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Peter Russell

“how do I relate to God?”, because that’s really about “how do I relate to my own inner most essence?” That does not mean relating to something separate from me. It’s just opening up to my own source, my own deepest nature. So I don’t have to go anywhere to look for the divine, apart from just stilling my own mind, and being with my true self. It is who I am in my deepest sense.

David: Peter, do you see any teleology in evolution? Do you think that evolution is a blind chance process or do you think there’s any evidence of intelligent design?

Peter: That’s a hard one. I mean, the answer is hard to phrase correctly. I don’t think it’s teleology in the sense that there is predetermined purpose or goal. But I do think there is a direction to evolution. There’s an overall trend towards the emergence of greater complexity and greater organization, and with that, greater intelligence and self-awareness. As the universe unfolds, and grows into higher and higher levels of complexity, it moves towards greater and greater levels of awakening. What we now understand from chaos theory, and system theory, suggests that the evolution of complexity is a natural thing. It doesn’t require any sort of intelligent design to create more and more complex systems. With that comes increasing consciousness and awareness. I think that process is inevitable. So it terms of teleology, I don’t think evolution was destined to produce human beings like ourselves. That’s what has happened on this planet. On other planets similar processes are also happening in terms of pushing towards greater complexity and greater awareness. But I have no idea whether they’re going to end up looking like the human form or not. 

David: Have you ever had a psychedelic experience, and if so, how has it influenced your perspective on science and spirituality?

Peter: Yes, although I don’t think it influenced my perspective on science greatly. I see science as a valid way of exploring the nature of the material world, and arriving at consensus truth about this world. The problem with science is that it assumes this material reality is the only reality. I was aware of these limitations to science before I had a psychedelic experience. Having that sort of experience just confirmed my understanding that science was a partial perspective on the cosmos–valid within its own frame of reference, but only partial.

What changed was my appreciation of the spiritual. I realized there was validity to a lot of what the great spiritual teachers, saints, and mystics had spoken about. And I realized there were other ways of construing reality, other ways of creating one’s own experience. But the most important part of the psychedelic experience was that, at times, I could let go completely of the ego-mode, and be with an experience without the illusion of the ego–of me here experiencing something. I could touch into that sense of oneness that the mystics have spoken about.

It was many years ago, back in the Sixties when I did this. And, for me, it was a factor in my saying that I need to look at Eastern mysticism much more deeply. Because I think, like many people back then who tried these substances, it lead to a different appreciation of reality, a whole opening up to a new way of seeing things, and a new understanding of spirituality. However, the next day you’re back with memories, or maybe some shift in experience, but over time it fades.

I realized that yogis, monks, and others in the East, had been  exploring the mind, in natural ways, for thousands of years, and come up with a wealth of wisdom about how to tap into these deeper states of consciousness. They learned how to dissolve this sense of ego through natural means, such as meditation and other such practices. So you could say that the psychedelic experience spurred me to find ways or raising consciousness that to didn’t involve psychedelics. And that’s really been my mission in life–to draw upon what these inner seekers and explorers have found, and to try to integrate this into my own life, and pass it on to others, because that is the most important need in the world today.

David: Do you see psychedelic plants as playing a role in the Global Brain, as being part of a natural system to raise consciousness? Terence Mckenna and Timothy Leary spoke about the idea that a symbiotic relationship between the human species and psychedelic plants might be wired into us by higher design.

Peter: Again, there’s the danger of teleology here. I think they have played that role, but that is slightly different from saying they are there in order to play it. If you think back to our early hunter-gatherer ancestors, they would have come across fruits, nuts, plants, and mushrooms. Sampling them, they would have learnt what was poisonous, what killed them, what made them sick, what nourished them, and what made them healthy. And they would have learnt that certain plants produce a different state of consciousness. Maybe there was some sense of liberation , perhaps a simple spiritual experience, or maybe a very profound spiritual experience. Those experiences that they found valuable, would have been sought out, and perhaps made into a ceremonial event. So I think it’s very likely that psychoactive plants played an important part in the development of probably just about every culture on the planet. 

Indeed, we don’t have to think back fifty thousand years to imagine how our ancestors may have lived. We only have to go to the Amazonian rain forest, or areas of Africa, to observe indigenous peoples to get an idea of how we might have lived. And when we do, we find that they do use these plants in ceremonial events. They have discovered things in their particular region of the world that seem to do this, and they revere them very much. So I feel these plants have played a role, but I wouldn’t go so far as Terence to say they are there in order to do that. I just think that is what has happened.

David: How do you think science and spirituality can be reconciled?

Peter: First of all, by realizing that spirituality is not talking about the same world as science. I think this is where the apparent conflict over reconciliation comes from. Science believes that religion and spirituality are talking about the material world. So when they find religious texts talking about the birth of the cosmos, God creating the world in seven days, Adam and Eve, or whatever, they just say that’s clearly wrong. And if you believe that the religious texts are actually talking about the physical cosmos, then it is clearly wrong. 

But I think that spirituality needs to recognize that as well. A lot of the debate is because religions feel threatened by science. But they’re mistakenly taking spiritual statements to be referring to the physical world. But if you recognize that the spiritual traditions come out of a deep personal understanding of the nature of the human psyche, how the mind gets trapped, and how to liberate from it the ego-mode, you can see they have great value. Religions have often taught this is in terms of allegory, which has given us the mistaken understanding or belief that they are describing the physical cosmos. I don’t think they are at all. Science is describing the physical world, the material cosmos. Spirituality is describing the inner landscape, and how to work with that by using inner technologies. Once you see that they apply to two different complementary realms there is no conflict. They don’t need to be reconciled. They only need to be reconciled if you think they’re describing the same world. When you see them as describing two fundamentally different aspects of the cosmos–the external physical and the internal psychic–then they can coexist quite happily, and learn from each other.

David: What gives you hope?

Peter: People. Individuals who can overcome great difficulty in their own lives. Individuals who can shine with light and love in adverse circumstances. Individuals who can be at peace with what they have. I think this is the hope for the world–the awakening of individuals. Just seeing this in friends, who really do get into working with themselves, and freeing themselves from whatever it is that’s holding them back–whether it’s old childhood stuff or something else–and begin to change the way they relate to their family situation, and through that become somebody different in their little bit of the world. That gives me hope. More and more people transforming gives me hope.

The second thing that gives me hope is the youth today. When I say youth, I mean teenagers and people in their early twenties. I see so much wisdom there. I’m not saying they all have it, been even ten percent would be significant. But some of them have an understanding, a compassion, and a wisdom, that didn’t exist when I was that age. Back in the Sixties, many of us thought we were pretty hip and wise. And we probably were by the standards of the time. But I think if you could take some of these kids today, and put them in a time machine, and take them back to the Sixties, people there would not know what to make of them. The awareness they have is something we were all groping towards back then. What we’re seeing now is people two generations further on. We’ve had shifts in attitude towards pregnancy, child birth, and raising children. We’ve had media shifts, shifts in education, shifts in awareness of the environment and the crisis we’re in. All of that has helped to raise the consciousness.

Ultimately, this is the way

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