Our presenting host John Cleese says at the opening of this Global Spirit program: "The inquiry into human consciousness is in many ways, the 'holy grail' of this Global Spirit series. Just remember, for centuries, 'consciousness' was only talked about by 'spiritual types.' But by the end of the 20th century, quantum physicists, the real 'top science boys,' began their own studies of this rather weird thing called 'consciousness.' Suddenly they were claiming that 'Consciousness' is quite possibly THE single connecting force of the entire universe!"
I am recalling how John Cleese had so generously taken time off from his UK one-man comedy tour to sit down with us in a Manchester television studio, to record the introductions and closing comments for these Global Spirit programs.
The previous evening, we had an exciting discussion about how the development and expansion of consciousness seems to take place not just on the individual, but on societal and cultural levels as well. As we were going over the scripts, I explained how the intention of "Exploring Consciousness: East and West" was to explore the development of consciousness within the individual as well as the evolution of consciousness across time and cultural settings.
We agreed that we as a species become more connected and inter-dependent, there is a growing cross-fertilization of the eastern spiritual and the western scientific traditions. New research is exploring the nature and scope of that which we call "Consciousness." For this program, we decided to bring together a scientifically trained Indian spiritual teacher with a western scientist who had spent considerable time in India studying eastern philosophy, meditation and yoga.
Sraddhalu Ranade is a scientist, educator and scholar living at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, South India. Sraddhalu is a practitioner of the ancient Hindu Vedanta tradition and is deeply involved with meditation and consciousness-related research.
"If you accept that consciousness is the substratum of all reality, of all experience, then everything is conscious. The consciousness sleeping in matter, wakes up in plants, feels in animals, and thinks in the human. And we are nothing but thinking, feeling, living rock. Because we're eating plant, plant is made of rock. It's the same molecules that have been rearranged. Atomically we are not different from rock. The difference is only the awakening of consciousness, which is organized as molecules in a way that it can express itself." --Sraddhalu Renade
I had the good fortune to meet Sraddhalu Renade in Asilomar, Calif., at a seminar of "contemplatives" from different faiths, which was organized by a group called the Contemplative Alliance. While Sraddhulu felt like a very good choice for Global Spirit, he was clearly in great demand at the seminar. I remember it was a challenge to get him away from the other participants and off on our own.
Once we finally found a quiet place for an interview, it was clear that Sraddhalu's comments on awareness, consciousness and meditation were perfect for the program. Then we needed to film what I call "inner space" -- visual imagery that coveys not only an inner state of mind but also an integrated philosophical orientation to life. With Sraddhalu, that space turned out to be under the coastal pines and along the Pacific coastline.
Peter Russel is a scientist and author of books such as: "From Science to God" and "The Consciousness Revolution." Peter studied mathematics and theoretical physics at Cambridge, then ventured to India several times, pursuing his research and his studies with different spiritual teachers.
"[We are now learning] that what all the great metaphysical, spiritual people have been saying for years, is correct. We've dismissed them because we've been caught in the worldview that the ultimate essence is somehow material in nature. But I think we are coming to a point, from the western scientific perspective, using western philosophy, western logic, that the ultimate nature is spirit, consciousness. And that's important because it means we are deeply connected with the whole cosmos. Deeply connected. And my own innermost essence is the essence of everything. And I think this is a huge revolution, which is, we're just seeing the first signs of." --Peter Russell
The visual imagery of Peter would come from where he lived and did most of his creative writing -- on and around his vintage wooden motorboat, docked in Sausalito and floating amazingly close to our editing studio. Every once in a while the universe aligns so that you get to film something wonderful, right in your own neighborhood!
But whether it's down the block or around the world, the greater challenge (and joy) is trying to figure out how to photograph and convey an invisible state like "consciousness." I call it "getting inside the inside." It is the filmmaker's occasionally successful attempt to peel back some of the onion layers of the human psyche and soul, and take viewers to a place they have never been before. Which is why Mr. Cleese says: "Warning, this series may change your life!"
This video sequence is from the Global Spirit program: "Exploring Consciousness: East and West," now showing on many public TV stations (check local broadcast schedules at www.GlobalSpirit.tv).
GLOBAL SPIRIT is a unique inquiry into humankind's belief systems, wisdom traditions, and states of consciousness. Produced by CEM Productions and presented by British actor-comedian John Cleese and hosted by author and spiritual seeker Phil Cousineau, this new critically acclaimed series takes viewers on a mind and soul-expanding journey, exploring the relationships between ancient wisdom traditions, diverse belief systems, world religions, metaphysics and modern science.
Stephen Olsson is a HuffPost blogger.