If You’re Conscious, How Can You Die?
An Interview with a Modern-Day Taoist Wizard Peter Ragnar
by Andrew Cohen
I’ve often wondered how it would look if someone like Jack LaLanne or Anthony Robbins—whom I’ve always admired for their indomitable spirit, incredible self-discipline, and joie de vivre—became enlightened. When I discovered Peter Ragnar, I think I found out.
The amazing Peter Ragnar is a modern-day shaman, Taoist wizard, natural life scientist, and self-master par excellence. He lives in the Tennessee mountains with his wife, and he claims to be a “senior citizen” but refuses to give away his age because he “doesn’t believe in it.” He does strenuous two-hour strength-training workouts seven days a week and performs record-breaking feats. He’s been a martial arts practitioner for over fifty years, and he has developed his own version of Taoist energy practice called “Magnetic Qi Gong,” which he claims is the key to immortality. He has healing powers and is renowned for his clairvoyant and telepathic abilities. He lives on a strict diet of raw foods and juices and has spent a lifetime studying the relationship between the body and the mind at all levels. And his most remarkable attainment is his profound awakening to the energetic dimension, or “bio-electric-magnetic” field, of life. While this dimension of reality and experience is one that many have heard of, it’s a world that Peter actually lives in.
All this being said, Peter’s most compelling and inspiring message is his steadfast and passionate call to self-mastery based upon the relentless cultivation of intention. This foundational element of his teaching is clearly a contemporary expression of the great American New Thought tradition, championed in the early twentieth century by Napoleon Hill, author of the all-time bestseller Think and Grow Rich,and later by Norman Vincent Peale, known for his widely acclaimed, inspirational classic The Power of Positive Thinking. Hill wrote in 1937, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.” At the beginning of the new millennium, Peter Ragnar is proving that it’s still true!
ANDREW COHEN: Peter, why is it that you declare that there is no explainable reason why a person should die, other than his or her belief in death?
PETER RAGNAR: Because I feel that we have ultimate control to the degree that we’re conscious. If we are conscious enough, we can make anything happen in our body. We can preserve this body or we can kill this body.
It’s very simple to see how people kill their bodies with their thoughts—it’s a product of their unconsciousness of causes and effects. If we’re conscious of our thoughts—I mean luminously conscious of our thoughts—those thoughts then impregnate the cellular structure of our body in a way that is very, very difficult to explain. When you have an abundance of life force inside you, it pours out of your eyes. It comes out of the palms of your hands as heat, as healing heat. It radiates as if you swallowed the sun, and you are different. Now, with that type of dynamic and powerful energy inside of you, how can you die?
COHEN: Interesting question!
RAGNAR: It’s a working hypothesis, of course. But the more life we have running through our body’s energy system, the more alive we are. Life is not death, life is the opposite of death. So embracing life is the situation. How many people embrace life with every thought and every action and every decision they make? Only a very, very rare few.
You see, we’ve been conditioned to believe in death. Right from the very first breath we take, we feel like life is a march between the womb and the tomb.
COHEN: (laughs) Well, it does seem that everything in the universe that is born and takes on physical form goes through a maturation process and ultimately degenerates and falls away.
RAGNAR: That’s true. But let’s look at it from the standpoint of a caterpillar in the process of becoming a butterfly. Andrew, do butterflies come out of deformed cocoons, or do they come out of cocoons that are fully perfected?
COHEN: Cocoons that are fully perfected.
RAGNAR: Exactly. So I feel that we should endeavor with every ounce of strength that we have to create a perfect life, to become fully perfected as human beings, and then see if we fly. Now, we may not. I may be wrong. But the quest is to be a perfect human.
That may sound rather egotistic. People might say, “Oh no, just give up, don’t do anything. You’re efforting too much.” But it’s not effort—it’s our evolution. Our evolution is to get better and better and better at every single thing that we do. For example, I’m well past my athletic prime, according to the experts, and yet I keep breaking my own personal records. I don’t believe in age; I’m ageless. But I will say that I’m a senior citizen, a pre-baby boomer. And I continue to break records I couldn’t have done when I was in my twenties and thirties. Why? Because I don’t believe in limitations. And because I don’t believe in them, I’m free. I’m free to do anything I want to do. If I want to break world records, I can break world records, if that’s what’s important.
COHEN: What you seem to be saying is, “Let’s make the effort to transcend all of our self-limiting thoughts, all of our convictions of emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical limitation. Let’s first try to discover, at least as far as we can humanly imagine, what a perfectly full and absolutely positive embrace of the human experience is. And then let’s see what the result is going to be on every level, including the physical.” Is that what you mean?
RAGNAR: Absolutely. You put it as good as it can be put.
COHEN: So therefore, you don’t actually mean that if you strive to live a perfect life, you will live forever. But that if you strive to live a perfect life, you don’t exactly know how long you’re going to live, but let’s find out. That kind of thing?
RAGNAR: Exactly, let’s find out. It’s a working hypothesis. Let’s find out if this life is a definite one of eighty to ninety years, or seventy to eighty years, however gerontologists might want to estimate it—or whether it’s an indefinite life that you can go on living as long as you stay in that space. If you can live the “perfect life,” how long would that life span be?
COHEN: What would it mean, then, to live a perfect life?
RAGNAR: Well, first, it would be free of all limiting beliefs, because we are not limited creatures unless we believe we’re limited. And how do we drop all limitations? By becoming more conscious. By adding more conscious energy and life force to our physical organism until we literally see it glowing; we see it glowing in the dark.
COHEN: Peter, what is the life force? Where does it come from?
RAGNAR: I wish I knew that. The Chinese Taoists call it chi, and a lot of people refer to it. But these are just words. It’s an oscillation that is absolutely physically measurable. To the degree that your body oscillates with its vibration, it can be measured. But what it is . . . they’re still arguing about what electricity is! We know how to create it, but we don’t know what it is.
Every time you have an electrical field, you also have a magnetic field, so you can’t really talk about electricity without bringing magnetism into it. But what’s beyond that? They’ve discovered that maybe the smallest quantum of energy is actually what is defined as chi. It’s an oscillation of something that gives off a bio-electric-magnetic field. The stronger that bio-electric-magnetic field is, the more vitality the individual has, the more life force. And of course, you’ll see it in the electricity in the eyes; you’ll hear it in the voice; you’ll see it in the way the body flows without hesitation; you’ll see it in the posture. I don’t know what it is; all I know is that I am that.
COHEN: You make a distinction, I think, between prenatal and postnatal chi. Could you explain what the difference is?
RAGNAR: Basically, we come into this life with a battery that has a certain amount of juice in it. I call this prenatal chi. If you don’t do a thing and you just continue to run with your lights on and the radio blaring, eventually the battery will wear out, depending upon how much demand you put on it. And that’s generally seventy to eighty years. So we’ve got a battery that is meant to last at least that long. However, if you plug the battery in at night and you charge it, there’s no end in sight—that’s postnatal chi. I have a concept that says: If you go to bed with more energy than you woke up with, then all night long, you’ve got the battery charger on. And that’s the secret to life. It’s that simple.
COHEN: How do you go to bed with more energy than you woke up with? Is it because you’re building it during the day?
RAGNAR: Right. This is why I do what I call Magnetic Qi Gong. I’ve discovered a way to go to bed with my body buzzing. And the buzz is basically the battery charger. We tested this just last week with a chiropractic acupuncture clinic. They brought their electro-meridian imaging equipment up here, and after I did some chi gong, they tested me. The unit can’t even measure past where the life force in my kidneys reached; they said they’d never seen anything like that before. The Chinese say that the life force is in the kidneys, and there are some reasons for that, but nevertheless, they couldn’t believe the readings. The readings were off the chart.
And it’s not just the kidneys—it’s all the organs. If you do certain practices, you can enhance the voltage in all the organs and meridians of the body. Basically, we’re buzzing power plants. We’re nuclear power plants.
COHEN: And you believe that human life expectancy should be between 160 and 200 years?
RAGNAR: If you look at the rate of maturation of any animal—in other words, the ratio of the length of time it takes an animal to mature to the length of its life span—for most animals it’s ten to twenty times. A horse, for example, will mature in two years and live for twenty-five to thirty years. Same thing with chimpanzees, dogs, cats—with all animals, it’s at least ten to twenty times. The only exception to this rule is the human species. Even if you take ten times human maturity, which is a low figure, that gives you 180 years. If it’s twenty times, then double that.
You’ve got to get sick in order to die. Nobody dies healthy. I’ve heard people say, “They just died of old age.” And I say, “No, they had so many diseases, they didn’t know which one killed them!” To get sick, you have to get into some type of negativity that damages one or more particular organs.
I’m probably out there by myself on this one, but I feel that we do have ultimate control of our body, because our body is a thought. It’s filled with frozen memories—memories that are formed by our experiences that we have already reached conclusions about, and we’ve emotionalized those conclusions and frozen them into our flesh. Therefore, only when we thaw it out and release, and stop holding on for dear life, can we have dear life.
COHEN: What you’re saying is that a lot of the ideas and beliefs that we have about who we are, about the nature of life, and about how long it’s possible to live are subconscious and unquestioned. So in this sense, I understand what you mean about them being frozen in our body. And unless they are released, since we are not aware of them, they are likely to determine our destiny.
COHEN: Okay. That’s clear. But when you said that our body is a thought, did you mean that literally?
RAGNAR: Yes, I meant that literally. Actually, I should have said that many, many trillions of thoughts form our body. And it’s really the health of our overall life view or worldview that determines our physical health.
COHEN: You seem to have awakened to a perspective where you see the nondifference between the physical, the psychological, the emotional, the spiritual, and the energetic—where you’re able to see all these as literally one process. And of course, most of us are in the habit of relating to our experience in a way that is very conceptual and completely divorced from the integrity of the process itself. The way we see our experience is often only a small fraction of the totality of what’s really happening. And I suppose that unless one actually gets to the point where one directly experiences this insight into the ultimate nondifference between spirit and matter, there will still be some kind of fundamental separation between what one is doing and how one is thinking about the process, some fundamental duality in terms of oneself.
RAGNAR: You’re describing it so well, Andrew, because there is no separation.
COHEN: Some people would say that this insight into the fact that there is a much deeper relationship between the mind and the body than we had previously thought is true up to a point, but that there are certain processes that really won’t be affected by what we think, certain processes that are, in fact, unconscious. And you’re basically defying that. You’re saying that it’s possible to become so conscious of these physical processes that we would be able to have absolute control over the whole system.
RAGNAR: Absolutely. There are so many people, for example, who have had spontaneous remissions of cancer. The medical researchers scratch their heads and say they don’t know why it goes away. But the reason it goes away is that the intention to live is so powerful, so strong, that it overrides any other negative programming that might be in the body.
A classic example that is cited in psychology texts is the Krebiozen story. A cancer patient, Mr. Wright, got this worthless placebo—at least that’s what the AMA eventually said about the drug Krebiozen. He went to a doctor and said, “Look, I’m dying.” He had tumors so big they had to milk them. And the doctor said, “What’s it going to hurt to give the guy Krebiozen? He’s going to be dead in a weekend anyway. It’s an inoperable cancer, the worst of the worst.” After he got the worthless drug, the journals stated, “His tumors melted like snowballs on a hot stove.” He totally recovered from his cancer in ten days’ time. No one could explain it. Unfortunately, the story has a bad ending because later, when Mr. Wright read the AMA report revealing that Krebiozen was worthless, he said, “Oh, it was worthless,” and his cancer came back, and he died.
Here you have a classic example of the power of intention. His intent was to stay alive, and when he saw that he had an opportunity, the body said, “Yes sir, what do you want us to do?” All the immune soldiers lined up and saluted him and said, “Whatever you want; you’re the commander.” And we are the commander.
COHEN: What do you think happened to the cancer? If it went into total remission, theoretically, it wouldn’t be there anymore, so it wouldn’t be able to come back. Are you saying that the cancer that was originally present was also a thought?
RAGNAR: Yes, I believe that. Look at how many people die after receiving a diagnosis saying they’ve got six weeks to live. And sure enough, in six weeks they’re dead. Yet what if it was a misdiagnosis, as it has been in some cases?
COHEN: Yes. But one could live next to a chemical plant and get poisoned, or live next to Chernobyl and get cancer from radiation, and that wouldn’t necessarily have anything to do with any negative thinking, right?
RAGNAR: It’s a hard question to answer because people get very sensitive when you say anything about personal responsibility. But I think that if I had been living in the Ukraine, there would have been something inside me that said, “Get out of here, boy; get out of here.” You know, whenever a severe storm comes, if you look around here, the animals are gone. They disappear; they know. All you have to do is listen to nature, and it tells you everything and anything you need to know about life. The animals know without knowing all the time. Not some of the time, not part of the time, but all of the time. And we do too.
COHEN: But there were thousands of people who would have had no warning. I mean, that has to be part of the equation, doesn’t it?
RAGNAR: When do we have no warning? I’ve said this so many times, and I know it bugs people. It irritates them when I say, “Look, you never have an accident without being warned at least three times in advance. It’s just that you fail to hear or see or perceive the very warning that’s before you.” Nothing happens to us without us first being told about it. It’s like the tsunami. Where did the animals go? They already knew.
COHEN: Yes, that was amazing.
RAGNAR: Well, we have the same faculty.
COHEN: But let’s say you’re driving through a town where the water has been completely polluted, and you don’t know it. And you happen to go to a diner and drink a cup of tea or something, and then eventually, you get cancer as a result.
RAGNAR: You’d know it. You’d know it ahead of time.
COHEN: But how would you know?
RAGNAR: Are you familiar with behavioral kinesiology, or muscle testing?
RAGNAR: Okay. How is it that certain things weaken us and certain things strengthen us? Our body tells us. Our body sends us a signal, and that signal either weakens or strengthens us. The other day, someone was asking me about some testing equipment for kinesiology. And I said, “I don’t need the testing equipment. I’ve already got it; it’s inside me.” I can look at something or think of something, and I know the feedback loop. I know whether it comes back “this is good” or “this is bad.” It’s the same feedback loop that all animals have.
COHEN: So, in other words, you’re saying that when you become more and more conscious, you become more sensitive to what you should do and what you shouldn’t do, a direction to go in or a direction not to go in, a place to eat or a place you shouldn’t eat, that kind of thing? That your intuition will evolve in leaps and bounds, and you will experience a level of sensitivity and intuitive knowing that most people would ordinarily be unaware of, or wouldn’t even be able to imagine?
RAGNAR: Precisely. Now, I know people will say, “You’re making me feel guilty now. You’re making me feel uncomfortable because I don’t have that.” And I say, “But you can. It’s something that develops in time. It’s all called consciousness.” Some of us have been at it longer, that’s all. Some of us have grown up faster. It’s just a part of our evolution. We grow more conscious if we work at it, and if you make a commitment to work at it, then you have the ultimate protection. You’re always in the right place at the right time for the right reason—you are never not. Nothing can happen to you that you do not designate if you are that conscious.
Now, let’s say my belief is wrong. Okay, we’ll find out. But the neat thing is that your confidence is bolstered once you realize that the process works. It works in little ways, and if one is conscious enough to see it working in little ways, then you will see it working in dramatic ways. I choose to believe that everything works because you are more conscious. If you’re conscious, everything works in your favor. And if you’re unconscious, everything works against you.
COHEN: Is that because if you’re more conscious, you’re at one with the life process? So then the process itself opens up within you and before you and around you?
RAGNAR: I’ll give you an example. The other day, a wild coyote came out of the forest, came right up to me. I was outside, and I opened the door and said, “Do you want to come in?” It said, “Sure.” And it came in. I said, “Let me fix you a meal.” So my wife and I fixed him a meal. I handed him a cookie, and he said, “Thank you, I really appreciate that.” I said, “Well, I appreciate your visit. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Coyote.” And so now Mr. Coyote comes back and forth. But this is the relationship we have with all the animals because I see that as an extension of my own energy. This is life force, just the flow of life force. It’s like I have a kite, and he’s on the other end, and the wind is blowing, so he runs through the forest. And then when I wind up the kite, here he comes again.
We have deer, a whole bunch of deer, and when we walk out there, they come up and nose me. We give them apples. I know the wildlife people in the park would go crazy if they heard me telling this story. But I say, “Hey, they love me, because I love them, and they have nothing stopping them from feeling that.” We have a wild boar—I mean, you ought to see this thing. He’s got a mane like a big black lion and burning red eyes—especially at night—and these big tusks. It would scare the hell out of anybody if they saw him. We call him by name; I call him Rasputin. He comes running up and dances around in a circle on the deck. He loves us. And this thing is totally wild. If a stranger came here, they’d never see this happen. They wouldn’t see a bear, they wouldn’t see a deer, and they certainly wouldn’t see the coyotes. The birds leave, too, when the vibrations are wrong or off.
Now, what does that tell you about life? All life is one, and if you’re in harmony with it, you can walk out into the middle of a forest, walk up to a strange deer, and touch it. The first time a mama bear came, I was out in the woods. I laid down in front of her, and she came over and sniffed me. And I showed her that I was totally surrendered, that I wasn’t going to hurt her. I have not one ounce of fear or negativity about these animals. You know, she was pregnant, and she brought her three cubs. She brought them right to our bedroom door, and we babysat the cubs while she went off and had some free time. This is on a regular basis. I’ve got photographs of this. The cubs would come in the bedroom, and we’d watch them until she came back half an hour later. And then off they’d go with their mama, because there’s no disconnect. There is no separation. It’s all one beautiful picture. However, when people with other energies come—people with fears and apprehensions—they don’t see a thing. The world changes. It’s a different world. And between the two worlds, I choose this one.
COHEN: Was there a particular moment in your life when you went through a transition where these things started to happen, when they hadn’t before?
RAGNAR: Yes. I was a spiritual maniac. I would meditate, and I’d sit cross-legged into the deep hours of the night until my knees and back hurt like hell. Finally one day, I gave it all up. I said, “This is nuts; this is totally nuts. I’m not doing this anymore.” So I just went on doing what I usually do, and it sort of became a habit to sit before the fire. And one day, back in 1977 in May—I remember it, full moon night, sitting in front of the fire—something happened. I was never so frightened in all my life. Everything I knew about myself seemed to be evaporating and dying, spontaneously. I felt like I had turned into a pillar of stone, and the last vestige of what I knew as myself was leaking out. Once the fear evaporated and the experience ended, I was different.
I don’t know how you explain that, but I can remember going out to my outhouse the following morning and sitting there with the moonlight coming in through the trees. I had the door open, and here a fox comes running up to me, and sits right before me while I’m sitting in the outhouse. Right by my knees, looking me in the eyes, and talking to me without words. Later that day, I went out to my garden. I took a little lunch with me so I didn’t have to go back to the cabin, and when I sat by a big tree to eat, a crow jumped down, sat on my knee, and said, “Can I have some of your food?” And I said, “Sure.”
From that point on, everything was different. It’s the same world, you know. I get up, I wash, I use the bathroom, I brush my teeth, I do what everybody else does, I guess, at least to some degree. But it’s different, because my amnesia went away. I don’t know if I’m enlightened. I have no idea what the word means. All I know is that I’m now different, and I like this different feeling. Nothing has ever been the same.
COHEN: How long had you been a seeker up until that point?
RAGNAR: My entire life. From the time I was a child, in one form or another, there was something nagging me, an uncomfortable nagging that never went away.
COHEN: Peter, in the way that you think about it today, is there any difference between the quest for enlightenment and the quest for physical immortality? Because most revered sages and masters have passed away.
RAGNAR: I know I go out on a limb when I answer questions like this, but I have to say, master of what? Master of your thoughts? If you’re a master of your thoughts, you’re master of your body, master of your money, master of your life circumstances. If you have personal mastery, then it’s visible, measurable, and you can demonstrate it.
Right now, at my age, I am master of my body. I’m master of my mind, my financial world, my emotional world, my personal environment. I don’t know, maybe it won’t always be that way. But I doubt it. Why would I give up now? People say, “You’re getting arrogant, you’re getting pompous, and life is going to show you.” You know, “Pride comes before the fall.” And I say, “Well, pride is something you’ve got to earn.” You earn the right to be proud of your accomplishment, and at the same time, once you realize how hard you had to work, you’re immensely humbled.
COHEN: Right. But in relationship to this question, for example, in India, maybe even in the last century, there were people such as Ramakrishna or Ramana Maharshi who were undoubtedly highly enlightened beings, yet who died painful deaths. They died of cancer.
RAGNAR: Well, I guess there was one thing they didn’t have mastery over, isn’t there?
COHEN: The reason I’m asking is because those individuals were universally considered to be profoundly enlightened beings. The Buddha, too, seemed to have passed away from food poisoning. And it seems that the power of their awakening had everything to do with victory over the mind. Yet they all died painful deaths.
RAGNAR: I don’t discount their reputations, and I would never say anything negative about them. But I immediately have doubts about the levels of mastery. I don’t understand how you can have mastery over your thoughts and not have mastery over your body, because the body, at least from my perspective, is your thoughts. Unless you simply choose to commit suicide. And then I have to wonder, why do you want to do that? Don’t you like the people around you? I mean, have these disciples absolutely eaten you up? I don’t know. But at least I’ll go on this particular track until I’m proven wrong. And when I’m proven wrong, I’ll apologize to them! I’ll say to all those dead gurus, “I apologize to you. You were right; you can’t get to keep this body.”
I’m lonely. I’m out here by myself, Andrew. But I can say for sure that the little things give you confidence. If you can do the little things, you know that by the inch it’s a cinch and by the yard it’s hard. So you do the little things, and you keep building, and every little unit of consciousness that expands, every little breakthrough that you have, is living a life of victory. And pretty soon, the final victories, whatever they may be, are there on the horizon and you’re crashing through them. I’ve often said, “Okay, so you’ve climbed the mountain. Now we’re standing on the peak. What do you do next? You step off into space.”