Interview by Mary Mckeone


Who am I? What really matters in this world? Is there a difference worth making? What is my role in it? These are questions we have probably all asked ourselves at one time or another. Some of us may have got answers but for many, we are still seeking that deeper purpose in our lives. Russell Bishop, who created Insight along with John-Rogers in 1978, believes peoples’ need for deeper meaning in their lives is as much an issue today as it was back then. The taking of personal responsibility, being accountable, making healthy choices are important in helping us live more meaningful lives. These are things, he says, we hear a lot about, at least from an intellectual perspective. What we hear less of, Russell says, ‘is the focus on Loving.’ For him and what is at the heart of Insight is how Loving is the key: the key, he believes, to many of our individual and collective problems in today’s world. Although this may sound like left over hippy speak from the seventies, it is anything but.  Clean cut and cerebral, he tells me that the Insight I seminar, ‘The Awakening Heart: Becoming more of who you already are,’ was designed so ‘we could awaken to what is already present. To become more of who we already are. And who we already are is Loving.’

‘Most people,’ he says, ‘have had enough experiences of life that make loving risky, and yet loving is our natural human condition. Awakening, too, is a natural process as a human being… [It is obvious] something that awakens was previously asleep but what is given less thought, is that something asleep was previously awake.’ He is keen to emphasise that when he designed Insight, he wanted it to be gentle in its approach rather than confrontational, and practical in application. ‘Insight is based on questions, not answers. Enquiry not direction. We pose, for example, questions of responsibility and accountability and have people look at experiences from their own life and ask: how did that happen? What was my role in it? Were other options available, options perhaps I did not see? Through asking these types of questions we help people discover choices which they are, and have been making, and options that could be present, if they choose them.’ As Russell wrote in the Huffington Post (16th December 2012): ‘By simply asking the question about your own personal responsibility for good not experienced or troubles that have befallen you, you are more likely to discover choices you have that could make some improvement to your current situation.’

Born in 1947, in the San Fransisco area, he is no stranger to responsibility. He describes his childhood as ‘at times challenging.’ His parents, children of the 1930’s depression in America, had gone to the San Fransisco area as a result of WW2. His father who had a Tool and Die business went bankrupt twice and the teenage Russell, the eldest of three, as well as going to school, worked twenty to thirty hours each week to help support the family. In 1966, his father died of leukaemia which meant he had to work fulltime to support himself through university. Having had fourteen surgical hospital visits by the time he was fourteen, he intended to qualify as a paediatric surgeon. However, this was the sixties and a time of great social unrest: a time when there was a strong demand for social and racial justice, a demand to end the Vietnam War. He pivoted away from medicine and ended up studying history and political science. Appalled by the social and racial inequities he witnessed in America, he became politically active and was a regular protester on student picket lines.

In 1971, when protesting at Berkeley and hit by a teargas cannister, he underwent a major transformation. Today recalling this experience, Russell still becomes animated. About to throw the cannister back at police, he had an out of body experience where from twenty-five feet back and twenty-five feet up he saw and heard himself shouting, in more colourful language than he uses in our interview, ‘why don’t you all *****love us?’ Moments later he was back in his body, with a huge awareness coming over him that the purpose he was there for was about love, about caring, about peace yet the strategy they all adopted was screaming and throwing things. He says that, for him, went, ‘disconnect. Disconnect. Disconnect.’ He dropped the cannister. He left the picket line. And back at a friend’s apartment in Berkely, stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom where he cut his hair which was long at the time, shaved his beard and sat crying into the mirror: ‘Who are you? What’s this all about?’ This momentary existential crisis was, Russell says, the turning point.

With a place at John Hopkins University to do a PHD in history, he decided this was no longer for him. Instead, he knew he needed to do something to help rather than simply complain about the issues of the day. He knew, too, he wanted to help people awaken. On his mentor’s advice, he enrolled in educational psychology focusing on the dynamics of group change. Russell was no stranger to personal growth work having as an under-graduate participated in thousands of hours of personal development.  Determined not to have a theory he wanted to prove, but rather document what he observed, he devised much of his own degree and brought in a variety of experts in their field. However, in 1973, he decided to attend, at his mentor’s invitation, a workshop on the power of positive thinking. During that four-day training, he witnessed people make bigger personal transformation shifts than anything he had previously seen in months of therapy or group work. So impressed was he by this work that within days he resigned from the university and chose to volunteer with the organisation. Within months he qualified as a facilitator and soon after was running the San Fransisco Centre.

By 1977, through his girlfriend at the time, he had become aware of John-Rogers’ work. He had read much of what John-Rogers had written and though he’d previously dismissed it, he now found himself enthralled. Frustrated by the lack of consciousness and focus on loving that he observed in many of the personal growth trainings he facilitated, he contacted John-Rogers and offered to design a training programme which would have a practical application and help people make better choices. John-Rogers was interested and in January 1978 the first Insight seminar took place in Santa Monica. It was an overwhelming success. Forty years on, an emotional note is detectable in Russell’s voice as he recalls how powerful and transformative that seminar was for so many people. Of the one hundred and fifty participants, one hundred and twenty-three expressed interest in advanced training which had not yet been written. This was the beginnings of Insight. It took off and over time was operating in forty-three different countries around the world. What Russell attributes in part to Insight’s success is that unlike so many of the other personal development programmes which operated from the premise something was wrong with you, and you needed to be fixed, transformed, or changed, Insight was about awakening you to what is already present and who you already are. And who you already are is loving.

Although Russell acknowledges that the level of consciousness today is much higher than it was thirty or forty years ago, the conflict and divisions in the world which we witness daily means that the opportunity to help people awaken to their deeper purpose is still there. He sees, too, how this work is equally relevant to business. Having worked with many different corporations, he has found that like individuals, ‘businesses often lack a clear understanding of their deeper sense of purpose, direction, and mission in life.’ By advocating ‘purpose before profit’ in the commercial world long before it became fashionable, he was in many ways ahead of his time.

Insight has obviously been significant in Russell Bishop’s life. It has given him a job, the opportunity to meet with all sorts of people, but as the organisation grew, he says, to keep pace with it, he too had to grow enormously. He also had to: ‘keep deepening my own awareness of the distinction between what do I want in terms of an object of focus and what experience am I looking for…which is a core question in Insight.’ Having learnt at a very profound level, flexibility, adaptability and how to let go, he can now, he says, work in any environment: ‘The lexicons might be different, but the principles are the same. Systems don’t work people, people work systems, and people can work any sort of system if we really respect the person.’ This respect for the person runs deep and one of the major things he has learnt over the years: ‘is how to recognise the capability and the gifts an individual brings so that they can begin to bring the gift and the contribution that’s needed. It’s not about bringing the person in line with the system but bringing the system in line with the person.’

It seems a good place to end our conversation with a man who is responsible for helping raise the consciousness of so many people in the world, as to who they really are.


On the 9th June 2021 at 7.30 BST, Russell Bishop will be facilitating an online workshop on The Dynamics of Choice: Are You Creating The Life You Want Or Settling For What Shows Up?


We have free events scheduled for the next few weeks and you can find all the details and register for them here.