By Deepak Chopra, MD
“Enlightenment” is a word that has gotten so entangled with vague confusion that many people have given up on it. I don’t mean the classic seeker who hungers for God, Nirvana, or higher states of consciousness. There isn’t an accepted definition of enlightenment that allows for a general discussion where everyone knows what the topic is. Behind this apparent fuzziness, however, the concept of enlightenment has evolved tremendously over the past few decades, and in that time the possibility of being enlightened has come closer and closer to everyday experience.
Forty years ago enlightenment was inevitably associated with “Eastern mysticism,” a phrase that appears in the subtitle of Fritjof Capra’s famous book, The Tao of Physics. Meditation was associated with religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Enlightenment was a spiritual attainment for Indian gurus or monks sitting in Himalayan caves. The fact that meditation is now a common practice in the West, with many research studies proving its benefits in terms of mind and body, shows how much the landscape has changed.
The next major change, which could bring a seismic shift in our worldview, would bring enlightenment into daily life the way that meditation is comfortably established in daily life. I’ll devote the next few posts to exploring how enlightenment affects everyone, not just a select few living under exotic circumstances. We can begin with the most obvious question you can ask yourself. Are you enlightened already?” This may seem at first like an almost absurd question. If there are ancient traditions for reaching enlightenment, a project that can take a lifetime’s effort and discipline, it must be impossible that a normal person going about his everyday life could already be enlightened.
But there’s a reason why the question isn’t absurd. Enlightenment is a state of consciousness–everyone seems to agree upon that, at least. Each of us already experiences three distinct states of consciousness every day: waking, sleeping, and dreaming. These states come naturally. We didn’t seek them out or do anything special to be in them. So why would so-called higher states of consciousness be set apart as privileged or difficult or far distant from daily experience? In fact, all the ingredients of enlightenment are already in place. These consist of: Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
In a society that places a high value on competition and winning, everyone wants to succeed. It becomes difficult to discuss failure, which somehow translates into personal weakness, lack, or vulnerability. I’d like to reframe the whole relationship between success and failure so that both become part of a single process: your personal evolution.
As you evolve and grow, certain conditions appear on the path, and as they do, some people feel a sense of failure while other people don’t. Yet in both cases, the same situation has occurred: Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
Fear is a negative emotion unless you are facing an actual threat and need to fight or flee. The usefulness of fear is minimal in daily life, particularly in the form of anxiety. Stressful events can produce short-term anxiety in almost everyone, which disappears after the event. But for an estimated 6.8 million Americans with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), anxiety is a chronic condition they can’t shut off. All of us know people we accept as “born worriers,” but in reality being in a state of chronic anxiety can severely limit their daily activity.
You probably know already if you worry excessively. Almost nothing is free from worry, in fact, if you have chronic anxiety, even the smallest thing can trigger it. You find yourself with fearful thoughts about finances, family, your health, and what’s happening at work. Some days you’d rather hide under the covers.
The first thing to realize is that reality isn’t what’s actually worrying you, but it’s your fixed habit of mind that is causing you to respond to everything with anxiety. Second, you need to look rationally at the anxiety response and concede that you are not improving it by feeling anxious. This seems obvious to non-worriers, but somewhere inside, many “born worriers” believe they are taking care of situations that others are overlooking, like whether they remembered to lock up the house or turn off the gas stove. Any trigger can provoke worry, so the question is how to prevent this from happening. Continue reading
Paul J. Mills, Tiffany Barsotti, Meredith A. Pung, Kathleen L. Wilson, Laura Redwine, and Deepak Chopra
Gratitude, along with love, compassion, empathy, joy, forgiveness, and self-knowledge, is a vital attribute of our wellbeing. While there are many definitions of gratitude, at its foundation, gratitude is a healing, life-affirming, and uplifting human experience that shifts us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives. Gratitude provides us with a more intimate connection to ourselves and the world around us. In the feeling of gratitude, the spiritual is experienced.
For those who are ill, feelings of gratitude and awe may facilitate perceptions and cognitions that go beyond the focus of their illness, and include positive aspects of one’s personal and interpersonal reality in the face of disease. Such beneficial associations with gratitude have accelerated scientific interest in and research on gratitude and wellbeing. The number of publications on gratitude appearing in the biomedical literature in 5-year increments since 1960-1965 shows almost no publications until 1996-2000 with about 20 studies. That number doubled from 2001-2005. From 2006-2010 publications jumped to 150, and from 2011 to the present over 275 studies on gratitude have been published.
Much of this growth of scientific interest in gratitude can be traced to the early pioneering gratitude research of psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough. In general, studies find that the frequency with which one experiences the feeling of gratitude, as well as the depth of emotion when experiencing it, are linked to improvements in perceived social support as well as reduced stress and depression. Among groups seeking to support this work, the Greater Good Science Center (Berkeley, CA), in collaboration with the Templeton Foundation (West Conshohocken, PA), has been a strong advocate of advancing the science of gratitude and expanding that science into diverse areas of human health and wellbeing. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD, and Menas Kafatos, PhD
The night sky that you can view from your back yard is roughly the same, given a few changes in the positions of stars, as the night sky Galileo turned his telescope on to. But visual similarity is misleading. There have been half a dozen different universes conceived of in the human mind. As each conception changes, so does reality. We like to think that science steadily marches forward, but with each new universe something is lost and something is gained. Here we take the term universe to imply a world view, rather than just the large-scale universe explored with telescopes and deep space probes.
Here’s a sketch of how this has worked: Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
When they become parents, many people wonder how to impart spiritual values to their children. The traditional model of sending them to Sunday school is one alternative; another is to draw the entire family into the personal spirituality of the parents, as more people turn away from organized religion to carve their own path. Children grow up to reflect how they are raised, which makes this an important issue.
To begin with, a child’s spiritual life should be age appropriate. A very young child’s brain hasn’t matured enough to absorb adult beliefs, and the overall development of every child is unique. Before age ten or so, I feel that spiritual parenting will have the most lasting effect if it builds a foundation in the self rather than focusing on principles. As a practical matter, every young child should feel that Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD, and Menas Kafatos, PhD
For a very long time, if you wanted to know if something is real or not, the go-to people have been scientists. The rise of rationality over superstition is considered the single greatest achievement of the past three or four centuries. So it’s startling news–as we discussed in the last post–that physics has arrived at a reality crisis. Three great unsolved mysteries remain, and they are the same riddles asked by ancient Greek philosophers: What is the universe made of? Where did the universe come from? How do we know what’s real?
It’s fascinating to observe how working scientists approach these questions. The vast majority pay no attention to them, because a scientist’s everyday work, including the work of physicists, is about collecting data, running experiments, and making calculations from known theories, and once in a while formulating new theories. The Big Questions which are left to theorists, are usually bypassed in the everyday lives of scientists. But as we discussed last time, science has to test every theory to see if it matches empirical reality. Galileo could calculate on paper that two objects, when dropped from a height, would hit the ground at the same time, despite the age-old assumption that a cannonball, being much heavier than a lead fishing weight, would hit the ground first, as Aristotle believed. To prove that his calculations were correct, Galileo offered empirical proof, and physics took a huge counter-intuitive step forward.
Most physicists are still deeply wedded to empirical proof, and because massive particle accelerators and deep-space telescopes continue to bring back better and better data, delving deeper into the fabric of Nature, there’s a camp we can label “we’re almost there.” If you belong to this camp, you view the future as an unstoppable march to progress; the same march science has been on for centuries. There is no reason to believe that the Big Questions won’t be answered as long as we’re patient enough. But this confident attitude has run into three major obstacles: Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD and Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD
Human beings are unique in the scenario of life on Earth–that much is obvious. We are guided by awareness, and to implement our wishes, dreams, and inventions, the higher brain (chiefly the cerebral cortex) has evolved to extraordinary proportions. Although classical Darwinism is mindless, and staunchly defended as such by strict materialists, Homo sapiens is no longer caught in the clutches of natural selection. As we saw in the first post of this series, human society is very different from the state of nature. Chimpanzees don’t get their food at the grocery store, and we don’t get ours by fighting with rivals in the treetops.
So the real dilemma isn’t whether human evolution is guided by mind, because clearly it is. What remains puzzling is how much connection there is between our mind and our genes. There is no doubt that the roughly 23,000 genes you inherited from your parents remain the same throughout your lifetime. If the genetic blueprint was as fixed as an architect’s plans, there would be no mind-gene connection. You would be the puppet of DNA, mechanically carrying out whatever actions are programmed into the 3 billion base pairs that constitute the human genome.
To defenders of strict Darwinism, the difference between instinct, which controls animal behavior, and mind, which gives freedom of choice, is lost. But no one who isn’t harping on an agenda could claim that a Mozart symphony or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was created by instinct. The range of the human mind is vast and creative. But as we create the complex human world, are our genes listening? If so, are they cooperating in our creative enterprises? Continue reading
At the level of consciousness or spirit, we are all inextricably connected to everyone and everything.While our body may appear to be a solid physical structure, in reality it’s an ever-flowing river of energy and information, in constant dynamic exchange with the environment around us.
Our language reflects our innate understanding of our essential energetic nature. We say things like, “His words really resonated with me,” or “I got a bad vibe from that person,” or “My friend has such aradiant heart.” These aren’t just metaphors—we really do feel each other’s energy and are affected by it at a profound level. Think of all the qualities in another person you intuitively pick up at an energetic level. Besides telling if someone is happy or sad, you can sense whether they feel peaceful or perturbed. Looking into their eyes reveals alertness or dullness, tenderness, or indifference. It’s hard to think of any human quality that doesn’t have a kind of energy “signature.”
As energetic beings, our potential to affect others with our energy or state of being is both a great gift and a great responsibility. When we walk into a room, our energy emanates from us. Without saying a word, we communicate through our energetic signature, creating a ripple that can affect everyone we meet. If our state of being is centered in love and compassion, we communicate that energy to each other. In the same way, if we’re mired in judgment, hostility, or resentment, we communicate that too.
Through our energy or consciousness, we have an unlimited capacity to send out ripples that will help the planet and its inhabitants move in the most evolutionary direction—from fear, hostility, and unrest to love, compassion, peace, and joy. Continue reading
By Frank A. Wilczek, PhD and Deepak Chopra, MD
Science tells us what the world is, not what it means. As expert as they are at collecting and analyzing data, most modern scientists tend to shy away from the question, “What does it all mean?” To them, the question seems so vague as to be, well, meaningless.
But it was not always so. The boundaries separating science from other ways of understanding reality–mysticism, theology, and philosophy–used to be more fluid. In ancient Greece Pythagoras was both a rigorous mathematician and a charismatic shaman. Sir Isaac Newton was both a hard-nosed empirical physicist and an obsessive Christian theologian. Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr elucidated physics and at the same time wrestled with issues concerning the basic nature and meaning of reality. Although not a conventional believer, Einstein was comfortable with fluid boundaries, as one sees in a famous quote of his: “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.” Continue reading