heaven that have lasted days or hours. I come back a different person and I come back with more capacity for the presence of the light inside myself, humbly so. This is not a braggadocio thing. This is because in comparison to divine perfection, I am a nothing. But each time I come back, I have more of the access to the other side. My filter, my lens, my veil… The veil becomes, well, the curtains are parted wider and wider through no doing of my own. My job, as I see it, is to practice meditation and prayer and to seek the oneness. It’s the divine’s job to give me the gifts of the spirit that the divine wants me to have in order to do my job. My assigned commandment, I’ve been commanded. And I’ve been a bad,.. I’m not a good soldier. (laughs)
Rick: I’ll make you do peeled potatoes for a few weeks.
Peter: Yeah, exactly.
Rick: A question came in from Sebastian Lund in Trollhatt in Sweden, which I think relates to what you’re saying, what we’ve been talking about the last few minutes. “Why does God not reveal himself in an obvious manner through his creation? Why were we created indirectly through impersonal processes such as the Big Bang and Darwinian evolution, as opposed to being sculpted directly by God?”
Peter: Good question. And the first assumption there is that human beings matter. I don’t think human beings matter one single bit. I think that we’re just… we’ve been on this planet, on the surface of this planet for 100,000 years. We, of course, we evolved into this particular form that we have, but I’m pretty sure that we’re not alone in the universe. And that with the trillions of galaxies and star systems and planets and water and DNA and all the rest of the stuff that’s out there, that we’re not the only ones sculpted into this form. And probably billions of years before we were, others were. So that’s the first thing. And the second thing is that why not revealing? Because it seemed to me when I was in beatific vision, I was… maybe now’s the time to tell a different story. So I sometimes get taken out of myself and brought into a heaven, and this is one of the things that happened. And in the moment of, I was married probably four or five years at this point. And I told my wife, by the way, my near-death experience. I never told her about any of the other stuff. I never told anybody about it. And I never told anybody about my near-death experience till 20 years after. So I kept it all a secret, but some things you can’t keep secret. And fortunate for me in this particular experience, my wife had witnessed something that had happened two years before, right after we were married that lasted days. And so she wasn’t surprised when this happened. And so at the moment of orgasm, I left through my forehead. I was taken and I traveled at the speed of thought, in my spirit self, across a vast distance of the whole universe, past galaxies at an incredible rate of speed, being escorted, but I couldn’t see, who was bringing me to the very edge of the creation of the universe. Where the universe is, where the divine light pulses to create matter into being. And I could see the light itself, like the divine wholeness, oneness of purity. I could see that. And I could see the darkness, which was not negative. It simply was a dualistic projection of creating matter from oneness of being, a separation, a reduction, a less than. And this perfection of the divine oneness of being that I experienced in heaven is so total that it cannot have any sort of “less than” in it. And so for the entire universe to exist, it can’t be perfection. It has to be imperfection. And we know this because we age and we die. We get wrinkles. Terrible things happen, cancer, and star systems and planets get swallowed with supernovas and black holes consume entire star systems and from the microcosm to the macrocosm, it’s all based in sort of imperfect matter. And it seems to me that if the divine light presented the divine light in its total perfection anywhere in the place of matter, then it would not be matter anymore. It would be perfection. And if it’s perfection, then it’s not existence as we know it. And so why does not God allow? I think God does allow. I think as much as can get through, gets in. And that we have a responsibility as individuals to seek the one who seeks us, to pursue the pursuer and know that in this physical corporeality of energy and matter, that this is totally temporary. And the perception that it is a long time is a false perception. In the moment of my death, I perceived that the length of my physical life was the wink of an eye. That fast, that’s how long 21 years was. So now I’m 60. That’s how long it is. Three times as long. Three quick flashes. And from our limited point of view here, it seems like the divine is not showing the divine. God’s not showing God’s self. But here’s the thing. I had this long conversation with this woman and she rescues – how do I say this? – people in trouble, people who are in danger in Southeast Asia. And she’s worried that her life of meditation is always set aside because she’s always going off having to into these dangerous situations to rescue these people. When actually, even though she doesn’t feel connected to the divine because she’s not practicing her meditation, she can’t find the peace that she wants, her action of selfless giving of charitable love creates a treasure that she does not even know she has. But I can see. I can see that the mom who is a single mom who’s left the domestic violence situation, who’s rescued the children, who’s struggling every single day with bad economics and dangerous people, you know, ex looking for her. That woman is creating love, a love treasure for saving the lives of the children that she can’t even perceive. And so I think that there’s a lot of God showing in this world. It’s just that it’s masked by all the suffering here. And so the thing that I… the big takeaway for me from Jesus is that, first of all, maybe he was a near-death experiencer. Maybe he died when he was a baby. Who knows? He talks like a near-death experiencer. That’s for sure. He says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself. Love God above all things. Love the oneness above all things. Seek heaven above all things.” These two things. And in the epistles, it’s like, “Those who know love know God, for God is love.” So if you know, if you’re a human being and you’re an atheist, like my buddy Bob – who was backpacking with me, who’s still my friend – he loves his children. And that’s the treasure of his life. And so even though we can’t perceive the oneness as clearly here or as easily as we’d like it to be, we see that every single time we love. Every single time we give of ourselves in a selfless way for the sake of another, every time somebody loves us back. But also in the ecstasy of merging in sex or loving your grandchild or any form of love whatsoever is the presence of the divine. And so instead of calling God, God or Allah, maybe a better word is love. I’m in love with love. I’m beloved by the beloved. I had this rabbi buddy – old man, God rest his soul. He told me that the word Adonai, which is translated from the Hebrew as Lord, L-capital L-O-R-D, small lowercase capital. He says that really the translation is beloved. That’s what Adonai means, is beloved. And so if we… language matters, but it also, only because it’s the way we communicate. So if every time we say, “I love you,” we think that we’re talking to God, then we’re seeing the divine presence.
Rick: Yeah. I would say as an addendum to that, and as a response to Sebastian, that who’s to say that the Big Bang and Darwinian evolution are not the hand of God? Maybe it’s not obvious to us, but there obviously is a profound intelligence in orchestrating the functioning of every little molecule in creation. So from my point of view, the divine intelligence pervades everything, including all the natural processes that science tells us about.
Peter: I absolutely agree. Some near-death experiencer said, “The universe seems to be made of matter, but secretly it’s made of love.” And it’s not just our universe either. So the physicists at Smithsonian Harvard, Harvard-Smithsonian, are talking about multiverse. They’re talking about, I mean, it’s in the news this week about black holes potentially being portals, right? And so what we know of the existence of the universe or how things work is very little. But if we begin to see God’s presence on a daily basis inside our own lives, inside of love, maybe then we can begin to see it in the flower or in the bacterium or in the electron.
Rick: Yeah. It’s obviously there because if you look at any of those things closely enough, you see something marvelous taking place that is obviously not random. It’s not just little billiard balls crashing into each other randomly. The whole thing would fall apart in no time if that’s what it were. It’s this evolving, intelligent expression. Even a single cell, they say, is more complex than a large city like Tokyo, and it can repair itself and replicate itself and so on. So obviously, divine is functional in every little particle of creation, but if our perception is on a more crude level, we may fail to appreciate that.
Peter: Which is why prayer really matters, because the more you open up the temple of your heart, the more space you make in the temple of your heart, the more you perceive the divine presence, not only inside yourself, but everywhere all the time. It’s kind of the way it works.
Rick: Yeah. And again, if God is supposed to be omnipresent, then show me where he isn’t. Show me some hole in the universe where that divine intelligence cannot be located if we look closely enough.
Peter: I think one of the great things that’s going on right now in science, in the United States primarily, but elsewhere in the world, is the examination of the location of consciousness. What’s the origin of consciousness? Is it DNA, biochemical? Does it originate inside my brain, or does it not? And from my perspective, I’m really glad that science is looking at that, because I’m pretty sure they’re going to conclude. I think that they’re going to conclude in the 21st century that it’s actually more like a download. Consciousness exists from outside the self. And when that becomes scientifically provable, that’s going to change the paradigm of what we think about ourselves for everybody.
Rick: I had a guest on named Mark Gober who wrote a book called “The End to Upside-Down Thinking,” and the whole conversation was about that. And a simple metaphor would be, like, are the Beatles actually in the radio? And if you smash the radio, did you kill the Beatles? Or do you just turn on another radio and the same signal, which is mediated through the electromagnetic field, comes through that instrument instead of the other one?
Peter: I like it, I like it.
Rick: A few questions came in from guests, let’s get to these. Here’s one from Michelle Romero from Keene, New Hampshire, near you, might know you. “Do you have an insight if what you experience and others experience in NDEs represents what happened when we die, or do these experiences happen to those who will return rather than actually die so that they may return with this wisdom to share with others?” In other words, I guess another way of asking that is, is there a difference between almost dying and really dying? Maybe you go on to even further realms if you totally die as opposed to being in the sort of lobby as you were and then you come back from the lobby into this life.
Peter: Yeah, I mean I guess I don’t know yet, and if I did I wouldn’t be able to tell you because I wouldn’t be here. But what I can say is that there seems to be different, as we talked about early on, or before the show actually, we were talking about whether there’s a cultural context for the experience of the near-death experience. So if I’m a Christian and I see Jesus, but we know that there are Christians who see Buddha, and we know that there are Buddhists who see Jesus. So maybe the cultural context doesn’t apply, but maybe there is something about the… and that God speaks to us in the ways that we can comprehend. So maybe there’s something about the place that near-death experiencers go to that helped them bring that back. I don’t think it’s the end game, that’s for sure. My experience of the divine was I was in a place of non-being. There was no corporeality to it at all. Some people go to this place like Eden, I didn’t go there. I went to a place where I was pure soul, and so close to oneness that one more drop would have obliterated me. So which leads me to the conclusion that there is more to go. In the beatific visions that I’ve had, I’ve been compelled to understand that the deeper one goes into the divine, the further the divine recedes, the bigger it becomes. So it’s like this ever-deepening, ever-widening, ever- broadening journey within multiple levels of heaven, as it were, layer by layer. Swedenborg, this Lutheran, he talks about these levels that in each level you think you’ve reached the highest level of heaven because it’s such pure love, and then you die in that level and you move up to the next level and you’re like, “Oh, this is it!” And then you die in that level and you’re like, “Oh no, this is it!” That’s more likely to me.
Rick: Like the infomercial, “But wait, there’s more!”
Peter: “But wait, there’s more, that’s right!” Exactly, I think that that’s true.
Rick: Yeah, yeah, and there are a lot of traditions which tell us that sort of thing. I mean, you hear about different degrees of heaven and different lokas, they say, in the Vedic tradition and so on – some of which you might return from to become a human being again, others of which, you know, when you’ve graduated to that level then you don’t come back to lower levels, you just hang out up there and do whatever you do.
Peter: Can’t wait, want to, don’t want to come back, done coming back.
Rick: My attitude is, whatever, God wills. If coming back is what’s best for me or if it’s how I can best serve, great, if it’s not, then fine. It’s like, I’ll just kind of go along for the ride.
Peter: Well, that’s what I chose to do twice. So I keep choosing to come back, even though I say… “So the second time I died, the second time I died, I had a heart attack. I live an hour from the cath lab, an hour and a half on summer traffic. And I’ve been praying for my own death for 30 years. And as I’m on the gurney, leaving the urgent care center to take this hour and a half ride, the doc expects I’m going to die on the way and not come back because it’s such a long drive and I’m going to have damage and all the rest of this stuff.
Rick: They couldn’t helicopter you?
Peter: No, no, no, there’s no helicopter in Maine, or at least if there is, it’s new.
Rick: You do have indoor plumbing, don’t you?
Peter: We do, not in my studio where I am right now, but yeah, no, I don’t know why they didn’t call a helicopter. I think there might be one, but no, that’s what saved my dad. My dad got helicoptered, same thing when he was my age. But I told my wife, “I’m out of here. I die, here’s my chance, I’m going home”. And she’d expected me to do that that day. And as I was going out in the gurney, I squeezed her hand, looked her in the eye, gave her the goodbye wink. “See you, honey, you’re gonna be fine. You know this is what I want”. And then I chose to come back for the sake of love, for my granddaughter’s sake, who had just been born in a bad situation. There is domestics going on, and I couldn’t leave my daughter and my granddaughter without protection, and without my granddaughter, without a male figure that she could love and be loved by. And so even though I say I don’t wanna come back, and I don’t really, I will, of course, cuz I’ve done so twice already that I know of, and I’ll do what I have to do.
Rick: Yeah, here’s a question that relates to this from Connie in Bend, probably Bend, Oregon. She says, “If we, our souls, are perfect in the heavenly realms or dimensions to begin with, then why choose to incarnate on Earth? Why choose to become imperfect, imperfect humans when we are already perfect to begin with?”
Peter: I know, I know. When I was dead, everybody says to me, this is a learning place, you come to Earth to learn. Okay, yes, I’m learning stuff, but when I was dead, I was in the best school in the universe. Anything I wanted to know, I knew instantaneously. I had so much knowledge over there, I brought back this much of it, that much of it, everything. Insatiable curiosity, and instantaneously, all knowledge was given to me. Why would I wanna come and incarnate here into this carnal form? I don’t know the answer to that one, and I wish I did, but I do know that in the divine presence, there’s purity and love, and that it’s so strong in its presence that there is no imperfection. In the presence of the divine, I had no imperfection. Why come back, I don’t have a clue right now, but when I was dead, I probably did.
Rick: Well, I’ll take a stab at it, and that is that the universe is multidimensional, and spiritual evolution, for some reason, entails being able to incorporate, being able to fully appreciate and retain the sort of vastness of wisdom that you experienced on the other side, well, functioning in all dimensions simultaneously, not just in the transcendent or subtle realm. So, as a flesh-and-blood human being, having that kind of vast awareness and wisdom as perhaps Christ and Buddha and Shankara and Ramana and some of the great saints had, that’s something more than just being able to sort of know all that when you’re out of body or without a body. It’s a greater achievement in a way than if you can know all that while being a functioning, breathing human being.
Peter: Sure. Yes, I see that. That doesn’t answer the question for Joe and Jane Doe, who have to incorporate back down in here. It still leaves the question, why incarnate in the first place? And I wish I knew the answer to that question. Maybe it’s to purify this realm. Maybe it’s to bring more light here. Maybe by being here, by loving each other, we increase the capacity of our spirituality. Because when I was dead, I understood everything. I could even see in my long tail of my soul that there were other – in the same way that Peter was sort of this micron thin sheathing on the very top of my soul – there were these other sort of bifurcations through the long tail of my soul that may have been other forms of existence that I couldn’t see. I can’t see now where they led to. But they seem to be to be other, I don’t want to say incarnations, because I can’t see that now very clearly. But they were definitely a part of my soul. They were definitely part of my soul. And whether they were in a sequence of events, which is kind of a strange thing for me to speak about here, because even though there’s time here, if they existed as incarnations, they were in the place of timelessness as I was. And so there’s no sort of coming and going. There’s only being. And it’s an illusion to think that I’ve come here from the heavenly perspective. But yet, here I am in this world of suffering and woe, hopefully learning something or helping other people. And so the conclusion that I’ve reached is this, is that love really is the reason. Love is the treasure, not only for individuals, but it’s for all of humanity. It’s the gift we give to ourselves that doesn’t belong to us in the first place. It gets poured down through us through the storehouse of abundant love. And so it’s like the divine loving the divine through us. And maybe there’s some sort of magnification that occurs for all of us together. And maybe then we go up to the next level and maybe what you say becomes true, that they go through levels of heaven. But I think that ultimately there’s only oneness of being and all the rest of this is just spending time.
Rick: Yeah, that question about, “Well, why should we incarnate if we’re already perfect?” is like you might broaden it out to ask, “Well, why should the universe manifest in the first place?” You know, why should God sort of breathe this whole thing into existence? Why not just rest in Godhead and not go through the whole rigmarole? The Vedic answer is lila, you know, play. It’s for the sake of creative expression. And presumably something is gained that’s more than would be had if one were just to, if God were just to reside in the unmanifest state. And they also say that this is a never-ending cycle of manifestation and then collapsing back into the absolute and then manifesting and back into the absolute. And you know, this is all a little bit esoteric or metaphysical speculation, but it helps to sort of give one a sense of what might be going on.
Peter: Metaphorical. I mean, that’s that Brahma’s tongue rolling out and coming back in and rolling out and coming back in.
Rick: Sometimes it’s related to breathing, the out-breath and then the in-breath.
Peter: Right, right. And we have expansion of the universe that we think is true, and maybe that will collapse again and become another one. These, to me, it’s really interesting to talk about these things and to create language around them so we can begin to think about them. But utterly they don’t help me in my pursuit of the oneness, which is a direct non-linguistic connection, that has nothing to do with my intellectual capacities for understanding any of the mythologies of the globe that are used to explain, answer the questions that we have. When really the two things to me matter most is the pursuit of the oneness, being wider open to letting the light through, and loving as best as I’m able. And to me that’s, I could show you my bookshelves are filled with books like this. And I’ve spent my whole life reading, reading and reading and reading in order to create, help myself understand, but I think ultimately what really, really matters isn’t the questions we can’t answer, that we can only speculate on. It’s how we pursue the oneness of love in our lives in practical ways and in our interior lives. Because the answer to all these questions, you will have them when you die. I had them when I was dead. So I don’t spend my time trying to… like I don’t discuss philosophy and I’m really not interested in theology. I’m a theologian by training. I’m not interested in theology, I’m interested in the divine connection. You show me, you give me a tool to help me find the oneness of being, I’m with you. If you want to talk about how many angels dance on the head of a pin, I don’t really care. [Laughter] Mostly because we can’t answer that kind of question.
Rick: Yeah. I think where you’re coming from is that you are… you have an empirical, pragmatic, scientific approach to spirituality, which is what I think spirituality should ultimately be all about. It doesn’t do you any good to believe anything or to understand anything if it can’t be experientially validated. It’s like I often say, you know, some friend tells you some restaurant is really great, the food there is fantastic. So, you know, you can starve to death believing that, you’ve got to go in and eat to verify the experience that he’s talking about. And that’s any kind of spiritual experience or state of consciousness or realm or anything else is ultimately experiential, not conceptual or belief-based.
Peter: Yes, and all of the books that have been written over the thousands of years and all of these cultures are all based in individual divine experiences. Somebody had a vision of the breath of the divine expanding into contraction in order to create the universe and wrote it down. But that writing came through the filter of the human. It came through the brain and the training and the language and the cultural context, and metaphor and symbol and myth are the tools that we have to explain the unexplainable and they’re very helpful. There are good parts to religion. There are bad parts to religion, wars and death and all these horrible things, but there are good parts to religion too. They create an ethic for, they’re supposed to create an ethic for better living, for human relationship to each other. They gave us the capacity to… in the Middle Ages, the reason why Jews could create continental-wide commerce is because of religion, because they all followed the same ethic. Whether you met the guy in Poland who’s selling you the silk and you live in London, it didn’t really matter if you ever met this guy because you knew that this person had the same ethic as you. You could trust this person. So there’s practical applications also in toolsets of prayer, but ultimately, it’s about the divine individual experience and the pursuit of that. And there are adepts. There are people who are talented at this and people who aren’t, but that doesn’t mean that your experience of the divine is any less. It just means you can’t feel it. This whole notion that you have to feel God, that’s very based in your physical body. A feeling is a feel of warmth. Okay, that’s true. I feel peace. That’s true. I felt those things, but that’s not the divine. That’s a feeling of the divine. That’s always a step away. Access to the divine experience can be had by anyone, I think, who pursues a life of prayer.
Rick: Yeah, prayer or its equivalents of various spiritual practices. What it might boil down to ultimately is if this stuff — and we’re speaking to the choir here because everyone watching this show probably already is oriented this way — but if this stuff interests you, keep your attention on it. Do whatever you can, listening, reading, meditating. And the more you have your attention on it, the stronger it will grow in your life.
Peter: I want to make sure that the audience understands that even though I don’t think that the questions are answerable, I still read the books. I still read the books because they put stuff in my head that help me understand my own experience. They give me frameworks to understand how God speaks to me. And when I mention prayer, that’s a very loose term. That has to do with anybody who’s practicing some sort of single-mindedness in pursuit of the divine in any form.
Rick: Yeah. Okay, well, you’re fun to talk to. I could go on all day doing this. We have for a good chunk of it, but we should probably wrap it up. So, what would you like to say in closing? Actually, the things you’ve been saying the last five minutes are great closing remarks, but is there anything you want to just say in a nutshell that would bring us to a close?
Peter: Yes, the nutshell is – love really matters. If there’s any in-made access to the divine and all of humanity, or even between humanity and animals, dogs and cats and pigs and chickens, it’s love. Long before religion was a factor in human existence, love was present. Love is innate to the human being. We’re built that way. It’s part of our survival. It’s the way we pass on our genes. It’s the way we create community. But it’s also the access point to the divine. So, if you don’t have or you can’t practice meditation or you don’t go to some sort of religious organization or you wish that you had a divine experience, you are having one. Every single time you love, that’s where it really is. That’s the center that’s built in the temple of the heart. So, love really matters. What you give, you get to keep and take with you when you die. What you get from others, you get to take with you when you die. God is love. If you know love, you know God and seek heaven first. Because if you seek heaven first, you polish your lens. And that’s what meditation does. You’re polishing your lens, you’re polishing your lens, you’re polishing your lens, you’re creating a cleaner channel for the divine light to pass through you. And remember, it’s not your light. You are not the oneness of being. You are part of the oneness of being. The light flows from the divine and that becomes who you are. And to understand that particular thing removes all ego. It’s not my light you see. It’s the divine light that is.
Rick: Perfect. Okay, just a couple practical points, then. What do you do that people watching this in England or Florida or someplace far away could benefit from, could connect with, aside from reading your books, which I will link to on the BatGap page?
Peter: What do you mean by do?
Rick: I don’t know. I mean, do you have Skype consultations with people? Do you have some kind of, do you still have some kind of an online radio show people could listen to? You know, very often people I interview have some kind of, they offer webinars, they offer retreats that people can travel to and attend, that kind of thing.
Peter: I run a global-sized counseling service for mystics.
Peter: Right, I have clients around the world who are real mystics, people who have theophanies and beatific visions and God talks to them or angels come and visit them or they have out-of-body experiences or all the stuff that you can’t talk over coffee with in the local cafe when you’re showing up for breakfast in the morning because everybody will think you’re crazy. I specialize in that.
Rick: Sound like a deep pool of potential BatGap guests.
Peter: So I run a global counseling service. I help people reflect on their experience. I don’t tell people what to think. I try to help people understand what’s happened to them or what’s happening to them. So I do do that. I got a YouTube channel, PeterPanagore.love. My focus right now is on my third book, which is going to be a lot about what we talked about today. I’m kind of coming out of the closet now about being a mystic. I’ve kept that a secret as well because, you know, that’s a hard thing. Everybody here who’s in the audience knows how hard that is to talk about. I’m only beginning to talk about it now because New Death Experience, which was really hard to talk about, has become so popular globally. There’s 10 million in the United States, must be 50 millions globally because of science. You know, thanks to science, cardiac care and everything else…
Rick: Yeah, and the normal and people like that.
Peter: Exactly. Now that this is in the forefront, New Death Experience is becoming more socially acceptable, I feel safer talking about mysticism. And so I’m coming out with this. I’m working on my next book about mysticism.
Rick: Mysticism for Dummies, is it?
Peter: Yeah, it’s like the commonality of how common this is. It’s a lot more common than people think it is. If there’s 10 million ND years in the United States, how about there’s 20 million mystics who are, you know, the angel comes to visit them or, you know, whatever the manifestation is, their spirit guide comes. There’s many more people like that. And that’s, I want to see break open. I want to see the cultural conversation, accept not just New Death Experience, but to see that the spiritually transformed people who’ve had out of body experiences are more common, and that we’re all part of one big club. And that there’s this global movement now. There’s, you know, 50 million, say, on earth of New Death Experiences and say 100 million spiritually transformed out-of-body people. We are a cultural force. We’re Jews and we’re agnostics and we’re Zoroastrians and we’re Buddhists and we’re everywhere. We’re everybody. And now here we are in the 21st century with capacities. What we’re doing, we’re Skyping for crying out loud. And on Facebook and in Twitter and people are talking now, we’re finding each other. The common ordinary people are finding each other. We’re a global movement with a capacity for cultural influence at a time when humanity needs it the most. And the message is love.
Rick: That’s really exciting, Peter. Keep me in the loop and let me know when that book is published.
Peter: Aye, aye, sir.
Rick: Maybe we’ll have another one of these conversations about that.
Peter: I would like that very much.
Peter: I’ve had a great time with you, Rick.
Rick: Yeah, me too. I’ve really enjoyed this and also the whole previous week listening to you and reading your book and stuff. So, thanks.
Rick: Yeah. Let me just make a couple of quick concluding remarks. So, I’ve been talking with Peter Panagore, as you know. This is an ongoing series of interviews, as you know. And check out the website, batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P. Just poke around through the menus. You can sign up to be notified of things by email or you can sign up for the audio podcast. There’s some interesting little indices of past interviews and some other resources if you look under the other resources menu. So, just explore. It won’t take you too long. You might find it interesting. And thanks for listening or watching. And we’ll see you for the next one. Thanks, Peter.
Peter: Thanks, Rick. Thanks for having me.
Rick: All right. Talk to you later.