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5 Quotes from Deepak to Help You De-Stress During the Busy Holiday Season

As we enter the height of the holiday season we know that emotions are running high. It’s an exciting time of year! But with that comes a lot of stress – between family, money, personal and professional success – so there can be a lot of negative thoughts hanging out as well. When trying to think of coping mechanisms to offer our readers naturally the first person who popped into our heads was the man who hasn’t lost his temper in over 20 years. What does he say about stress? There are dozens of Deepak recommended stress relief routes but we compiled a few of our favorite quotes to help you get started.

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Being able to take a step back from a situation that is causing you to go negative can be beyond helpful. In some cases simply being able to let go of a problem because it’s not worth the negative energy is amazing. In others, walking away entirely may not be an option but if you can gain a new perspective you can see a new possible solution that refreshes your efforts and makes the problem easier to solve. If you know that certain situations cause you a higher level of stress then you can create the wherewithal to avoid them.

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Realizing the power, or lack there of, of your thoughts can be really helpful as well. Allow your mind to have them but don’t assign them any particular weight. Take a moment to be silent, allow your mind the thoughts that are causing you so much trouble and then let them go, because they are just that – thoughts. That only changes when you allow them to become actions.

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People constantly underestimate the value of sleep. When you are feeling tired and fatigued, allowing your body to refresh can give you a whole new round of energy to tackle your battles. If you can do yourself just one favor this holiday season make sure it is that you are allowing your body (and thus your mind and spirit) to take a break every once in a while. Being refreshed automatically puts you in a healthier state of mind to take on the tasks of the day.

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Our physical state reflects how we are experiencing the world – so if we stay in a state of stress or negativity it will manifest itself in our physical presence. This is why it is so vital not to dwell in those states. Remember to breathe, walk away if you can, or find the place within yourself where you feel centered and calm. Look for the positive silver linings of a situation to help you wade through the darker aspects. When you have faith that there is a light at the end of the tunnel you create a brighter outlook for yourself and that outlook will also manifest itself physically and give you more motivation to move on.

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Meditation. It is our number one recommended method of detoxing your body and spirit of stress and negativity. You don’t have to spend hours a day – just take two minutes between your tasks to be silent and breathe. Just sixty seconds can allow you to find your center and calm. Taking these mini breaks can help you remain balanced when everyone and everything else is driving you crazy. Every little bit helps and if it stops you from exploding then you’ll feel all that much better for it.

Do you have a favorite quote that helps you de-stress in a moment of panic? Share it with us in the comments below!

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 11)

Daybreak at Gale Crater

Click here to read Part 10!

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

In our last post we explored how your body and brain are not just your body and brain – from a 21st-century scientific perspective, you are also a teeming community composed of single-cell organisms. A tiny portion of the body are human cells (yours) while perhaps a hundred times more are mostly bacteria and archaea, known all together as the microbiome. Let’s go several steps further into this scientific re-examination of this thing you call your body.

Intellectually you know that your body today isn’t the same as the body you had in the past. But if you tune in, you generally feel the present you in continuity with yesterday’s you and all the others going back to childhood. You can imagine even going back to a fetus in the womb and the fertilized ovum from which the fetus grew. That first egg and sperm are derived without interruption from your parents’ living bodies. There is no gap where the life of your mother and father stopped and yours began. The flow of life is seamless back to your mother’s womb, and further back as far as human ancestry can go.

Even as we cross species boundaries in our backward journey, to Homo erectus and Homo habilis, our distant forebears, there are no gaps in life, not between you and hominids roaming the African savannah millions of years ago, not between you and the earliest single-cell organisms that were the first emerging life forms on our planet. So you can think of yourself as one living being. You may feel separate in space, occupying a warm and cozy apartment that is unlike a primordial pond covered in blue-green algae. But think about how your skin sheds cells, not just dead epidermal cells but living bacteria that coat your skin in a fine layer. They have separated from you, and yet they are still you. This apparent separation is only in space. In time, there is no separation, there is continuity extending over eons, and time is where we live.

By expanding “you” beyond a package of skin and bones that was born on a certain day and will die one day in the future, you merge with the flow of life as a whole. In other words, you have adopted the perspective of life itself. How old are you, then? At the everyday level of scale you count how many candles there are on your last birthday cake. But take in the 400 trillion microorganisms that are the largest biological part of “you.” Single cells can only reproduce by division. One amoeba divides in two. These aren’t the amoeba’s children. They are simply it, split in half. In a very real sense, all the amoebas alive today are the first amoeba, and the same goes for all the trillions of micro-organisms that occupy your body (and are necessary for it to survive, as we saw in previous posts. They aren’t free riders).

As “you” expand, boundaries melt away. Since the entire mass of animal and plant life on Earth traces back to single-cell creatures, “you” are one enormous 3.5-billion-year-old being. Separation in space makes each of us think we are individuals. And we are. But the continuum of time at the cellular scale reveals an equal reality: we are united as a single biological being. In fact, the continuity of life becomes stronger as we move to even smaller and smaller scales, where seamless properties essential to life are already present. Which means that the properties of “you” – intelligence, self-organization, evolution, and a seamless flow of life – exist at all scales.

Consider the molecular and atomic levels of scale. There is no atom in your body that did not derive from something eaten, drunk, or breathed from the substance of the planet. Whether we talk about the “you” that is sitting in a chair reading this sentence or the “you” that is a single enormous 3.5-billion-year-old being, neither lives on the planet – in a sense they are the planet. Your living body is the self-organization of the substance of the Earth itself – minerals, water, and air – into zillions of life forms. Earth plays Scrabble, forming different words as the letters are recombined (in this case, genetic letters), and although some words, like “human,” run away to live on their own, they forget who owns the game.

If “you” are a recreational pastime for the planet, what does it have in mind for its next move? Games involve a lot of repetition, but there has to be novelty as well, with records to break and highest scores to shatter. Earth decided that “you” needed a new playing field. At one level, the Mars probe named Curiosity can be viewed as a separate human achievement, and a very complex one. It involved skilled, clever engineers and scientists who figured out how to make a robot, propel it to another world, have it land, and then send information back to us.

But there’s another way of looking at it. Just as reasonably, logically, and scientifically, our living planet Earth has been working toward reaching out to touch its neighbor, Mars, for 3.5 billion years (at least). It has taken this long for Earth to create living things out of its own substance that could eventually figure out how to take more of the same substance, fashion it into a rocket and a robot, and take “you” off planet. (In the case of the moon, “you” actually landed on it, yourself.)

While “you,” focused on the separate self, were busy discovering fire, inventing agriculture, writing sacred texts, making war, having sex, and other survival stratagems, Earth was busy organizing, through these activities, landing on the moon and tapping Mars on the shoulder. If this image strikes you as being too fanciful, look at the activity of your brain. You are conscious of having a purpose in mind when you walk, talk, work, and love. But it is undeniable that many brain activities are unconscious (e.g., controlling body temperature, growth, blood pressure), while the activity of the brain as a whole is totally unknown, either by you or any single region of your brain. Whatever makes Earth a totality makes your brain a totality. Therefore, it isn’t fanciful to think of Earth as moving in a coherent, unified direction, just as your brain has from the moment you were born.

Or to put it in a word, if you (as a person) have a purpose, then you (as life on Earth) have a purpose. The two are seamless, even if it suits our pride, and our unfathomable ego, to stand above and separate from our surroundings. Where does that leave mind? Mind is something that condenses in some spaces, expands in others, functioning at everyday levels of scale, planetary levels of scale, and microscopic levels of scale. The smallest aspects of mind can be contained within larger aspects, just as molecules are contained within cells that are contained within bodies, and so on.

Science in the 21st century builds upon its long-held ambition to comprehend the very smallest and largest scales of Nature, and it was always hoped – even taken for granted – that a set of fixed principles would suffice for the whole journey of discovery. That hope broke down when Newton’s set of laws didn’t fit the quantum world. Now the set of rules in the quantum world don’t fit the latest problems, such as what came before the Big Bang, the origin of life, and the appearance of mind in the universe. In this post we’ve been arguing that “you” exist no matter how large or small the scale under consideration. You are beyond any horizons of scale, any boundaries that your mind believes exist. The Vedas speak of Brahman (reality) being bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest In modern terminology, this means “you.” We’ll finish in the next post with the mind-blowing conclusions that such reasoning leads to.

(To be cont.)

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers.  Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (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) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.  www.neiltheise.com  neiltheise.wordpress.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 10)

Skeleton InvertedClick here to read Part 9!

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

So your genome – the sum total of your genetic inheritance – is not sufficient to code for the entire structure of your digestive tract. You are alive because of your connection to the outside world; indeed, there is no boundary between you and the outside world’s abundance of life.

This realization changes the picture of genes, too. They code for your cells, tissues, and organs; moreover, genes code for the interactions between your cells and the neighboring bacteria, with biomolecules being passed back and forth. The biochemistry of digestion is a shared project between your body and bacteria, a basic fact acknowledged for decades, but by implication, without bacteria there can be no you.

This observation can be extended in every direction. Without trees breathing in carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen, you couldn’t breathe – the forests are part of your lungs. Without viruses constantly mutating, you would have many fewer antibodies – every virus is part of your immune system. The rivers that circulate fresh water are part of your bloodstream. These connections aren’t incidental. Your body is the world, and by extension, so is your brain, since you share with the world every molecule, chemical reaction, and electrical impulse that constitutes the brain.

It makes people woozy to accept that there is no boundary between “me” and the whole world. What about the skin? It is portrayed in high school biology class as an impermeable barrier protecting you from invaders assaulting the body from “out there.” But the metaphor of the skin as living armor isn’t viable. Pause and move your hand, observing how the wrist and finger joints move under the skin. Why doesn’t the skin break down with all this motion, the push and pull of your fingers closing and extending, your arm bending and stretching? Because the bacteria lining the creases in your skin digest the cell membranes of dying skin cells and produce lanolin, which lubricates the skin. How long would “you” and your genome last if your skin were cracking, open to infection just from typing on a laptop or waving goodbye to someone?

What is your body now? It’s no longer just a human body. It’s a community of single cell organisms that function harmoniously together (in times of good health) organizing themselves into tissues and organs. Such astonishingly complex cooperation implies a host of surprising things:

  • Your genes are siblings of bacterial genes.
  • The evolution of bacteria is actually human evolution at the same time.
  • One intelligence binds micro-organisms and “higher” life forms.
  • There is no sharp dividing line between “smart” creatures and the “dumb” micro-organisms that evolved alongside them.

A skeptic may protest that we’ve used physical evidence to support a theory of mind. But science does the same thing all the time. By equating mind and brain, neuroscience has backed itself into a corner, forced to explain thoughts by looking at the interaction of molecules. In the final post of this series, we’ll get out of that corner by putting mind first and brain second. That way, we solve the problem of how molecules of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon – the majority of “stuff” in the brain – learned to think. The obvious answer is that they didn’t. We think because we are expressions of the mind, not robots being operated by the brain.

(To be continued…)

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers. Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (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) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center – Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 9)

Most Amazing High Definition Image of Earth - Blue Marble 2012Click here to read Part 8!

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

The title of this series of posts is both a declaration (the mind is not contained exclusively within the brain) and an invitation – to think creatively about the nature of your mind. You no longer have to imprison your mind inside your skull, or anywhere else in the body, in fact. There are other ways to imagine and experience it. We’ve provided many clues that mind extends outside the body, which implies that your own mind, as you experience it, may exist without boundaries. As we demonstrated, contemplative practitioners in many traditions point to experiences of mind that extend beyond the body, to encompass the universe as a whole.

Your brain doesn’t determine your mind. Brain and mind are recreating each other with every act of perception. Moreover, with training, you can learn to experience your mind in parts of your body beyond the enclosure inside your skull, perhaps experiencing it even as filling your body. We’ve been offering factual evidence to avoid the trap of metaphysics or unfounded speculation, since science so deeply distrusts metaphysics. Has the evidence made you curious about what your mind really is? There’s a huge difference between two pictures of reality. One picture describes a clockwork brain that evolved mechanistically from a random universe. The other describes a conscious universe where one expression is the human mind.

If you accept the second story – as we do – it leads to a mind-blowing conclusion: the universe is thinking, feeling, and acting through you. You exist so that the universe has a new outlet for knowing itself. (Surely this makes you curious!) As was said by the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan,

The Sufi says this whole universe was made in order that God might know Himself. The seed wished to realize what it is, what is in it, and therefore became the tree.

If you and I are embedded in a conscious universe, a leap toward freedom can be made. Unfortunately, most people use their brains in a habitual way. Day in and day out, the brain repeats the same patterns of habitual ideas (someone once estimated that 90% of the thoughts we have today are repetitions of the thoughts we had yesterday). Habitual ideas are imprinted in you by prevailing cultural assumptions, including those that derive from science and its purely materialist view of the world. If you are a materialist, the universe couldn’t possibly be thinking (not that this notion bothers the universe – it has time to wait until a better belief system comes along).

We do not seek to convince you of anything in these posts but to stir up the urge to seek your own answers. For example, do you accept that your mind works like a computer, which would make the brain a kind of biological hardware (what one expert in artificial intelligence dubbed “a computer made of meat”)? The brain-as-computer idea can be exploded by asking, has a computer ever been curious? Has a computer ever been in love? Has it ever had urges or given into temptation? These aspects of mind are innate in human beings and are not computational.

Now that you are thinking outside the (skull) box, what if we can expand your sense of self beyond your skin? When you say “my body,” you probably mean this body made of approximately 4 trillion human cells, each of which contains your genes. But is that really your body? On close inspection, your body is lined, over the surface of the skin and throughout the digestive tract by 100 times as many cells, if not more, that aren’t “yours” at all, in that they do not contain your ancestral genes. They are microbial cells, part of what scientists now refer to as the microbiome – your second genome, so to speak. These include both bacteria and other single- celled creatures known as archaea. You are, in essence, composed of colonies of human and non-human cells living in harmonious balance.

Outnumbering “your” cells by a hundred to, these micro-organisms aren’t just passive riders or conveyers of disease. Quite the contrary- these trillions of bacteria convey your health. For example, if we grow mice in an “abiotic” environment in which there are no bacteria (or if we have a boy who has to be raised in a bubble because he has a rare disorder, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency syndrome, and cannot control infections), the digestive tract can’t function properly. The microscopic, finger-like projections, or microvilli, that line the intestinal wall don’t form. Without them, you don’t have enough gut surface area to accomplish the digestion and absorption of nutrition. By adding back in the helpful bacteria that normally line the intestines, the microvilli arise.

(To be cont.)

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers. Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (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) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center – Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 8)

What's black and white and red all over??Click here to read Part 7!

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

Despite the fact that cultures have institutionalized the universal Mind with terms long accepted as true (e.g., God, Brahman, the Absolute), words aren’t very helpful to someone who hasn’t yet had the experience. If the unreliability of subjective reports puts off many scientists, the claim that some people have special experiences that go beyond words bolsters their skepticism. As a result, formulating a science of consciousness has been slow to start and even slower to gain credibility.

A personal disclosure: the authors include some contemplative practitioners with a varying depth of experience in the traditions of Buddhism, Vedanta, and Kashmir Shaivism. This doesn’t mean that our personal experiences are “true,” only that these topics are not hypothetical for us. Aligning with centuries of contemplative practitioners, we find the reports of expanded awareness compelling, but being physicians and scientists, we also think of such experiences as material for hypothesis-making and testing through experimentation.

Alas, other scientists hotly disagree, saying, “No, this is not a fit topic for scientific exploration – your evidence is born of hearsay and superstition.” To those who draw a boundary around what is worth exploring scientifically and what is not, we ask, “Isn’t this just another form of unthinking fundamentalism, akin to that of religious fundamentalists whom many rational scientists claim to abhor?” The Roman poet Terence wrote, Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto (I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me). Consider all the forbidden topics, from female sexuality to epidemics, from madness to gross anatomy, that were once placed under a ban. These meditation experiences are human experiences, like every other human experience that scientists deem worthy of investigation by techniques such as putting people inside an MRI machine: experiences like depression, memory, love, fear, excitement, orgasm.

The trend is now moving away from the naysayers. Research is starting to account for the swing between the inner and outer world, a swing we all experience every day, using as subjects adept meditation practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism. These meditators report experiences in which the sense of inside/outside and self/other dissolves. Instead of dismissing this as mysticism, one hypothesis now suggests specific neural activity within two complementary signaling networks in the brain – one is active when you are dealing with the world outside the body (called task positive network), the other, the “default network” (or task negative network) revs up when your focus is inward as commonly happens in wakeful rest, introspection, or from lack of significant sensory inputs).

Our brains are thought to alternate rapidly between these two networks, but when deep, “non-dual” meditation is performed, they both activate together, because inside and outside are no longer opposite and contrary, but are experienced as a seamless mind contemplating a seamless whole. We don’t mean to suggest the default mode network is the basis for the mind (since default mode activity is also seen in primates and rats), but the data illustrates how mental states like meditation affect the brain.

Short of proving with scientific rigor that the mind is not located just in the brain, we have pointed to the fact that the experience of your mind in your head is not the only experience you can have. Exploring the implications for yourself only takes a few moments a day – you can feel for yourself how your thinking does not have to remain locked up in the box of your skull.

Finally, the aura of religion is so strong that skeptics dismiss all spiritual experience – being alien to materialism – as matters of faith. Faith, in a great many varieties, is something we all turn to for interpreting our experiences. From the perspective of quantum mechanics, which has shown beyond a doubt that solid objects are not solid, it takes faith to believe that the physical world exists – certainly a rationalist must admit that the five senses are lying or at best are unreliable.

In everyday life, faith is part of the equation. But it is not only great faith that drives spiritual investigations but also, as is said in Zen, “great doubt” – doubt as to the meaning of existence and the reason for suffering in the world. The great faith in this equation is what makes the great doubt bearable. This balance between what we know and what we hope to discover drives science as well as spirituality. The difference lies in which tool of investigation is used.

The mind studying the mind reveals aspects of reality that can’t be reached by investigating the physical world. The reach of consciousness becomes even greater once we realize that the mind isn’t locked in the skull or even bounded by the skin. Step by step, the findings of mainstream science have opened the domain of Mind, that transcends our individual minds and is fundamental to the universe.

In the next posts we’ll return to what contemporary science understands about the most fundamental structures in nature – our aim is to find a meeting place between the inner and outer method of investigation. Have we made you curious? We hope so, because curiosity is the theme to be taken up next.

(To be continued…)

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, 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). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (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 ofSuper 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) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 7)

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 10.50.25 AMClick here to read Part 6!

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

In the previous posts we began with the common-sense notion that the brain produces the mind and proceeded to explode it. Using medical facts we showed that every part of the body shares in the process we call “thinking,” although the liver, intestines, and heart do their thinking non-verbally. They still make decisions, show preferences, exhibit self-reliance, and contribute in major ways to the information sent to the brain.

We have offered our proof that mind exists outside the skull without departing from common sense. In the same vein we explored the possibility that mind exists outside the brain. Many scientists would dismiss the possibility out of hand, but we showed that the inner experience of Eastern contemplative practices (meditation, yoga, Zen Buddhism, et al.) are not inferior to the data collected on subjective states like pain, feeling happy, or falling in love. Brain scans offer correlates to these experiences, but it is self-report from a person who says “I’m in pain” or “I feel happy” that must be relied upon. Similarly, subjective reports of a spiritual kind cannot be invalidated unless at the same time you are willing to throw out pain, happiness, love, and all other subjective states.

But our goal isn’t spiritual or religious. We aren’t after God but after mind (even if, on the cosmic scale, they might turn out to be the same). The deepest experiences of yogis, swamis, ancient rishis, and Buddhist masters tell the story of mind everywhere in Nature; mind indeed is the source of existence itself. It can’t be denied that reality only comes to us through subjective experience. Sir Alexander Fleming examining penicillium mold through his microscope was having a subjective experience. If there were phenomena occurring all around him that the human mind can’t experience, think about, or sense, they don’t belong to reality as we know it.

As someone having a “real” experience, Fleming and a Buddhist master exist on the same plane. The only difference is that science focuses on experience “out there” while contemplative practices focus on events “in here.” A caution before we describe these deeper inner experiences. Whether they are described as an encounter with God (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the higher self (e.g. in the monistic systems of Vedanta and Hinduism, Shaivism), or with no divine essence at all (e.g. the Absolute in Buddhism) depends on descriptive language and the past conditioning of the practitioner. The descriptive, often poetic words are culturally determined; they serve as verbal devices for grasping a nonverbal experience so that it can be reported to others, usually within the same spiritual, cultural context.

But no description can be the experience itself. There is no attempt here, as many skeptics accuse, to mystify or cloud something suspiciously immaterial and vague, perhaps outright false. If either religion or its absence makes you nervous, don’t get hung up on terminology. Pay attention to the reports of the experiences themselves as a universal phenomenon, born of the mind’s very nature, which is self-awareness.

When “thinking outside the box” calls forth such profound, often life-changing responses in the practitioner, the sensed boundaries of the body disappear. No longer does the skin form a barrier, however permeable, between inside and outside, between self and other. Now, when you feel your breath move in and out, it is the universe that you feel is breathing – indeed, the universe is breathing you. When a bell rings in the meditation hall or a car horn honks on the city streets outside or a bird sings in a nearby tree, the ring, the honk, and the song are your own, palpably arising from within yourself.

While such experiences are uncommon in everyday life, they are not rare in this special setting. Even if they are most actively cultivated in spiritual contexts, you can ask athletes about being “in the zone”, artists about feeling inspired, scientists about the moment of discovery, craftsmen about their intimacy with what is brought forth in their craft – they will all describe similar states of merging where there’s no distinction between what’s going on “in here” and “out there,” because those boundaries have dissolved.

For some people such experiences are not trained and nurtured but happen spontaneously. They may occur during a so-called peak experience or in the extremity of being near death. For others the experience arrives for no detectable reason, and yet without such an experience, could Walt Whitman have written a line like this from Song of Myself: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” His Leaves of Grass is almost entirely a report of moving in the world with an enlarged, even unbounded sense of self, where the division between self and other is experienced as illusion. Here is evidence of mind permeating the world, irrespective of the boundary of the skull or the skin.

And then there’s the experience of “dropping away of body and mind” described by the Japanese Zen patriarch Dogen; the “mind of clear light” described by Tantric teachers; the experience of lower self realizing that it is essentially the higher self, reported by ancient and contemporary Indian sages (rishis); and the Ein Sof – the infinite God beyond our capacity to describe, from which arises all creation – of Jewish mystics. Every tradition speaks about the experience of a Mind that is greater than our own minds, out of which our own minds arise like waves on the ocean. This Mind is beyond all boundaries, something in which we share with all beings and from which all beings arise. This Mind is the place in which there is no suffering. It is pure awareness with no object of awareness except itself. Reaching for words, the world’s spiritual guides teach that pure awareness is infinite, blissful, illuminated from within.

Stay tuned for Part 8!

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, 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). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (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 ofSuper 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) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: The Mystery of 3 Small Words – “I Love You”

I♥youBy Deepak Chopra, MD, and  Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi

Current brain research is hot on the trail of mysteries that need solving. Current imaging techniques can show, with remarkable precision, what happens in specific parts of the brain when we feel an emotion, for example. Eventually neuroscientists may be able to pinpoint the exact process that leads to the emotion of love; indeed they already feel that they are close, since there’s a map for tracing the hormones that make falling in love feel ecstatic, along with the areas of the brain responsible for emotions.

But close does you no good if your model has a serious flaw. In this case, the flaw is to assume that the physical mechanisms associated with love are the same as love itself. What if love takes place in the mind rather than the brain?

To many, that’s a distinction without a difference. The mind is invisible, yet everything it thinks or feels requires a physical response in the brain. If you know what the brain is doing, you know what the mind is doing, or so the scientific method, based on materialism, holds to be true. But a huge mystery, known as the mind-body problem, is being begged. As long as we ignore the mind, we may be making profound mistakes about the brain.

The words “I love you” give us a perfect example. Imagine that you are sitting close to someone who has not made clear what he or she feels. The moment is right; the mood is intimate. In your ear you hear the words “I love you.” Stop action. If we ask a neuroscientist what happens next, he will unfold a trail of physical events. Air molecules vibrate when those words are spoken, and in turn they vibrate the ear drum. Tiny bones in the middle ear transmit the signal, which gets turned into electrochemical reactions in the inner ear. As soon as electricity and chemicals are involved, we are in the precinct of the brain, which goes to work rapidly. Various areas light up, involving a complex interaction between those areas that process sound, meaning, memory, and emotions. Even if it takes years or decades for neuroscience to trace this pattern exactly, the result is the same: your heart jumps for joy, you flush, and the delight of hearing “I love you” overtakes your body.

Or does it? What if you don’t welcome those words? Instead, this was the moment, perhaps, when you were going to end the relationship. The physical trail remains the same, but something is drastically different. The meaning of the words as they apply to you. The dictionary definition of “I love you” isn’t in doubt. Yet if you think about it, every response imaginable is available to us when we hear “I love you,” from horror (if a serial killer says them) to indifference (if you’ve heard it too many times) to joy. As for the body, it, too, is capable of any response – you might feel nothing or you might faint dead away. How is this possible?

Of course, we each hear the words “I love you” in a personal context, involving our own associations and memories. A gentle “I love you” might invoke memories of your mother’s arms when you were a child. Individual meaning gets shaped in the brain’s memory centers. But memory has its own baffling mysteries. One of us (Rudy), a Harvard neuroscientist, asked dozens of colleagues at a scientific conference, “Where are memories stored”? Instantly every one replied, “In the brain, of course.” He pressed the point. “Where exactly in the brain? In neurons? If so, where in the cellular structure?” After hemming and hawing, most had to concede that no one really knows. We know that synapses fire to retrieve a memory, but we do not actually understand how or where memories are physically stored in the brain, or, for that matter, whether they can be physically located at all.

Meaning occurs in the mind, and the brain obeys the mind. They are not the same thing. A radio plays music, but it doesn’t create music. A radio is dependent on the station you tune it to. Meaning is like tuning in but more subtle. You don’t turn a dial; you automatically know what the meaning is, and if you don’t, what happens? Your mind tries to straighten out the meaning. Your brain doesn’t accomplish this task. Maybe the person whispered “I love U2.”  There’s a huge difference between loving a rock band and loving a person who might love you back.

Can we really claim that brain tissue, which is made up of organic chemicals and water, can tell that “I love you” leads to joy while “I love U2” leads to a mild “that’s nice. I do, too”? No, we can’t. It’s a mistake to attribute to physical things — cells, molecules, atoms, and so on – what really belongs to the mind.

We aren’t talking metaphysics, although science often takes that escape route when its faith in materialism is challenged. So let’s leave aside the mind. There is no physical explanation for why the body reacts as it does to words. Consider that you hear any of the following sentences:

It’s bedtime.
Your life savings are gone.
Look out, a rattlesnake!

Everyone agrees that each of these causes a terrifically different reaction in the body. Yet if you hear them spoken, each sentence begins with the tiniest vibration of the ear drum, and the brain signals that come next are also barely measurable in microvolts of electricity and a few hundred of thousand molecules of messenger molecules. Yet these tiny, tiny events get amplified enormously. The adrenaline rush that sends you running in panic from a rattlesnake represents millions of times more energy than the words that caused them. The words “It’s bedtime” cause an equally massive amplification but in the opposite direction, toward relaxation and shutdown of the body for sleep.

It’s well known that the human body depends upon homeostasis, the ability to keep very complex systems in balance and to return to a state of balance when it is disturbed. Yet words cause us to deliberately go out of balance, and there’s no physical mechanism to explain it. Meaning explains everything, since “It’s bedtime” and seeing a rattlesnake of course hold totally opposite meanings. But if you say that the brain creates the meaning of words in the cerebral cortex – the standard textbook explanation – you have no way of escaping a dead end. The physical world is ruled by cause and effect. We cannot say that a feather can dust the table one minute and push over a boulder the next. Yet these same tiny molecules of brain chemicals manage to do just that. One minute you hear some words and decide to go to sleep; the next minute you hear other words and instantly run away on high alert.

There is no doubt that your body can amplify signals; there’s no doubt that different words have different meanings. Yet if you try to put these two facts together using just the brain, you can’t. A tiny virus can enter the body and cause every system to break down, leading to death. It’s as if a baseball broke a window in a skyscraper and the whole building fell down. But that’s not really a mystery, because the virus divides, and by a simple train of cause-and-effect, its toxins are amplified until the immune system is overwhelmed. But there is no explanation for how a few words can create such a powerful effect that it gets repeated, day after day, for years. The things we worry and obsess over, the grief that lingers on and on, the game-winning touchdown, and the girl who got away – all can be amplified into bodily reactions from a state of near zero, since memory requires no expenditure of energy.

Some mysteries are worth pondering because they fascinate us. Others are worth pondering because they can shake our whole worldview. The mystery of “I love you,” we believe, is the second kind.

Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP
deepakchopra.com
Follow Deepak on Twitter

Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi
Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy
Professor of Neurology,
Harvard Medical School
Director, Genetics and Aging Research Unit,
MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease
Massachusetts General Hospital

Originally published September 2011

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 6)

In the DistanceClick here to read Part 5!

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

In Eastern traditions the purpose of subjective states is to be useful, to aid inner work. What kind of work? The ancient texts give various answers. There is control of the involuntary nervous system, as demonstrated by the extraordinary feats of yogis and swamis who can consciously slow down their breathing and heart rate. There is balance, achieving conscious control over homeostatic mechanism and thus promoting health. There is the pursuit of enlightenment – a vast area beyond the scope of this post – and also the same curiosity to explore nature (in this case, inner nature) that drives mainstream science in the realm of materialism.

The fact is that Zen students and practitioners in other traditions routinely move their minds out of their heads. The experience has been replicated for centuries; it isn’t accidental, haphazard or hallucinatory. Having learned how to do it, you discover by playing around with the practice that you can move your mind into your little toe, your shoulder, your elbow, perhaps even across the room. The immediate reflex of most neuroscientists is that such a subjective sense of “moving mind” is the result of neuronal activity, and even if we cannot quantify such subtle and intricate activity today, we will one day be able to as our tools evolve.

The best rejoinder to this claim is that a whole host of subjective experiences in the domain of medicine are self-reported and cannot be measured without asking the patient what’s going on. Statements like “I feel a bad pain here,” “I’m depressed,” “I’m confused,” and “I’ve lost my balance” can sometimes be traced to distorted brain activity on an fMRI scan, but only the patient can relate what is actually happening. The brain scan can’t tell someone he’s in pain when he says he isn’t. To say “I see my fourth chakra” isn’t less valid; it just has far less brain research devoted to it. (When a bacterium avoids a toxin in a petri dish or is attracted to food, can we claim to know that it is not feeling some primitive form of repulsion or desire?)

The Zen practice of placing the mind in the hara is only a minor example, a step along the way to deeper, more profound experiences. There comes a time in nearly all contemplative traditions when one’s sense of mind and even the ordinary self changes fundamentally, for a moment or a lifetime. In Vedic and Buddhist traditions these experiences are called forms of Samadhi, where a connection is made with pure awareness at the deepest level. In Hebrew mystical practice this might be understood as D’vekut, in Christian practice, Cleaving to God. The thinking mind is left behind, and one arrives at consciousness without content.

Here we’ve reached the shadow zone where “my mind” dissolves into mind itself. In this zone reality shifts dramatically. Instead of sitting inside the space of a room, the person sits inside mental space (Chit Akash in Sanskrit). Events that take place are not strictly mental, however. The inner voyager witnesses time, space, matter, and energy being born here. If such an experience is valid, the implications for physics – and for everyday life – are immense. Consciousness is no longer the elephant in the room, the thing science prefers not to talk about. It becomes the only thing to talk about if you want to know where reality comes from. Starting with the undeniable fact that the brain shares mind with the rest of the body, we are on the verge of showing that mind must be shared with everything in existence – going outside the box extends to infinity, a possibility we will unfold as this series continues.

(To be cont.)

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, 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). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (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) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 5)

Crepuscular SunbeamsClick here to read Part 4!

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

In the prior posts of this series we have described ways in which the brain does not, in fact cannot, produce the mind on its own. The possibility of a 1950s science fiction scenario where a working brain can produce an intact mind while sitting in a jar is impossible. The brain is intimately connected to the body through nerves, traveling cells, circulating biomolecules, and electrical activity.

A brain severed from the body, even if it would produce some form of mind, would produce one that is very different from what we have in the brain-body complex. (Even in traditional scientific views brain and body form a single system as they evolved together over time.)

In this post we will momentarily turn away from these physical considerations to look at some reports of mind outside the brain. We will return to physical structures later to show that mind not only exists outside the box of the skull but the box of the body itself. Though seemingly limited by its covering of skin, your body is incomplete as an enclosed location for mind.

Mainstream science is reluctant, if not dismissive, when faced with the notion of mind outside the brain. Many of the examples we will be offering derive from first-hand reports from contemplative practitioners (of meditation, yoga, Zen Buddhism, etc.) – in other words, people who have spent as much time training their minds as world-class athletes have spent training their bodies (though, to be precise, in both cases it is body and mind that’s being trained, just for different tasks).

Actually, getting your mind to move outside your head is relatively easy. If you burn your hand on the stove, your attention immediately rushes there. The heartache of unrequited love takes one’s attention to the center of the chest. In various spiritual traditions this kind of “moving mind” becomes a conscious skill. Here’s a common introductory example of “mind outside the box” from Zen practice. Students who have taken on a disciplined daily Zen meditation practice – usually counting or following the breath – are then advised to move their minds into the hara. The hara is the second chakra, located below the navel, just in front of the sacrum. One way to describe this to students is to imagine that their mind is located in a drop of honey in the center of the skull (where we usually experience our mind anyway), and then to let the drop of honey slowly descend down along the front of the spine until it finally reaches the hara.

This exercise takes time and a great deal of practice. Initially it can feel as if there’s only a little movement, because your focus of attention snaps back into the skull like a rubber band. And so you begin again, letting the drop of honey slowly descend, bringing your mind with it. Why? One reason is that when your mind moves from inside your skull into a position in front of the sacrum, it can bring a jolt of energy, not unlike the way coffee suddenly energizes your mind a few minutes after downing your morning cup. What might otherwise have been sleepy Zen suddenly becomes awake Zen.

More importantly, there is an exquisite sense of stability in your mind when brought to that location: thoughts still come and go, but they take on a sense of waves coming and going, or clouds passing overhead, rather than being like a monkey bouncing all over the room. A mind running around in the space of uncontrolled thoughts makes us tired, but it also disguises the potential for having a silent, strong, still mind.

Neuroscience would do well to consider these subjective states in physiological terms. If, as we now know, the “bodily brain” is divided among the major organs, with neurons acting inside the heart, liver, and intestinal tract, it’s plausible to suppose that each center of intelligence has its own mode of “thinking,” with the brain predominating because we are so used to thoughts being verbal. We don’t hear a voice in our liver, only in our heads (and for some people, in their hearts).

But this doesn’t make nonverbal thinking inferior – far from it. The conscious mind can’t run the liver, heart, or intestinal tract but depends on their self-reliance to an enormous extent. For instance, one could consider the chakras described in Yoga – subtle centers of energy and awareness located up and down the spinal column and on top of the skull – as theoretical models of nonverbal mind. This sensing of energy centers cannot be proven scientifically, perhaps, but neither can pain, pleasure, love, ecstasy, and other subjective experiences that exist in the first place because people feel them (see below). In the same vein, various Eastern spiritual practices accomplish what we cannot, taking consciousness out of the brain to do work elsewhere.

(To be continued)

 

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, 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). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (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) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: How Mindfulness Increases Your Brain Size

It has recently been found that those who participate in contemplative practices increase the size of their brain, especially the part that controls empathy. Pretty amazing, huh?

In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak explores the idea of contemplative neuroscience, which is a way of studying the brain that takes into consideration how consciousness and self-awareness affect the expression of genes and the evolution of the brain.

What is the future of this type of neuroscience? Why is it important to understand these developments in our approach to brain science?

For one, more that 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, a disease that affects memory, mood, language and reasoning – all, of course, functions of the brain. Though causes and prevention measures are not definitive at this point, mindfulness practices like meditation have been shown to reduce stress and improve mood and sleep patterns in those already suffering from cognitive impairment. Since we already know that meditation can help improve brain and immune function, further investigations in the realm of contemplative neuroscience can only bring us closer to a prescription for life long brain health and happiness.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section!

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and take a look at Deepak Chopra’s book, Super Brain, co-authored by neuroscience professor Rudy Tanzi!

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