5 Feb 2007
Exclusive to Transition Culture! Peter Russell on life after oil, change and consciousness.
**Peter Russell** studied mathematics and theoretical physics at Cambridge, and then experimental psychology. He traveled to India to study meditation and eastern philosophy, and on his return took up the first research post ever offered in Britain on the psychology of meditation. His principal interest is the deeper, spiritual significance of the times we are passing through. He has written several books in this area, including *The Consciousness Revolution*, *Waking Up in Time*, and *From Science to God*. He recently spoke to a capacity audience in Totnes, and the next morning I went to Schumacher College to interview him for **Transition Culture**.
**What do you see as being the key aspects of the challenge facing us?**
I see a key challenge is the psychological challenge, the mental challenge of making those inner adjustments. How do we let go of the habitual ways of doing things, let go of past way of solving problems to look at things with completely fresh eyes, because I think we’re going to be in completely new situations which we’ve never encountered before and the ways of the past are not really appropriate.
So I think that ability to let go, to really think afresh, is going to be absolutely critical. And that’s really challenging, because we don’t know how to do it, and it’s scary. And with that, I think also, how do we manage our fears? Or not create too many fears because I think that’s what holds us back from making change very often. It’s like, we may know what to do and we may have the means to do it, but we start resisting it because we don’t want to…it’s scary – we’re going to make ourselves feel uncomfortable, at risk.
It could be not just material risk but how we feel – it could be uncomfortable. We get scared, and so I think we need to know how to work with our fears, not create them so much. I think these inner dimensions are really important and also developing an inner stability, because what we’re going to see is unexpected things coming faster and faster and faster, and if we’re in a vulnerable state ourselves, we’re going to be easily thrown by them and get emotionally upset, or panicky, whatever. And I think if we can just really develop a stable core through ourselves, that can help see us through so that we can move through the winds of change as they come.
**For many people when the reality of climate change and peak oil first sink in, they often go through something which is quite similar to a dark night of the soul, or what Stanislav Grof calls a Spiritual Emergency. What advice would you have for people when they get in to that state of really seeing, really sensing how impermanent everything is around them?**
To really open up to that sense, to that feeling. It’s hard because our habitual reaction to some uncomfortable perception or feeling is to shy away from it, to push it away. But I think in these situations that’s the wrong thing. When we’re feeling whatever it is, how our whole world view has suddenly been spun around, or we’re in shock, or outraged, or disappointed, whatever it is, to get in touch with those feelings – and this is just a universal principle of life – to get in touch with what it actually is we’re feeling here, there’s a sort of metabolism of feeling that happens, when you start getting in touch with what it is you open up to it, you feel it.
Initially it may seem even more devastating, stronger, whatever, but by getting in touch with it, something begins to happen. It’s like the psyche works with it and it begins to work its way through. So it’s the opposite of what we tend to do which is a suppressing and keeping down of it, but to actually open up to whatever the feelings are and feel them, write about them, talk about them with your friends, just anything just to express the feelings. That’s the principle thing.
**Do you think that fear is a legitimate motivator for change?**
No, I don’t think it’s always helpful. It certainly can promote change, but I think often it’s a layer that’s added on. I think we can see a situation and really see the necessity for change and be able to change, the fear maybe an added driver, but the danger is it clouds our perception. If we’re acting out of fear, we may not always be making the best choices, because when we’re acting out of fear we tend to fall back on choices that are more secure – we’re looking to regain our security – and we may not be so willing to take the sort of risks that really need to be taken.
So I think very often it is fear that motivates us, but if we can somehow step beyond the fear and see what the real motivation is, and not have the fear triggered, or into be governed by the fear, then I think in the end we probably make better quality decisions. Because what we’ve been asked to do here is to be really creative…come up with new ways of doing things, completely new solutions to social problems we’ve never encountered before. And fear, to me, doesn’t enhance creativity.
The best creative state is to be able to step back, be quiet, be reflective, to draw upon one’s resources, and pull together different areas of thinking. The very nature of fear is to focus the mind on one thing – “There’s danger, I’ve got to deal with this danger