What if we measured our country’s “Gross National Happiness” instead of “Gross National Product”? Perhaps the fact that we don’t – that we measure the country’s success and well-being in economic terms – shows where our priorities lie. In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra discusses what it means to be happy and what factors contribute to and detract from our overall happiness.
Would universal healthcare increase your happiness? What about being surrounded by beautiful scenery and warm weather? One surprising factor may actually be faith. There is evidence to suggest that happiness may be positively correlated with religiosity, which isn’t hard to believe given the sense of belonging and community ties many people experience as part of their faith traditions.
But if you aren’t interested in suddenly converting to a religious practice for the sake of happiness, there are still ways for you to increase your overall well-being. Try laughing yoga, meditation, or dance. Get active! Play a game, get out in nature, spend time with friends. If discontentment runs deep then spend some focused time and energy on uncovering the deeper issues and moving toward greater fulfillment. Spend as much energy on happiness as you would spend on, say, landing a great job or saving up to buy a house. Because what is more important than being happy, other than perhaps being enlightened? And after all, who’s to say Buddha wasn’t happy?
Who do you pray to when you’re in a jam? Superman, of course! In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra discusses the spiritual side to superheroes, from Hercules to Jesus to the Marvel gang.
Even if we don’t all regularly pray to Wonder Woman or Batman, there is no denying the beloved place these heroes occupy in our collective imagination. As far back as ancient Greece, we have legends of larger than life warriors and leaders. Figures like Agamemnon and Achilles, if true to the tales, would have been giants among men. Superheroes in the flesh.
When times get rough, it’s comforting to think a hero with super-human powers might rush to our assistance. We appeal to higher powers through prayer, visualization, and affirmation, hoping that even if we aren’t powerful enough to right every wrong, perhaps there’s a force out there that is. Deepak Chopra might remind us that we actually have much more control over our environment and circumstances than we’d imagine. And perhaps we should begin acknowledging the superhero aspects within ourselves – the heroes and heroines of the everyday.
But, Superman, if you’re out there and reading this, we won’t put you out of a job. You can come save the day anytime you want.
Do you believe in miracles? Have you ever witnessed one?
The lines often blur between what constitutes miracle, coincidence, synchronicity, and plain science. There are of course certain scientific principles that govern much of the universe, but even the purists out there can’t deny that life is remarkable and sometimes brings us beyond logic. In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores what it means to call something “miraculous,” starting with some bizarre phenomena in recent current events.
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the enduring role of miracles in human history. Nearly every religious and spiritual tradition known to anthropologists has some kind of origin myth, characterized by a miraculous explanation for how the world and humankind came to be. It could be said that origin myths are, in fact, a defining feature of religion, setting it apart from other communal cultural systems. Whether the land grew off of a turtle’s back or an omnipotent Creator made all of existence in a matter of days, the origins of our world and species are the subject of countless miracle stories. (And that’s not to say that none of them is true, per se, but rather that we are no strangers to the miraculous.)
On a smaller scale, what about extraordinary occurrences in the everyday? Open the newspaper on a given day and you are bound to read about this miraculous recovery, or that unexplained phenomenon, or some synchronistic event, too wonderful and bizarre to even begin to dissect. How did a four-year-old in Colorado fall three stories and land on his feet? How, as Gotham describes, did a paralysed cyclist regain use of her legs after being struck by a car? A strictly science-minded person might say we just don’t know enough yet, but that science will certainly explain away the so-called “miraculous” in due time. Perhaps. But in the meantime, does it hurt to allow room in our worldviews for suspension of logic? By it’s very definition a miracle implies wonder, awe, and marvel. All things we could use more of in this age of skepticism.
As Gotham points out, our very ability to use logic and reason, invent technologies, and be aware of our own awareness are proof enough that the world is full of miracles. Existence, itself, is remarkable, whether we got here on a turtle’s back or evolved over billions of years from a single-celled organism.
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What is the most intense, universal, and enduring religion of all? Sports, of course!
Okay, maybe we can’t make such a claim. But if religions are known for their communal experiences, rigorous doctrine, and masses of devout followers, then sports should certainly be somewhere at the top of the list. In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores the spiritual side to sports.
As a die-hard Red Sox fan, himself, it isn’t hard for Gotham to understand the fanatical nature of sports team loyalty. Go to any major sporting event anywhere in the world and you’re bound to see all manner of devotion and zeal. Some people paint there faces and chests the beloved team’s colors; others perform rituals to ensure good luck and even unlikely wins; and almost everyone yells and sings and cheers their hearts out, raising their voices together in communal worship.
Have you ever been to a sporting event? Did it feel like a religious gathering? Is your sports team your “religion”? Let us know in the comments section below!
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What is it with witches and wizards? We love them, hate them, persecute them for hundreds of years, and glorify them in wondrous stories of magical worlds and flying broomsticks. In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores the wizarding world of Wicca in the hopes of dispelling some common misconceptions about this rapidly growing religion.
We’ve come a long way since the witch trials of Renaissance Europe and the American colonies, but prejudice lingers. In some parts of the world witch hunts are a daily reality, with individuals harassed, beaten, shunned and occasionally even murdered for bearing “witch-like” traits. Harry Potter is a fine and beloved fantasy around the world, but how would we treat him if he were real? Witchcraft is acceptable in the realm of fantasy, but could we make room for it in the muggle world, too?
The world has had centuries to work on religious tolerance for pagans and Wiccans, but we continue to fail in making an accommodation to their traditions. Ancient European paganism, Hebrew mysticism and Greek mythology are just some of the forebears cited by Wiccan texts and oral histories. The inclusion of a feminine divine also leads historians and archaeologists to draw a line of ancestry from ancient fertility cults to contemporary Neo-pagan traditions, of which Wicca is probably the most organized and certainly most widely recognized.
Historians in the 19th century began writing about the connection between earlier traditions and groups purportedly practicing underground magic at the time. In 1951 the United Kingdom joined the rest of Europe in repealing remaining anti-witchcraft laws, just in time for the publishing of civil servant and amateur anthropologist Gerald Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today. In his book, Gardner declared himself a practitioner of a heretofore unknown religion “Wicca,” which he dated back to the Stone Age. The religion swiftly gained momentum, with many neo-pagan traditions branching off from it in the decades that followed.
There is no single sacred text, governing body, or outlined doctrine in Wicca today, and beliefs and practices vary widely from practitioner to practitioner. But certain themes crop up repeatedly in rhetoric and at modern gatherings. Connection to the earth and nature’s rhythms is key, as is reverence for both the divine masculine and feminine, sometimes as the Goddess and God but often as a merging of creative forces in the Universe. Wiccans and pagans also tend to revere the directions (East, South, West, North and Center) and elements (Wind, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit), perform rituals that coincide with seasonal cycles (equinoxes, solstices, and moon phases), and believe in reincarnation.
Even more fundamental is adherence to a fundamental ethic called the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, do what ye will.” Essentially, the community trusts its members to make their own decisions, hold their own beliefs, and act in such a way as to harm none – self and environment included. Similar to The Golden Rule known to just about every religious tradition throughout history, The Threefold Law is prominent in Wicca, as well, and teaches that energy released into the world will return to the individual three times as powerful, for better or for worse.
Wiccan magic, often referred to as “the Craft,” is largely grounded in intention and ritual. The word “magic” stems from both the Old Persian term for “sorcerer” but also the ancient Greek word for “art.” Consider, then, that the artist, actor, or carpenter utilizes magic as much as the magician does in transforming natural resources into entirely new expressions of creativity. Just so, Wiccans harness energetic influences and elements in order to manifest certain intentions. Easier said than done, right? But at the end of the day isn’t it a lot like praying or repeating positive affirmations? More mainstream, but equally magical in essence.
What are your thoughts on Wicca and magic? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Pain, bloating, and nausea aside, birth can be a truly spiritual experience. For those who have witnessed the phenomenon, or been present in the precious moments after, the experience may rank in the holiest, most magical moments of their lives. Sure, for some it may include fear, anxiety, pain and adrenaline, but the cry of new life can usually dispel even the sharpest of concerns.
In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores the spiritual sides to birthing, from fertility rituals, to belly dancing, to placenta burial. With fertility rites and deities dating back to ancient times, reproduction has likely played a prominent role in religious traditions throughout human history.
Before the wisdom of midwives and modern science became the mainstream, pregnancy and birth were nothing short of miracles, explained only by the mystery of the universe. This same mystery made the sun rise, the rain fall, and the earth bear food to sustain life. But even knowing how the sperm fertilizes the egg, the fetus grows, and eventually the cervix dilates and the baby is born, does it change the magical quality of birth?
Many mothers, partners, midwives and other birth workers speak of the sacred atmosphere of the birthing room. For an unmedicated mother, the high levels of oxytocin and endorphins naturally secreted during labor can induce an almost ecstatic high (evolutionarily crafted, of course, to help her withstand the strain of contractions.) And for all in the room, regardless of medical intervention, witnessing a tiny human where previously there was only a big belly…well it’s something you just have to experience.
It is no wonder people have developed such elaborate rituals surrounding birth. Gotham describes some particularly interesting ones in the episode. Did you know belly dancing originated as a method for women to ease the pain of labor? That’s right, it wasn’t intended to be a sexy dance women do in front of men… Kind of puts things into perspective. And cultures around the world find fascinating uses for the placenta, or “afterbirth”, believed by many to hold both spiritual and nutritional properties. Some bury the placenta with a fruit tree, while others grind it up and put it in capsules as post-labor supplements for the mother. Do you know what your parents did with your placenta?
They don’t call it “the miracle of life” for nothing, and clichéd at it may sound, we heartily agree with the sentiment. The human body can do some extraordinary things, and birth and reproduction certainly rank at the top of the list.
Was your child’s birth a holy experience? Tell us about it in the comments section below!
What is the most “extreme” thing you’ve done for your faith?
If, for example, you alter your body in some way or fast for days on end, that’s one thing. Once you involve someone else in your devotion, though, things start to get fuzzy. In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores some of more extreme spiritual practices around the world, including a particularly alarming festival involving babies.
In this 700 year old tradition, practiced every year in Karnataka, India by Hindus and Muslims alike, parents hand their infants over to priests, who swing the youngsters back and forth before dropping them 30 feet off of a balcony. Men standing below hold a blanket taut in which to catch the screaming babies before returning them to their mothers. Devotees believe the ritual to bring the babies prosperity and good health, though children’s rights organizations around the world decry the practice as “barbaric.” And it seems a rather life-threatening thing to do for the sake of “health.”
Apart from the perhaps obvious problem with dropping babies off of balconies, there’s also the issue of forcing one’s devotion on another person. Is it okay for one person to engage another in their extreme and dangerous act of devotion, particularly if that other person is an innocent baby with no autonomy and no way of consenting? Maybe parents know what’s best for their children, physically and spiritually, but it would be interesting to get the baby’s perspective, especially when his or her life depends on a bunch of men with a blanket 30 feet below.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Sex and religion tend to have, at best, a tenuous relationship. Both are nearly universal human experiences, so you’d think they would be comfortable with one another by now.
This rarely seems to be the case. Whether it’s persecution for having sex out of wedlock, guilt over using contraception, or harassment over sexual preferesnce, something always seems to get in the way of enjoying equally healthy, happy sexual and spiritual lives.
In the latest episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores the fascinating intersections between sex and spirituality, from virginity to marriage to why atheists have the best sex life.
Does your sex life conflict with your religion? Let us know in the comments section below!
Have you ever been to a religious or spiritual gathering?
No, your neighbor’s Easter party doesn’t count; but the last rock concert you went to might. In this week’s episode of HOLY FACTS, we’re talking about gatherings of thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of people who come together to commune over some mutual interest or faith.
Host Gotham Chopra discusses several of the heavy hitters – Burning Man in the Nevada desert, the Kumbh Mela in India, and even the Gathering of the Juggalos, a festival in southern Illinois for fans of the music group Insane Clown Posse. What better way to enjoy your passion than in the company of a hundred thousand other people who feel likewise?
Below we’ve introduced several more gatherings from around the world that fall into the category “religious,” “spiritual” or “just plain fun.” Take your pick, and best of luck to you finding your tribe.
1) For the religion seekers:
If you find yourself in India during the months of February and March, be sure to hit the streets for Holi, a Hindu holiday that celebrates the onset of spring. For two days, thousands of people run through the towns throwing brightly colored and scented powders at one another, visiting temples along the way. No matter what religion or tradition you follow, springtime is certainly a worthy cause for celebration. And a massive, country-wide powder fight sounds like the perfect way to leave winter behind.
2) For the spirit junkies:
If you’re looking for a Burning Man-type festival, minus the $300 entry tickets and desert living conditions, look no further than the Rainbow Gathering, held every year in North America during the first week of July. The festival began in the 1970s in Colorado, and many point to Woodstock and the 1960s Human Be-in as its sources of inspiration. Whatever the case, the gathering is still going strong, with regional and international offshoot festivals taking place throughout the year. The Rainbow Gathering is a celebration of life that emphasizes peace, consensus, and non-commercialism. This summer’s gathering will be held in Montana. So, got any 4th of July plans yet?
3) For some good old-fashioned fun:
Who could go wrong with a motto like “Love, Friendship, and Music”? Every year in Poland, thousands gather for the weekend-long free music festival, Przystanek Woodstock, named after the 1969 Woodstock Festival in New York. Roughly 30 bands play every year, with styles ranging from folk to metal to reggae to classical. In addition to musical performances, artists, journalists, religious leaders and even politicians show up to mingle with the young festival-goers. Representatives from the Hare Krishna movement also show up to organize an Indian food cafeteria, as well as yoga and meditation classes. The 2011 gathering hosted over 700,000 participants, roughly the size of three Coachella festivals rolled into one.
Haven’t found what you’re looking for? Then start your own festival! Just be sure to bring a few thousand friends along for the ride.
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Worried about the Mayan calendar and the supposed end of the world tomorrow?
You’re in good company. Almost everyone seems to up in arms about the potential apocalypse, which some say was foretold in the highly accurate calendar of the ancient Mayans. Even NPR, for many the go-to source for sober, reliable news and editorials, discussed the issue on this morning’s Forum – so there must be something to it.
The predicted day happens to fall on the winter solstice, itself a significant event without the compounding issue of catastrophe. And experts say the Mayan calendar has been accurate, thus far, so who’s to say its wisdom would fail us now?
Here is The Chopra Well’s playful, and by no means authoritative, take on tomorrow’s alleged apocalypse. If you’re still here tomorrow to comment, then drop us a line to let us know you’re okay.