Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. We’ve done about 610 of them now or so. And if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu, where you’ll see them organized in several different ways. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. If you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website, and there’s also a page about other ways to donate other than PayPal. My guest today is Peter Russell, and speaking of previous interviews, I had Peter on the show in 2014, so that would be about seven years ago. And I just listened to that interview yesterday and this morning, and I thought, “Wow, that was a lively conversation.” I hope I’m not losing my touch. I hope these interviews are still as interesting as that one was, because it really seemed like we went deep. I also felt like I talked too much, which I think I’ve improved upon over the years and curbed my enthusiasm a little bit. Anyway, Peter’s a fun guy to talk to, as you’ll see in this interview, and also I would recommend going back and listening to the previous one. Peter also listened to our previous interview today, and we’ll try not to repeat ourselves too much in terms of what we talked about that time, so people can listen to both of them without hearing too much redundancy. But anyway, let me introduce Peter. Peter Russell is a leading thinker on consciousness and contemporary spirituality. He coined the term “global brain” with his 1980s bestseller of the same name, in which he predicted the Internet and the impact it would have on humanity. In fact, I read that book when it came out, and that was before I had met Peter. It was an interesting book. I think I read another of his books back then. His new book is called “Letting Go of Nothing,” and that’s what we’re going to be talking about mostly today. He’s the author of ten other books, including “Waking Up in Time” and “From Science to God.” We talked about that one quite a bit in the first interview. He studied theoretical physics, experimental psychology, and computer science at the University of Cambridge, and pioneered the introduction of personal growth programs to corporations, running courses for senior management on creativity, stress management, and sustainable development. Peter actually became a teacher of Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which I also did. I think Peter did so about a year before I did, in 1969 or so, was it, Peter? Yeah, and I became one in 1970. Neither of us are teaching it today, but we both credit that whole experience with having provided tremendous benefit to our lives. His mission is to distill the essential wisdom on human consciousness found in the world’s various spiritual traditions, and to disseminate their teachings on self-liberation in contemporary and compelling ways. And I just want to mention briefly some of the things we talked about in the first interview. We talked about the fundamental nature of consciousness, as opposed to matter being fundamental. We talked about the predominance of the materialist paradigm in today’s world, and how paradigms shift, and how we felt that a consciousness as fundamental paradigm might be upending the materialist paradigm. We talked about the Yoga Sutras, particularly the second verse, which is, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind,” something like that. We talked about whether the human mind and nervous system properly developed can be reliable tools for scientific investigation, independent of other tools. And we talked about something that might be akin to intelligent design, which I think we might talk a little bit more about today, whether nature is orchestrated in some fundamental way by intelligence, some kind of universal intelligence. But today we’re going to start out by talking about Peter’s book. Why don’t you hold up the book for a second, Peter?
Peter: Yep, here we go.
Rick: “Letting Go of Nothing.”
Peter: Exactly. “Relax Your Mind and Discover the Wonder of Your True Nature” is the subtitle.
Rick: Cool, can’t read that otherwise, so I’m glad you read it. There, there we go.
Peter: And it’s got a forward by Eckhart Tolle, which is very nice.
Rick: Yeah, it’s published by his publishing company, isn’t it?
Peter: It’s published by New World Library, and they have an Eckhart Tolle imprint, so it’s published by them, but it’s books he particularly likes, whatever.
Rick: Oh, okay.
Peter: He writes a forward to them.
Rick: How did it come to his attention?
Peter: The publishers, I mean, they actually–
Rick: They ran it by him and said, how would you like to–yeah.
Peter: Right, well, they have a good relationship with him because they were the first commercial publisher to publish “The Power of Now.”
Rick: I see. >>
Peter: He self-published himself, and then they took it on before it went really big. So they kept that relationship going, and they started this Eckhart Tolle imprint.
Peter: So they just contacted him and said, hey, is this a book you’d like to endorse?
Rick: Great. That’s nice.
Peter: Or write a forward to.
Rick: So “Letting Go of Nothing,” what does that mean? How did you come up with that title?
Peter: It was years ago I came up with the title, actually. It was during a meditation, just feeling that we’re not letting go of things so much, but what we’re letting go of is our view of things. And letting go is more like a change of mind than actually letting go, whether it’s letting go of things like, you know, a car that’s been dented or whatever, or a relationship or material things, or even letting go of thoughts and feelings. It’s more what we’re letting go of is how we see things. It’s like the lens through which we see the world. So “Letting Go” is really about changing the lens through which we see things. So it’s a change of mind rather than trying to change what you’re thinking or feeling. It’s a change of the mindset that’s behind what you’re thinking or feeling.
Rick: Yeah, it kind of reminds me of that phrase of putting on shoes rather than trying to pave the world with leather.
Peter: Right, yeah. So it’s actually … it’s also a slight pun, it’s “letting go of No thing.”
Peter: What we’re letting go of is not things, so we’re letting go of No thing, but the No thing is the lens through which we see things.
Rick: Yeah. And you started out, you know, just before I started reading the book, or listening to it, because I converted it to audio and listened to it, I thought of a couple of questions which you actually ended up starting the book with. And that is that, well, I’ll put it this way. My biggest lettings go if there have been some moments in my life where there was a huge sort of release, were kind of, they took me by surprise. I didn’t even realize they were about to happen, and it wasn’t wilful, really. It just happened spontaneously, and I was kind of amazed by how tightly gripped I had been by the thing, that I had now been released from. And by “a thing” I don’t necessarily mean an attachment to a particular object or anything. It was just sort of a bondage, a level of bondage within my being, within my experience, that just sort of popped. And all of a sudden, I tasted this newfound freedom that seemed quite contrasting. You can comment on that if you want.
Peter: – Okay, yeah. And that’s actually, I mean, the first, the very first section of the book is a little story of myself and how the person I was living with at the time … we were having a little rough period for a couple of days. We were sort of in a disagreement over something. I tried letting go and, you know tried forgetting about it, or thinking it would all soon blow over. But, you know, I was sort of still feeling uptight about it, and she was, you know, in her own world about it. And then I just had this idea just to say, you know, just to ask, is there another way of seeing this situation? Sort of knowing intellectually that that was part of it… how I was seeing things. And so just asking that question … and it was instant. It was totally surprising, as you say, an instant. It’s like an instant, I mean a second. Everything shifted, and I just saw here was another human being working her own way through life, dealing with me and all my stuff, and instantly compassion returned, love returned. And I felt at ease, and it’s like, and I realized, God, why hadn’t I seen this before? It’s so obvious. And the reason I hadn’t seen it before was I was so uptight, so caught up in my own reaction, and taking my own reaction seriously, that that prevented me from just seeing a whole different, much more loving way of seeing the situation. And that, to me, you know, that was a change of the way I see things. I was letting go of all the stuff, the judgment, and all the how I wanted her to be, all that stuff. I was letting go of that just by the fact that the lens had shifted. I was seeing her through different eyes, and the letting go just disappeared. There wasn’t anything to let go of anymore. I wasn’t letting go of anything. It just all went. I didn’t have to work on my stuff.
Rick: Was that Robert Burns who said, “Oh, would some power of the gift give us to see ourselves as others see us?” Something like that. Remember that poem?
Peter: Yeah. Yes. I don’t remember it, but I’ve heard the line.
Rick: Yeah. Because we do get so locked into our perspectives, you know? And if we could really see ourselves the way others see us from other perspectives, it might be quite a surprise.
Peter: Yep. Yep. Yes. I think we’re very much locked into our own view of ourselves. And maybe not just but probably mainly, as you’re suggesting, other people probably see us more positively than we see ourselves. We see our faults inside. We know what a load of rubbish we are inside, and other people don’t see that. That’s one thing that goes on with us. But also, equally, they may actually see stuff that we need to work on.
Rick: Yeah, I mean, we can be a total jerk and think that we’re just great, you know? I can think of a few examples. Now, one thing I think about when we talk about this is that attachments are not just psychological, you know? I mean, you know from your years with Maharishi, he talked a lot about what I think the Indians would call some scars, he called “stresses,” but he meant sort of deep impressions in the nervous system, chemical structure abnormalities that bind us and condition our behavior, and limit our consciousness and so on. And, you know, it’s not just a matter of snapping your fingers and letting go of those any more than it is, like, let’s say you’re totally exhausted and you haven’t slept. You can’t just say, “Let go of your fatigue,” you know? You can’t just do it. You need to sort of sleep for a while and get some rest, and then your body will repair the fatigue and replenish you.
Peter: Yeah, there’s some things we can just, you know, instantly let go of. But the approach I take in the book much more is not trying to get rid of something, but also doing the opposite of almost like welcoming it, becoming friends with it. And I talk about letting it in … what’s actually going on here? Just to take a simple example of fatigue, we may not know how tired we are, but if you pause and stop and notice how you’re feeling, that feeling of fatigue, that’s going to allow it in, and you’ll probably then be able to rest. But just to take any deep thing like this, I think the first thing to do for me and what I talk about in the book is go to the body. Because the body has so much information in a way, and just to notice what is happening in the body and letting it in. Because what we tend to do with things is we tend to push them away. You know, if I let in this anger, I might go and punch someone. If I let in the sadness, I’m going to burst out sobbing in public. So what I suggest is the first thing we need to do, is actually let in how it’s feeling, what’s going on, what’s happening in the body. And as we open up, I find I discover lots of things I hadn’t noticed. And that can begin the process of allowing things to relax. Often, it’s our resistance that’s holding things in place. So when we open up to what’s there, or sometimes it’s not just the body, it’s opening up to what is the story we’re telling ourselves. I mean, that’s more the psychological thing you’re talking about. But the deeper body stuff, I think if we open to it, feel it, almost, I say, become friends with it, and notice what’s there, that begins a softening of our reaction. And I think there’s a general thing here. I think it’s Carl Jung who said, “What you resist persists.” In the sense of what you don’t allow into your consciousness stays there and keeps controlling you.
Rick: Did you want to add to that or should I?
Peter: No, go ahead.
Rick: You know, I think that as a society, millions of us work really hard at not letting things in. I mean, you see people staring at their devices. I heard on the radio yesterday or something that people actually look at their phones four hours a day, use their cell phones four hours a day. And so there’s that, and there’s the opioid epidemic, and there’s all the other entertainments and distractions and things. And people are working really hard at not letting things in. It’s kind of like, and there’s a pressure from those things that want to be let in, and we keep pushing them down, like trying to push a beach ball underwater or something.
Peter: Yeah, and I think it’s because we, … I’d say partly we don’t want to experience them, but also we get so seduced by our phones or whatever it is, that we don’t give them the opportunity. I mean, I know I can be guilty of this, I suddenly realize, what have I been doing for the last half hour, been on my phone following lines or playing some Sudoku or something. And it’s like, it’s isolating me from the present moment, it’s just taking us right out of the present moment the whole time. And so if our attention is there, if our interest is on that, then we can’t be open to what’s actually happening in the moment. I mean, I notice I have little signs left around the house saying pause for myself. And the instruction for me is just to pause for a moment. And it’s usually … they’re left, like there’s one on the staircase, there’s one on the door. And it’s usually because I’m already not doing something. It doesn’t occur in the middle of, you know, talking to you or answering an email, but then I get up and do something and it says pause. And I just find, you know, I’m just pausing just for five seconds. I just pause, and almost like pausing my thinking as well, wherever I was going. And almost always it’s like, oh, there’s that bird song, there’s this, I start noticing the present moment. And so it’s just a way of just coming back to the present. And sometimes I just notice things that are going on in my body or other things that I, you know, should be attending to. It allows me to break that attachment to some particular mode of doing. So just getting out of the doing mode for a few seconds. But it’s always surprising, just like, Aah, I hadn’t noticed that. It’s fascinating just when you pause, what is there? Either what is there out in the world or what is there underneath my thinking?
Rick: Yeah, we have little paws around the house, actually eight of them to be precise, two dogs. And they kind of keep us on our toes and let us know what’s real. Yeah, you know, I guess maybe people can’t be blamed for trying to suppress things or blot them out with distractions. Because, you know, a lot of these things are uncomfortable. Feelings and depression and various things that people don’t want to feel. I mean, especially if we’ve suppressed them long enough. Or if, for instance, we’ve gotten addicted to something and then we have to experience these horrible feelings when the drug begins to wear off. And so we want more drug to tamp it down. And I know in my own case, when I ended my drug phase, I just had this realization one night. And I just thought, you can’t spend your life trying to numb things down with drugs. Or, you know, there’s only one way out and that is up, so to speak. And so I thought, that’s it, I’m going to stop taking drugs and learn to meditate. And then naturally, as you’ve probably experienced, when you meditate, you do begin to feel things that you might have suppressed. But you’re kind of setting up a condition in which they can be resolved in a deep way and then you’re free of them.
Peter: Right, right. And also, I think we fear they’re going to hurt us or be more disturbing than they actually are very often. It’s got that line, it’s often banded around, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. And I think the suffering comes from the resistance. There’s something that’s not right with us, a physical pain, an emotional pain or whatever. It’s the resisting it that creates the suffering. So when we stop the resisting, it’s like that element of the suffering begins to … that goes away. We can just be with whatever that pain, disturbance, uncomfortable feeling is. So that’s, I think that’s what’s going on there.
Rick: I was reminded a bit of Byron Katie’s phrase, “loving what is,” when I read that part of the book. But I don’t know, I think to a certain extent she takes that to extremes, you know, and there are some horrible cases of someone whose child has died in some way, and she seems much too sanguine about it. I mean, it’s natural to feel grief or, you know, other such emotions when things like that happen.
Peter: Yeah, and I touch on this briefly in the book. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding here, in my opinion. Accepting what is, for me, means accepting our experience in the present moment. If my experience is one of grief, accepting that, that’s how I’m actually feeling. If my experience is one of joy or something else, that’s what is there. And it doesn’t mean we have to accept the situation. There’s a lot of injustice, there’s things we want to change in the world, and we’re each called to change things. So, it’s really just about accepting what is my experience in the moment. That, to me, is what acceptance means. Accepting what is, loving what is, is, I would call it more accepting what is right now in my experience, but not accepting the situation in the world. Because that may be things we need to change there.
Rick: I like that Gita verse which says, “You have control over action alone, never over its fruits.” And, you know, what is happening to me now is the fruits of my action, and so, you know, I have to experience them. But I also have control over my action now, which could result in better fruits, or different fruits, or something in the future, if I, you know, use my opportunity wisely. What is this chapter about? What do you want?
Peter: It’s really digging down to what’s the fundamental motivation behind everything we do. I mean, if you ask people what they want, they’re going to start off by saying, “Oh, I want a better job,” or, you know, “I want to live somewhere different, I want a vacation,” whatever. If you’d start, you know, tunnelling down, why do you want those things? Why do you want this? You know, it might be, “I want to feel safer, more secure,” whatever, “I want stimulation,” and you tunnel down more. In the end, people start saying, “Well, you know, I’ll feel better for it.” And they give it various words, but, you know, call it happiness, peace of mind, whatever. But whatever it is, we want to feel better, and I think that’s our fundamental motivation, is actually an inner one. And that’s the point, what we’re ultimately looking for is a better state of consciousness, a better state of mind. And I think it’s really important to recognize that and see that’s what’s behind all the other wanting, the surface wanting. So, you know, the question then is, what’s the most efficient way to be more at ease, to be more at peace in ourselves? How do we approach getting a better state of mind? And so in terms of the book, I see, you know, when we let go of something, we usually feel a better state of mind. We feel more at ease, some relief, something like that.
Rick: Yeah, and as you know, I mean, we have things turned around most of the time where we feel that, you know, this particular outer experience or that particular outer experience will give us what we lack. And all the wisdom teachings say, well, ultimately you are, or you possess deep within an ocean of happiness, and that’s what you’re actually searching for, and all these outer things are just sort of pale reflections of that. And, you know, most of these teachings, a lot of these teachings don’t say you can’t have any of those outer things. They just say make sure you have that foundation that you actually possess deep within and that you’re neglecting. And then, well, “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all else shall be added unto thee.”
Peter: Yes, exactly. And we’re looking for these things. That’s why we get distracted by Sudoku or the phone or whatever it is. Deep down, deep down, I mean, I look at myself, I think I’m going to feel better for it. You know, if I solve this Sudoku, I’m going to feel better. It’s there. And so it’s beginning to recognize that’s there everywhere. But you’re right, when we actually .. when we’ve tasted that, you know, through meditation or whatever, when we can begin to bring that feeling into our lives more, then what we want begins to shift. We begin to realize I don’t need to do this in order to be happy. I’m already feeling okay. I don’t need to do that to feel okay. And then our actions, I think, become more in line with what the situation is requiring, rather than what our, you know, frustration or whatever else is requiring. So we can begin to act more in tune with the world, I think, when we’re feeling that inside. So as you say, it’s not about giving up things. I think that’s an old idea. We have to give up this, we have to give up, you know, material things, or even like the Buddha had to give up eating or whatever. It’s not about giving up things. It’s about connecting with our own being and the peace that’s there in our being, and then acting in the world.
Rick: Yeah. And if acting in the world, connected with your being, includes a game of Sudoku, whatever you pronounce it, Sudoku every now and then, no big deal. Don’t beat yourself up over it. But it’s kind of a break in the routine. I play an online game of solitaire once in a while. It’s just a fun little challenge to see how quickly I can solve it, and things like that. I don’t even think of it as a guilty pleasure. It’s just a fun little thing to do to kind of change your pace, you know?
Peter: A little break, yes. A little dopamine rush as well.
Rick: Yes, yeah, or whatever the neurochemical of frustration is if you can’t solve it. Okay, so then returning to natural mind, you kind of alluded to it just now. The implication is that, well, the way you phrase it there is that we actually once were in a state of natural mind, and that there is a state of natural mind that we may have come from or that at least we can return to. So, what do we mean by natural mind?
Peter: Yeah, yeah. Well, what I mean by it, I know other people use the phrase slightly differently, I mean how we feel, how the mind is when we’re not in danger, when we’re not caught up in need, something like that. When the mind isn’t perturbed by worry, concern, planning, whatever, the unperturbed mind is what I call natural mind. It’s how we are when everything is okay in our world, when everything is okay in our world, and we’re not creating lots of discontent in our imagination when we let go of all that thinking we do about what might happen or might not happen. When we let go of all that discontent, then we feel at ease, we feel relieved, we feel content. I mean, it’s the opposite to discontent. When we let go of discontent, we feel content. And so I call that the natural state of mind. So, it’s not something, natural mind isn’t something we achieve or get or find. It’s something we remove the veils to, because all our thinking and worry, discontent, etc. is veiling the fact that our natural state is one of ease and peace. So, it’s not, I mean what you’re saying about there’s an ocean of happiness we need to find. I treat it slightly differently. We are at our root happy and it’s not that we need to find it, but we need to remove that which is standing in the way of our noticing that.
Rick: Yeah, I agree with that. You have to be careful when you try to phrase these things because they’re subtle and it’s easy to distort it, you know? It’s like the sun, we don’t have to find the sun, it’s just maybe if the clouds drift away then, “Oh, there’s the sun, it’s always been shining, I just didn’t see it because there were some clouds.”
Peter: Exactly, exactly. Good analogy, yes.
Rick: And this thing about the natural mind being the state that we’re in when everything is okay, I think you phrased it that way. That again sort of points to we need to have ideal outer conditions to be in that state of mind. But, I mean, thinking of the Gita again, Lord Krishna is depicted as having this smile on his face even though he’s in the middle of two armies and this tremendous, horrible battle is about to ensue. But it sort of characterizes his state of mind, you know? He’s not perturbed, he’s just sort of in this state of wisdom and contentment regardless of dire outer circumstances.
Peter: Right, and I’m not suggesting we need to sit in natural mind the whole time. It’s not about that’s where we need to be. I mean, there are people who could, you know, be there. I see it, discontent is a very natural thing at times. If there’s something that’s affecting us in our world, there’s some danger, there’s some need that’s not satisfied, it’s completely natural to feel discontent. There’s nothing wrong with that. And the discontent is the motivation to go and do something to, you know, improve our world so that we can be better as a being, as a human being. So the discontent has a role. My point is that a lot of the times when there is no need for discontent, I mean, right now I’m sitting here talking to you, I’m fed, the temperature’s right, there’s no danger, no threats, I can be in a peaceful state. But then what happens is in my imagination I start creating discontent. So I would, you know, I might imagine, well, what’s Rick going to say next? I wonder if I can answer that or whatever. And I immediately go into discontent and I’m not at peace anymore. I’ve created discontent. So I think a lot of our discontent is self-created, where, you know, solving problems that don’t exist and may never exist or going over things in the past we weren’t happy with or the opposite, you know, hoping this is going to happen or whatever. So for me, it’s about a balance. We need to be in, we need to be concerned at times, we need to be planning, maybe worried, whatever. We need that at times. And we need to be able to return to that natural state of contentment. So it’s an alternation in life. But I think, you know, the idea would be that we spend, you know, the majority of our time, that’s probably what we could be, the majority of our time we’re feeling at ease, we’re feeling at peace. And then losing that when we need to, and then returning.
Rick: Yeah, but haven’t you found after 50-something years of practice that there’s a baseline of contentment that is just much more full and solid than it was 40, 50 years ago? And that on that baseline, sure, you have your ripples of ups and downs, but there’s a stability. You know the old analogy, if someone’s a multimillionaire, he could gain and lose thousands and he wouldn’t hardly notice. But if someone’s a pauper, you know, gaining or losing five or ten dollars is a big deal.
Peter: Yes, and it’s very subtle. I mean, I only noticed that over the years when I actually paused to notice it. For me, it’s not something that’s like a remarkable thing, but I just noticed how I’m not so caught up, not so upset by things. Because it’s there, or I would put it, it’s not there the whole time, but I can access it more easily. I know what that’s like, I know how to just turn my attention within and like, “Ah, here it is, here it is.”
Rick: And it’s there, I mean, it’s there supporting you even if you’re not attending to it. I’ll tell you a story. About a month ago I was up playing pickleball, which is a sport, kind of like tennis but better. And there’s a chain we had up there to keep the roller skaters out, and I was stepping over that chain and I caught my foot on it and fell flat on my face on the concrete, broke my fall with my wrists, sprained one of my wrists, you know, it was all scabbed and bloody and everything. And as that experience was happening, it was almost like brought to the forefront this sort of luminous silence, which is a field of contentment that was there already. But in contrast to the extremity of what I was experiencing, it became also much more obvious, you know. And so I really feel like that’s there all the time, and you don’t have to make a fuss about it or pay attention to it all the time or anything else, but it’s this continuum that supports everything even if you’re not paying attention to it.
Peter: Yeah, yeah. And you know, there’s many stories of people who suddenly in extreme circumstances, something, whatever it is, something happens and they just, they do just let go and it’s like they drop into this state of peace. And if it’s not, if it’s something you’re not used to, it can be quite, quite a startling thing, I think, to suddenly feel, my God, you know, I feel that, or you notice the stillness, you notice that inner stillness up there. I mean, that’s another way that I relate to it, is it feels, you know, it feels at ease, it feels content, but also it has this quality of stillness. There’s an inner stillness that’s there. But if there’s something else going on, you don’t notice the stillness, you know. Like if you’re in a room and the radio’s playing, you don’t notice the stillness of the room, but you turn the radio down, you know, turn the fridge off, you begin to notice, ah, yes, there’s a stillness there.
Rick: I’m going to jump ahead to a chapter title that you have later on called “Free Won’t,” and the reason I wanted to jump ahead to that is that I think what you say in that chapter, and correct me if I’m wrong, but this is what I remember, is that we grow in the ability to sort of nip impulses in the bud, or thoughts, which otherwise, you know, it’s kind of like, I thought of the analogy of a river, which, you know, if you try to do something to the course of the river way down near the mouth of it, you really won’t succeed, because the river has pretty much run its course. But if you do something up near the source of the river, you can influence the whole river, its direction, or the colour of the water, whatever. So like that, with thoughts and impulses, if you can catch them at their inception deep within, you can either not express them or express them differently or something, whereas commonly, people are at the mercy of those impulses because they don’t become aware of them until they’re fully ripened and ready to burst.
Peter: Yeah, yeah. And I call it free won’t as opposed to free will, because the way we usually think of free will is we have the, well it’s a question, you know, to choose something, can we actually make a choice to do something or not, to think something or not. And I see free won’t as almost the opposite, it’s a choice, we have that power to make a choice when we notice we’re, you know, getting caught up or beginning to get caught up in some thought, when we notice that, we actually have the choice not to follow that thought any further. And it may come back again, but at that moment, we can make that choice not to follow that thought, that particular thought any further. And that’s what I call free won’t. And it saves us a lot of, you know, it saves a lot of tension, anxiety or doing things that we wish we hadn’t done or just getting caught up in stuff. So it’s the choice to pause that line of thinking, just not to follow it. And so it’s a different sense of freedom instead of, we normally think of freedom as freedom to do something, have something, whatever it is, freedom of speech or where we live. It’s freedom from, and it’s freedom from that sort of thinking that gets in the way. It’s basically egoic thinking, but we have the choice to step out of it whenever we want.
Rick: Yeah, and I think that the ability to have that choice is something that grows over time. It’s like any skill, you know, you don’t become a professional baseball player overnight. You have to spend years really developing that talent, even if you have an aptitude for it. So people shouldn’t feel like failures if they hear what you just said and find they can’t do it. There are things you can do, and we’ll discuss them more as we go along, which will culture or develop the ability to do that sort of thing, to be not at the mercy of our whims and impulses.
Peter: Right, yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, coming back to what we were saying about, you know, just being able to be quiet, to come back to our own beingness centre. When we do that, we can become, I think we begin to notice more our thinking. Usually it’s so caught up in our thinking we don’t even realize we’re thinking. And as we begin to step back, we realize, ah, there’s that thought again. So we can begin to just have a little more separation from it, not being so attached to the thinking, not being so involved in it. We can just choose, ah, okay, I’m not going there. I’m just choosing not to follow you right now.
Rick: Yeah, the word “overshadowed” is appropriate here. You’ll recall that word being used a lot in our original training. Well, the movie screen analogy, everybody’s familiar with that. The screen is overshadowed by the movies playing upon it, and that’s meant to illustrate how thoughts and other sensory experiences overshadow the self or overshadow pure consciousness. And obviously the point of the analogy is to develop the awareness of pure consciousness such that it can’t be overshadowed.
Peter: Yeah, yeah. I always have a slight difficulty with the term “pure consciousness”. What does it actually mean? Does it mean consciousness without any experience, or just noticing what is actually happening in consciousness without the overlay of all the other things? I think sometimes the idea of pure consciousness, people have this feeling it’s going to be some completely empty state where just consciousness on its own without any object of consciousness. My experience is, I would say I’ve never experienced that. There’s always some object of consciousness, even if it’s a very, very faint object, like just noticing, ah, this is lovely, or whatever it is. So I think for me it’s about just being aware, conscious, just noticing what is actually our experience in the present moment. That to me is consciousness without the overlay of all the stuff that’s failing it.
Rick: Yeah, but the idea is that our fundamental nature is consciousness and that it’s not merely individual, it’s unbounded, eternal, everlasting, ancient, all that stuff, and that it’s generally overshadowed. So we take ourselves to be this little time-space bound physical thing, and all the sensory experiences which impinge upon consciousness blot it out to a great extent. But, you know, as you’ve said, you’ve had experiences where there’s hardly any sensory experience, just some faint little thing, and it seems to me there would need to be in order to even have the thought of, “Whoa, this is, here it is.”
Peter: If you’re thinking you’re in a state of pure consciousness, in that sense you’re not, because you’re thinking.
Peter: Yeah, yeah.
Peter: So, I’m not saying that’s something we achieve or discover. I mean, I think you’re right, from a philosophical point of view, yes, everything ultimately is consciousness.
Rick: Yeah. Here’s a question that came in that’s relevant to what we’re saying. This is from Marie in Colorado. “What does it mean to experience in a way that is absolutely free from all conceptual and perceptual lenses?”
Peter: Being free from all perceptual and conceptual lenses is a little tricky. I think for me it’s being free from most of them, or progressively free from more and more of them. It’s very hard to be free from all lenses. I think, you know, it’s almost part of being aware is we have some lens, but can we choose the lens? Can we change the lens through which we’re seeing things? So what it would be like to be free of all lenses, I just think it’s, well, I mean, coming back to just being in the present moment, and it’s just like, it’s just here is this experience, whatever it is, the sounds, the sights. We easily get caught up, you know, we see, I noticed the other day I was out for a walk, and I heard a bird, and then I saw it. And it’s like, immediately my mind goes, “What is that bird? I’ve never seen that bird before. I’m off.” And instead of saying, just, there’s this incredible view in front of me, I was off into some discussion about it in my mind. So, but I would say to be free in that sense is just, yes, to be able to just be open to the moment as it is without any thought or discussion or concern or explanation or any of that. But again, I think, you know, the more we’ve been talking about, you know, meditation coming back to ourselves, I think the more we do that, what I’ve found is the easier it is to be free of these things that distract us. The internal distractions, I mean, I think we have, I sort of say we’re self-distracting creatures. We continually distract ourselves from the present moment.
Rick: Yeah, and I would, I mean, I guess a lens alters something. It either magnifies it or distorts it or, you know, I’m getting a little bit of feedback in my voice but hopefully that’ll go away. A lens distorts something, but I think that, you know, even the great saints that we revere, they had their opinions and sometimes they had political preferences or Papaji was said to be a big, you know, soccer fan. I forget who he was rooting for. He’d get really angry if the other team won. So a person can have their opinions and their preferences and all that stuff and still be in a marvellous state of human development. So we’re not going to become automatons with no opinions or preferences or, you know.
Peter: Right, and I think that’s where, you know, we think of, you know, whatever we want to call it, awakening, enlightenment, these glorious terms that everything is perfect and we’re going to be completely free of all that stuff. I don’t think it’s like that at all. It’s more how can we stay in touch with that inner, what you talked about, inner quietness, being, peace, along with what we’re doing. And to me, it’s quite okay to, you know, be a football fan of a certain club or whatever. It’s part of how we are. So I see there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Nothing wrong. I think so it’s not about becoming this ultimate pure individual. I mean, life, well, it might be very peaceful, but it’s like then there’s other things to do. But I think we do. I’m just going back a second there. I mean, I think as you probably know, in deep meditation, particularly when I go on long retreats and I can, the mind really settles down, takes a few days for that to happen. But then there’s, then there is just that abiding in the stillness, just being there in the stillness. And it’s just, it’s that delicious thing of just tasting it. And then, then the realization comes for me. It’s like, ah, that’s what they were talking about. This is what the great masters were talking about. This is what they were pointing to. And then, you know, I come back into the world, but having tasted it is wonderful. And it’s a motivation to, you know, go back there again. And also, then it becomes easier. I think the more you taste that, the more I taste that, the easier it becomes to sort of drop back and recognize it.
Rick: Yeah, your nervous system kind of changes and adapts to being able to function that way more and more all the time.
Peter: Yeah, yeah.
Rick: You said somewhere in your book that, you know, I mean, you just alluded to it, that we make such a big deal out of enlightenment, but it’s really much simpler and more attainable than it’s often made out to be. What do you mean by the word “enlightenment” and how, yeah, go ahead.
Peter: I tend not to use the word much myself. I mentioned the book as a way of sort of defusing the term. I mean, people have this idea, and I think it’s a self-replicating idea in our sort of spiritual society. Like, it’s going to be some wonderful state we attain where we’re going to be permanently blissed out and whatever it is, and we’re going to have marvellous insights and experiences. I mean, those things can happen, not to say those things don’t happen. But to me, it’s more, I prefer the term “awakening” to enlightenment. I use the word “awakening,” and it’s awakening from the dream of our egoic thinking mind where we get caught up in our stories, our thoughts. It’s waking up from that, again, waking up to how it is to be here right now, this experience, and waking up to ourself, what we actually mean by the self, the I. So I like the term “awakening,” and that’s something, it’s not something we achieve again so much. It’s something that begins to unfold and begins to happen. We just gradually become more awake, as we’ve been talking about, less distracted by our self-created discontent and things. As that happens, we are waking up, and waking up to this, in Ram Dass’s terms, to being here now.
Rick: Yeah, and I’m not sure there’s any end to it. I also kind of see it the way you just described it. I think of, like, the word “education.” If someone said, “I am educated,” then what is the implication? That you couldn’t learn anything new? You know, it’s like, same with enlightenment. I don’t see any end point or final achievement beyond which you couldn’t possibly have any deeper realization. >
Peter: I don’t think so. And going back to our early teacher, one of the things he said that really caught me by surprise at the time was he said, he was talking about cosmic consciousness. And he said, “Cosmic consciousness is just the normal state of consciousness.” And at the time I thought, “What’s he mean by that?” You know, but he explained it. But that’s how we are. We’re coming back to our normal state, rather than this, you know, self-distracted state.
Rick: Good. Someone sent in a book, I mean a book, a question, which I might as well ask now. He’s Mike from Chilliwack, British Columbia. He said, “I would consider myself a beginner on the spiritual path. I have been reading book after book for the past two years. I am reminded quite often that books only take us so far. What are your thoughts or experience on this subject of books only taking us so far?”
Peter: Yes, I agree. I think books or talks or even listening to us talking is information. And hopefully, you know, the books, whatever can be inspiring, they can be motivating. And we can learn, our understanding about the spiritual path process can deepen. But ultimately, the books won’t do it. Ultimately, it comes back to our own personal experience, our own personal, we’re talking about letting go, awakening, meditating, not following the thoughts, whatever it is. It comes back to practice. We have to find a practice that really helps us personally begin to access these quieter, more content states of mind. Yes, read books, but, you know, also find some form of practice, meditation or whatever. There are other practices that help you begin to experience what the books are talking about. But also, too many books can be confusing because you read one book and it says this, another book says this, another one says that. It’s like you get into which one is right. So, avoid that thing of comparing which one is right. In the end, just coming back to practice.
Rick: Yeah. I mean, and this is true of anything. You couldn’t become a really good cook just by reading cookbooks, or a really good tennis player just by reading tennis books, and so on. You have to have the practice, the actual experience. And knowledge and experience complement and supplement one another. And I get what you’re saying about reading too many things. Maybe it’s appropriate at one stage more than at other stages. I think if I didn’t have a regular steady practice that I’ve been doing for decades, it would drive me a bit crazy actually doing what I’m doing now. It’s like delving into one teaching or teacher every week, one after another. But, you know, with that sort of foundation I have, I find it enriching.
Peter: Yeah, yeah. And there was a phase when I was reading all lots of different spiritual books. I can’t remember when I last read a spiritual book. Occasionally I’ll pick one up, but it’s very occasional, very occasional.
Rick: So Mike might be wondering, okay, well, you know, just as there are so many books, there are so many practices, and I don’t have the time or the money to try them all, how do I figure out which one to try? And how long should I try it before giving up and trying something else if it doesn’t seem to be working for me?
Peter: Right. Yeah. My advice would be to go for the simplest to start with. You know, you can do Tibetan practices where you imagine some deity. and you imagine different lights and different Tibetan letters around them. and this and that. You know, you can do that for hours until the mind eventually gives up. And when it gives up, you drop into silence. But no, I would say go for the simple practices and not things that are going to promise you it’s going to work, it’s going to take three years, whatever, until you get something. Find something that when you first start practicing it, you notice some effect. I think that’s important. So I would say some form of simple meditation to start with, whether it’s mindfulness or the sort of thing we’ve been talking about, even just that pausing, doing that, but then doing that for longer periods of time, just pausing your thoughts, noticing how that feels. But yeah, so I think simplicity and ones that you feel have some effect from the beginning. And then that can deepen and take you on. You know, you don’t stick at something just because someone’s told you this is the path. I mean, I meet people who’ve done somewhere, they’re not getting anywhere for years, but you know, “Well, I read this is the only way, this is what you’ve got to do.” There is no, “only way”. There are ways that are more effective.
Rick: When you first learned to meditate, when was it, ’66, ’67, something like that? Peter ’67, yeah.
Rick: Yeah. What was your initial experience? Did something happen right away?
Peter: Yes, well, when I first learned to meditate, nothing much happened. I was actually at Cambridge, and there were a couple of Buddhist teachers there. And one was teaching sort of Vipassana. He was a Southeast Asian teacher. And I tried that, and nothing really happened for me. And then also there was a Tibetan Lama in Cambridge who was teaching, you know, these complex practices, and I tried that, and nothing happened. I was interested in meditation. And then, you know, I tried TM, and it was like the very first session, it was like, “Ah!” That sense of relief dropping in, it’s like, “Ah, I’m actually, yes, there was something here.” And because of that, if it’s the initial practice, initial experience, you’ve just been, you know, thinking whatever it was, the mantra, and nothing changed, I wouldn’t have kept at it for long. Just because the experience was completely reaffirming the practice.
Rick: Yeah, me too, from day one. And I’ve never missed one, actually, since then. Okay, an innovative species. This is changing gears here. I don’t know if this is your note from the book or mine, but have technological advancements made things better or more difficult? Interesting question. I mean, the pace of change. Since we’ve referred to Maharishi several times, the first time I ever saw him was at Poland Spring, Maine, in 1970. And I remember a lecture he gave in which he talked about the pace of change. And he kept using the word “survival of the fittest.” He said, “We have to be fittest.” And he said, “The pace of change,” and it was nothing in 1970 like it is now. Now it’s really ramped up. But he said, “It’s fast, and it’s going to get faster.” And he said, “It’s like if you have a donkey, and he’s carrying a heavy load, you’ve either got to lighten the load or strengthen the donkey.” And he said, “I don’t know if we can lighten the load, because life is just going to get more and more fast-paced and complicated, so you have to be fitter, you have to be stronger.”
Peter: Yes, yeah. Ah, this is a whole other book I’m working on.
Rick: Oh, good. We can promote that one.
Peter: It’s called– its current working title is either “The Evolutionary Explosion” or “The Exponential Explosion.” But it deals with where you started. That is the effects of technology. I mean, I see the– first of all, the acceleration, the increasing pace of change is inevitable. It’s positive feedback. The more advances that are made, the more they facilitate future advances. That always leads to some form of exponential growth. So, yes, we are seeing technology changing so fast beyond– how many of us 30 years ago would have seen the web, cell phones, all that … the web was just beginning. But all that we now take for granted, streaming, social media, all the other stuff, artificial intelligence, cars run by computers, and all that’s happening in many other areas, scientific advances, medicine, etc. And there’s a cost to this. And there’s a cost in terms of the actual stress that acceleration puts on all the systems involved. Stress is usually defined as the inability to respond to change.
Rick: And it’s not only the things you mentioned, but it’s things like the pandemic and political polarization and fake news and conspiracy theories. It seems like there’s just ramping up of craziness that people have to deal with on top of everything else that’s impacting their personal lives.
Peter: And also it means an accelerating consumption of resources and also increasing pollution. Climate change is– we can pin it down to CO2 release, but why are we releasing so much more CO2? Because why are we burning so much more fossil fuel? Not only because we’ve got the technology where we want that, because there’s many more people now that’s also been accelerating, using oil, using fossil fuels. That’s an indirect result of the acceleration. So what I see and what this book’s about is there’s two sides to the technological acceleration. And we are moving into a world that’s going to be unimaginable to us technologically what we can do, particularly as artificial intelligence comes. I think we’re moving into what I call the age of intelligence, moving out of the information age to the intelligence age, and no idea where we’re going to be in 10, 15 years’ time. It will seem like magic to us now. And at the same time, the stress of all this is going to mean the system is beginning to– the system is beginning to break down at the same time, whether it’s personal, social, political, economic systems, global systems, whatever it is, they’re beginning to break down. So we’re moving into a world in which these two things are happening in parallel. And how that’s going to be, I don’t know. But it’s just seeing these two are coming together. Sometimes the question is actually, why is it that the most creative so-called intelligent species on this planet is also the most destructive? And I think that they’re two sides of the same coin, actually. You really can’t have one without the other when you get to technological growth. You can have– I’m going off now.
Rick: That’s okay. That’s interesting.
Peter: Yeah. I think it’s the combination of three things. It comes back to what you were saying about innovation. With human beings, we rapidly grew a larger brain, about three times the size of other great apes. We develop speech, language. I mean, many creatures have language, but we can communicate with each other. We can share our learning, share our discoveries, and that’s part of culture. So, we have this ever-broadening collective knowledge, and we have these things, hands, these wonderful manipulators, particularly the thumb. And you put those three things together, and you have this incredibly innovative species that can dream up new ideas, make things, whatever. So these three things together, the brain to think about it, the language to share ideas, and the hands to do things, make us a really amazing, innovative species. You look at– you know, chimps don’t have the speech. They have language, but they don’t have the speech like we do. They don’t have that collective body of scientific, cultural knowledge. On the other hand, you take the cetaceans like whales, dolphins. They seem to have sophisticated languages, which we don’t understand. They have– whales have much larger brains than us, but they don’t have hands. Well, they do. They have vestigial hands. The five fingers are there, but all safely– they’re wrapped up in flippers. They can’t do anything. They can’t make anything. So they haven’t become a technological species, and so they are still living– they haven’t accelerated their development. They’re evolving at a steady, natural pace. They’ve been around for tens, 20s of millions of years. So, they’re not subject to the acceleration, and so they’re still more in harmony with their environment. So I think once– what we’re seeing, the acceleration and its side effects, I think are what happens when you have what I call a technologically empowered species, which we are, a technologically empowered intelligence, rather.
Rick: So I think you just said that given our various capabilities and intelligence, we can’t help but screw things up. We can’t help but sort of have a destructive influence. But isn’t there another component which could somehow be developed sufficiently, such that we can do all these marvellous technological things. without being destructive, whether that would be development of the heart, development of higher consciousness or higher wisdom, or something along those lines?
Peter: Yes, I think that can certainly happen.
Rick: It has to happen. There’s definitely lots of room for improvement, lots of room. But that doesn’t take us off the acceleration itself, because we’re still innovating. We may be innovating in different areas, and this fact of the positive feedback of innovation just breeds more innovation. The acceleration itself is going to keep on going. So it’s more the stress of the acceleration on the systems. rather than the destructive choices we make. It’s the actual stress of the acceleration.
Rick: But maybe acceleration would be okay if it’s not destructive. In other words, we could more rapidly develop benign, beneficial technologies without any destructive consequences or side effects.
Peter: I don’t know. People say that. I just see… I mean, that’s a possibility. It is a possibility.
Rick: Like batteries, for instance. It would be great if we could develop really good batteries. that could store a lot of electricity and that weren’t large, and that didn’t utilize a lot of precious natural resources, and that we’d have to mess up other people’s environments in order to get them. We have a battery now that involves iron and oxygen or something that is promising, that are very plentiful elements. So something like that. There could be all kinds of technologies that would come along that would… Because a lot of the promising technologies now, the solar power and stuff, require minerals and so on that are hard to get and that are precious and that mess up the environment. So it’s a mix of blessings.
Peter: Yeah. But then, you know, that would just encourage us to be driving more cars with electric vehicles.
Rick: Which might be okay if we could derive the electricity in a healthy way.
Peter: What’s the environmental cost of producing a car? All the raw materials that go into it, the energy that goes into it.
Rick: So I don’t know how it’s all going to work out either. But it may be that we’re kind of going to go up against a brick wall, and we’re just going to have to be forced to curtail our activities because things will just break down to the point where we’ll be forced to stop.
Peter: Right. And that’s what I see is the acceleration is going to slow down because of… Well, in that it was turbulence. I mean if you’re driving a car, the car has a top speed, not because it’s mechanically limited, but because of the air resistance. So you design better aerodynamic cars, structures, so that they can go faster or be more efficient. But there’s a limit to how fast a car can move. Same with a ship. A ship has a top speed, depending on its size, et cetera, and however much more power you put into it, it won’t go any faster just because of the drag of the water on it. So I think there comes a time when the side effects of the acceleration begin to dampen it, and so it begins to stop or even slow down. So it’s not going to go on forever. I think that will happen. But the turbulence will be the effects of the system, whatever it is, and we may be forced to … ah energy may not be so abundant. We may not have many of the things we take for granted now And that may be curtailed. Who knows?
Rick: All right. A question came in from Angie in Boise, Idaho, which is kind of related to what we’re talking about right now. She said, “Can you please help me better understand your statement, ‘Our whole civilization is an unsustainable mode of consciousness’?” Did you phrase it that way?
Peter: No, I didn’t.
Rick: Can you extract something from that question?
Peter: I was saying that the technological–the acceleration in technology and science and understanding is going to inevitably have side effects, the stress of the system. It’s not that our consciousness is unsustainable at all. Some of our thinking is, you know, you’re pointing to making bad decisions. that cause damage, cause danger. That can happen. But that’s not our root consciousness that’s doing that. That’s just what we’re caught in in terms of our priorities of what we think is important, which so often is geared around financial efficiency and things in this culture. So it’s like I’m not–yes, there’s nothing– there’s no–I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us. That’s the point. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us. There’s no blame. This is the sort of situation that I think any technologically empowered species starts getting itself into.
Rick: Yeah, it’s kind of like saying there’s nothing wrong with a teenager. There isn’t. I mean, it’s a developmental stage and the teenager’s trying all kinds of things and, you know, making some mistakes and acting kind of crazy. But you know if they don’t kill themselves, they’ll grow out of it.
Peter: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I think, you know, in a way, I think, you know, we need to have some forgiveness for ourselves, for humanity. We need to have some forgiveness. It’s like, okay, this is what’s happened. This is how it’s happened. And not to get into anger and blame. I don’t think they’re useful. I had an email from somebody the other day just saying, you know, how he was amazed at how, you know, I wasn’t angry at this and wasn’t angry at that and all these things that he’s so angry with. You know, he said, you know, he said, “How can I be so, you know, not so angry at all these things?” And it’s like, you know, I think anger comes from the belief that, you know, we could have done something better, somebody’s done something wrong. And this is the trajectory we’ve been on. And understanding it is the root, I think, of any forgiveness, is understanding how we got to this situation.
Rick: Yeah, as George Harrison sang, “For every mistake we must”–how did it go? “With every mistake we must surely be learning.” While my guitar gently weeps. But you could say, I often feel, that everybody really is doing the best they can. Why would they not? You know, it’s like you don’t say, “I’m really going to screw this up, you know, on purpose because I don’t want to do “…” but, you know, you try to do the best you can, to accomplish whatever you’re trying to accomplish, but we’re all limited, and we all make mistakes.
Peter: And we’re all shaped in different ways. We do. We all try to do the best that we can within our limitations, our framework, our opportunities.
Rick: Yeah. Here’s a question that came in, and we’ll get back to your book in a minute. I’m just going through some random points here. But from Jack in Canada, “How has your view of consciousness/metaphysics/spirituality changed over these past seven years?” I guess he’s referring to since last time we talked. You talked about the negative epiphany you had in one of the videos, from a recent SAND conference where you said that you realized, “I don’t know anything.” Could you elaborate on that? Does that apply to metaphysics?
Peter: Yes, definitely it does. And, yes, in fact it applies to the talk we had seven years ago, you know, where I was expounding, you know, how I see consciousness as fundamental in various arguments about paradigms in science and what needs to happen. And I’ve noticed, you know, the shift happened, the epiphany happened about probably four years ago now, three, four years ago. I realized I can be very good at arguing my point of view. I can be pretty good at it, and I can argue against other people, and I can pick the flaws in other people’s arguments about consciousness. You know, there’s so many people talking about consciousness and all this stuff. And then there’s just this suddenly, “What do I know? What do I know?” You know, I realized it was another ego attachment. I was getting attached to my idea of what the universe is all about and why it’s fundamentally conscious and how it all works out. It’s just a hypothesis. It’s just, you know, my own little metaphysical wondering. And it’s like, “So what?” That’s where the title of the talk came from. “What do I know?” Not, “What do I know?” It’s, “What do I know?” And it’s just like–and I let go of that whole thing, and I haven’t really talked about that hardly at all ever since. It’s just like I don’t see the point, really. It led me back to, you know, what is important is what do I know about how we can wake up, how we can become better, more compassionate human beings. That’s what’s important rather than metaphysical pontificating.
Rick: Yeah. I think that, you know, you used the word “hypothesis.” I think that we can arrange all of our hypotheses along a spectrum, and there are some that I think we’re justified in being quite sure about. Like, I’m really sure the earth is not flat, you know, and a lot of smart people agree with me, and there’s plenty of evidence. I’m almost as sure that we actually did land people on the moon. You know, things like that. It’s really quite sure. It would be such a far-fetched thing to prove that we didn’t. But then a lot of these philosophical things that we like to talk about, you know, even things like life after death and reincarnation and all that stuff, the evidence is not as abundant. We have intuitive feelings about it and even certainties, but they’re just not as hard–the evidence is not as hard as it is with some of these other things I mentioned. So we don’t have to fight over them or anything. We can just, if we find them inspiring or if they help make sense of the world, great. But we don’t take them as, you know, you’re going to go to hell if you don’t believe in them.
Peter: Right, right, yeah. And the interesting part, I got a lot of satisfaction out of exploring those ideas. I wrote a couple of books on stuff. Rick Irene just passed me a note saying, “Don’t send me emails saying the Earth is flat.” [Laughter] I’m sorry, Peter, go ahead.
Peter: So, yes, it was a self-entertaining phase of my life.
Rick: Which was?
Peter: The metaphysical quantification.
Rick: Yeah, yeah.
Peter: Yeah, it was fascinating. I mean, absolutely fascinated by, you know, what is consciousness? How does it arise? Does it arise? Is it primary? And I went down that journey pretty deeply, for 20 years. And I’m glad I did, but in the end it came to .. I went as far as I could. And then I found myself just reiterating and becoming attached to my view. And it was that attachment, or letting go of that attachment, just like, okay. I still find it interesting. I was reading some stuff I wrote the other day on it. And I thought, wow, that’s really, really good stuff. And I thought, and then my mind went, maybe I should write a book on this. It’s like, ah!
Rick: Well, when we ponder that stuff, it’s a little different than, you know, looking at NASA photos of the Earth or something. We’re kind of going on our subjective spiritual experience that we’ve been developing over the years. And we’re sort of going on real subtle intuitions about the way things seem to work. And it’s a very subjective thing. And then we can also, you know, look to the perennial philosophy of wise people throughout the world over the ages saying very similar things. And that gives us a little bit more confidence. But, you know, all these ideas are still somewhat speculative. How can they not be?
Peter: I think the question is, what was the question I’m asking? What was my epiphany?
Rick: Yeah, yeah. Something you announced in a SAND talk or something?
Peter: Yes, it was the last one, a recent one. SAND was still giving physical conferences. Yes, it was a talk I gave, really. And I started off the talk by just talking about how I’d — because people know me, for talking about this stuff. Really saying I’m not going to talk about this stuff, and this is why. I want to talk about how do we personally, for want of a better word, wake up.
Rick: Yeah. All right, well, let’s get back to that topic. Okay. You have a chapter in your book called “Imagine Realities.” And there’s a quote here from Mark Twain. I don’t remember if it was in your book or if I pulled it from somewhere else. But he said, “I’m an old man, and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Peter: Yeah, yeah. It is Mark Twain, yeah, that’s the quote. And that’s what we touched on before about how we create so much trouble, so much discontent, and worrying about planning for things that actually probably never happen. And so I think that’s a central part of the book, that we create in our minds the stuff we get attached to. And that all of that is veiling the natural mind, the natural state of contentment. It’s like if you’re — the more worried you are about what might happen, et cetera, et cetera, basically, coming back to where we began, am I going to be happy in the future? That’s what we — the fundamental motivation is, am I going to be content? Am I going to be at peace in the future? We can be so concerned with that that we can’t be content in the present moment because of the discontent we’re creating about what’s going to happen in the future or not happen. So I think it’s a primary thing for me is seeing that when it happens and letting go of it.
Rick: Yeah. I mean, there’s a practical side to it. Like, you know, in Los Angeles they need to have building codes that would account for earthquakes that might happen. You can’t just sort of ignore the fact that there might be some. Or, for instance, you know, preparing for possible pandemics.
Rick: Things like that. But obviously in our own personal lives we very often fuss and bother about stuff that might happen which probably won’t, and we will probably be — if it does happen we’ll probably be less prepared for it because we’ve been worrying so much than if we had just cultivated a calm, centred state of mind.
Rick: And confronted it when it arose.
Peter: Yeah. I’m totally — you know, we need to be planning, interacting with the world, doing whatever is the best we can do. There’s nothing wrong with that. And thinking things through. That’s where our creativity comes in. It’s the unnecessary worrying. I mean, I had it recently where I was worrying about what would happen when I met up with a friend, a conversation, you know, and planning how should I approach this because it was going to be a difficult subject. And how should I approach this? Should I do it this way? And what if he says that and what if this happens? And it’s like I was going through all this stuff. We met up. Totally different realities of what I’d been going through in my head. I’d created this how it was going to be and worrying about it. And the reality was totally different. Yeah.
Rick: Yeah. Well, your book is an Eckhart Tolle edition or something, so the power of now. I mean, he describes that very — in fact, I remember him describing how he goes to give a lecture and he sort of very vividly described his experience of being in the now. Like, okay, I get in the car and I’m riding to the lecture and I’m not thinking at all about the lecture. I’m just riding in the car. And then I get to the lecture and I get up on stage and I’m not thinking about the lecture. I’m just getting up on stage. And then I start to speak and somehow it just all comes out. Of course, you can’t always do that with things, but it works for him.
Peter: Yeah, and it’s funny. I mean, it’s worked for me at times. I mean, I tend to be an over-preparer for talks, which can be a disadvantage. But sometimes, you know, I just literally — I do what Eckhart does. I just go in without knowing what I’m going to talk about, not worrying about it, just being quiet. And some of the best talks I’ve given have just come out of not knowing what I’m going to say. And I’ll often be more creative. It gives me the space to start putting ideas together that I hadn’t put together before, or also just feeling the audience, relating to them, rather than what is it I think I should be saying next. So that’s certainly — I mean, I’d love to do it as much as Eckhart does.
Rick: Yeah, because he pretty much says the same thing over and over, so he can rely on his experience. There’s an interesting section in your book about deconstructing an emotion and how physical sensations are associated with feelings. And this is something I think you kind of got from Maharishi because he used to talk that way, that for every emotion there’s some kind of physiological counterpart, and you can locate a physical sensation if you allow yourself to.
Peter: Yes, yes. I’m not sure — I don’t remember getting it from him, but a lot of ideas seep in.
Rick: Yeah, he used to talk about it.
Peter: It’s that — yes, it’s interesting. We call an emotion a feeling, and also we call sensations in the body, feelings. And I think it’s no accident we use the word “feeling” for both. And when I’m deconstructing an emotion, I’m saying there’s always two aspects to it. There’s actually what you’re feeling in the body, and there’s some story going along with it. And the story is usually triggered by some reaction in the body. And the word “emotion” comes from the Latin. It actually means “a e motare,” means to act out. And what’s happening is there’s always what psychologists call an action tendency. In any emotion, there’s an action tendency. If you’re angry, the action tendency is getting ready to fight. If you’re scared, the action tendency is getting ready to run. If you’re depressed, the action tendency is to withdraw, to hide, that sort of thing. And that action tendency has some quality in the body. Like just a faint thing of the muscles, certain muscles appearing, that sort of thing. Or other sensations in the body. So there’s that side of it. And the other side of it is there’s something we are telling ourselves, some story going on in the head about what is wrong, what is right, or whatever it is. And the two are wrapped up together. And there’s an analogy I’ve heard used, which is it’s like you have red and white yarn and you wrap them up into a ball. From a distance, it looks like a pink ball. But you look closely, and you’ve got red and white threads. And that’s what I call deconstructing an emotion, seeing there’s the thread of the body’s feeling, what’s happening in the body, and there’s the thread of the thought that’s going on. And we can let go of either. That’s why I talk about it in terms of letting go of emotions. We can either begin to release what we talked about earlier, the actual being aware of what’s happening in the body, the tensions, et cetera, can begin to soften them and they can begin to release. Or we can look at the story that’s happening. And in fact, if we didn’t have a story, there wouldn’t be an emotion. I have to say it’s very hard to have an emotion without some thought about the past or future. I can’t feel any emotion without some thought, and that’s why I call it the story, some thought about what happened or might happen or not happen. So the two are wrapped up together.
Rick: Some people seem to derive satisfaction from their stories, or they derive some shreds of satisfaction from the sympathy they get when they tell people their stories. I have this person who feels that she was mistreated by some spiritual teachers many years ago, and it seems to be her whole world dwelling on this mistreatment and the effect that it’s had on her and the effect that it’s had on her family and so on and so forth. And I keep saying, “Well, whatever the validity of this, you have two choices. You can keep dwelling on it, and you can dwell on it for the rest of your life, and you’ll get some sympathy from people, or you can somehow find a way of moving on, and then they won’t have any control over you.” And it kind of reminds me of that story of the Zen monks who come to the river, and there’s a beautiful woman there who asks to have help crossing the river, and the older monk picks her up and carries her across and puts her down, and then they walk on for a few hours, and finally the younger monk just can’t contain himself any longer. He says, “You know we’re not supposed to touch women. Why did you do that?” And the older monk says, “You know, brother, I set her down on the other side of the river. Why are you still carrying her?” So this letting go thing, which is kind of key, is in the title of your book. I think some people don’t even realize that it would be to their advantage to let go of stuff because they derive some satisfaction from holding on to it, and they don’t realize how nice it would be if they really did let go of it.
Peter: Right, right. Yes, there’s a satisfaction holding on to something. You think you’re going to feel better for it in some way or another. You’re going to be more righteous or whatever it is, or you’re going to sort things out. So there’s a certain satisfaction you get, but it’s only a certain satisfaction. It’s not a deep satisfaction, but that’s, I think, as we say, deep down, everything we’re doing we’re looking because we think we’re going to feel better for it. So in some way you think things are going to be better for holding on, and you’re absolutely right. When we do let go, there’s a much deeper satisfaction. The reward of letting go is we actually feel,… we get what it is we think we’re going to get from holding on, we get that from the letting go. So I think part of it is beginning to recognize the cost of the holding on. When we’re really holding on to something, it’s actually – pause and say, “How is this affecting me if I’m holding on to this view of this other person? How is that affecting me?” And not so much in–it could be in the world, but how is it affecting me in my own being? How is this making me tense, for example, holding on to this idea? Because usually when we’re holding on to some idea, there’s some tension created in us, either mental tension or even physical tension. And so if we begin to notice that, if we begin to notice the cost of the holding on, that can begin to be the motivation to explore how we can let go of it.
Rick: Some teachers use the analogy of you get on a train with your suitcase, and you insist upon holding your suitcase, not realizing that the train is carrying it now. And all you need to do is put it down, relax, and enjoy the ride, because the train will do the work. But people have a hard time letting go of the suitcase.
Peter: Yeah, I hadn’t heard that one. Nice one, yeah.
Rick: And that kind of points to a deeper thing, which is who is really the author of our actions? Are we really doing everything, or is there some kind of deeper actor? And we’re more or less just being carried along by that, and we can actually just let go of all our efforts and our sense of doer-ship and let the divine do the doing.
Peter: Yeah. I think that’s, again, part of the journey we’re talking about, the awakening journey, is a lot of our actions come from what I call the ego mind, which is the bit that’s trying to keep us safe, keep, preserve us, make sure everything’s going on well in the world. And that conditions our actions, that tells us what to do. It’s really important to do this, really important not to do this, must say this to this person. That’s the ego mind trying to work things out. So that determines the direction of our actions. When, I think, when that’s not operating, we’re acting, as I said earlier, more in accord with the situation. I mean, I know this may seem a trivial example, but it touched me one day, some years ago. I’d been on a meditation retreat and I was walking down the road, and I saw this lizard on the road, and it was a hot day, and it was, you know, obviously not doing well, it was stuck, whatever it was. I can’t now remember the exact details of it, but I found myself spontaneously, without even thinking about it, I bent down, picked it up, and put it in some grass. And there was no thought, “Oh, poor lizard, I must save it, I must do this,” whatever. I did it, and I watched myself doing it. And so, like, I, Peter Russell, wasn’t the actor. I wasn’t actually, me as an individual, wasn’t doing that. It was just a spontaneous action I saw myself doing. And, as I say, it’s a very small example, but it struck me at the time as quite profound, that shift between normally doing something which is deliberate, because I had decided to do it, and something that just, I watched myself doing.
Rick: Yeah, well, you know the phrase “spontaneous right action,” and just having, really, I think one’s life can get to a point where it kind of runs on autopilot, and one’s spontaneous impulses turn out to be the best possible things one could do, or feel to do, in every circumstance.
Peter: Yes, and I think we have a natural wisdom in us all. And then it gets overshadowed by all the other stuff that goes on. So the more we can free ourselves from that, the more that natural wisdom will just come shining through.
Rick: Yeah. You have a chapter in your book entitled “The Support of Nature,” and I think that relates to what we’re saying right now. Why don’t you say a bit about that, and maybe I’ll have some thoughts.
Peter: Okay. Well, this directly goes back to, the phrase directly goes back to the Maharishi, who, as you probably noticed, when he was assessing how we’re doing in our meditation, he wasn’t so interested in, like, were we tasting the pure self, were we having transcendental consciousness? I mean, he’d talk about it a bit, but always, he always had this question, “Are you noticing the support of nature more?” That was his question, by which he meant, “Do you notice that the world is, you know, seems to be supporting you?” It’s what I think today we call synchronicity. This happened. Wasn’t it amazing? I happened to, this book just appeared, I picked it up, and I read this passage, and it changed my life or something. You know, we call that synchronicity. All these little things that happen that tend to have a positive effect on us. His argument I found fascinating, and I haven’t heard it from anybody else. His argument was when we meditate, we’re going to acquire a state of mind, we’re stepping out of the ego mind, we’re letting go of those ego thoughts. And it’s those ego thoughts that get in the way, that cause us to do damaging things, harmful things to other people, not act appropriately, whatever it is .. say something stupid. So by meditating, we’re stepping out of that, stepping out of the ego mind, all that form of thinking. And so we’re sort of, again, it comes back to defusing, defusing our action in the world. And so he said, “By doing that, we are supporting nature in the most fundamental way possible.” And then he says, “And nature returns the favour.” I mean, that’s the bit that’s sort of not quite such logical thinking, there’s a bit of metaphysical thinking, but it’s like nature returns the favour. It’s like we’re supporting nature by getting out of the ego mind, and nature. returns the favour by supporting us in some way. And I found it remarkably true in my life. When, you know, when I, I mean, there’s times when I’ve come off a meditation retreat and it’s ridiculous. It’s like everything just, things happen. I can’t believe it’s like, it’s like magic is happening. When I, the opposite, when I’m stressed, stressed out, worried, tense, whatever it is, magic doesn’t happen. The synchronicities don’t happen. So I’ve noticed there’s a very clear correlation in my own life as to how calm, how centred I am, how much synchronicity happens, and how when I’m uncentered and tense and caught up in my ego mind, it doesn’t happen. So it’s something, as I say, I found an unusual explanation, but it’s also, I found, you know, life shows me there’s a truth to this, there’s a real truth to it. And I know a lot of other meditators feel the same way, notice the same thing.
Rick: Oh yeah. And, you know, it gets a little metaphysical to consider the mechanics of it, but, you know, my understanding, and I actually have heard Maharishi elaborate on this, is that, you know, there are impulses of intelligence governing creation. There’s not only a field of intelligence, fundamentally, but there are various impulses that are like, he equates them with laws of nature, and they are kind of responsible for different phenomena that are taking place, and there are certain impulses that are responsible, or that influence our own personal lives. I mean, perhaps some people refer to them as guardian angels or some such thing. But in any case, for some this is a concrete perception, they perceive these things daily and regularly, and they kind of, I have a friend who told me that she sees this all the time, and she sees little clusters of these beings around people and doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing, but they’re somehow attending to people. So, I kind of have a feeling like there are sort of all sorts of intelligences pulling the strings, helping to orchestrate the events of life, and there’s a verse in the Gita about you support the gods and they’ll support you. I don’t know if we have to use the word gods, but somehow or other, you know, when we get attuned in the way you’ve described, we become more of an instrument of the divine, and since we’re helping to fulfill a divine purpose in some way, we get the wind at our backs. We’re supporting the divine, the divine supports us. Whereas if we’re in sharp contradiction or conflict with that sort of divine intelligence, why should we get the support? I don’t know, some people might feel uncomfortable with that kind of terminology, but that’s the way I think about it.
Peter: Yeah, I know people like you who have these experiences. I personally don’t.
Rick: But you have had the support of nature experiences, sometimes remarkable stuff.
Peter: Remarkable, abundantly and ridiculously sometimes. And I know, you know, whatever the mechanism is, I don’t personally know. I hear what you’re saying, that’s a plausible mechanism, but I don’t know, I just know, you know, how do I encourage synchronicity by, you know, being more in touch with my being, myself. So it works, it works, whatever the explanation is, it works.
Rick: Right, and we don’t have to get all esoteric about it. I mean, you can think of the case of somebody who is abusing themselves in various ways, drugs and alcohol and abusive behaviours and so on. Just in very mundane, obvious ways, they’re screwing up their life and things aren’t going to go well. They’re going to lose the job, they’re going to lose the relationship, they’re going to have this health problem or something. But there is a subtler aspect to it when things start to happen quite miraculously in one’s life.
Peter: Yeah, yeah. In fact, I mean, I was looking back on my life a few years ago and realizing everything of any significance, every turning point, my whole life, it was some synchronicity or other that led to it. Everything was some or other synchronicity. It’s just, I wouldn’t say it’s run my life, but it’s been a steady influence everywhere.
Rick: And have you found that a lot of times you really didn’t see it coming, and in fact, when it was already coming and some situation was developing in your life, you might have actually been grumbling about it, but then in retrospect you realize, “Wow, that was perfect. That’s exactly what I needed and I didn’t see it at first.”
Peter: Yeah. I don’t know, I wasn’t looking at it from that point of view. I think if I went back and looked at it, it’s probably the case, yes.
Peter: In some instances.
Rick: There’s another, well, there’s a very important chapter in your book, which we should dwell upon a bit here, entitled “Effortless Meditation,” and you alluded to that earlier when someone asked a question about what kind of meditation should I do. You said effortless. There’s a phrase, “The natural tendency of the mind,” which you’re well familiar with. Let’s talk about that a little bit.
Peter: Yes, well, I think it’s — we touched on it earlier when I was saying, you know, a fundamental motivation is to — is a better state of mind. So the natural tendency of the mind is to — well, two things. One, to seek whatever we think is going to bring us greater ease, joy, contentment, but also left to itself without distraction from our thinking, the mind is going to sort of gravitate to that because it’s just a natural sort of self-reinforcing thing. The more — when the mind relaxes, it feels better, and it wants to feel even better and relaxes even more. So it’s almost like I think of it as a gravity in the mind. It’s like if you stop propping up the mind with thoughts and worries and this and that and planning and all the other stuff, if you stop keeping it active, looking for something, and all of that is looking for the natural tendency of the mind to look for something which is going to bring it greater peace, when you stop that, the mind just begins to settle down spontaneously. I think this is important because you don’t have to do anything to make the mind quiet, and this I think is a misunderstanding in some teachings. You’ve got to control thoughts, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to banish all the things that are creating disturbance. You don’t need to do anything to make the mind quiet. You need to stop doing the things which are making the mind unquiet.
Rick: Right, and actually doing something can make the mind less quiet. Let’s say you sit down and you think, “I am going to sit here and go into samadhi and I’m not going to have any thoughts,” and you start making an effort to suppress thoughts. You’re just going to agitate the mind more if you do that.
Peter: Yes, exactly, yeah. And then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People take, you know, it’s going to take you, you’ve got to discipline the mind, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that, and it’s very hard work and it’s going to take you years of practice and then, you know, eventually if you keep doing this and really control your mind, you may taste what, you know, the great masters have spoken of. And you do it. You try it, you discipline the mind, you do this, you know, it becomes a battle and maybe in years to come you do experience something and then you go and teach that to other people because that’s what happened to you. But I think for me it’s the exact opposite and that’s why I talk about meditation being effortless. The less effort you put into it, the less trying to get somewhere because ultimately there’s nowhere we’re trying to get to. I think that’s really important, nowhere we’re trying to get to. And effort is about trying to get to some state. It’s just, again, it’s just revealing, unveiling that natural state of being that’s there.
Rick: Yeah. So the key is that we just want to set up a condition in which the sort of natural tendency of the mind will allow the mind to settle into its true nature, or into its least excited state, we could say. Kind of like diving, you know, you get up on the board and you just have to take a correct angle and then gravity will take care of the rest.
Peter: And that’s why, I mean, in a lot of meditation techniques, mindfulness, those things we’ve been talking about, one of the core instructions is not to follow the thought. You may use different words. The words I use are not to follow the thought. When you notice you’re caught up in thinking, leave the thinking behind. Don’t continue with the thought. Let your attention come back, whether it’s a mantra or some other inner thing, or just coming back to the present moment. And that’s what I start people with these days is just don’t follow the thought. Notice how it is in the present moment. Notice your actual experience in the present moment, whatever it is. Not trying to focus on any particular thing, but just not following the thought and just coming back to how it is. And because it’s the thoughts that are taking us in the other direction. Our thoughts are always taking us out in some way or other.
Rick: Yeah. And we can’t really get into the mechanics of it here, but even if you were using a mantra, it wouldn’t necessarily involve any kind of control or concentration. There’s a way of going about it that’s completely effortless. Peter Okay, yes. All these things are different ways of using mantras. Yeah. Rick Okie dokey. A couple of interesting questions here. One is related to what we were talking about a few minutes ago, but maybe we can ask this from Helena in Montreal. “Would you say that the spontaneous impulses are the intuitive connection with the divine principle guiding us? I have these synchronicities happening all my life, and I feel always connected with this creative force.”
Peter: Yes, I think that’s what we’ve been saying. That’s kind of what we were saying, yeah. I’m not sure I have much more to say except yes. Yes.
Rick: Yeah. There’s some nice stories. I mean, if you read biographies of saints, even things that happened in Jesus’ life, or you read the autobiography of a yogi, or many of these other things, books about Ramana Maharshi, this kind of stuff would happen around them all the time, and people would be astounded by it, but it was just, for them, quite normal because they were so attuned to the divine that they were kind of like riding in the lap of the divine, and it was supporting every little impulse of their lives.
Peter: I can’t remember how the questioner put it, but I think it was just another way of reframing the same thing.
Rick: Yes. Here’s a question from someone named Bhavna in Texas. “How do you define forgiveness? What does it mean to you?”
Peter: Really, the essence of forgiveness is letting go. It’s letting go of the judgments we’re holding, the grievance, whatever it is, letting go of the story of what the other person did wrong. So we often think of forgiveness as, like, you did wrong, I’m going to let you off the hook this time. I won’t punish you. I’ll forgive you. To me, it’s not that at all. It’s about two things. It’s, one, letting go of the judgments, the grievances, the story we’re telling ourselves about what the other person did wrong. It comes back to what we were talking about earlier. Everybody is doing the best they can in their own way, their own limitations, and who knows? You know, someone, whatever it is we’re upset about with somebody, who knows? Did they have a bad night? Did they not sleep well? Did they have too much coffee in the morning? Have they got some major marital problem going on in the background? Who knows what’s going on? But if we did know, if we could completely put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, with all their background, whatever it is that’s led them to this moment, how they were feeling that day, what’s going on in their life, we can understand why they may have responded like that, why they did what they did. And so I think also a deep understanding, a deep compassion for the other person can lead to forgiveness, can lead to that letting go of the judgment. And again, it’s something, I mean, there’s another teaching I like, which is A Course in Miracles, and one of the things it points out is we don’t forgive the other person to make them feel better. We,(Practice) forgiveness, by letting go of the judgments and grievances, we do it for ourselves because we feel better when we let go of that or when we understand the other person. So it’s actually the real value of forgiveness is how we feel. And in fact, the other person may not even know we were judging them in the first place, let alone that we’ve forgiven them.
Rick: Yeah, that’s an important thing. There’s .. I once heard humility defined as the quality of not insisting that things happen any particular way. And a lot of times we create conflicts in our lives by clashing with others because we feel like, “Well, things are supposed to happen this way,” and then they’re feeling the same way. And so it’s two egos kind of smashing against each other and possibly wearing each other smooth over time. But if you could just sort of like, “Alright, would it really matter if it goes this way instead of that way?” “No, in the big picture it really doesn’t matter, so let’s let it go that way and see how it goes.” And then boom, there’s no hurt feelings, there’s no anger, there’s no…
Peter: Right, yeah.
Rick: So what else haven’t we covered that you want to be sure to cover? Scanning down the titles of your chapters, for instance, do you see anything we haven’t touched upon?
Peter: Yeah, one thing follows on, which I think is important, follows on from what you were just saying, which is about being kind to each other. And that comes out of the fact, you know, what we’ve been saying is that basically what we’re all looking for is to feel okay. We’re looking for a better state of mind. None of us want to be judged or attacked or criticized. We all want to be loved, we want to be appreciated. Basically, we want to feel okay in ourselves. And I point out that kindness actually comes from the word “kin.”
Rick: What is it? What’s the word?
Peter: Kin, K-I-N.
Rick: Oh, like relative.
Peter: Yes, but we’re all of the same kin psychologically. We’re all of the same kin because we all want to be more, you know, fundamentally better state of mind. But what so often happens in a relationship, and it could be, you know, a couple relationship, a work relationship, a friend, many different sorts of relationships is you say something to me which comes from a completely wonderful, innocent place in you, but because of my stuff, I feel slightly attacked or criticized. Nothing came from you, but I feel that. If I’m not really, you know, fully aware of what’s going on in myself, if I feel attacked, the tendency is to attack back in some way. And it’s like, you know, it could be body language as, “Oh,” whatever, or silence, or like, “You stupid.. .” whatever it is, or “How dare you? How dare you say?” Whatever it is, we attack back. Now you feel attacked because I deliberately did attack you in some very subtle way maybe, but I attacked you. And, you know, if you’re not a fully enlightened being, you would probably respond the same way. And we get into this vicious circle whereby each person wants to be loved and appreciated and feel okay, and they’re digging the knife in a little bit saying, you know, “You’re not actually loving me enough. You’re not being nice to me. You’re making me upset. I’m going to dig the knife in and twist it just a little bit, and then you’ll learn the error of your ways and be nice to me.” And when two people are doing that, it’s the rest of it just spirals down. It just spirals down. So I point out that the remedy for me is actually removing the attack thought. So in any interaction, conversation, is having the intention. We don’t always do it, but the intention is in terms of what I have to say to this person or how I behave, the intention is that the other person feels loved. They feel appreciated. They feel understood. They feel better for it. They actually feel better that they don’t feel attacked. And so it’s catching those attack thoughts and not following them. Okay, it comes back to what we said about not .. “free won’t.” It’s just catching them, choosing not to follow them, and having that intention that the other person–basically, that the other person feels good. This is one of the Buddha’s definitions of right speech. If you can’t say something in such a way the other person feels good, it’s better to retain noble silence, not as a cop-out, but until you’ve worked out how to say it in such a way that the other person feels good on receiving it. And there’s lots of ways we can do it. With criticism, you can say, “I really value our connection, but I need to offer some feedback, and I’m a bit afraid. I feel a bit–” whatever it is. There’s lots of ways where we can begin to make the other person feel okay, even when we’ve got to be critical. And we fail at times. But then being willing to just apologize, say, “I’m sorry. Yep, there was some little element of attack in there. I’m sorry. Let me come in again. Let me try and rephrase that in a way that actually is more loving.” And I found when you do that in relationships., when two people, as a couple, agree to do that, something magic happens. It’s like a whole different form of love begins to enter the relationship. And it’s a caring love. It’s a real care, because what we’re actually doing is caring for another person’s inner being. I think we can be fairly good at caring for outer– well, not fairly good. We can be good at caring for outer being, helping each other. “Oh, you’re having difficulty with this. Let me help you with this.” We’re not so good at caring for the inner being of somebody, how they actually feel. And this to me is the principle of kindness. It’s the golden rule of every spiritual tradition. Treat others as you would like to be treated. The way we would like to be treated is kindly, so be kind to others. I think it was the Dalai Lama who was asked once, “What is your religion?” And he said, “My religion is kindness.”
Rick: Speaking of religion, you know how in the Old Testament when Moses was having it out with the pharaoh, the phrase kept popping up that the pharaoh hardened his heart and then did such and such, or refused to do such and such. When I think of kindness, I think of a softening of the heart, which I think comes along on the spiritual path as we grow. There’s just a kind of tenderness where you just don’t feel– I mean, like you with that lizard in the road. I do that all the time with earthworms, which are going to dry up in the sun. I can’t walk past them. I have to pick them up and put them in the grass. But there’s just this sort of feeling of, I don’t know, kind of identification or something. I can kind of feel what they’re going through if they’re drying up in the sun. Or like I see a little snake on the trail in the park, I want to pick it up with a stick and put it off in the grass before somebody rides over it with a bicycle, because I can kind of feel. What is the word? I mean, you just sort of–
Rick: Empathy, yeah, I guess that’s what that is. Empathy, being able to tune into what another person or being is going to feel and then acting accordingly. So you mentioned some other book you’re working on. Any kind of hot topics these days that are kind of like, you know, exciting, interesting you or inspiring you or anything like that?
Peter: I think actually what we’re talking about today is my hot topic, particularly having been working on the book the last year, it’s very much in my consciousness and now beginning to talk about it and things. It was only published this week. So at the moment I’m full of that.
Rick: Full of letting go of nothing.
Peter: Right, but I think if anything, not so much a topic, but what’s coming up more and more is just how I can be more loving, how I can be more loving. But that’s not so much an intellectual topic, it’s just more just a practice, a reflection in my life.
Peter: Because I know many areas where I can improve.
Rick: Yeah, well, we can all say that. We should all say that. So do you have anything going on that people can plug into, aside from buying your book? Are there any kind of webinars or anything like that planned?
Peter: Yes, I have an occasional webinar. It’s called Mindfulness of Being. You go to my website and you’ll see a link to Mindfulness of Being. And these are talks I give when I feel like it, basically. It came out of COVID, and what I missed with COVID is I like speaking on subjects that are of interest to me at the time. And often it’s a platform. I’m at a conference and I can just go into a small group and just talk about what’s interesting me and give a talk. And I realized I was missing that, and so I started these talks. Whenever I find something that’s interesting me, I will then send out an email to everybody and say, you know, a couple of weeks’ time, this date, I’m going to be on Zoom talking about this subject, and join me if you want. And then I talk about it, sometimes have a little meditation, and then questions and discussion.
Rick: Nice. So you have an email list, obviously, you just implied, which people can sign up for if they go to your website.
Peter: Right. Well, there’s two, yes. You can sign up for the general email list. That’s on my website, and that’s clear. It says newsletters, sign up, right there, top left. The Mindfulness of Being, you have to sign up for different — on it separately, because, you know, about 300 people on that list. My main mailing list is about 7,000 or 8,000. I don’t want to keep — I don’t want to mail them, but I email them already saying if you want to be alerted to these talks, then you sign up to this list.
Rick: Good. All right. I’ll link to your website from your page on Batgap, and to your books as well, so make it easy for people.
Peter: And there’s, you know, lots more on my website. I think there’s about 400 articles at my latest count.
Peter: Historically, going back 20 years, you can find some of my old, very naive thinking there as well.
Rick: Yeah. And also on your page on Batgap, I’ll link to our first conversation that we had seven years ago so people can see what we were talking about then, which, as you said, you know, you’re not as concerned about now as you were then, but it was an interesting talk, I thought.
Peter: Yeah. I still find it fascinating, but as I say, it’s not something — I went as far as I could in that direction, then I found myself getting too attached to my own thoughts.
Rick: Good. Well, thanks, Peter. I really appreciate it. It’s good touching base with you. Hopefully we’ll all come out of our cocoons and meet again in person one of these days.
Peter: Yeah, I hope so too.
Peter: And lovely to talk to you as always.
Rick: Thanks. And thanks to those who have been listening or watching. As most of you know, this is an ongoing series, so if you go to Batgap.com, you’ll see there’s an upcoming interviews page and there’s these little buttons along the right-hand side with each interview that’s scheduled that you can use to set up a notification in Outlook or Yahoo or Google or whatever you use for such things, if you click on those buttons. And explore the menus. There are a bunch of other things on the website. So thanks for watching, and we’ll see you next week.