All posts by Deepak Chopra

About Deepak Chopra

Time Magazine heralded Deepak Chopra as one of the 100 heroes and icons of the century, and credited him as "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine." Entertainment Weekly described Deepak Chopra as "Hollywood's man of the moment, one of publishing's best-selling and most prolific self-help authors." He is the author of more than 50 books and more than 100 audio, video and CD-Rom titles. He has been published on every continent and in dozens of languages. Fifteen of his books have landed on the New York Times Best-seller list. Toastmaster International recognized him as one of the top five outstanding speakers in the world. Through his over two decades of work since leaving his medical practice, Deepak continues to revolutionize common wisdom about the crucial connection between body, mind, spirit, and healing. His mission of "bridging the technological miracles of the west with the wisdom of the east" remains his thrust and provides the basis for his recognition as one of India's historically greatest ambassadors to the west. Chopra has been a keynote speaker at several academic institutions including Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, Harvard Divinity School, Kellogg School of Management, Stanford Business School and Wharton.His latest book is "Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul."

Green Shoots in a Desert Kingdom

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Although fears over our planetary woes make headlines and keep people up at night, it should be apparent that finding solutions is about our mindset. The mindset of dread contributes to passivity and depression. Recently I encountered a mindset that holds promise because it combines consciousness-awareness raising with technology. The green shoots of a viable future were evident to me in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Ever since its oil wealth gave it tremendous leverage over world economics, the Saudi kingdom has faced a fork in the road, deciding between an old feudal social order or an unparalleled opportunity to serve as a laboratory for engineering the future. My contacts were with the Saudi elite—I went there to give workshops in self-awareness—and it became apparent that they are inspired to solve the country’s challenges with a strong focus on education, the younger generation (60% of the population is under thirty), job creation, and wellbeing.

It was the last topic that involved me the most. After 9/11, I became deeply concerned with the radical dichotomy of the Muslim world, where a struggle had emerged between tradition and the postmodern world, that is, between a more rigid religious authority, and a future-minded youth who wanted to look out on the wider world integrating Islam with a global focus on science and technology.  It’s no longer a question of which side should win but rather how to integrate tradition with a global economy and an emerging Zeitgeist of respect for cultural and religious diversity. The biggest challenge facing the Saudis is how to create a moderate, economically secure middle class that can stand for modern values and simultaneously for Islamic ideals and Arab culture. Continue reading

The “New Old Age” Just Got Better

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For at least two decades we’ve been living with a drastic revision of growing old. What is now dubbed the “old old age” prevailed for centuries; it was a set of beliefs that turned the aging process into inevitable decline physically and mentally. After a lifetime of work, people found themselves set aside, no longer productive or active members of society. Generation after generation these expectations came true. But everyone trapped in the old old age was mistaken to think such expectations were inevitable. Hidden factors were causing beliefs to turn into reality.

The “new old age,” created by the baby boomer generation, threw out the previous beliefs, exchanging them for more optimistic ones, and by now we’ve grown used to a set of readjusted expectations. Millions of people over 65 haven’t retired, and few have taken to the rocking chair. To be healthy and active one’s whole life seems possible. But as much good as the new old age has done, it faced two major obstacles. The first was that aging itself has long been a mystery, not explained by medical science because too many changes occur over a lifetime, and these changes vary from person to person.  The second obstacle, assuming that aging could be defined, was how to reverse it.

An enormous leap forward in overcoming both obstacles was made by Elizabeth Blackburn, the molecular biologist who shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for their discovery of telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes a section of DNA known as telomeres, which cap the end of each chromosome like a period ending a sentence. Telomeres are “noncoding” DNA, meaning that they have no specified function in building cells, but they are far from passive. Their function seems to be to preserve cells. Every time a cell divides, which happens constantly somewhere in the body, its telomeres are shortened. Longer telomeres are typical of young cells in the stage of luxuriant growth; shortened or frayed telomeres are typical of weary senescent cells.

Now the head of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, Blackburn covers every aspect of cell aging and renewal in her 2017 book, The Telomere Effect, co-authored with her close colleague, UCSF Professor and health psychologist Elissa Epel.  They convincingly describe telomeres and levels of telomerase in the cell as our best marker yet for the multifold process of aging. This also implies that by increasing one’s telomerase levels and thereby causing telomeres to grow longer, a healthy lifespan can be founded on cells that keep renewing themselves for decades.

In their book Blackburn and Epel cite a startling actuarial prediction. There are currently around 300,000 centenarians existing around the world, a number that is rapidly increasing. According to one estimate, reaching one hundred is about to become so commonplace that one-third of children born in the UK will live to be centenarians—the issue of protecting your cells is suddenly more urgent than ever.  We highly recommend reading Blackburn and Epel’s book–its wealth of information needs to be absorbed in detail. But the bottom line is to understand what puts your telomeres at high risk and low risk. Continue reading

Why You Aren’t Who You Think You Are

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Each of us perceives reality through the filter of a personal self, an “I” that is unique in the world, thanks to the unique experiences we’ve had since birth. We rely on “I” to be able to navigate through everyday situations, not realizing how limiting “I” actually is. It’s fair to say that few people realize how unstable and distorted their sense of self is. To begin with, each of us filters out an enormous portion of the input we receive at a given moment.

Part of the filtering is unavoidable–human eyesight is limited to the visible wavelengths between ultraviolet and infrared, human hearing between the frequencies of 20 and 20,000 Hz (vibrations per second). In cosmic terms the visible universe, along with the universe detectable with scientific instruments, is a fraction of the total matter and energy in creation–perhaps as little as 1% to 4% depending on how “dark” matter and energy are computed, along with invisible interstellar dust.

On the personal level, the human brain has all kinds of limitations, including its dependence of a macro level of space, time, matter, and energy. At other levels of nature, including the quantum, ordinary clock time, the familiar three dimensions of space, the solidity of physical matter, and so on change entirely and at a certain point disappear. The fact that “something came out of nothing” during the big bang destabilizes common sense reality in radical ways.

Most of our filtering, however, occurs as a result of the experiences we assimilate all our lives. A collection of past wounds, conditioning, and beliefs forces us to go into denial about ourselves and the world around us. The phobic who is deathly afraid of spiders seems extreme, but every strongly held belief shuts out other viewpoints, and in the process the world we don’t want to see becomes invisible. The input we receive as raw information might not be entirely suppressed, but it still gets examined in the process of interpreting what’s happening to us. At a crude level, we interpret every experience as good or bad, hurtful or pleasurable, something we like or dislike, etc.  Depending on how judgmental you are, you fall somewhere between extremely close-minded and extremely open-minded. Depending on how empathetic you are, you fall somewhere between compassionate and cruel.

Once we take into account the ways that “I” gets shaped–through filtering, interpretation, beliefs, memories, and all types of social conditioning–it’s inescapable that “I” is a rickety structure that we ourselves didn’t build of our own free will. With most people, “I” reflects forces outside their control since birth. Still, we all defend “I” and go to great lengths to identify with it. But a closer examination reveals that “I” doesn’t have a secure perch on reality, because instead of a stable structure, the self is constantly bounding around. At a minimum we have three versions of “I”: Continue reading

The Evolving Cosmos: Is Reality Getting Any Closer?

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Science is the modern authority for telling us what’s real, using verifiable facts to prove its theories. Over the last century many facts have emerged about the nature of the universe, and since we know we live in an evolving universe since the big bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago, naturally scientific knowledge has evolved.  But strangely enough, this hasn’t brought reality any closer. The mysteries of the universe were expected to be solved by looking closer and closer at phenomena “out there” beyond Earth, “at smallest scales” as we probe within the matter, and then reality pulled a number of baffling tricks that brought everything into question.

The pattern that overlays everything has been breakthrough = disruption. The whole field of biology isn’t disrupted by discovering through genetic analysis that pandas don’t simply look like bears but are bears. In physics and cosmology, however, major discoveries have overturned the applecart, beginning in 1915, when Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity made a rupture from anything previously done in physics, by giving a geometrical model of gravity. Space and time were unified, and suddenly the cosmos was a four-dimensional continuum in which two fixed, and earlier separate entities, space and time, were now seamlessly linked, behaving not alone but relative to each other.

Einstein’s theory was massively important for physics, but it altered the relationship between the cosmos and human beings. First, our senses were now rendered either unreliable or pointless in grasping the complete reality, because relativistic effects were abstract and mathematical. In other words, these effects were simply not grasped by our usual sense perceptions. (Einstein used simple examples taken from ordinary life, such as standing in an elevator as it descended or watching a train approach the station, but these analogies only hinted at what General Relativity explained.) Second, relativity was a wedge that opened up the possibility that the human brain, which operates in linear time and three-dimensional space, might be inadequate to grasp alien dimensions and “spooky” behavior outside our experience. Continue reading

A Meditation to Restore Hope, Faith, and Trust

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Everyone has been experiencing the ill effects of disruptive politics. Thinking of the present situation in terms of a partisan divide doesn’t go far enough–there has been a wholesale loss of trust. Hope for a better future is defeated on a daily basis. Faith in the democratic system is perhaps at an all-time low. This malaise isn’t about issues and parties. It’s about how we view bad events and react to them.

Society presses the argument that problems arise “out there,” usually caused by other people, and getting immersed in private emotion is a suitable response. The cycle of event-response never ends, and it rarely solves anything. But we are all addicted to it. Not only do outside events capture our attention, but also there is the rush of feeling angry or elated, victorious or defeated.

The world’s wisdom traditions say very little about politics, but they have much to say about getting entangled in the drama, beginning with the teaching that matters the most: the drama never ends. Once you get enmeshed in external events that trigger strong emotions, you have joined the drama either as participant or spectator. Therefore, reality “out there” is the level of the unending problems life brings our way. By becoming stuck in it, people sacrifice their only path to finding a solution, which is to base their sense of self “in here.” If you don’t want to be affected with malaise, stop ingesting the next dose of poison.

When you lose hope, trust, and faith, nobody did it to you. However much you are tempted to demonize somebody else, everything “out there” is aimed at one and only one thing: keeping the drama going at full boil. How you respond is your responsibility, and this turns out to be the opening that sets you free of the drama. Dramas are built out of plot lines, and when you start to look inward, it becomes clear that every plot line, down to the smallest detail, is self-created. Continue reading

How to See a Beautiful Person in the Mirror

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Society has allowed our notion of beauty to go awry. Countless women–and not just women–look in the mirror and see a reflection of inadequacy. They have fallen short of an ideal that was defective to begin with. But conditioned since childhood to equate a “perfect” body with being beautiful, they blame themselves for being the defective one.

The situation is filled with cruel ironies. Children are naturally beautiful until they are taught to stop thinking that way and to start measuring themselves by an unnatural standard. Even the small percentage of women who are super-model thin suffer anxiety over gaining a pound. The first gray hair and wrinkles create panic. The worship of perfection belies the epidemic of obesity that constitutes reality for millions.

The problem has been diagnosed many times without a workable solution. One study after another has proven without a doubt that fad diets don’t work; in fact, the chances of becoming obese are higher for chronic dieters. Billions of dollars spent on cosmetics and plastic surgery have done nothing to solve a prevailing sense of not being beautiful enough. All of this points to a single underlying issue: a woman’s sense of lack. Continue reading

Is Reality Trying to Tell You Something?

A photo by Kayla Gibson. unsplash.com/photos/7KHYZ4eqSIw

One of the greatest puzzles facing each of us is whether the events in our lives form a pattern, and if so, what does the pattern mean. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” Some people say it in passing, others take it more seriously. But officially, if we accept the basic scientific principle that the physical world operates essentially through random chance, it’s not credible to believe that we live in a universe that has purpose and meaning. We can ask when the big bang occurred but not why. We can investigate how sodium and chlorine combine to form salt, but it makes no sense, scientifically, to ask the purpose of salt. Salt and the big bang just are.

Since the question of meaning and purpose are deeply embedded in religion, let’s set those claims aside. If God or the gods control human life, this is a matter of faith, not science. Humans have constructed faith-based systems for many centuries, of course. Placing an invisible higher power at the center of reality, a power who judges right from wrong, who punishes and rewards according to divine morality, is simply outside the rules developed by science and secular society. There are enough glitches in those rules without hauling God into the argument.

Those glitches center around a simple observation. Human life has meaning and purpose. The physical world, absent humans, doesn’t. When we are motivated by love or fear, when we make moral choices or create a vision of a better life, there is no doubt that human beings not only value meaning and purpose, we have evolved, along with the higher brain, to support meaning and purpose. Since Darwinian evolution allows for only genetic mutations, how did DNA, which is built from completely ordinary atoms and molecules, acquire any more meaning than salt? Or if DNA isn’t linked to the meaning of life, how can there be meaning and purpose outside our genes? Continue reading

Will We Ever Really Know Ourselves?

2016 Dino Reichmuth
When the ancient Greeks first uttered the dictum “Know thyself,” they had another choice. They could have said “Know lots of other things.” In one direction the investigation goes inward; in the opposite direction the investigation goes outward. “Know thyself” stands for something that, as far as we know, only human beings possess: self-awareness. “Know lots of other things” also points to a unique human capacity: curiosity about the outside world. I think it’s unarguable that the investigation of the outside world, as pursued by science, has gotten much, much further than self-awareness. Scientists have probed Nature in every dimension, while self-awareness hasn’t even stopped humanity from the impulse to destroy itself.

The gap between “Know thyself” and “Know Lots of other things” was sharply drawn by a current post from the back-page editor of Scientific American, Michael Shermer.  Reading his piece, “At the Boundary of Knowledge,” one comes away with a sense that science is totally triumphant. Not only has science achieved huge successes in acquiring facts and data that led to the overwhelming dominance of technology in the world. It has done something much more difficult. Quoting a recent book, The Big Picture, by Sean Carroll, a physicist from the California Institute of Technology, Shermer claims that now we can be almost certain about how all knowledge is attained. “All of the things you’ve ever seen or experienced in your life—objects, plants, animals, people—are made of a small number of particles, interacting with one another through a small number of forces.”

From this position, which we can call hardline materialism, Shermer reaches the following conclusion: “Once you understand the fundamental laws of nature, you can scale up to planets and people and even assess the probability that God, the soul, the afterlife and ESP exist, which Carroll concludes is very low.” I haven’t read Prof. Carroll’s book, but you can see Shermer, and many of his readers, dusting off their hands with a satisfied sense of “Well, that’s that.” If they are right, science has eliminated the need for “Know thyself” simply by swallowing up the whole issue of self-awareness and packing it away with particles and forces, having scaled up to planets and peoples, God and the soul. Continue reading

How to Make Sure That Trumpism Never Returns

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The problem isn’t Donald Trump but Trumpism—many commentators feel safe enough to utter these words. What made them feel unsafe over the past year, despite the toxic extremism that Trump the man represented, was timidity. Someone posing as a strong man, capable of viciously demolishing his political enemies, posed a potential threat to anyone who spoke out against him. But now more people have found a way, even a growing handful of Republican politicians, to denounce him.

There’s a collective sigh of relief that Trump has become his own worst enemy, but relief isn’t the same as feeling safe, much less immune. America hasn’t seen the last of Trumpism until remedies against its return are undertaken seriously. As a physician sees it, we are past the prevention stage, past the first signs of disorder, and well into rampant symptoms that threaten a full-blown outbreak. In a word, Trumpism has become a persistent virus, and although it fuels a sense of self-righteousness to blame the long line of Republican presidents going back to Nixon who planted the seeds of Trumpism, we can’t afford that luxury.

To compress Trumpism into its essential ingredients, they are actually a batch of stubborn illusions that have been turned into a belief system, as follows: Continue reading

What Is Your DNA Doing For You Right Now?

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Ever since its structure was unraveled in the early Fifties, DNA has been considered the mastermind of the cell. Sitting in splendid isolation in the cell’s nucleus, DNA encodes all of life. It sends duplicates of itself (RNA) to direct the manufacture of proteins; and proteins, as high-school biology teaches, are the building blocks of the cell. In terms of biological machinery. The genetic picture has gotten more and more sophisticated ever since.

But something doesn’t look quite right here. If every cell is a biological robot, and the entire body is made up of cells, then we must be biological robots too. This view, which a surprising number of geneticists believe in, cannot be true. It is a conclusion that the old model of DNA supported because that model was reductionist–that is, all complex processes can be explained by breaking them down into more basic processes. The whole approach is totally logical, but nobody can seriously claim that the works of Shakespeare and Mozart are explainable by protein manufacture. And in our daily lives we think thoughts and feel emotions, which proteins don’t, or cells for that matter.

As a result, genetics has been racing to catch up with human reality. On several fronts there has been progress, of a sort. So-called Systems Biology has emerged to examine how the body works as a dynamic, changing organism responding to input from the environment. In this way DNA stopped being so rigid and got into the game. On another front a field known as epigenetics began to study how everyday experience, including our lifestyle and memory, actually gets chemically imprinted on our genes. Again, DNA became more dynamic and responsive.

But while DNA was getting liberated, what was really happening? One could argue that the only thing changing was a scientific model. Reality wasn’t changing at all. Now it is dawning that DNA is fundamentally so mysterious, biology can’t even contain it, much less explain it. The crack in mainstream genetics came from the huge shock administered by the Human Genome Project, which discovered, to widespread dismay, that the complexity of human life came down to only 20,000 genes. This number was ridiculously small, about 20% of the previous guesstimate. To quote geneticist John Mattick, “that number is tiny. It’s effectively the same as a microscopic worm that has just 1,000 cells.” Continue reading

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