Tag Archives: paradox

Deepak Chopra: End-of-Life Experience and How to Die Well

shutterstock_107006774Let me begin by reassuring you that this isn’t going to be a grim post. But it begins in an area people are uncomfortable with. We all must die, yet this is one inevitability that almost nobody feels comfortable talking about. That includes doctors and nurses, as was discovered in a newly published study from King’s College in London. It surveyed the staff that surrounded dying patients in hospices and found that they witness every common end-of-life experience (ELE). These fall into two types, and one of them will seem very strange.

The first type of ELE seeks final meaning. Near the time of death, people often want to be reconciled with family members who have become estranged, and this desire can be so strong that the moment of death is postponed until the estranged person visits. There is often a desire to put one’s affairs in order and to right past wrongs. It is observed that patients who have been semi-conscious will have a moment of sudden lucidity in which they express their dying wishes before lapsing back.

This whole category of ELE is psychologically intimate, and a significant number of doctors and nurses feel uncomfortable being present for it. Two inhibitions stand in the way. Doctors spend most of their energy trying to extend life, so learning about dying isn’t part of their training. Secondly, it is still considered a sign of weakness for a doctor to feel emotional about death, which leads to distancing himself from the actual experience.

The second type of ELE is labeled transpersonal, although the common word for it would be spooky. Dying patients, far more often than is acknowledged, have highly mystical experiences. They get visions of departed ones who have come to take them away. They sense the transmission of light and love from other realities and can visit those realities.  The study found that such ELEs could not be accounted for by the medical state or treatment of the person — the ELE occurred in clear consciousness.

Yet probably the most uncomfortable ELE in this category was observed by the staff, including seeing something leave the body at the time of death, finding that a peculiar synchronicity occurred, such as the clock stopping at the moment of death. It’s more common than you would suppose for relatives who were not present when the dying person passed away to have them appear at the moment of death. Needless to say, modern society is skeptical enough that ridicule and quick dismissal of these transpersonal experiences will arise, even though they have been reported continually in every culture since history has been recorded.

The study makes the point that ELEs, which of course do not occur with every dying person, bring comfort and consolation; they seem to be a natural mechanism that surrounds the climactic event of death. Which brings us to the paradox of how we die. In the 1930s, eighty percent of people still died at home; now more than eighty percent die in the impersonal setting of a hospital. Massive expense is involved in trying to cure the last disease each of us will have, the one we eventually die from.

As medical technology shrouds the dying process, as people become more and more discomfited being around it, nature doesn’t seem to care. Mind and spirit experience death the old-fashioned way. Happily, the paradox resolves itself in favor of death being much less scary than we imagine. There is every indication that we are meant to die at peace, and so we do.


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Originally published May 2011

Do You Embrace Contradictions? Why Paradox is Necessary for Happiness

contradictionnopetsI love Secrets of Adulthood, fables, teaching stories, koans, and paradoxes–or anything that smacks of paradox. For instance, I get a big kick out of the page of my bank statement that reads, “This page intentionally left blank.” No, it’s not blank. It has that notice printed on it!

As I’ve worked on my happiness project, I’ve been struck by the contradictions I kept confronting. The opposite of a profound truth is also true, and I often find myself trying to embrace both sides of an idea:

1. Accept myself, and expect more of myself.

2. Use my time efficiently, yet make time to play, to wander, to read at whim, to fail.

3. Take myself less seriously—and take myself more seriously.

4.  Someplace, keep an empty shelf, and someplace, keep a junk drawer. If you want to see my empty shelf with your own eyes, watch here at minute 6:41–some people are dubious about whether I actually have one.

5. Think about myself so I can forget myself.

6. Paying close attention to something sometimes helps me to ignore it. (Like cravings.)

7. Often it takes discipline to take pleasure.

8. If I want to keep going, I must allow myself to stop.

9. The days are long, but the years are short. Of everything I’ve ever written, I think this one-minute video resonates most with people.

Often, the search for happiness means embracing both sides of the contradiction.

Take, for example, Item #1 above–certainly one of the central challenges of life. W. H. Auden articulates beautifully this tension:

Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.

Which ones particularly resonate with you? What am I leaving out?

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Would you like a free, personalized, signed bookplate for your copy of The Happiness Project or Happier at Home? Or, if you have the e-book or the audio-book, a signature card? Or would you like these for a friend? Request them here. Ask for as many as you’d like, but alas, because of mailing costs, I can now mail only to the U.S. and Canada. So sorry about that.

Deepak Chopra: Can Reality Set Us Free? The Puzzle of Complementarity (Part 2)

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By Deepak Chopra, M.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD, Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D.

Click here for Part 1.

The most fascinating extension of complementarity has to do with complex systems. To a physicist, explaining how a pair of electrons behave together in outer space poses a major challenge; explaining how billions of neurons behave together in the brain defies not just the world’s largest computer but possibly any computer one can conceive of. Yet complex systems, including all life forms, stars, galaxies, and the post-Big Bang cosmos, are perfect examples of how looking at the whole can help explain the parts and vice versa.

Systems science has validated the adage about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Studying the materials that the great cathedral of Notre Dame is made of – stone, metals, stained glass, etc. – can give hints about the building and the historical times when it was constructed, but by no means is the great cathedral just the sum of these parts. It was created by conscious beings and reveals a living presence that dead physical objects cannot account for.

No matter how closely one examines the visible parts, there remains the riddle of how complexity arises, what holds it together, and why structures take the shape they do. In complex systems, the whole transcends its discrete parts even when some aspects of organization are hidden, unlike the architects of Notre Dame, who could unfold their blueprints in plain sight.

Another way to express this is by saying that like a cathedral, no complex system can be achieved by a series of simple operations. Carpentry and masonry are basic processes that go into making any building, but there is an infinite variety of buildings, and they depend upon a conception of the whole before you go to work. Reductionism in science is the methodology of exploring the Universe one brick and plank at a time, in discrete units. This cannot be the total story. To believe that reductionism is all we need misses the whole point.

In fact, when a physicist examines any complementary pairs, he notices that they appear to be paradoxical, since no aspect can apply under exactly the same conditions.  One construct of the pair excludes the other. Today science has reached the same levels of the paradoxical that ancient seers and sages knew from personal experience.  What is more paradoxical than human nature, since we are the most violent and at the same time the most compassionate of living things?

The dichotomy between what science studies (so-called objective reality) and what humans experience (anchored in subjective reality) is not fundamental – it merges into the complementary nature of existence. What we’ve called super complementarity embraces the subject and the object. The process of observing them makes both work together, even while each excludes the other. Science works from models out of a desire for closure, and excluding unwanted contradictions, as reductionism does, seems to offer it. But Nature doesn’t. Return to Notre Dame for a moment. How many ways can you observe it?

  • You can see it as a colossal solid mass casting a shadow and blocking out whatever stands behind it.
  • You can see it as a building with no particular significance except to provide shelter.
  • You can see it religiously as a church, or historically as an example of high Gothic architecture.

But these perspectives are only the beginning. Monet saw cathedrals as shimmering creations of light and color, with no solidity at all. The deeply religious see them as symbols of the marriage between Christ and his worshipers. Medieval pilgrims saw them as repositories of miracles, a space inhabited by God. There is no single way to view Notre Dame, and the versatility of our minds, which can choose any perspective and invent new ones, isn’t accidental. It mirrors Nature’s versatility in devising a wholeness open to every possible angle of observation.

This says that complementarity rules. There is no fruitful way to use the terms “whole” and “part” without seeing that what matters is how they relate, not what they appear to be. In complex systems, no relationship exists in the first place without a mind to create the relationship. You can build a house from field stones gathered after plowing an acre of hard New England ground. Without the concept of “house,” however, the stones aren’t building blocks.

Each concept erects a boundary around itself. (As a test, think of how many ways you can use an ordinary red brick. If you stay within the normal boundary, you might use a brick to build a wall or as a doorstop or as a weight to press dried flowers. But you can also grind the brick into a powder to tint red paint – suddenly it has lost one boundary and entered another.) Once placed inside a boundary, a thing can be understood, but since every boundary is a mental construct, the only way to reach complete understanding is either: A. Look at every possible boundary or B. Erase all the boundaries. The second path is much more fruitful. It opens you to the wonder of Notre Dame, not by adding up every narrow angle that it can be looked at from, but by envisioning the whole.

The beauty of the human mind – again mirroring Nature itself – is that it can grasp wholeness. We stand in awe before the Grand Canyon, not needing a swarm of geologists to pick away at the rocks as a means of getting there. Geology provides data; only a view of the whole provides awe. There is a profound mystery in how the mind resolves the paradoxical divisions in Nature. We’ll explore this uncanny ability in the next post. It will take us to the very heart of reality and the role that consciousness plays in turning a jumble of raw data into the richness of the world we live in.

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

 Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

Photo credit: Flickr

Deepak Chopra: Life is Chaos and Order

The philosopher Nietzsche wrote: “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” Beauty can grow out of destruction; order can spring from disarray. In the latest episode of “The Rabbit Hole” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra discusses the intrinsic relationship between order and chaos, so fundamental to our Universe.

Imagine the electrical storm within our brains, the constant activity of neurons and synapses giving birth to thoughts, feelings, and impulses in every moment. Consider the erratic and seemingly random movement of ants in a colony or birds in migration, who in spite of chaos adhere to organized, pragmatic patterns that serve their communities’ needs.

Chaos and order go hand in hand, even promote and uphold one another. All of Nature knows this truth, yet for some reason human beings constantly struggle against it. We create unnecessary boundaries to contain and compartmentalize life, suffer anxiety when things are messy, broken, or unpredictable. If, as Deepak suggests, we can accept and give into the flow of life, we will be accepting what is real. And we will live in peace and happiness.

So who’s ready for some chaos?

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photo by: nandadevieast

Deepak Chopra: How Science Explains Paradox

Reality is full of paradox. The happiest moment may bring tears to our eyes; enrichment can lead to depletion; a statement may be both true and false. Most of us learn early on to accept life’s ambiguity, only occasionally balking at the unfairness of a world that is never exactly as it seems. As it turns out, paradox is encoded in our very being, so fundamental though we hardly know how to talk about it. But in this week’s episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra sits down with Menas Kafatos, a physicist and professor at Chapman University, to unpack the principle of complementarity and the paradox inherent in reality.

Complementarity is a quantum mechanical principle first formulated by Niels Bohr, an early 20th century Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner. The principle describes the way in which atoms act both as particles and as waves, a seemingly contradictory, though undeniably true, fact. During experiments it may be impossible to witness both properties at once, given the limitations of measuring equipment. But both aspects of matter are essential.

As Deepak and Menas discuss, complementarity is a fundamental principle of reality, which means it applies to all aspects of the universe: mind and body, unmanifest and manifest, dead and alive, local and nonlocal. Without opposites, Deepak concludes, there would be no universe. Neither particle nor wave on its own is enough to constitute reality – only their duality allows nature to act and function as it does. Thus paradox is at the center and in the very essence of creation.

What do you think? Have you experienced paradox? Let us know in the comments section below!

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and check out Deepak Chopra’s paradoxical book, Grow Younger, Live Longer!

Creation, Destruction and the Paradox of Existence

Is it possible for a statement to be both true and false? Try this one:

“This statement is false.”

Makes you stop and think for a minute, doesn’t it? The above is a classic example of self-reference, a common theme of paradox. If the sentence is false, then the statement is true. See the conundrum? This world that seems so perfectly ordered by science and logic is actually entangled with ambiguity and contradiction. Things are not as they seem.

In this week’s episode of “The Rabbit Hole” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra dives into the realm of paradox. As the philosopher Kierkegaard wrote, “One should not think slightingly of the paradoxical; for the paradox is the source of the thinker’s passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without a feeling: a paltry mediocrity.” And what is life without ambiguity?

Perhaps the most obvious – and most troubling – example of contradiction in our universe is the constant tension between creation and destruction. Just as effortlessly as Nature witnesses the dawn of every new day, birthing new life and bearing fresh buds, it simultaneously wrecks havoc, destruction, and decay. We integrate this contradiction in our daily lives. Composted waste, or manure, provides the soil for our crops; animals and plants die so that others may be nourished; hearts break so that individuals may mature and grow and make room for new love.

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 2.56.44 PMIt is a hard reality to face, but one that nonetheless provides the balance for our existence. And it is reflected in many religious and spiritual traditions around the world, as well. Just look at the god of the Bible, who creates all of heaven and earth, but also occasionally sanctions floods and plagues. In Hinduism, the god Shiva is at once the kind benefactor and the fierce destroyer. In ancient Greek mythology, Apollo was the god of light, knowledge and healing, but he also had a vengeful heart and could just as quickly bring illness and hardship. Perhaps “holy” doesn’t mean perfect or pure but instead complex, full of mystery and contradiction.

Are you comfortable with the paradox of existence? Can something be both funny and tragic? What happens if Pinocchio says, “My nose will grow now”?

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and stay tuned for more trips down The Rabbit Hole with Deepak Chopra!

Untranslatable Too: Accepting The Contradictions Of Life

Walt Whitman is by turns comforting and disturbing me today.  It’s why I sought him out.  I’m overdue for a good cage rattling.  Time to tip myself sideways and reexamine the landscape.

So, I sent my soul out to loaf on the metaphorical grass with instructions to listen for the password primeval, knowing that footsteps of my mind and the beatings of my own heart are all that will sound.  Sure enough, the echoes came from within.  I caught my own thoughts dancing with words of wisdom from friends and relatives, and mixing with the lines of poems and songs that I carry like talismans.  These collected scraps are the stories we tell ourselves.  They are our master works, our personal legends.  The secret lies in the listening.  The gift is finding insight from both the spider’s silken whisper and the wind whistling through the web. 

It’d be so much easier, if the map of a life, the architecture of emotions, and the trajectory of action really did reveal themselves on stone tablets, in tea leaves, or etched onto our palms.  We humans like answers.  We like to think, even at the risk of over-thinking.  After all, what’s the point of our highly touted capacity for Reason, if we can’t pin a quandary to the mat and fix it’s wings in place.  But when is the butterfly more beautiful — in free flight or sprawled on Styrofoam?

I find that the echoes in my head are leery of logic.  They resist reasoning.  There are no “right answers” to the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of life’s decisions.  Formulas fracture in the bright light of day.  Our personal legends are notes to self, not prophesies.  This is liberating and terrifying.  It’s much easier indeed to follow a rulebook.  But somewhere between the paralysis of freedom-induced fear and the chains of rational determinism, I’m finding rest in the still point of irresolution.

Somehow, I find myself suspended between two very different gravitational forces.

On the one side, a yogic acceptance, which has learned to resist the urge to alter things — circumstances, inquiries, other people, myself — through force.  Calm comes from mastering one’s own reactions.  In other words, happiness and suffering are internal decisions not external absolutes.  The choice is ours.

On the other side, a passionate intensity that dwells in duende, the darkly mysterious primal goad to creative acts, brilliantly defined by Federico García Lorca. This is the demon of soulful discomfort, which tears at the fabric of what I am or was or should be.  It is the screaming yawl that I want to let run rampant through my chambers, scratching the walls for trap doors and hidden passages.   For how will I make anything meaningful, if I don’t allow myself to fear its destruction or loss?

Serenity and Longing.  Are they really opposites?  Love and Pain, can they ever be estranged?  If, like Depeche Mode, you despise that throw away feeling of disposable fun, then this is the one.  Life.  You are the master.  You are the servant.

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Humayunn N A Peerzaada

excerpt Walt Whitman “Song of Myself”

Accepting Paradox

It seems like accepting paradox is the key to enlightenment and to our own peace of mind.  It seems that we are both a loving God/Oneness and individual "souls".  And it seems that God is the same: someone we can pray to as well as being our own ultimate identity.  When Buddhists speak of "emptiness", is this what they are alluding to?  Are we both individual souls and also NOT individual souls because our ultimate identity is God who is being us?
Accepting paradox  may not be the key to enlightenment, but it is a good place to start. When we can   hold seemingly contradictory ideas in our mind at the same time, then we are learning to relinquish a certain ego control that life must fit our limited understanding if we are to accept it. But the truth of life is that it is full of mystery, paradox, and feels no need to conform to the limitations of our linear rationality.
The paradox of existence  being both individual and universal is parallel to the idea that God is both immanent and transcendent. That might or might not relate to your question on Buddhist emptiness, depending upon who you talk to. But regardless, I think you are on the right track in recognizing that embrace paradox is a way to move beyond our conditioned controlled worldview. It does open our consciousness  into an acceptance of the mystery and uncertainty of life, and  that unpredictability is part of what makes life  so interesting, fun, and beautiful.


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