On Sunday I was joined by revolutionary futurist and meditation teacher Peter Russell for a dialogue we entitled ““Supposing it’s too late…what then?”
Peter’s combination of penetrating intelligence, discernment, and spiritual depth have kept him at the forefront of enlightened futurism for over 30 years. He continues push into daring, unexplored territory, with discriminating intelligence, courage and sincere, sustained care. He’s a brilliant thinking and conversation partner, who has expanded my own feeling contemplation of our evolutionary emergency, even as he has challenged me.
Peter’s spiritual insights stem from his realization, after deep study and long contemplation, that all religious traditions essentially point to one thing — the necessity to find freedom from ego-driven, “what’s in it for me” thinking, a level of consciousness that may have been appropriate in the primordial past, but is no longer effective. On the level of our collective consciousness and behavior, this kind of thinking is the destructive root of our world’s varied, seemingly intractable problems.
I wanted to invite Peter to dialogue on Beyond Awakening to expand on what he learned from his work with formal scenario planning; in particular the consulting that he did with Shell Oil where he was part of a unit tasked with looking 25 to 30 years ahead at the geopolitical, social, and environmental feasibility of building refineries in different parts of the world.
At the end of the study, the unit presented Shell’s board with Scenarios A and B, modeling a long timeline into the years ahead for Shell and the regions where its refineries might be based. But he and his team also conceived a Scenario X that was never shown to the board. It detailed a scenario where the unraveling of civilization was already underway.
Much of our dialogue was about denial and the process of emerging from it. Peter described how he had to break through his own denial. He described tucking Scenario X away when the Shell project was done, not giving it any more thought. But at one point, he realized that by keeping Scenario X in shadow, he was denying a possible reality and narrowing what he could “be with” as an individual and thus offer as a teacher and thinker. And if he was doing that, what about the rest of the world?
Peter started to honestly confront the question “what if it is too late, what then?” How should he be? How should he teach? What could he offer people for the transition that would ensue during such an unraveling — the pain, the suffering, the break down of life as we know it. He realized that being secure in ourselves, creating deeper community, developing flexibility in thinking, spontaneous creativity, and greater compassion and care — these were the key qualities that would be needed in Scenario X.
The very same resources, skills and capabilities that will be needed to transform and “save” the world are those that will be needed to bring care and compassion to its unraveling. So the direction of his practice and the content of his teaching would remain the same. But the context would change. A greater depth, sobriety and presence arrived, along with freedom from agendas and imagined outcomes.
Peter’s conclusion paralleled my own insight 12 years ago, when it dawned on me that emotionally I didn’t want to commit with the fullness of my being to my sacred activism without being able to believe that it would all work out. It was humbling to discover the terror and denial that underlies that attitude. But ultimately it allowed me to make the whole-hearted commitment that I am living today — I have found an unqualified “Yes!” to life—no matter what. Even in the worst-case scenario, I want to go down embodying my values and my character, “being the change” that could have turned things around.
Peter’s greatest realization is radical— he doesn’t blame anybody for the current state of the world. We are all part of the system, and there isn’t anywhere “we’ve gone wrong.” Individually, and as a culture, we’ve always made the decisions that we thought were best, given our limited understanding, and our particular psycho-spiritual make up; be it the oil executive, the Greenpeace activist, or the Koch brothers.
We both confessed that it’s really, really difficult to fully let in the implications of Scenario X — even for lifelong spiritual practitioners like ourselves. But we both agreed that if we are to fully embody our best virtues, to realize our purpose and express our essential character, it’s necessary to penetrate denial, to give up avoiding anything, to face reality squarely, letting in the fact that things may be far worse than we hope.
We didn’t predict Scenario X; or what it would look like if it came to pass.
What we said is that our contemplation of our world crisis, our existential confrontation with that crisis, and what we can each bring to it, tends to be made superficial by our reflexive inability to look at the worse case scenario.
By including Scenario X, we are breaking an unspoken taboo that we must all be hopeful, and only hopeful. Why? Because otherwise we couldn’t bear it. But by looking away, we enact and affirm our psychological weakness. Perhaps by facing it, we can ground our consciousness, practice and commitment in the most radical, durable bedrock of our being. This is important, even if the future will turn out far more creative and benign than we often fear.
It was an extraordinary dialogue, both sober and uplifting.
Peter and I shared about how we are practicing as individuals, and in relation to others. He shared an approach to meditation “without even trying,” and a beautiful relational practice based on the golden rule. I shared a simple practice of using heart-feeling and eye-contact to subtly melt through the veneer of separation that we tend to enact in public.
We also discussed many other topics, expanding this consideration. Peter reminded us that the first global TV broadcast via Telstar carried the Beatles song: “All You Need Is Love”. We ended by responding to many incisive live questions and comments from listeners.