Is There “Instant” Enlightenment?

By Deepak Chopra, MD

Most people look upon enlightenment—whatever the term means to them-as remote, exotic, and unattainable without extreme effort. Enlightenment is the state a Tibetan Buddhist monk may reach after decades of mediation, or a yogi performing esoteric practices in a cave in the Himalayas. Yet if you strip away the Eastern esoteric context that has become attached to the word “enlightenment,” whatever it is must be a state of awareness. You can’t be enlightened and not know it. (Or if you don’t know it, you must have slipped into this state of awareness very, very gradually.)
The normal states of awareness are waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. They have in common that they are natural phenomena that require no self-awareness. Enlightenment is different, in that you consciously attain it, through whatever practice you choose. Because it has been considered subjective, any form of expanded self-awareness has been looked upon with suspicion in the West, which overlooks the fact that all kinds of states are subjective, such as being in pain or in love, feeling satisfied or curious, wanting to succeed, and so on. Our inner life is real, but each of us relates to it in a different way.
Your inner life determines if you are creative or not, empathic or not, insightful or not—and many other things, such as being happy, fulfilled, loving, depressed, anxious, etc. But enlightenment seems to be impersonal. No matter what kind of mental life you have, when you experience an enlightened state, you enter a spectrum of self-awareness that isn’t just one thing, but it does have common features, like the symptoms of catching a cold. These features include the following: emotions even out with fewer highs and lows; one feels a sense of detachment that isn’t involved in life’s everyday drama; the body feels lighter and perhaps disembodied; thoughts are fewer and tend to relate to the situation at hand—there is far less dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. More variable but also present are enhanced  qualities of awareness such as becoming more blissful, loving, creative, insightful, self-confident, independent, and unswayed by outside forces.
In one way or another these features appear in everyday life; they just happen to be temporary and occasional. The fact that anyone can recognize, at least a little, what expanded self-awareness is like tells us two things. One, the enlightened state is normal and natural rather than exotic and eccentric. Two, it can be learned. These two insights are quite contemporary. The ancient wisdom traditions tend to set enlightenment apart from everyday existence. In India, for example, serious spiritual pursuits are saved for the end of life after a person has raised a family and retired. 
Yet much of this sequestering was due to simple functional realities. In the ancient world survival was difficult, disease common, and social forces repressive. Expanded awareness is a form of personal freedom, which was very hard to attain if you led an ordinary life without the time and space to look inward. But it was never denied that enlightenment belonged to everyone. It was an open possibility, the only requirement being that you were aware enough to desire more awareness (which isn’t true of every person, even today). In short, reaching enlightenment involves conscious evolution. Like any other skill that build upon a basic mental function, like higher mathematics or learning three foreign languages, awareness has its own skill set.
The primary skills are focus, attention span, and intention. We all possess these skills in rudimentary form, and anytime we want, we can become more skillful, to the point of master. Swamis who can change their body temperature or endure extreme cold or bring their breathing almost to the point of cessation are doing these things in awareness. Intense focus, sustained attention, and strong intention don’t simply belong to swamis and yogis. You need them to graduate from law or medical school, for example.
Yet along the spectrum of expanded awareness, when you get past all the changes just cited, a sort of ultimate question arises. What is awareness itself? To make ice, you put water in the freezer; to produce stream, you subject water to high heat. It’s observable that water is the basis for these transformations. Yet as our minds undergo all kinds of transformations (in thought, feelings, sensations, moods, etc.), it’s not obvious at all what awareness is like before it gets manipulated. In the state of enlightenment, you have no more doubts on this issue. You know pure awareness as a personal experience.
This gives rise to a path of personal evolution known as the direct path. The direct path holds that pure awareness is with us all the time. It’s not a learned state, a philosophy, a skill, or anything extraordinary. When the mind is at rest and a person exists in a simple, undisturbed state, the experience comes close to being pure awareness. Instead of being transformed into thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc., your awareness simply is.
Then what? Then you are self-aware without complication. By definition, the first thing awareness can be aware of is itself. To be aware of a chair, you have to look outward. To be aware of feeling happy, you have to look inward. But to be aware that you exist in this moment, no movement in or out is required. The direct path therefore offers a form of instant enlightenment. Right this minute you know that you are aware, without the need to be aware of something “in here’ or “out there.” This recognition of the ground state of the mind isn’t immediately transformative. Having identified with mental activity all your life, it takes a major shift to identify with silent mind. If you become fascinated and curious about the state of pure awareness, over time it does bring transformation. As awareness continues to explore itself, you start to experience changes along the spectrum of enlightenment—the symptoms start to show up.
But the direct path is valuable in and of itself by pointing out that higher states of consciousness are hidden in plain sight—they are expansions of a normal, natural state. To know this without the trappings of religion, Eastern exoticism, and other biases has been one of the major achievements of modern spirituality, which can now be redefined as the exploration of consciousness in all its infinite possibilities.

Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are Super Genes co-authored with Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D. and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine.

Green Shoots in a Desert Kingdom

By Deepak Chopra, MD
Although fears over our planetary woes make headlines and keep people up at night, it should be apparent that finding solutions is about our mindset. The mindset of dread contributes to passivity and depression. Recently I encountered a mindset that holds promise because it combines consciousness-awareness raising with technology. The green shoots of a viable future were evident to me in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Ever since its oil wealth gave it tremendous leverage over world economics, the Saudi kingdom has faced a fork in the road, deciding between an old feudal social order or an unparalleled opportunity to serve as a laboratory for engineering the future. My contacts were with the Saudi elite—I went there to give workshops in self-awareness—and it became apparent that they are inspired to solve the country’s challenges with a strong focus on education, the younger generation (60% of the population is under thirty), job creation, and wellbeing.

It was the last topic that involved me the most. After 9/11, I became deeply concerned with the radical dichotomy of the Muslim world, where a struggle had emerged between tradition and the postmodern world, that is, between a more rigid religious authority, and a future-minded youth who wanted to look out on the wider world integrating Islam with a global focus on science and technology. It’s no longer a question of which side should win but rather how to integrate tradition with a global economy and an emerging Zeitgeist of respect for cultural and religious diversity. The biggest challenge facing the Saudis is how to create a moderate, economically secure middle class that can stand for modern values and simultaneously for Islamic ideals and Arab culture.
The Saudis today are both protectors of the faith in the most literal sense, being the home of Mecca, the most sacred site in Islam, while at the same time being a source for a modern progressive movement. As demonstrated by their 2030 vision, Saudi Arabia is attempting to make enormous progress in the space of economic innovation and technological breakthroughs while simultaneously maintaining cultural ideals, historical heritage and Islamic values. Vision 2030, is a demonstration of how modernity and faith can go hand in hand. The vision is an audacious template for developing the country on advanced technology, educational outreach and Saudi youth engagement. The focus and leadership for reform centers on the much-publicized Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the instigator of Vision 2030, which according to the prince’s Wikipedia entry “details goals and measures in various fields, from developing non-oil revenues and privatization of the economy to e-government and sustainable development.”


Western commentators have wondered aloud if the shambling, disorganized way that the US approaches future change and reform isn’t being outstripped by central planning of the kind we see in China, with its mushrooming purpose-built cities, and now Saudi Arabia. Ambitious projects like erecting a new seaport on the Red Sea, King Abdullah City, is directed at creating a million new jobs, the majority in non-oil sectors. With over a third of the Saudi population under 14, many leaving school without the skills to succeed in modern society, clearly the ruling authorities are faced with a carrot and a stick challenge: how to create a thriving economy and technology before widespread youth unemployment foments into disruption and outbreaks of violence.


On my visit, I centered my talks on consciousness and wellbeing. Without these underpinnings, massive building projects are hollow, a prime example of pouring old wine into new bottles. Saudi Arabia is extremely conservative, as we all know, and finding green shoots isn’t the same as overturning centuries-old traditions. In a long report covering the deputy crown prince, the Washington Post’s headline asked the crucial question: Can he make his vision come true?


No one has a definitive answer. The Middle East region remains a volatile place and needs a new approach. Whatever the old images we hold about Saudi Arabia, this is the one major Muslim state that has the resources and now the vision to turn future shock into peace and prosperity on a managed scale. As a laboratory of engineered change, the kingdom is taking a risk, and we all have a stake in how the experiment turns out.


Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are Super Genes co-authored with Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D. and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine.

The “New Old Age” Just Got Better

By Deepak Chopra, MD, Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD


For at least two decades we’ve been living with a drastic revision of growing old. What is now dubbed the “old old age” prevailed for centuries; it was a set of beliefs that turned the aging process into inevitable decline physically and mentally. After a lifetime of work, people found themselves set aside, no longer productive or active members of society. Generation after generation these expectations came true. But everyone trapped in the old old age was mistaken to think such expectations were inevitable. Hidden factors were causing beliefs to turn into reality.


The “new old age,” created by the baby boomer generation, threw out the previous beliefs, exchanging them for more optimistic ones, and by now we’ve grown used to a set of readjusted expectations. Millions of people over 65 haven’t retired, and few have taken to the rocking chair. To be healthy and active one’s whole life seems possible. But as much good as the new old age has done, it faced two major obstacles. The first was that aging itself has long been a mystery, not explained by medical science because too many changes occur over a lifetime, and these changes vary from person to person.  The second obstacle, assuming that aging could be defined, was how to reverse it.


An enormous leap forward in overcoming both obstacles was made by Elizabeth Blackburn, the molecular biologist who shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for their discovery of telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes a section of DNA known as telomeres, which cap the end of each chromosome like a period ending a sentence. Telomeres are “noncoding” DNA, meaning that they have no specified function in building cells, but they are far from passive. Their function seems to be to preserve cells. Every time a cell divides, which happens constantly somewhere in the body, its telomeres are shortened. Longer telomeres are typical of young cells in the stage of luxuriant growth; shortened or frayed telomeres are typical of weary senescent cells.


Now the head of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, Blackburn covers every aspect of cell aging and renewal in her 2017 book, The Telomere Effect, co-authored with her close colleague, UCSF Professor and health psychologist Elissa Epel.  They convincingly describe telomeres and levels of telomerase in the cell as our best marker yet for the multifold process of aging. This also implies that by increasing one’s telomerase levels and thereby causing telomeres to grow longer, a healthy lifespan can be founded on cells that keep renewing themselves for decades.

In their book Blackburn and Epel cite a startling actuarial prediction. There are currently around 300,000 centenarians existing around the world, a number that is rapidly increasing. According to one estimate, reaching one hundred is about to become so commonplace that one-third of children born in the UK will live to be centenarians—the issue of protecting your cells is suddenly more urgent than ever.  We highly recommend reading Blackburn and Epel’s book–its wealth of information needs to be absorbed in detail. But the bottom line is to understand what puts your telomeres at high risk and low risk.


            Your telomeres are at low risk if you


  • Have no exposure to severe stress.


  • Have never been diagnosed with a mood disorder.


  • Enjoy strong social support, including a close confidante who gives good advice, friends who listen to you and with whom you can unburden yourself, and relationships where love and affection are shown.


  • Exercise moderately or vigorously at least three times a week, preferably more.


  • Get good-quality sleep for at least 7 hours.


  • Consume omega 3-rich food three times a week while avoiding processed meats, sugary sodas, and processed food in general. A whole-food diet is best.


  • Are not exposed to cigarette smoke, pesticides, and insecticides.


The opposite is also true.


Your telomeres are at high risk if you


  • Are being exposed to severe stress in your life.


  • Have been diagnosed with an anxiety or depressive disorder that lasted for many years.


  • Lack social support from friends and family.


  • Lead a completely sedentary lifestyle with no regular exercise, even light activity like walking.


  • Suffer from chronic insomnia or cut your sleep shorter than 7 hours a night.


  • Consume a diet high in fat, processed foods, and sugary sodas, with no attention to sufficient fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.


  • You are exposed to cigarette smoke, pesticides, insecticides, and other chemical toxins.


These summarize the research-supported risk factors presented in Blackburn and Epel’s book, and as with any risk-based program, some people are more affected than others. Severe stress is one of the most thoroughly damaging factors—in one study, caregivers who tended Alzheimer’s patients had shortened telomeres that predicted a shortened lifespan of between 5 and 8 years.


It’s also significant that the lifestyle choices known to decrease the risk of heart disease, as originally devised by Dr. Dean Ornish at Harvard Medical School, have a beneficial effect on telomere length. Extending the program to cancer, Ornish had another impressive finding. A group of men with low-risk prostate cancer were selected for study (low-risk means that their cancer was at an early stage and slow-growing. Prostate cancer can take decades to advance and the current recommendation advises balancing the risk and reward of doing any active treatments, a change from the era when any cancer was immediately treated and usually aggressively).


The men were put on a variant of the heart-disease protocol: they ate a low-fat, high-fiber diet, walked for 30 minutes a day, and attended regular support group meetings. Stress management was included, and there was training in meditation, mild yoga stretching, and breathing. At the end of three months the group that was on the program had higher telomerase levels than the control group, which meant that their cells were aging better. Stress seemed to play a key role, because the greatest increase in telomerase occurred among the men who reported having fewer distressing thoughts about prostate cancer. Ornish followed some of the men for 5 years, and those who stuck with the program showed telomeres that had increased by 10 percent, reversing the usual expectation as cells age.
In short, the era of the new old age has shifted into the “Now old age,” thanks to important Genetic findings by Blackburn and her colleagues, Ornish, and others. In a society addicted to the promise of a silver bullet, drugs may emerge to improve telomerase levels in the cell, leading perhaps to extended telomeres and effective anti-aging at the genetic level. But since no one can predict when such drugs will appear, and what side effects come with them, the best way to enter the now old age is through lifestyle choices, particularly those that counter stress and inflammation. The good news is that the aging process is less fearful and more optimistic than ever before.


Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism.  He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are Super Genes co-authored with Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D. and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine.



Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D. is the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University and Vice Chair of Neurology at Mass. General Hospital. Dr. Tanzi is the co-author with Deepak Chopra of the New York Times bestseller, Super Brain, and an internationally acclaimed expert on Alzheimer disease. He was included in TIME Magazine’s “TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World”.

How Does Something Come Out of Nothing? A Cosmic Tale

By Deepak Chopra, MD and Prof. Pankaj S. Joshi

The question of where the universe came from isn’t solved by pointing to the big bang, because this begs the question of where it came from. In physics creation is often dubbed “something out of nothing,” meaning that the entire observable cosmos emerged from a pre-created state that is devoid of the familiar landmarks of reality: time, space, matter and energy. The boundary between this “something” all around us and that “nothing” that is also present but undetectable has fascinated physics in recent decades. It’s a fascination we should all share if we want to know where creation came from.

The trail leading to a scientific explanation of the universe has run into problems. In ancient Greek thought physis, usually translated as “nature,” meant the fundamental essence or guiding principle of creation. Today the motive to unravel nature’s secrets remains the same, but it’s been frustrating to find a single unifying theory underlying the universe. Modern physics has a formidable reputation for rigor, and its theories are supported by advanced mathematical equations and computations, but the key paradigms within physics have been constantly changing and evolving. The Holy Grail of physics, to unify all the forces of nature into a Theory of Everything (TOE), has remained out of reach because the two most successful areas of physics, quantum mechanics and general relativity, are incompatible.

The solution is generally accepted to be a theory of quantum gravity, but in the usual regimes of natural phenomena that we observe and experience in daily life, it is impossible to observe quantum phenomena and gravity working together. Interestingly, Nature herself comes to our aid in understanding the gravity and quantum phenomena together or in a combined way. A quantum gravity laboratory is possibly created when a massive star collapses under its own gravity towards the end of its life cycle. The fascinating opportunity thus presents itself for making progress towards understanding of quantum gravity and TOE. At the same time, the collapse of massive stars takes us to the edge of the greatest mystery in creation: how something came out of nothing, and in this case, returns to nothing when its life cycle is over.

Having exhausted the fuel that sustained them for millions of years, massive stars are no longer able to hold themselves up under their own weight; they begin to shrink and collapse catastrophically under their own gravity. Modest stars like the Sun also collapse at the end of their cycle, but they stabilize at a smaller dwarf size. By contrast, when a star is massive enough, orders of magnitude larger than the Sun, its gravity overwhelms all the forces that might possibly halt the collapse. From a diameter millions of kilometers across, the star crumples to an infinitesimal dimension much smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.   Untitled Design(31)

What is the eventual fate of such massive collapsing stars? This is one of the most exciting questions in astrophysics and modern cosmology today. To give some background, the story began some eight decades ago when Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar probed the question of the final fate of stars such as the Sun. He showed that such a star, on exhausting its internal nuclear fuel, would stabilize as a “White Dwarf,” about a thousand kilometers in size. Eminent scientists of the time, in particular Sir Arthur Eddington, refused to accept this, saying that a star could never become that small. Chandrasekhar left Cambridge to settle in the United States, and after many years his prediction was verified. Later it also became known that stars which are three to five

times the Sun’s mass give rise to what are called neutron stars, about ten kilometers in diameter, after a supernova explosion.

But when a star has a mass more than these limits, the force of gravity is supreme and overwhelming. A star as massive as tens of solar masses burns much faster and lives only up to 10 to 20 million years, compared to a lifetime of some ten billion years for a smaller star like the Sun. When gravity is unopposed by countering forces, no stable configuration is possible, and amazingly the star’s catastrophic collapse happens within a matter of seconds. The outcome, as predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, is a space-time singularity: an infinitely dense and extreme physical state of matter, not encountered in any of our usual experiences of the physical world.

As one possibility, a so-called event horizon of gravity can develop. This is essentially a one-way membrane that allows entry but no exit. If the star entered the event horizon before it collapsed to a singularity, the result is a black hole that hides the final singularity. Black holes are a permanent graveyard for the collapsing star. According to our current understanding, it was one such singularity, namely the big bang, that created the expanding universe. But the big bang isn’t unique. Such singularities will be produced whenever massive stars die and collapse. And so we arrive at the mysterious boundary of the cosmos, a region of arbitrarily large densities billions of times the sun’s density.

An enormous creation and destruction of particles takes place in the vicinity of a singularity. One could imagine this as the cosmic interplay of the basic forces of nature coming together in a unified manner. These energies and all physical quantities in the vicinity of singularity reach their extreme values; quantum gravity effects dominate this region. This is how collapsing massive stars present a laboratory for quantum gravity, holding out the potential for a TOE, if visible naked singularities occur in astrophysical settings in faraway skies. The basic question then arises: Are such super-ultra-dense regions forming in the collapse of massive stars, visible to faraway observers, or would they always be hidden in a black hole?

A visible singularity is sometimes called a naked singularity or quantum star. The visibility or otherwise of such a super-ultra-dense fireball that the star has turned into is one of the most exciting and important questions in astrophysics and cosmology today. This is because the unification of fundamental forces taking place here becomes observable, at least in principle.

A crucial point arises: while gravitation theory implies that singularities must form in collapse, we have no proof that the event horizon must necessarily develop. It was only a working assumption that an event horizon always does form, hiding all singularities without fail. This is referred to as the cosmic censorship conjecture, the foundation of the current theory of black holes and their modern astrophysical applications. But if the event horizon did not form before the singularity, we would then observe the super-dense regions that form in collapsing massive stars, and the quantum gravity effects near the naked singularity would become observable. Thus we could actually see the extreme physics near such ultimate super-dense regions. As a step toward this possibility, in recent years a series of collapse models have been developed in which the event horizon fails to form in the collapse of a massive star.

In short, it turns out that the collapse of a massive star gives rise to either a black hole or naked singularity, depending on the internal conditions within the star, such as its densities and pressure profiles, and the velocities of the collapsing shells. When a naked singularity occurs, small inhomogeneities (i.e., lumpiness) in matter densities close to singularity could spread out and magnify enormously to create high-energy shock waves. These, in turn, have connections to extreme high-energy astrophysical phenomena such as cosmic gamma ray bursts, which we do not yet understand today.

Will we actually be able to see this cosmic dance, the finale of collapsing stars in the theatre of the galaxies? Or will the black hole curtain always hide and close the end game off forever, even before the ferment of creation has begun? Only future observations of massive collapsing stars can possibly tell us. Interestingly, the 2014 sci-fi adventure Interstellar refers to naked singularities in the script, suggesting that without them we’d never understand how interstellar leaps in space travel are possible—but real science isn’t there yet.

As it stands, the closer we get to the boundary between nothing and something, the more urgent the problem of creation becomes. It’s as if “nothing” and “something” are merely symbols for domains of creation and pre-creation that can’t be understood with objective measurement. In the next part of this series we’ll look into the possibility that scientific knowledge is about to converge with the problem of how the human mind is able to know anything at all. In the end, our thoughts and feelings are “something out of nothing” just as much as collapsing massive stars and the big bang.

Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Cen-ter for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transfor-mation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, Clinical Professor UCSD Medical School, researcher, Neurol-ogy and Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and a member of the American As-sociation of Clinical Endocrinologists. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet sur-vey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine. Chopra is the author of more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times best-sellers. His latest books are You Are the Universe co-authored with Menas Kafatos, PhD, and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine.

Professor Pankaj Joshi is a theoretical physicist and Senior Professor at the Tata Institute of Fun-damental Research (TIFR), Mumbai India. Professor Pankaj Joshi has published many (more than 170) research papers, and monographs on cosmology and gravitation. He has made fundamental contributions on gravitational collapse, black holes and naked singularities. The new analysis on collapsing stars from Joshi and his collaborators, as reported and reviewed in his Oxford (1993) and Cambridge (2007) monographs, showed that both black holes and visible naked singularities form when massive stars collapse at the end of their life-cycles. Recent results from Cambridge, Princeton, Perimeter and others, now corroborate these results.

His research was published as an International cover in “Scientific American.” He served as an ad-junct Faculty with the New York University, and was awarded the A C Banerji Gold Medal and Lec-ture Award by the National Academy of Sciences, India, along with many other awards. He holds visiting faculty positions in many reputed universities and has won fellowships in various scientific academies. His research papers and monographs are widely cited internationally. His recent book, The Story of Collapsing Stars (Oxford University Press), explores the death of massive stars and the subsequent formation of black holes or naked singularities through gravitational collapse of stars.

A Meditation to Restore Hope, Faith, and Trust

By Deepak Chopra, MD and Steve Israel

Everyone has been experiencing the ill effects of disruptive politics. Thinking of the present situation in terms of a partisan divide doesn’t go far enough–there has been a wholesale loss of trust. Hope for a better future is defeated on a daily basis. Faith in the democratic system is perhaps at an all-time low. This malaise isn’t about issues and parties. It’s about how we view bad events and react to them. Society presses the argument that problems arise “out there,” usually caused by other people, and getting immersed in private emotion is a suitable response.

The cycle of event-response never ends, and it rarely solves anything. But we are all addicted to it. Not only do outside events capture our attention, but also there is the rush of feeling angry or elated, victorious or defeated. The world’s wisdom traditions say very little about politics, but they have much to say about getting entangled in the drama, beginning with the teaching that matters the most: the drama never ends. Once you get enmeshed in external events that trigger strong emotions, you have joined the drama either as participant or spectator. Therefore, reality “out there” is the level of the unending problems life brings our way. By becoming stuck in it, people sacrifice their only path to finding a solution, which is to base their sense of self “in here.” If you don’t want to be affected with malaise, stop ingesting the next dose of poison.

When you lose hope, trust, and faith, nobody did it to you. However much you are tempted to demonize somebody else, everything “out there” is aimed at one and only one thing: keeping the drama going at full boil. How you respond is your responsibility, and this turns out to be the opening that sets you free of the drama. Dramas are built out of plot lines, and when you start to look inward, it becomes clear that every plot line, down to the smallest detail, is self-created.
Instead of talking about how to change the narrative–a common topic now, after so many old plot lines have been disrupted and destroyed–it’s crucial to know where any story comes from. When you were a baby, there was no story. If a baby starts chewing when it’s teething, there is no concept of “shoe” (or baby). There are only sensations associated with the shoe: color, texture, shape, smell, and in this case, taste. In the process of development, babies move from feelings to organized perceptions, then on to language and thoughts. Each step adds a building block to the story of life, and by the time adulthood is reached, everyone’s story has taken on a life of its own.
Which is the whole problem. The tags in your story may be white, male, professional, Republican, which enables you to ease into someone else’s worldview if they share enough of the same tags.
Untitled Design(26)

These tags are constructs. Nature doesn’t give birth to Democrats or conservatives, Catholics or Protestants, etc. But by identifying with all the labels that attach to us, we gain a sense of identity–and it’s a false identity, in every case. The story you’ve created has taken on a life of its own because you forgot that you are the creator, the author and not a character.
Babies are not blank slates that get imprinted like hammering a dent into a car fender. They are bundles of experience that is being processed in awareness. How the process turns baby A into Mozart and baby B into Kim Jong-Un remains a total mystery. But one thing is certain: the process occurs in awareness. Expose two children to the same upbringing, and each can turn out to be completely unlike the other. Expose any group of people to the same set of facts, and you will get as many interpretations as there are people.

At this stage of the argument, most of us will agree that all kinds of external influences went into our personal story, and that we interpreted these influences in a very personal way. But go back to the baby chewing a shoe. The experience of chewing the shoe is all the shoe is for the baby. Without a concept of “shoe” to organize the experience, it’s just an activity in awareness. This leads to a startling conclusion that takes time to absorb. Your body is experienced the same way a baby experiences a shoe. You take in a bundle of sensations through the five senses. There is no “body,” much less “my body,” until you construct a concept that organizes the actual reality, which is that your body is only an activity in your awareness.
You can prove this to yourself with a simple thought experiment. If you are experiencing your body and take away how it smells, what’s left? The other four senses. Take away how your body sounds, and what’s left? Three senses. Take all of those away and what’s left? In other words, imagine yourself paralyzed in a hospital bed, blind and deaf, receiving no sensations from your body at all. What remains is only a concept, the notion of “I have a body.” That notion is something to hold on to, which is fine. No one is saying you have to return to the state of a baby chewing on a shoe.
The point instead is to realize that your body is a construct in awareness. If you take away every label and tag that defines you, the same thing will always be left behind: the awareness that builds constructs, modifies and destroys them, gets bored with an old story and rearranges it into a new one. the only stable self is the awareness that participates in this creative process. Therefore, the world’s wisdom traditions teach that there is no “I” except awareness, and what it happens to be doing, which is knowing and experiencing.
How does this cure the current state of malaise? Diving into the drama leads eventually to exhaustion and misery. Staying above the drama is impossible–you may have no interest in politics, but the drama has a thousand other hooks. Wisdom consists in knowing that there is a third option. Take control of the constructs you have been immersed in. Realize that you can do and undo these constructs. This realization brings a sense of excitement and independence of real control and creative living. Isn’t that a lot better than suffering from the malaise?

Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, Clinical Professor UCSD Medical School, researcher, Neurology and Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine. Chopra is the author of more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are You Are the Universe co-authored with Menas Kafatos, PhD, and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine.

Congressman Steve Israel is a Distinguished Writer-In-Residence at Long Island University in New York and was a Member of Congress for sixteen years. He served as House Democrats chief political strategist as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; and President Bill Clinton called him “one of the most thoughtful Members of Congress.” He published a critically acclaimed satire of Washington entitled “The Global War on Morris” in 2015. Israel is a political commentator on CNN. His insights appear regularly in the New York Times, Washington Post and elsewhere.