A lot of peace activists, who are very un-peaceful, end up winning the Nobel Prize, says Deepak Chopra

A pioneer of integrative medicine and personal transformation, the Indian-American author tells us how tech can fuel the future of wellbeing ahead of his session at Sharjah International Book Fair 2022


Somya Mehta

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Published: Thu 10 Nov 2022, 9:13 PM

While most of us can only dream of writing one manuscript to fruition, Dr Deepak Chopra, arguably among the most influential thought- leaders of our times, has authored 90 books in 43 different languages, in a span of over three decades. At 76, Dr Chopra is more determined than ever to drive home the idea of the ‘self’ away from the facade of our material lives. Living in a hyperconnected society, we want to know a lot about the world around us when we understand very little about ourselves, argues Dr Chopra.

A pioneer of mind-body medicine in the 90s, he spoke about the transformative power of thought in relation to healing and mindfulness at a time when these ideas didn’t gather mainstream attention, which may have been a cause of receiving criticism for some of his early works. Thirty years on, Dr Chopra tells us that while ideas of self-transformation have now become much more widespread, the fundamental challenges still remain, with emotional predicaments in the form of stress and anxiety spreading like wildfire.

Ahead of his session at the Sharjah International Book Fair, we sat down with him to deconstruct the notions of the ‘self’, away from false identity and embracing all of life’s uncertainties as an opportunity for creative expression. Edited excerpts from an interview:

The audience at Dr Deepak Chopra’s session at Sharjah International Book Fair
The audience at Dr Deepak Chopra’s session at Sharjah International Book Fair

Q. Before you got onto this path, how was your relationship with emotions such as stress and anxiety?

Dr Deepak Chopra: As a young person I did experience stress, especially in medical school, and even in my residency and internship. It was much later that I realised the fundamental nature of reality is that it’s unpredictable. If everything is predictable, then life would be an algorithm, there will be no creativity, and creativity and unpredictability go together. So every morning I made a conscious effort to ask myself, ‘How can I be more unpredictable?’ and ‘How can everything be more uncertain today?’ because that would give me the opportunity to have a creative expression. If you start with that, then nothing in your life ever goes ‘wrong’. And if nothing can go wrong, there’s very little to be stressful about.

Q. But uncertainty and the unknown also have a degree of fear attached to them…

Dr Deepak Chopra: We live and move in the unknown. Everything that you call the known has already happened. We breathe, live and move in the unknown and thank god for that, because otherwise we would be doomed to eternal sameness.

Q. You’ve previously mentioned stress is the biggest ‘epidemic’ we’re facing right now. Almost two years and a pandemic later, where do we stand today?

Dr Deepak Chopra: Stress is the number one epidemic, which is based on perception, physical, psychological, emotional, or financial threat. Stress is also resistance to what is happening right now. I think a better definition of stress would be resistance to existence. Stress is always an opportunity for creative expression and higher consciousness. And the absence of resistance to existence is what we call flow or peak experiences, which artists, singers, poets, sages, geniuses and sometimes, psychotics also have. We’re a motley group of sages, psychotics and geniuses that have access to fundamental reality or what we call flow.

Q. This morning started with anxiety when I was thinking about the outcome of this interview. What helped me was switching my thoughts. I replaced the word ‘work’ with ‘play’ and found a shift in my energy as the word ‘play’ induces a feeling of excitement and thrill.

Dr Deepak Chopra: That’s beautiful because every child plays. We come into this world playing, and then as we grow older, we stop. The entire expression of creativity is when you play. Reframing your work as play is liberating.

Q. A simple shift in thought can evoke a different physiological response in the body. You speak a lot about this idea in your earlier work in mind-body medicine. How can we harness the power of thought in our everyday lives?

Dr Deepak Chopra: What you call thought is the interpretation of experience, which is entangled with sensations in our body. It’s also entangled with feelings or emotions, and with imagination. When you have a thought, let’s say ‘mother’, that could be entangled with the feeling called ‘love’, or the absence of love and it will also create images and sensations in your body. So, one way of tackling this through traditional wisdom is not by changing your thoughts because that could be stressful too. If you’re trying to be positive all the time, but you’re not feeling positive, that’s also a stressful experience. So it’s not having positive or negative thoughts, it’s actually quietening the mind because every positive thought is in contrast to a negative thought. All experiences are in contrast. The only way to actually tackle this is to settle the mind into stillness, which is a teaching in every tradition.

Q. This idea of sitting in stillness and being with ourselves, is often daunting for people, which is also an obstacle for those trying to meditate. How can we become comfortable with this idea of sitting in stillness?

Dr Deepak Chopra: Today, we are bamboozled by social media, news, movies, theatre, drama, melodrama. We’re distracted. We want to know everything about the world, but we don’t know who we are. We think we are our body or our mind or our personality. But we forget that there’s a deeper level of awareness, which is projecting as mind, body, and what we call the experience of the world. Essentially, we learn everything about the world, but nothing about ourselves. And today, that kind of education is irrelevant. I can go on Google and get all the information I want. Education needs to evolve. The word ‘education’ comes from two roots: edu means core, to bring out what is already at the core of a human being. And what is at the core of a human being is insight, intuition, imagination, creativity, higher vision and transcendence.

Q. You introduced this idea of the healing power of thought at a time when not many were talking about it. What led you to discover this path?

Dr Deepak Chopra: I trained as an endocrinologist and then in neuroendocrinology, which is a study of brain chemistry. So as a young fellow, in training, I was looking at what I called the molecules of emotion: serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine. And I realised that these were not only the molecules of emotion, but they also connected consciousness to our biology, and that they were also immunomodulators, modulating the activity of the immune system. That was a radically new idea back then, but now we have scientific validation.

Q. You mentioned that you spent a lot of time in emergency rooms, being close to pain and suffering. Does coming close to your own sense of mortality move you closer towards the journey of self-realisation?

Dr Deepak Chopra: According to wisdom traditions, human suffering is a result of clinging on to experience, which is ungraspable. Every experience is over, as soon as it happens. It’s a perceptual snapshot. Human suffering comes from recoiling what we call unpleasant experiences, which is a result of a false identity, a provisional identity that we call the ‘ego’. This also leads to the fear of death, which is based on false identity. So spiritual seeking is to understand how to overcome this false identity. How do you move from your selfie to your real self? In wisdom traditions, we call this the conceptual body. It’s a projection of all your concepts and ideas, feelings, and imagination, behind which lies a field of consciousness, which is totally independent of the experience. The awareness of an experience is independent of the experience because the awareness itself is not in time. Consciousness is not in time, but mind is in time, feelings are in time, sensations and images are in time. Once you get that, there’s no need to identify with an experience.

Q. Is that the state we should aspire to reach when we’re in meditation?

Dr Deepak Chopra: Yes, it’s called self-realisation, not self-improvement. Self-improvement is upgrading the illusion of the body, mind, the world. Self-realisation is getting in touch with the source of the illusion.

Q. In the age of social media, we are often at loggerheads with our ego, bombarded by reminders of our physical identity and not so much our higher selves. How do we rise above this?

Dr Deepak Chopra: Right now, the way our technology is moving, including things like VR, immersive technology, augmented experiences, it’s becoming clear that our digital lives and our physical lives are actually merging in a way that is unstoppable. I have two questions. Do we use this to upgrade our experience? Or do we use it to downgrade our experience at the moment? Currently, we’re using it to downgrade our experience. With eco-destruction, extinction of species, war, terrorism, suicides, poison in the food chain, all that is downgrading the experience. But the same technology can be used to create a more peaceful, just, sustainable, healthier, and joyful world. The choice is ours. We have to wake up from this lucid dream in the vivid now, which we think is reality.

Q. You also talk about the importance of hitting critical mass in consciousness. What does this mean?

Dr Deepak Chopra: Throughout the ages, people have tried to change the world through what they call social activism, sometimes even strident, angry peace activism, which is a contradiction. A lot of peace activists, who are very un-peaceful, end up winning the Nobel Prize. Peace can only be created by those who are peaceful, just like love can only be shared by those who experience love. Using Mahatma Gandhi’s words, you have to be the change you want to see in the world. If there’s a critical mass of people going through that change themselves, then there can be social transformation. There cannot be social transformation without personal transformation because society is made of people. That’s why we need a critical mass.

Q. Have you quantified what this critical mass should be?

Dr Deepak Chopra: In my mind it’s a billion. But let’s see.

Q. There’s also this criticism that in ‘self-help’ there’s too much focus on the ‘self’, where people become overly fixated with themselves, at times, at the cost of others, which contradicts the idea of ‘selfless’ service…

Dr Deepak Chopra: Yes, it’s narcissistic. The centre of our existence is not an individual, the centre of our existence is the interrelationship between what we call individuals. If you ask, ‘Who am I’, you are a body, a mind, a spirit, the environment. You are your personal relationships, you are your social interactions and you are all of the above. You can’t separate one isolated identity from the matrix of what we call the human being. ‘Me’ is also ‘we’ and we are ultimately one awareness, and that’s what we call love.

Q. How do you interpret the future of wellbeing?

Dr Deepak Chopra: The trend is evolving, but technology’s symbolic. So every experience we have is now measurable. And there’s a biological and neural correlation to it. There are deep learning systems through AI and feedback. So, I think the future wellbeing, if we fully understand how it’s evolving, is very precise, it’s very predictable. It requires your participation, it’s a process. Only five per cent or less of disease-related gene mutations are fully penetrant, which means they predict disease. We’re soon going to have what is called gene editing, you’ll be able to cut and paste genes the way you cut-paste your emails. But that affects only 5 per cent or less of getting a disease, the rest depends on the quality of our life experiences every day. Daily attention to simple things like good sleep, a little bit of reflective inquiry, asking yourself, ‘Who am I? What do I want? What’s my purpose? What am I grateful for?’ A little bit of what is called mindful awareness, attention to emotional intelligence in relationships, managing your biological rhythms, and being perpetually surprised that you exist, hold a lot of value.

Q. What advice would you like to give to people whose life is on autopilot, or they don’t feel like they’re in the driver’s seat of their lives anymore?

Dr Deepak Chopra: Before you react to any experience, press the pause button, observe your reaction, and cut the reactivity. Go into response-ability. The word responsibility means the ability to respond in a creative way. So, insight, intuition, creativity, and imagination are unleashed when you stop being reactive. It’s been said many times: your highest intelligence is the ability to observe yourself without judging yourself.

Q. And how do you differentiate between instinct and intuition?

Dr Deepak Chopra: Instinct is usually survival. It’s present in every living species. Intuition is actually going beyond rational thought to a more contextual, relational, holistic, deeper understanding that goes beyond rational thought. Intuition is eavesdropping on context, meaning, and relationships. It’s a very high form of intelligence, way beyond what we call rationality. Intuition leads to creativity, which leads to vision, which leads to transcendence.


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