Listen to our recent Soul Sessions podcast episode with renowned author, speaker, and profound thinker in the realm of consciousness and contemporary spirituality, Peter Russell.
What is the mind? How can we find peace in the present moment? Joining Dr. Robert in this episode is Peter Russell — a renowned author, speaker, and profound thinker in the realm of consciousness and contemporary spirituality.
With a background that intersects theoretical physics, psychology, computer science, and Eastern philosophy, Peter Russell brings a unique and enlightening perspective to the complexities of the mind and our understanding of self. In this episode, we’ll explore the intricate relationship between emotions and physical sensations, the construction of the ego, and our connection to a deeper sense of being that Russell eloquently terms “beingness.”
As we navigate the intersection of technology, consciousness, and the human experience, we’ll discuss the potential and limitations of artificial intelligence and ponder on the profound question: Are we living in a simulation? This episode is a journey to the heart of what it means to be alive in today’s world. Prepare to be inspired as we uncover the wisdom needed to approach life in a more spiritually informed way.
Learn more about Russell’s extensive work at http://peterrussell.com
Purchase “Letting Go of Nothing: Relax Your Mind and Discover the Wonder of Your True Nature” at https://www.peterrussell.com/LGN/book/index.php
Interested in Jungian Life Coaching? Download your free program brochure: https://www.creativemindlife.com/program-brochure
Sign up for the Weekly Wisdom newsletter to get free weekly coaching in your inbox: https://www.creativemindlife.com/weekly-wisdom/
Welcome to CreativeMind Soul Sessions with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado, founders of CreativeMind. Explore personal growth with us through Jungian psychology, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience in a deep, practical way. Let’s begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:24
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions. We have a very special guest today, Peter Russell. But before we introduce him, I wanted to remind you, if you haven’t done already, click the button here if you’re watching us on YouTube and subscribe to our channel. Or if you’re listening to us on one of the podcast services, don’t forget to subscribe so you get every single episode of Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I’m Debra Berndt Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. You had a great discussion with Peter Russell?
Robert Maldonado 00:54
He’s an incredible thinker and has written some incredible books. We mainly talked about meditation and his book, Letting Go of Nothing. Let’s read his bio so people can get a sense of who he is.
Debra Maldonado 01:11
This is an official background on Peter Russell. He’s an author, speaker, and leading thinker on consciousness and contemporary spirituality. He believes the critical challenge today is freeing human thinking from the limiting beliefs and attitudes that lie beyond many of our problems, personal, social, and global. His mission is to distill the essential wisdom on human consciousness found in the world’s various spiritual traditions and to disseminate it in a contemporary and compelling ways. Russell earned a first-class honours degree in theoretical physics and psychology, as well as a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Cambridge, England. He also studied meditation and Eastern philosophy in India. He coined the term “global brain” with his 1980s bestseller with the same name, in which he predicted the internet and the impact it would have on humanity. He’s the author of ten other books, including Waking Up In Time and From Science to God. His website is peterrussell.com. He has a new book, Letting Go of Nothing: Relax Your Mind and Discover the Wonder of Your True Nature. Do not forget to grab his book, the link’s down here in the show notes. Without further ado, I introduce Mr. Peter Russell and Dr. Rob Maldonado and their incredible conversation.
Robert Maldonado 02:42
Hi, Peter Russell, welcome to the program. Appreciate you being here.
Peter Russel 02:48
Thank you. Lovely to be here. Looking forward to it.
Robert Maldonado 02:50
You have a book out on meditation, which we’re very interested and very excited talking about it. It’s called Letting Go of Nothing: Relax Your Mind and Discover the Wonder of Your True Nature. I love the title, Letting Go of Nothing. We’ll get to what nothing is, what we’re letting go of. I wanted to start with a quote from the book. It says, “Letting go is hard to do. The difficulty stems from treating letting go as another thing to do. But we can’t do letting go. However hard we try to let go, we have to seize the doing of holding on and that requires a quite different approach.” I love that. Why is this letting go so difficult? What is the approach that we need to take?
Peter Russell 04:05
As I say in the quote, it’s the holding on, we need to let it relax. It’s very hard to relax a muscle. When you want to relax a muscle, what we generally tend to do is we feel the tension, we notice the muscle, we feel the tension. By allowing the tension in, something happens, we can let go, the muscle relaxes of its own accord. It’s a similar thing when you’re holding on to something, whether it’s a judgment, or grievance, or idea of what we want, anything at all. There’s usually some tension there, the holding on creates some tension in the mind or in the body even. We’ve got to stop the holding on. What I suggest in the book is we need to notice the feeling of holding on, “this is how it feels in my mind or my body.” When we notice that, then the letting go can begin to happen more of its own accord. But what we tend to do when we notice something we’re holding on to, we try to let go and say, “I’ve tried to let go but just couldn’t do it.” What I do in the book is take the opposite approach, not trying to get rid of something but actually doing the opposite of allowing it into our awareness. Then it’s the natural process, it can begin to relax. It’s all really about in one way or another letting the mind relax, letting the holding on relax.
Robert Maldonado 05:34
It’s so counterintuitive, because we’re always taught to do something, to engage in some activity to fix the problem. Here, it’s taking that other approach of “can we let go of our attachment to holding on to that problem or that emotion?”
Peter Russell 06:00
You’re right, because our whole society in a way says if you don’t succeed, try harder. Which may be valid in many areas of life. But when it comes to letting go, letting the mind relax, meditation, it’s the opposite. The less you try, the easier it becomes, the more successful you become.
Robert Maldonado 06:21
I wanted to ask you a simple question, which is probably the most difficult one. Often, our students are amazed that we don’t really have a good definition of what the mind is in Western psychology, or at least, that there’s different models and different ways of conceptualizing it. When you talk about the mind, how do you conceive of that? What is the mind?
Peter Russell 06:54
The way I use the word, there’s two ways. There’s the way we often talk about the mind as being the logical thinking mind, thoughts, mental stuff. That’s one aspect of mind. But there’s lots of other things. For me, what I talk about the mind, sometimes with a capital M, is the totality of experience in any given moment. All that experience is arising in consciousness. I use the word “mind” in that larger sense of the totality of what is arising in our awareness at any particular moment. That would include thoughts, feelings, but also our perceptions, our experiences, anything that’s going on is in a way in the mind, as opposed to being out there in the physical world. That’s my particular way of using it. Other people have their own ways. That’s how I use the word anyway.
Robert Maldonado 07:51
A lot of people use it interchangeably with brain, they think the brain is somehow the mind.
Peter Russell 08:00
There’s a correlation there, I believe what goes on in the brain determines what appears in the mind. If I’m having a certain emotion, the stuff that’s going on in the brain, there’s activity that’s going on, which appears in the mind, as whatever I’m feeling. But they’re not the same thing. It’s just a correlation. Like there’s a correlation between what goes on in your computer and what appears on the screen, but they are not the same. The picture I see on screen isn’t the computer. There’s a big distinction there for me.
Robert Maldonado 08:46
I’ve heard some people describe it as the difference between the hardware and the software. The software is the mind, the ideas and emotions you’re playing with, whereas the parts of the brain that are lighting up, that’s the hardware, or the wetware.
Peter Russell 09:06
The mind is what appears, what we know, what appears in consciousness. That’s the thing for me.
Robert Maldonado 09:22
The mind is what we know, what appears in consciousness.
Peter Russell 09:26
The totality in this moment, what is appearing is always changing.
Robert Maldonado 09:33
That’s verifiable. We can look at the world, and it’s always in flux, it’s always moving and changing.
Peter Russell 09:44
Look inside, look at our thoughts, feelings, the images that occur, it’s always changing. We’re probably never in the same state of mind ever twice in our whole life.
Robert Maldonado 09:57
I’ve often thought of the mind as during the night, everyone received a supercomputer, a package left at their door, but no instructions. What do we do with this incredible supercomputer of the mind if we don’t know how to use it. We just start pushing buttons here and there. We end up playing video games and small little tricks that we learn. But nobody teaches us how to use this incredible instrument.
Peter Russell 10:37
They teach us little bits, like how you’d use it for reading or doing arithmetic or something. But there’s no owner’s manual with it. We learn from what other people have learned, we share with other people “If you do this, you’ll find you’re in a quieter state of mind. If you do this, the mind gets more hectic or whatever.” There’s a collective learning which we learn from. But sadly, it’s not really taught in schools. We figure it out on our own and what other people have found.
Robert Maldonado 11:08
Especially the West, we’re certainly taught to focus on the objects of perception, instead of thinking about how our mind is doing these things. It’s more about focusing on what’s out there.
Peter Russell 11:24
That’s really sad, the West is very much focused on what’s going on in the world. We want to work with that, we want to know what’s going on in the world so that we can actually not just be aware of it, but be in control of it, what we have to do in order to make our lives work, in order to survive and be happy. Our whole culture, in a way, focuses on the world out there. There is very little focus on noticing what’s happening with our thoughts, etc, unless you’re into meditation or spiritual tradition where that becomes more of a focus. But for most of the world, it’s like, “What’s going on out there? How can we make use of it or whatever for our own ends?”
Robert Maldonado 12:11
In reading your book, I was getting this sense that really what you’re getting at is that because we don’t understand the instrument of mind, we end up creating our own suffering.
Peter Russell 12:27
This is something which actually comes up again and again in various spiritual traditions. Particularly in Buddhism, it’s one of the basic tenets of Buddhism. Suffering, by the way, isn’t just the abject suffering or being in emotional, physical pain. I’d actually go back to the root meaning of the word in Buddhism, which comes from “dukkha”, which is the opposite of “sukkha” in their parent Pali language. When you translate it, it means “not at ease”, “not being at ease”, “not being content”. For me, suffering is much broader than just strong pain, suffering is not being content. In a way, most of us live our lives, we’re not content with not just the big things, but it’s raining outside, it means I’ve got to do this or take my clothes. It’s discontent. A lot of that discontent is actually created by our thinking. We think, “This isn’t going to help me,” or “This is going to get in my way”, or whatever it is. We create a lot of discontent for ourselves imagining how the future might be, and it may never turn out like that. Our thinking mind is creating discontent. I think it was Mark Twain who said, “My life has been full of disasters, most of which never happened.” That’s true for our own lives. I know it is for me. The natural state of the mind is when we’re not worried, when we’re not perturbed, we’re not anxious, there’s nothing we need to focus on or attend to, when things are basically going okay, we feel okay inside. That feeling okay, that contentment is a natural state of mind. When we relax and let go of everything, then we just fall back into a state of ease, contentment, whatever you want to call it, but things are okay, it’s an okayness. Then we come up with reasons to become discontent. Those reasons become discontent, they overshadow that contentment. We create a lot of it. Again, if you go back to Buddha’s teachings, it says the reason we create that discontented is because we cling, or you mentioned attachment earlier, it’s our attachment to how things should be. We each have in our mind, “This is how things should be in order for me to be okay.” When things aren’t the way I think they should be, or don’t look like going the way I think they should be, then that clinging creates the discontent. It’s not working out the way I want, or it is working out the way I want but I’ve got to hold on to it and make sure it stays like this.
Robert Maldonado 15:30
My sense is that we’re always waiting for something to happen or anticipating something that never arrives. It’s like that play Waiting for Godot. They’re waiting, but he never shows up. They just postpone and postpone it. That seems to be most people’s lives. They’re waiting for the ideal circumstances to arise so that they can be happy. But they never come.
Peter Russell 16:01
We spend our whole lives worrying about how we’re going to be happy, whether we’re going to be happy in the future, but we never give ourselves a chance to be happy in the present moment, to be content in the moment because worrying about the future overshadows our natural state of contentment. I call it the sad joke about human beings, this worrying about whether we’re going to be happy in the future. We don’t give ourselves a chance to actually be content in the present moment.
Robert Maldonado 16:36
Missing the moment.
Robert Maldonado 17:38
You also say emotions are more than feelings. We’re very interested in emotions, because in our model, instead of focusing on thoughts, which are important, of course, we see that emotions are primal, especially when we’re young, we don’t have the all the cognitive skills yet. We’re taking in the world as a feeling, as an emotion, as an emotional imprint that the mind is holding on to. Reading it as, “This is the kind of world I’m going to have to live in.” The mind holds on to that because rightly so, it needs to have a sense of what kind of world I’m moving into.
Peter Russell 18:29
We use the word “feeling” for emotion. But also we use it for feelings in the body, for sensations in the body. To me, it’s not a coincidence, they’re closely connected, because whenever we have some emotion, there is something going on in the body. Maybe it’s obvious, like if you’re angry, it’s very obvious what’s going on the body. But other times, it may not be so clear that there’s something going on in the body because the way I look at it is a lot of emotions come from an impulse to act in some way or some preparation to act. The body, the child, whatever it is, wants to do something or stop doing something, there’s always some correlation in the body. What you’re probably suggesting is the same thing as what I suggest that the most important thing to do with an emotion is actually to notice what’s going on in the body, to feel how the body is. Sometimes we may not notice anything at all but just to inquire and sit quietly, think, “I see this sense of bubbling in my chest”, or whatever it is, or “I can feel my legs”. There’s usually something going on. To me, the doorway into an emotion is through the body.
Robert Maldonado 19:57
I started to see the emotions as what Jung called the personal unconscious. Because if we take on all these imprints early on and never examine them, they remain in our psyche as “this is who you are, this is what you can expect from the world.” We see everything through that emotional lens. That’s our interpretation of who we are and what we expect from the world, which becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Peter Russell 20:35
When things don’t match how we like things to be, that’s when the trouble starts. Suffering, perhaps doing a lot of things we don’t need to do as they try to solve problems that don’t actually exist. Behaving towards other people in ways that are probably aren’t that constructive always.
Robert Maldonado 21:06
In your model of the mind, Jung talks about projection, a lot of what’s in the unconscious, especially in what he calls a shadow, is projected out onto others or onto the world. Is there a piece that correlates with that?
Peter Russell 21:29
I sympathize a lot with what you’re saying, I think that’s what happens. Jung talked about correlation. I agree very much with what Jung is saying. What we have in the shadow, is things in ourselves that we are not fully allowing into consciousness, maybe from past traumas, situations, ambitions, or whatever. There’s something going on, which we don’t allow into our consciousness, because it’s uncomfortable in some way. We keep it locked away, push it out to the edge because it’s not very nice. We don’t literally say this, it’s the bits of ourselves, which we think aren’t quite so nice. That’s the way I see it. But because they’re there and because we know that inside, it’s very easy to see that in other people. I can be super judgmental at times. What that means is, I notice other people who are super judgmental, that is part of my shadow, I don’t like to admit I’m judgmental, that’s part of my shadow. It’s not a very nice part of me. But because I know it inside, I know what it’s like, it’s easy for me to see it in other people. That’s what projection is. I see other people through that lens. That’s how I see projection working. How do you see it in your work?
Robert Maldonado 23:04
For us it becomes very useful, because if we understand the principle that when we’re triggered by other people, or when we see those things in other people, it gives us an opportunity to read our mind, to see what is in my deeper psyche, I can observe it and my projection onto that person. It becomes a useful tool for us. We accumulate a lot of emotional imprints from early on, then we start to generate narratives or stories, like you say in the book, from those emotions, from the lens of our interpretation of who we are and what we expect from the world. Those narratives and what we call ego, or the sense of self, starts to develop from that.
Peter Russell 24:13
It’s a tricky subject, a bit like mind, because we use the word ego in a variety of ways. As soon as we start saying “ego”, we have to pause and say which particular aspect of the word “ego” we’re talking about. One is, which you probably know as a psychologist, having a healthy ego, which is a healthy sense of who we are, how we relate to other people. Because people think the ego is all bad, but it isn’t, there’s good parts of it. Two aspects which I’m interested in, one is when we talk about someone being a very selfish or self-centered person, we call them egotistical. When I look inside myself for that ego, I don’t find any separate entity, I don’t find a thing called ego, I don’t find something there, which is my ego. Even thinking of it now, it’s not a thing. But what I noticed are a lot of thoughts and mindsets focused on myself. In that sense, they’re self centered, so the egocentric thinking, which can control me and get in the way of other people because my self centered activities may ignore what other people need. There’s that sense of ego. But it’s not really a thing. It’s a thought system, to me, it’s a way of thinking that we get caught in. It comes back to what we were talking about earlier, the fundamental need to be safe, to survive, which correlates with being contented, happy. That thought system is continuing to be there on the outlook for the danger, it’s on the outlook for threat of things not going right, or things getting in the way of what is going right. It’s a mindset, which is always on the lookout for stuff. It has our best interest at heart, basically wanting life to be okay for us. At times, it’s really useful if there’s some real physical threat or something, we need that voice to say “Do this fast!” But a lot of the time, it’s just sitting there ruminating away, saying “What if you met this person tomorrow, they said this, what would you do about it? How would you respond?” You start getting caught up in all this egoic thinking about what we need to do or not do, and that’s a waste of thinking, waste of time and energy. That’s one sense of the word that I use ego. Another is a sense of identity from what we do in the world, our history, who we are, how other people see us, all those things, even a name. We build up a sense of self. I’m Peter Russell, I’m British, I’m a writer, I’m blah, blah, I could go on for hundred different things, which are all to do with how I am in the world, how other people see me. That, again, is something which is constructed. It’s another constructed sense of self, which can be useful, but can get in the way, because if you say something which threatens my sense of who I am, I might, if I’m not fully waken aware, be bit peeved off by that and come back at you, we get into some confrontation that’s always needing support and reinforcement. Yet, down beneath all of that, what I’m interested in, there’s a deeper sense of self, which is something that’s always there. It’s that sense of beingness, that deep sense of me-ness. It was there yesterday, it was there ten years ago, it was there as far back as I can go in my life, there’s always been that deep sense of me, which is beyond it. I can even change my name but the sense of me-ness would still be exactly the same. When we get caught in these more superficial levels of self or ego, we miss that awareness of our own innate beingness. That to me is really important. The more we come back to that, the more in touch we’re with our true nature.
Robert Maldonado 28:55
That’s profound. There’s a mental function, not so much a structure or an entity in us, but more of a thought system of ego, or ego-ness that gives us a sense of I but it’s a false sense, because we’re believing our own thought system, or we’re identifying with it. Understanding that it’s primarily a survival function or a temporary function.
Peter Russell 29:38
When you say the word “structure”, it doesn’t mean to say you can’t see it as a structure. When we look at the thought system, we can certainly go into the thought system and apply the concept of structure to it and see how it is constructed in ways, it comes from past experiences, other things. We can certainly look at it as a structure, but what I’m saying is, it has no intrinsic existence. But it’s certainly there and it certainly runs our lives very often.
Robert Maldonado 30:13
As we take people through Jung’s process of individuation, always, resistance comes up. You mentioned resistance in your book. Why does a mind resist going to its true essence, this true nature that is beneficial for itself. But why is that push back so strong?
Peter Russell 30:57
There’s two things. One, it’s a fear of suffering, in a way. Talking about suffering, we resist something because we fear it’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s not going to be that pleasant, it’s going to reveal something about ourselves, there’s some fear there. That’s part of where the resistance comes from. Again, we’re talking about clinging, that clinging, that attachment, we become attached to how things are, how we think they should be. Any deeper looking inside ourselves is going to often bring up resistance because it may break some of our attachments or dissolve our attachments to who we think we are, how we think things are. It’s probably an inevitable part for most people of this exploration. We are gonna say we’re comfortable as we are, we actually not very comfortable, that’s the paradox. Change can be threatening.
Robert Maldonado 32:09
Often it’s those difficult episodes in life that push us into searching and doing some exploration of that deeper self.
Peter Russell 32:27
It’s so easy to push it away and continue with our “comfortable” lives. Just get on with what we’re doing.
Robert Maldonado 32:38
I also wanted to ask you because I know your background is incredible. You started out as a theoretical physicist, you then got interested in consciousness, you’ve done writing, speaking, and a whole lot of other stuff. We live, philosophically, in a materialistic world. Our whole science, technology, everything is based on the philosophy of materialism. You’re one of the few people I’ve heard explain non-duality in a sensible way, that makes sense to me, at least. What are the implications of moving into this way of seeing the world through non-duality instead of this materialistic paradigm that our culture and the whole world seems to be based on?
Peter Russell 33:52
This is a huge question. It brings up many things. The materialistic paradigm, I see two things here. One, it’s the belief that the material world is the world, that’s it. Matter, space, time, energy, everything comes out of that, including consciousness. Consciousness somehow emerges from the world of space, time, matter, energy in ways that we don’t understand. The other set of materialism is what we have been talking about in a way. If I can get the world to be right, I’ll be happy. That’s a materialist approach to life. It’s all about managing the matter of the world, which includes other people, whatever it is. Non-duality is often misunderstood these days or misinterpreted. People think it means oneness. Non-duality is seeing beyond male/female, different ethnic groups, seeing beyond all of that, seeing one, which is valid, that’s a really important thing we need to do. But the root meaning of it comes from the Sanskrit Advaita, which goes back about 2500 years. Advaita means “not two”. It’s literal translation. If they meant to say one, there’s plenty of words in Sanskrit, which could be “one”, but they didn’t, they chose not to. One of the earliest teachings on Advaita, which really puts it clearly for me is, there’s a teacher teaching his son these basic ideas. He brings up lots of different examples. In one of the examples he says “You see these two pots, these are very different distinct pots, there is duality here. The pots aren’t one, there are two different pots.” The duality is real. They’re both made of clay. The essence is the same, the essence is clay, that’s fairly obvious. But then the point he makes is, he says the clay isn’t affected, by becoming a pot the essence of clay isn’t changed. That, to me, is the crux of it. The clay is unchanged. In each of these teachings, he ends the teaching by saying that famous phrase, which means “that art thou”. He’s saying that innermost essence, in that case the essence of the pots, that essence that never changes, is you. He brings up many other examples. The teaching here is pointing to our own innermost essence, which is consciousness being aware. That’s probably the one thing we can’t doubt, I am experiencing. I can even doubt my experiences, I could be sitting in the matrix right now. But I’d still be experiencing, even if it’s an illusory computer generated world I’d still be experiencing. The one thing we can’t doubt is that there is being aware and that being aware itself never changes. There’s a diversity of experiences, as I was saying before, we never have the same experience twice. There’s that diversity, that duality of experiences. But the underlying essence of being aware doesn’t change what I was talking about earlier, that sense of me-ness, which all my life never changes. We can start taking this out to other people, that you’re a very different person from me. You’ve had your own life, your own experiences, thoughts, and all that. But deep down, there’s a sense of being aware, which I take to be exactly like how it is for me. When I let go of all what I identify with or my thoughts, my feelings come back to that sense of just me beyond Peter Russell, me that’s the sense of me-ness, I think that’s exactly how it is for you, because there’s nothing there to define it, except knowing that feeling of being aware. It doesn’t dig down. It’s the same for you. It’s that same essence in all beings. That’s how I approach non-duality, that’s how I see it.
Robert Maldonado 38:30
Does that mean we’re sharing the same awareness, the same consciousness?
Peter Russell 38:40
Not sharing the same essence, the analogy that’s often used is water in an ocean. One bit of the ocean is very different than the other bits. We’re not sharing the same element, we’re not sharing the same atoms or molecules of water. But we do share the same essence. We’re not sharing the same bits of it. But what we have, that essence, is the same for both of us. Sharing isn’t quite the right word there. It is not that we’re sharing it between us. But we share a similar experience. How it’s for me when my mind is quiet and nothing much going on, is I believe how it is for you. It’s deep down. This is what becomes significant. What I really want is the same as what you really want. What we each want is to be content, to be at peace, to be safe, to be loved, to love. When we begin to recognize that deep down we all want the same thing, then that opens up a whole new way of being with each other, a whole new way of interacting. When I realize that you want what I want, that is the golden rule of all the spiritual traditions, let me give you what I’d want, treat you just as I’d want to be treated. Because deep down we know we all want the same. That’s one of the consequences of non-duality, which is really important. It says let’s be kind to each other, practice caring, as opposed to getting into a war. On the surface you want something different from me, so you become an enemy, somebody to be controlled and made to work the way I want you to work as opposed to deep empathy and compassion on that fundamental level.
Robert Maldonado 40:59
Do you foresee this non-dual philosophy ever becoming the predominant philosophy?
Peter Russell 41:11
I’d like it too. I think the world would be a very different place if it were. At the moment, the vast majority of actions, how we interact with each other, come out of fear. In one way or another, they come out of fear or control, wanting things to be the way they are. How would it be, if the fear dropped out? How would the world be if we could each really respond to each other out of care, kindness? It’ll be a very different world. Whether that becomes a universal thing, I have no idea, it’d be nice. But nevertheless, I think it’s an important target to move towards. Because the closer we move towards that, the easier our lives will be, the better we’ll be able to relate to other people. It isn’t about foreseeing it becoming a universal thing. It’s about what I can do to have more of this in my life, but also to help other people have more of this in their life.
Robert Maldonado 42:19
If you think about how science progresses, there are paradigm shifts, we moved from the Newtonian model to Einstein’s relativity, and now the quantum field theories are starting to take prominence. Why not this non-dual understanding of the universe as the prominent philosophy?
Peter Russell 42:50
It’s not taking over yet, but it’s growing significantly and fast. I remember when I first got interested in this back when I was a student, 50 years ago, there was very little on it. I was at Cambridge University, we had the second biggest bookstore in England. Up on one shelf, they had books on alternative spiritual teachings and ideas beyond traditional Christianity, Judaism, traditional religions. Now it’s everywhere. It’s because we’re all learning from each other. I write books, people read them, I read other people’s books, go to their lessons, talk, we’re all learning from each other. Today, 50 years later, the idea of meditation, of looking at Eastern teachings or other teachings is becoming more and more mainstream. When I was teaching meditation in the 70s to corporations, they made me promise I’d never tell anybody what I was doing, because they were scared the media’d get hold of it and ridicule them and their share price would drop. Now, you go into many corporations, particularly out here in California, they’re so proud of the fact they teach meditation, they have special segments of the corporation fostering that, they want the media to know they’re teaching meditation, it’s a good thing, we’re with it, we’re progressive. What I’m saying here is this whole approach of understanding, whether it’s gonna be classified as non-duality or not, but this recognition that there are things we can do in a “spiritual way” that actually help us relate better, be more creative, is becoming mainstream, and fast.
Robert Maldonado 44:52
I think it’d fit to everything we’re experiencing, artificial intelligence, aliens coming, all this stuff. It’d make more sense in a non-dual universe.
Peter Russell 45:07
Whatever situation, it makes more sense, the more we can be in touch with our true nature, with how we are, with a deeper sense of loving, compassionate space, stepping out of the ego’s fears, generally the better we’re going to be in life.
Robert Maldonado 45:27
I’ve heard you speak about time and space in mind-blowing ways. There was a video I was watching not too long ago. It was the science and non-duality seminar that you do. You were talking about time. Can you tell us a little bit about what this is? What is it that we’re experiencing as far as this moment? I like you say that a lot of the spiritual traditions talk about being present right in the moment, that experience itself has a purification element to it. What is it that’s going on there?
Peter Russell 46:18
On a fairly simple level, what people mean by being in the moment is where our attention is, because in one sense, we’re always in the moment. But even in the moment, if I’m worried about what’s going to happen tomorrow, I’m in the moment, worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow. When people say I’m not present, what they mean is, our attention isn’t present, our attention is in the past or in the future. That’s where most of us spend our time, in the past or the future. When we truly come to the present, we’re stepping beyond the thought system, just saying “Here I am, this is a notice, I’m noticing the birds, I’m seeing or noticing the feelings in my body.” When we let go of our attention on the past and future, we bring it to the present, we come back to what I was talking about earlier, this sense of contentment in the present moment. That’s the simplest level to say we’re always in the present, but bringing our attention to it is a way of relieving ourselves of all that comes from being caught up in the past. You go deeper, what is time? There’s this sense there is time and there isn’t time. To what extent is time just a construct in my mind? I’m not talking about physics. But in my mind, if there’s only the present, there is all my memories of the past, there are my anticipations of the future. They’re all in the present moment. In that sense, there is no time. Yet, I can still imagine how things are going to be in the past or future. We get into conundrums there. You talked about space as well. Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher from 150-200 years ago, said time and space are actually the way the human mind is constrained to construct its experience of reality. We take in the data coming from the world out there, whatever the world out there is, the light coming in through the eyes and sound vibrations coming in through the ears. We construct this representation of the world, which appears in our mind, it’s like the scaffolding of our experience is time and space. But is there really time and space out there? Again, science since relativity, Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests they’re not quite what we think they are, they’re malleable. There’s even theories in science, which say there is really no space or time. We don’t know what time and space are, but we certainly know in terms of our experience what they are.
Robert Maldonado 49:09
That’s incredible. This moment then contains everything that is possible for us. Jung talks about the collective unconscious. If we’re able to transcend the ego, or at least that’s the approach we’re taking, of transcending, of not pushing it away, but being able to experience beyond it. Are we connecting them to the universal consciousness?
Peter Russell 49:49
Again, it comes back to the same question of the universal consciousness. I don’t quite know how to interrupt it. I think consciousness is universal, we’re all conscious, I think other beings, other creatures are conscious. In that sense, the phenomenon of consciousness, of being aware, is universal. But I do not think I am tapping into some field, which is universal. It has the potential to become anything. My consciousness, excuse me for those words, the consciousness that I experience, that consciousness can become any possible experience of mine in any moment. I’m experiencing one minute, almost infinitesimal possibility, which is this moment. The next moment would be another infinitesimal possibility. But it has the potential to become any experience: to be pure rage, to be deep love, to be great insights into the nature of the universe, to be mundane, boring thinking. Whatever it is, it has the potential to become any experience whatsoever. But in its true nature, it doesn’t have any particular qualities, the qualities come when it manifests in an individual experience.
Robert Maldonado 51:20
The universe exists as infinite potential for us.
Peter Russell 51:25
I’d say, I’m just talking about myself as a human being, that’s again, a tiny slice, all my potential experiences are a tiny slice, because that’s a human brain. The potential experiences for a bee seeing ultraviolet light are different, a snake seeing infrared has a different set of potential experiences, or a dolphin, which sees through sonar. If there’s an extraterrestrial or another being somewhere in the universe with very different senses, consciousness has the potential to be its experience, which may be nothing like mine. It’s true to say that consciousness has an infinite potential to become any possible experience that is in the cosmos.
Robert Maldonado 52:15
I can see then why the ego would resist going there. It is the ultimate unknown essentially.
Peter Russell 52:31
I never once talked about the ego, and person saying he was so scared, he didn’t want to lose his ego, didn’t want to go beyond the self, didn’t want to get the word of God, but he was so scared because you are talking about meditation, spirituality, dropping the individual sets of self. You’re so scared of that. My response is, if it were to happen, if you were to meditate, you were to find the individual self disappear, would you be aware of that? Would you be aware that had happened? He said, of course. Then who is aware that has happened? You’re still there. You’re now aware you’ve lost the sense of individuality, but you are still aware. He immediately relaxed. That’s pointing to the fact that there’s a deeper sense of being beyond the ego mind, the individual identity we cling to.
Robert Maldonado 53:37
This process of meditation, to bring it back to the work that we have to do as human beings, you say in the book that being present to the experience of being present, is like another layer of it.
Peter Russell 53:58
If we go deeper and deeper, what we’re talking about, just being present as who I am, here’s the birds, here’s what’s going on in my body, here’s my thoughts. That’s one level of being present. Then we can step back a bit, it’s like “Here I am, the being that’s aware of all this.” We’re being present to the fact we are being present to all of this. That’s going a step back. We can keep going back deeper to “Here I am, the experiencer which is aware of all this,” then we can go back deep, what we’ve been talking about, there’s this sense of me-ness, which is always there in my life, here is just beingness, being aware. Not the “I am Peter Russell,” or “I am anything,” but the “I am, period.”
Robert Maldonado 55:07
You mentioned sat-chit-ananda, this phrase that encompasses our whole experience of being conscious.
Peter Russell 55:21
Satchitananda is a phrase from Indian teachings, from Sanskrit, which originally refers to what is the nature of I, what is the nature of what we’re talking about, the “I am”. It’s a true nature. It’s described as satchitananda. When you look at the meaning, “sat” comes partly from the verb “to be”, but it’s the truth. Sat is “what is the truth?” What is the absolute fundamental truth? It comes back to what we were talking about earlier. The absolute fundamental truth is I am aware. What I’m aware of is malleable, I can call it an illusion. But the truth is, I am aware, which is chit. The word “chit” means not just being conscious, but there are things appearing in consciousness. Then “ananda” is often translated as bliss. But I always like to go back to root meanings. “A” means deep, “nanda” means contentment. ananda means deep contentment. What it’s saying is the nature I, is that which is always true, it’s ever present. It is being aware, it is being conscious. Its nature is deep contentment, which goes back to where we started. That, to me, is far more insightful than just translating as bliss. I think what happened a few hundreds years ago when very ardent European student of philosophy discovered these religions in the East with completely different language, completely different approaches. He wanted to study them. Somehow, the word “ananda” got translated as “bliss” in English, it stuck with us ever since. But I prefer “deep contentment”. That can be bliss, not to say bliss can’t occur. But when we translate it as bliss, we put it up as there’s some amazing experience that’s going to happen one day if we meditate enough. But putting it as deep contentment, it’s something we know. Any of us can experience that. We may not know how to but it’s something that’s much more accessible to us.
Robert Maldonado 57:59
This is the essence of who we are, beyond the human mind, beyond cognition and emotion.
Peter Russell 58:07
It’s the essence of who we are. But because we’re so engaged in the world, our survival mechanisms, what other people were thinking I was probably going to do, what’s going to happen to my job, we’re so engaged that we never notice it. That’s where meditation comes in valuable and why some sort of meditation is in nearly every tradition as a way of quieting the mind. As the mindset is down, it becomes quieter. We’re less focused on all the things we have to do or stopped all of that, we’re less focused on controlling the world, we begin to notice that as the mind settles down, this feels easier, we begin to taste contentment. Then when the mind really stops, you enter that stillness, there’s deep contentment. What Why would I ever want anything else? That That, to me is the power of the deep contentment. That’s why it’s sometimes called perfection. Which means going back to the root, everything has been done, through doing perfection, there is nothing left to do. All you are doing is about how to be more content. When you’re in that deep state of contentment, there is nothing more to be done. Why would I want to do anything when I’m here? That doesn’t mean to say we come out of that, we’re back in the world, there’s a lot to do, but in that deep contentment, we’re relieved to that doing.
Robert Maldonado 59:37
We are what is, or this beingness that is aware. This gives us a deep contentment in just being that.
Peter Russell 59:51
If we can taste it in this moment, just take a deep breath, we’re talking about letting go on a very simple level. Taking a deep breath, breathing out, we can all do it just like that, little letting go. When we do it, we notice that little sense of ease, which is the first step, then imagine that becoming a greater ease, a greater sense of contentment. We can see it’s there. We all know it’s possible by doing that, it’s going up. Here I am, this feels a little bit nicer. That’s the encouragement to go deeper and experience that.
Robert Maldonado 1:00:41
That’s the aim of meditation.
Peter Russell 1:00:44
There’s many different sorts of meditation with different goals. But the meditations I’m interested in are the ones that are encouraging a stillness of mind, getting in touch with that inner quietness, and through that, getting in touch with inner contentment, then allowing that to come out into our lives more. Also, by learning how to do that in meditation, we can begin to do that in life. When we find ourselves getting caught up in some long thought, some story or other about what’s going on or shouldn’t go, how we want the president of our country to be, or whatever it is, creating that discontent over whatever, we can just pause, just say “Let me leave that thought behind.” In the middle of the day, I just go “Here I am.”
Robert Maldonado 1:01:33
Then we can see things in perspective, with that larger perspective.
Peter Russell 1:01:39
Free from the perspective of that hidden egoic thinking, we can be free from that.
Robert Maldonado 1:01:47
This brings me to something really dear to my heart. You mentioned synchronicity in the book. Jung was working with Wolfgang Pauli, the mathematician, on trying to figure out whether the archetypal patterns Jung was talking about are detectable through mathematics in the world, in the patterns we see in the world? One of the ideas that came out of that work was synchronicity that we can see in these acausal circumstances, or coincidences.
Peter Russell 1:02:37
I’m not sure they can be expressed mathematically, or there’s even a mathematical explanation for them. It’s interesting because you used the word acausal, that was part of Jung’s definition. They were acausal, which means without cause in the physical world. As to mathematics and explaining them, as soon as you try to explain coincidence, we’re giving them a cause, whether we explaine it in terms of electromagnetic waves, or psychic waves, or mathematics. We’re giving them a cause and effect, we’re putting them into the cause-effect world. What I like about Jung’s approach, he was saying, they’re beyond cause and effect. They are coincidences, but they’re meaningful, the people can say they’re a meaningful coincidence. Like most people, I’ve had a number of coincidences in my life, some of which have been so amazing, it stopped you in your tracks. To me, it says there’s something else going on in the world that they’re all pointing to the fact there’s something else happening here. There’s something else going on beyond what the material scientific world tells me is happening. There’s something else going on. I don’t know what it is. Maybe we never know what it is. If we really take the acausal thing to heart, there is nothing to know about what’s happening. Yet, it’s happening. There is magic in the world. Whenever I experience some deep synchronicity, for me it’s like the world isn’t like I think it is. Most of the synchronicities, I find this is important, they actually support me in my own life. They’re things that actually support something I’m looking for or wanting, or just generally, they helped me. They have that quality of supporting them. They’re not just random. The best word I can find is magic. I don’t try to explain them. I just revel in them. Revel in them and just say thank you.
Robert Maldonado 1:04:56
Somebody said it’s like the universe is winking at you, giving you that there’s something going on, give up trying to understand it logically, in a sensical way. You mentioned wisdom traditions of Advaita Vedanta and the Upanishads. I’ve read a few of the Upanishads, it’s mind blowing, they’re so ancient, and yet, people discovered so much about the mind and consciousness just by sitting. To me, that’s so remarkable. No instruments, I don’t know, maybe they did have instruments of some sort. But they figured it out so long ago and understood these deep questions about existence.
Peter Russell 1:06:08
I was saying this the other day, it’s not in our culture. We’re so caught up in everything, whatever we do, so much science, technology, our culture has given us so many things to attract the attention, to seduce us. Back in those days, there wasn’t that. The food was growing in the fields, you harvested it, watered, basic things to take care of, but there weren’t myriads of distractions. There was much more space in the culture to sit still and observe the mind. It’d be quite acceptable and fairly normal thing to do. Some people became specialists at that, just observing the mind, observing what was happening, coming to these conclusions, the science of the time, it was an internal science of doing experiments, finding these things, sharing them with other people. That’s why we have to look back to the past, although it’s happening today a lot more. As I was saying, there’s a lot more people doing the exploration. But that’s why we find it way back thousands of years ago, because that’s when there was the opportunity to do deep inner exploration. But the opportunity is always there. What we have to do now is to sometimes resist some of the distractions, instead of saying “Let me check my email, or my social media, or chat GPT,” let me actually sit down and be quiet for a few moments. Just in my mind, what’s going on?
Robert Maldonado 1:07:46
The combination of these things, if we could have internal wisdom and also the technology, think of what we could do with that. We already have everything we need to solve all the world problems. All we’re lacking is the will to do it and the courage, or something like that.
Peter Russell 1:08:17
The courage, the will. Yet, it isn’t quite as simple as that, because there is the huge momentum of the way the world is going. Even with the will and the courage, it’s like steering a huge ocean ship. How do we do that? Bit by bit, the momentum, it’s almost a mental insanity, but the consumerism, the industry, the financial systems, it’s all a big momentum, pushing us to do more, get more, control more. We’re all in that sense of materialism where we just believe the material world is a job to use for our own ends. It is so strong and so attractive. If I just had this, I’d be happy. If I got this new thing, if I got a Tesla, my life would be so much better.
Robert Maldonado 1:09:23
One last question. I could go on speaking with you for a long time, but I know our time is limited. I’ve seen a couple of your videos, you’re experimenting with AI and some of the things it can do. What’s your sense of whether these machines can become conscious or are they conscious?
Peter Russell 1:09:58
My short answer is no. They’re definitely not conscious the way we think of being conscious. They’re just a word prediction machine at the moment. Consciousness, first of all, is to do with what’s going on in the world. They have no way of knowing, they have no senses, they have no way to act, they are just purely abstract, playing with words. That’s not conscious at all. They can imitate consciousness, you could certainly get one say “I am aware,” and come up with all the right responses when you say “Are you conscious?”, but consciousness for me is intimately linked with life. It’s an organic thing. An AI is just a vast crystalline structure. Computers are silicon crystals, it’s a crystalline structure. Whereas a simple amoeba is a very complex organic structure with lots of different sub-parts. It isn’t conscious, the consciousness of an amoeba is like one billionth of our consciousness, whatever it is. Consciousness of an AI, as we know it, is virtually non-existent. If we start having AI built upon organic systems, then I wouldn’t know. But I think as AI is now, it’s not conscious. By conscious, I mean, does it have an inner subjective experience? We could be what are called philosophical zombies. A zombie in philosophy is someone like me, who behaves like me, who does all the same things as me, eats, drinks and behaves exactly like me, but has no internal awareness. The question in philosophy is how do you tell the difference? It’s the same thing with artificial intelligence. You could get one that looks like me, behaves like me. Would it actually have no awareness? My feeling is no. But so fascinating, very dangerous, very interesting. It’s going to change the world, it already is.
Robert Maldonado 1:12:18
Totally agree. I think the IQ of the best ChatGPT for is 150. It’s already smarter than most humans.
Peter Russell 1:12:32
I don’t take IQ to be a measure of smartness. I see it as a measure of how to pass a certain test, not really being smart. You’d have someone with an average IQ of 100, who actually can be fairly smart about how they live their lives.
Robert Maldonado 1:12:52
There’s nothing like organic life up till now. This is similar or along the same veins, but often I hear people talk about, especially some of the technicians that are into ChatGPT, they’re often asked if we live in a simulation.
Peter Russell 1:13:25
Interesting question. People who firmly believe we do think all the evidence is that we do. My question here becomes: would a simulation actually be aware? It’s looking at material terms, it’s a computer simulating. You can have a computer so good at simulating, it’d be simulating everything I’m seeing and everything that’s known be a huge whatever it is, that’s theoretically possible. Would it actually be self aware? I don’t see how a simulation can actually be aware. It brings up a whole lot of philosophical problems. My feeling is no. Not to say absolutely 100%, but 99.999%, no, we’re not in a simulation. It’s the world. I read a lot of those papers, probably once a week, on whether we’re in a simulation. Their arguments are fascinating. But they don’t grab me. It’s all mental construct thinking. Even if we’re in a simulation, it’s a pretty good one. I still get upset, I can still be more at peace, I can still help other people and be more loving. What does it matter whether we’re in a simulation or not really?
Robert Maldonado 1:14:54
We would still have to account for awareness.
Peter Russell 1:14:59
And our lives as we live our lives. Unless you take the red pill and suddenly drop out.
Robert Maldonado 1:15:10
I’ll keep an eye out if somebody offers me the red pill. Thank you so much, Peter, I really appreciate you taking the time to be with us.
Peter Russell 1:15:21
Great, really enjoyed chatting with you. Great.
Robert Maldonado 1:15:25
We hope you come back soon.
Thank you for joining us. Don’t forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Sessions. See you next time.