Motivational speaker and author Deepak Chopra calls for a new approach to
health that drills down to our very essence.
November / December 2009
Long before people tapped science for wellness, 30 was considered old age. Then science reared its head, lengthening life expectancy to just shy of 78 years today. Deepak Chopra, the motivational author and speaker, says people are ready for a new phase in which they can reap unprecedented health gains. This time, Chopra calls for a breakthrough that he says could come by coupling scientific know-how with spiritual wisdom.
By broadening the definition of “soul” beyond religious terms, and restoring the bond between body and soul, people can achieve what Chopra terms a reinvention of the body, a phrase that figures prominently in the title of Chopra’s new book, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You (Harmony).
“There is constant feedback between the soul and body,” Chopra writes. “We invented the separation between the two, and then came to believe that separation was real…[But] everything the soul does is translated into a process in the body. You literally cannot have a body without the soul. This is a forgotten miracle. Each of us is a soul made flesh.”
The release of Chopra’s book comes on the heels of a Nobel-winning discovery in cell biology—how the chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell division and how they are protected against degradation. The solution is found in the telomeres at the ends of chromosomes and the telomerase enzyme that forms them, and has implications for aging and cancer.
Chopra says such discoveries, coupled with a new awareness of the soul, could raise the bar on life expectancy. It’s little wonder then that Chopra divides his new book into breakthroughs for both the body and the soul. He spoke with us from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where he was delivering a lecture.
Energy Times: Your book title uses religious imagery. Yet you say that the concepts you discuss are not religious—that confining the notion of soul to religion is a narrow concept.
Deepak Chopra: The best way for me to describe the soul…is that it’s really a core consciousness. How do we define life? We define life as imbued with sentience. We are conscious beings. We experience the world in our consciousness. We experience our body in our consciousness. We experience our mind in our consciousness. This is one of the big mysteries of science today: Where is this consciousness located? And the more we learn about it scientifically, we are beginning to understand that consciousness is non-local. It means it does not exist in space-time. What spiritual traditions, wisdom traditions and even religious traditions say is that it is transcendent, outside of space-time. That concept is gradually becoming acceptable to scientists, that consciousness is non-local, even though the experience of the world and of our body and the mind is local.
So when I say “resurrecting the soul” it means getting back to the basics, getting in touch with our core consciousness, re-inventing the body from there because the body is a process in consciousness. Your body is continually in dynamic exchange with all the elements and forces of the universe, so you’re recycling your body with the earth and water and air, and with other bodies. You’re recycling your mind by exchanging information with everybody. You’re recycling your energy through relationships. So your physical body is actually not physical at all. We become kind of fixated on the physical because of the superstition of materialism.
Ultimately true spirituality is a religious experience, but it’s beyond dogma and ideology. A true religious experience is one of universality. [Soul] is your core consciousness. It’s where you assemble all your reality, your relationships, meaning, context, archetypal themes. These are all assembled in your core consciousness, which then manifest as your life story.
ET: You call for a new health breakthrough that connects the body “with meaning, with the deeper values” of the soul: love, beauty, creativity, inspiration. What could life expectancy be if people adopt these principles and “break through” to this next phase that takes consciousness into account?
DC: Even as I was writing the book the information was that life expectancy possibly can go to 120 years because there’s a biological clock that kind of shuts off at that age and is based on things like telomerase and telomeres and how they start to disappear with time. But this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology is all about telomerase and turning the genes on and off, so who knows? The fastest growing segment of the American population is over the age of 95 right now.
ET: What are the five breakthroughs in the body that you say can move us to that next phase?
DC: The first breakthroughs are in the body. The body is not a structure but a process in consciousness, therefore the physical body is a conditioned response that really is an illusion.
The second breakthrough is that your body is energy, and you can tap into universal energy to reenergize your body. There are very specific processes.
The third is that you can change your genes. There’s now scientific research showing that 300 genes that control heart disease and diabetes and obesity and inflammation can be changed through lifestyle, through stress management, diet and exercise.
So, too, can you change your brain because your brain is not hardwired. Every thought, every emotion, every impulse in the brain actually causes the physical structure to change. If you’re fearful and feeling separate, then your brain will cause your genes to down-regulate, which means that your body will biologically display all the effects of that state of consciousness. On the other hand, the more you move from personal to transpersonal to universal domains of consciousness—which
of course also means kindness and love and compassion and generosity and caring for the other—the more your genes will up-regulate themselves, which means the bad genes will turn off and the good genes will turn on. So that’s a major breakthrough that you’re going to hear a lot about.
The fourth breakthrough is that in every moment of your life you can change your relationship with time. Time is also an experience in consciousness. Where do you experience time? You don’t see it; there’s not a perceptual experience. It’s a cognitive experience in consciousness, depending on how you are measuring your experience. So you say, “I had a great time; time flew” or “I was bored; time dragged.” The way you experience time influences your biological clock. If you’re always running out of time your blood pressure will be higher, your platelets will be stickier, your heart rate will be fast and irregular, and if you suddenly drop dead of a heart attack, then you’ve run out of time.
On the other hand you can have transcendent experiences of timelessness—“I was in love; time didn’t exist” or “It was a timeless experience.” So the more you understand how you create your experience of time, and the more you change your experience from the time-bound into the timeless, your body will shift in that direction.
The final breakthrough in the body is that awareness is key. Whatever you put your attention on, it gets stronger. And whatever you take your attention away from, it dissipates.
ET: Please summarize the five breakthroughs in the soul.
DC: Your soul is a field of possibilities. It’s pure potential. Its only motivation is love. It has unlimited imagination and creativity. It has the ability to give you what religious or spiritual [disciplines] call grace. Finally, if you get in touch with this part of yourself, you always have the choice to turn to evolution instead of entropy. The breakthroughs of the soul and the mind are kind of linked. It’s not that they’re separate because ultimately all that happens is conceived, governed, constructed and comes into reality in consciousness. There’s nothing outside of consciousness. We experience the world in our consciousness, we experience our mind in our consciousness. That’s our essential state. But we never get in touch with that level of existence. We’re always caught up in our projected realities instead of at the source.
ET: Talk about your other new book, The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: The 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment (Harmony).
DC: I [explored] the usual prescriptions for happiness: Change your brain setpoint. See opportunities instead of adversities. How do you do that? How do you let go of limiting beliefs? How do you focus on relationships? All that is well known, so the first little bit of the book is about well-documented research on happy people.
But the research doesn’t address the big questions, which is, notwithstanding everything we know, we still are going to get old at some point; we still are going to have to confront infirmity of some kind at some point; and we’re still going to die. So there is always human angst about mortality and the meaning and purpose of our existence.
I call it “The Ultimate Happiness Prescription” because when you look at the wisdom traditions, they say the only way you can really be happy is when you lose your fear of death and if you are shifting your identity from personal to transpersonal to universal. That, in wisdom traditions, is called enlightenment.
To me, as a person who studies religious figures throughout history…or the Greek philosophers…or the Eastern philosophers…you come away with one basic idea: That until you know yourself as a spiritual being there will always be some kind of unhappiness. So the ultimate path to happiness is really more about the path to enlightenment.
ET: I’d like to bring this interview back to the physical for a moment. What is your exercise routine?
DC: I exercise a minimum of one hour, sometimes two hours a day. I exercise seven days a week at the gym. I use the elliptical. I do the treadmill. I use weights every other day or every third day. I am very active in that I don’t sit around every day. If I have a choice to climb stairs instead of taking the elevator, I’ll do that. I walk a lot in airports and I don’t take escalators or elevators or those moving ramps. I make sure that my body is constantly moving.
I wear a monitor around my neck that tells me how many calories I burned and what my target was. Once I achieve my target I extend it. I’m a bit of an addictive personality so I think I’m borderline addicted to exercise. I really enjoy it a lot. It’s not a chore.
ET: How about your diet? Please describe a typical day’s meals.
DC: Diet has changed a lot. I was brought up as a child and a young man with a heavy meat diet. I
struggled with that, knowing that the less you depend on animal products, especially the way they are raised and produced, the healthier it is. It was difficult for me to shift. But over the years I have shifted over to more or less a vegetarian diet. I also do make sure I get enough protein in the form of tofu or other non-animal products. So I’m shifting in that direction. It’s been a transition almost over a lifetime.
My exercise routine and my meditation have been very instrumental. I’m not a fanatic about diet; if there’s fish or chicken available I’ll take it. It’s not a big deal. If there’s anything I avoid, it’s sugar. There were 10 years when I was completely vegetarian, in the 80s and early 90s. Then I started eating meat again, always poultry or fish, and now I’m going back to vegetarian. I also take a multivitamin, and recently I started to take fish oil.
ET: To help get people started, what would you advise to those who have not meditated or who have and are looking for a new approach?
DC: I always combine meditation with the ability to still your mind, but also with reflection and contemplation.
Reflection is asking questions like “Who am I?” “What do I want?” “What’s my life purpose?” “What’s my contribution?” “Who are my heroes, my heroines in history, mythology and religion?” “What are my skills?” “What are my talents?” “How can I put them to use?” “How can I nurture relationships?”
The big questions of our existence. If you ask them, life has a tendency to move you into the answers.
The second thing is contemplation. You take one idea and just kind of hold it, whatever that might be: peace or love or harmony or laughter or compassion. The Buddhists contemplate on four attributes, called loving kindness, compassion, joy at the success of others and peace or equanimity.
The third aspect is just mindfulness or breath awareness, body awareness or chanting a mantra or repeating a phrase like “I am.” A phrase like that has no history behind it. It helps you transcend. That’s what I do.
ET: You have a big fan base in Hollywood. Why do you feel you attract so many stars?
DC: I think many of the stars live in a perpetual state of anxiety because they confuse their self-image with self-esteem. In their minds, they are only as good as their last movie or album. I think it helps them to find a deeper sense of self, to be even more creative and disengage from constantly being in fear of criticism or approval. Their creativity really flourishes, and most of them are actually very creative.
ET: You were very public about your friend Michael Jackson’s death. You talked about your efforts to intervene in his prescription drug abuse. His autopsy report showed that he was generally healthy. What lesson is there in this tragic story of vulnerability?
DC: I think the lesson is don’t disempower yourself by giving your life away to a medical deity or a medical doctor. It’s unfortunate that addiction is the No. 1 disease of our civilization, and most addiction is not street drugs but prescribed drugs. This kind of thing needs policing and I hope this brings some awareness. I think we disempower ourselves through the idea that there is something out there that will make us stronger, healthier or happier when the mechanics of all empowerment is within our own consciousness.