News & Information

How to Get Back Your Personal Power

By Deepak Chopra, MD

There are many ways in modern life to feel powerless, as the world seems increasingly dangerous. None of us can change the evening news, but we can regain the personal power that is undermined by stress, a sense of threat, and loss of control. In fact, without being in control, a person is more susceptible to depression and anxiety, two disorders that exist in epidemic numbers in this society. Unfortunately, the social trends that drain away personal power only grow stronger. Therefore, it’s crucial to find a way to limit that feeling in your day-to-day life. As a start, let’s clarify what power isn’t. It isn’t a force that you use like a weapon to get your own way. It isn’t suppressing what you don’t like about yourself and achieving a perfect ideal that doesn’t exist in the first place. It isn’t money, status, possessions, or any other material surrogate. There are countless people sitting in the lap of luxury who feel even more powerless than the average person. This is so because the issues of power are all “in here,” where you relate to yourself. Now we can address the five things that do limit—or even undo—that feeling of powerlessness.

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​How the Universe Solved the Hard Problem

By Deepak Chopra

For some inexplicable reason the most common element in every possible experience–consciousness–has kept itself a secret. How the human brain produces consciousness–if it does–is an age-old question, currently traveling under the name of “the hard problem.” Philosopher David Chalmers, who coined the term, says, “There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain.” This is especially frustrating because we all depend upon consciousness for everything. If we were unconscious, the world would literally disappear in a puff of smoke. This obvious fact implies something that isn’t so obvious: Maybe consciousness and the world appeared at the same time.

A cosmos devoid of consciousness isn’t conceivable, and yet the reason for this exists completely out of sight. Think of sunlight. Obviously the sun can’t shine unless stars exist. There are few secrets left to discover about how stars form, what they are made of, and how light is produced in the incredibly hot cauldron at the core of a star. The secret lies elsewhere. As sunlight travels 93 million miles to Earth, it penetrates the atmosphere and lands somewhere on the planet. In this case, the only somewhere we’re interested in is our eye. Photons, the packets of energy that carry light, stimulate the retina at the back of the eye, starting a chain of events that leads to the part of the brain known as the visual cortex.

The difference between being blind and beinIMG_0263g able to see lies in the mechanics of how the brain processes sunlight—that much is clear. Yet the step in the process that matters the most, converting sunlight into vision, is totally mysterious. No matter what you see in the world—an apple, cloud, mountain, or tree—sunlight bouncing off the object makes it visible, but how? No one knows. The secret of sight is totally immersed in consciousness itself. Without being conscious of light, photons are invisible. Yet it is mistaken to say that light becomes bright in the brain through some physical process, because the brain has no brightness, either. It is as dark as outer space. Because there is no light in the brain, there are no pictures or images, either. When you imagine the face of a loved one, nowhere in the brain does that face exist like a photograph.

At present no one can explain how invisible photons being converted to chemical reactions and faint electrical impulses in the brain create the three-dimensional reality we all take for granted, Brain scans pick up electrical activity, which is why an fMRI contains patches of brightness and color. So something is going on in the brain. But the actual nature of sight is elusive. The same is true of the other four senses as well.

Sir John Eccles, a famous British neurologist and Nobel laureate, declared, “I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world, and no sound – nothing of this kind; no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent.” What Eccles means is that all the qualities of Nature, from the luxurious scent of a rose to the sting of a wasp and the taste of honey, is produced by human consciousness. Nothing can be left out. The most distant star, billions of light years away, has no reality without our consciousness, because everything that makes a star real—its heat, light, and mass, its position in space and the velocity that carries it away at enormous speed—requires a human observer with a human nervous system. If no one existed to experience heat, light, mass, and so on, nothing could be real as we know it. (At this moment, an estimated 6 billion neutrinos pass undetected through our bodies, but since we have no direct experience of this phenomenon, it doesn’t have the same “realness” as a burning match. Neutrinos exist through inference using mechanical means of detection.)

Because we are conscious participants, we are the creators of reality, and yet we have no idea how we do it—the process is effortless. When we see, light gains its brightness. When

we listen, air vibrations turn into audible sound. This implies that setting consciousness apart as a problem, the so-called hard problem, may be totally wrong. Fish can’t set the ocean apart as an interesting topic, because their total life is involved in water. Therefore, if a fish scientist asked, “What makes water wet?” the question would be invalid. “Wet” is simply how water is. Can we say the same of the cosmos? Perhaps we can’t set consciousness apart as a “problem” because it is innate, like the wetness of water. Only consciousness would have to be universal, not simply a single property.

In a word, consciousness could be the same as existence. This profound knowledge isn’t new. In ancient India the Vedic sages declared Aham Brahmasmi, which can be translated as “I am the universe” or “I am everything.” They arrived at this knowledge by diving deep into their own awareness, where some fundamental discoveries were made. Lost to memory are Einsteins of consciousness whose genius was comparable to the Einstein who revolutionized physics in the twentieth century.

Today we explore reality through science, and there cannot be two realities. If “I am the universe” is true, a complete description of reality cannot take place without consciousness as a primary component. Science must take seriously the hypothesis that this is a participatory universe depending for its very existence on human beings. The reason that this hypothesis seems preposterous to 99% of current scientific thinking is the allure of physical objects. Treating the universe as an object “out there,” which human beings came to inhabit billions of years after the Big Bang seems self-evident. “Of course” there was a cosmos before there was planet Earth and the emergence of life on the planet.

But this ‘of course” is invalidated by the fact that every component of the universe–time, space, matter, and energy–is knowable only through a human nervous system. The “real” reality, the source from which everything in creation emerges, is without dimensions. It has no

time or space. Its constituents precede matter and energy as they exist all around us. It isn’t possible to observe this hidden reality, and yet modern physics theorizes about it all the time, for the simple reason that time, space, matter, and energy must come from somewhere. The word “somewhere” implies a place, which can’t literally exist before space emerged. Therefore, the origin of the cosmos must be, not a place, but a state.

This state can’t be thought about or spoken of, because thinking and language depend on a brain that was created in the context of time, space, matter, and energy. It is only reasonable to call it a transcendent state, and insofar as it has any properties whatever, only two are plausible. The first is existence. It’s hard to believe that our origin is non-existent. The second quality is consciousness. Scientists find it quite easy to believe that the quantum vacuum, the multiverse, or whatever name you give to the transcendent state, isn’t conscious. But to believe this is simply jumping to conclusions.

There is no proof that consciousness isn’t universal, a state permeating all of creation. On the other hand, there are many suggestions that consciousness could be inherent in the cosmos. The first is positive, in the form of our own consciousness, for which no one can find an original cause or set of causes. The second clue is negative, in the impossibility to explaining how physical atoms and molecules somehow learned to think, reason, and become aware. At this moment there’s a growing body of cosmologists developing theories of a completely new universe, one that is living, conscious, and evolving. Such a universe fits no standard model. It’s not the cosmos of quantum physics or the Creation described as the work of almighty God in the Book of Genesis. A conscious universe responds to how we think and feel. It gains its shape, color, sound, and texture from us. Therefore, we feel the best name for it is the human universe. Its existence isn’t a pet theory. The human universe, if it exists, is the real universe, the only one we have.

The solution to “the hard problem” is to realize that the problem was an arbitrary creation, one that seemed logical at the time but become null and void when our perspective shifts.

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 Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com

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Why Consciousness is Still a Mystery

By Deepak Chopra

No one doubts that it’s hard to figure out where consciousness comes from, and when a problem persists for thousands of years—which is literally true in this case—it’s worthwhile sorting out the clues that might lead to an answer. Some are better than others, and a few may be completely false. At the very least, if we can agree on the hottest leads, a final answer may come nearer.

Clue #1: The brain lights up when we think.

Neuroscience depends exclusively upon this clue, which offers material traces (so-called neural correlates) to mental activity.

Advantage: Watching the brain in action provides the most reliable map to date of how the activity of consciousness is physically processed.

Disadvantage: There is no proof that neural correlates are anything except correlates. They could be symptoms or signs of consciousness rather than the cause. Any attempt to make consciousness physical, in fact, is suspect.

Clue #2: As nervous systems grow more complex, mental activity grows more complex.

This clue identifies consciousness as an evolved state that begins with primitive instincts and responses in lower animals. As life gets more complex, true consciousness—the human kind—emerged at the top of the evolutionary ladder.

Advantage: This clue places consciousness within the highly successful evolutionary scheme of Darwinism. It becomes a survival trait like other survival traits instead of something unique and mysterious.

Disadvantage: There is no reliable connection between complexity and consciousness. If you add more cards to a deck, that doesn’t mean the deck will suddenly begin to play poker. A theory where consciousness leads the way and physical complexity follows is just as viable.

Clue #3: The physical universe, down to the level of atoms and quanta, exhibits mind-like behavior.

This clue emerged to help make sense of quantum behavior, where non-living things (subatomic particles) appear to make choices and decisions. In the same way, there is something mind-like about how perfectly the universe is fine-tuned, especially as a home for the emergence of human intelligence on Earth.

Advantage: Consciousness may be an inherent property, akin to information, that drives physical systems. It could be incorporated into physical theories about matter and energy.

Disadvantage: Mind-like behavior may simply be a projection created by creatures with a mind (i.e., human beings). An interpretation isn’t the same as an innate property.


 

Clue #4: Mathematics, being orderly, coherent, and systematic, could offer a foundation for all reasoning and higher mental activity.

This clue appeals to those who want a bathumbnail_IMG_0261sis for consciousness that isn’t physical, while still connecting it to the physical universe. Mathematics links pure logic and the laws of nature that govern creation.

Advantage: Being inseparable from Nature, math could serve as a reliable origin for consciousness, which is much better than having no origin at all.

Disadvantage: Mind is much more than reason, even more than order, coherence , and the systematic arrangement of concepts. How can numbers be afraid or friendly, for example?

Also, consciousness isn’t the same as mental activity. Being conscious is a state that precedes thinking (as witness the conscious state of a newborn baby).

Clue #5: The human mind seems to be unique in our universe, so far as we presently observe.

This clue allows us to use human consciousness as the gold standard for mind, without having to venture into unknown or speculative territory. Alien minds, animal minds, the cosmic mind—all of these categories can be set aside as incidental to the human mind.

Advantage: If we can understand our own minds, we may understand consciousness itself. “Thinking about thinking” could be the only viable way to get at the problem in the first place.

Disadvantage: Many scientists regard “thinking about thinking” as either totally unreliable or circular. The split between physics and metaphysics has never been settled, and our age, having witnessed the triumph of science and technology, deeply distrusts the metaphysical side.

There are many other clues that could be added to the list, but these five are enough to lead to some critical conclusions. The first is that the advantages of any clue are more or less equal to the disadvantages. A sharp investigator could easily affirm or deny each one. Between them, science and philosophy haven’t managed to indisputably prove even a single clue, a failure which has led to an intellectual power struggle whenever consciousness is confronted as an issue. Among the ancient Greeks, the power went to thinkers; today it has shifted to experimenters. Therefore, in order to get even an inch closer to where consciousness comes

from, we have to decide, Is consciousness subject to experimentation or not? Is consciousness even a suitable scientific question?

For a very long time the answer to both questions was no. Even though science is obviously a conscious activity, the participation of mind was taken as a given, like the air in the room. Without air you can’t breathe, but that’s irrelevant to whatever research project someone is working on. Another obstacle to investigating consciousness is materialism. It appears on the face of it that physical “stuff” cannot think, and discovering the point at which atoms or molecules suddenly began to think remains improbable, largely because there is nothing—no measurable quantity—for the atom or molecule to acquire. Consciousness isn’t empirical, and its empirical stand-ins, such as brain cells, are unsatisfactory. We can get data out of brain cells, but that doesn’t solve the problem of how “stuff” becomes conscious; it only shows us one place to look. (It could be argued that the atoms and molecules inside the brain don’t become privileged simply by residing there as opposed to inside a rock, sea water, or interstellar space.)

The case for treating consciousness as a scientific puzzle grows worse once you disqualify brain cells as the best clue. The brain is completely silent and dark; therefore, it contains no light or sound, and yet the mind is filled with light and sound, which must come from somewhere.

These difficulties would seem to sway the argument towards metaphysics, or “thinking about thinking,” but it doesn’t. Thinking about thinking poses difficulties at least as great as science’s obstacles. There’s the issue of the snake biting its tail—thinking about thinking seems to have no outside method of verification. There is no substance to perceive and measure, no real data, and no laws of nature governing consciousness. Moreover, since it is self-evident that

consciousness is being applied when we think, it’s hard to understand how it could be both the definer of mind and simultaneous the mind itself.

By trying to test the clues that might lead to a solution about how consciousness arose, we wind up with a surprising conclusion. One camp, which says that matter must precede the emergence of mind, is just as wobbly as the opposite camp, which holds that matter was created by some kind of universal mind. These are the “mind first” and “matter first” models, one metaphysical, the other physical. Both depend on assumptions that cannot be proven. An absence of reliable proof is unacceptable to either science or philosophy; therefore, the only reasonable tack would be to find an answer that avoids the either-or of “mind first” and “matter first.” This alternative is forced upon us when choosing between two dominant worldviews, physical and metaphysical, leads nowhere. (Of course, partisans of “matter first” and “mind first” will feel free to stoutly defend their worldviews regardless of anything being said here.)

The alternative to an either/or position must be a sort of both/and, or in other words a choiceless reality that contains, embraces, and transcends mind and matter both. Quantum physics and recent cosmology have led us, sometimes kicking and screaming, to the threshold of the inconceivable, a realm of Nature where the human mind cannot venture in its customary way. The pre-created state of the universe resembles the quantum vacuum in radical ways: both domains are (it is supposed) unreachable by observation, dimensionless, or else filled with nearly infinite dimensions, and beyond the four ingredients that make possible the existence of a brain, namely, time, space, matter, and energy.

Attempts to preserve time-honored scientific assumptions break down at the threshold, although strenuous efforts are made to preserve a scientific model of reality through advanced mathematics, superstrings, quantum gravity, the multiverse, etc. Besides falling woefully short

as conventional science (since the pre-created state yields no data, measurements, viable experiments, or direct participation of any kind. It is entirely inferential.), the current view of reality, not just of consciousness, seems to contain all the weaknesses of metaphysics as well.

Without taking sides on any theory about consciousness or even the relationship between mind and brain, a new set of clues is called for that conforms to current findings in science. Science may be dealing in defective models, but it is still our common starting-point for explaining reality.

New clue #1: Consciousness acts as if it is self-organized, self-governing, and self-maintaining.

New clue #2: There is no substance or force that precedes the appearance of consciousness at any point in the evolution of the cosmos.

New clue #3: It is impossible to separate the mind-like behavior of subatomic particles from the actual operation of mind as experienced in everyday life. They are aspects of the same phenomenon.

New clue #4: Since it has become abundantly clear, through such discoveries as dark matter and energy, that the visible universe is a fractional representation of reality as a whole, there is every reason to believe that the human mind is a fractional representation of cosmic mind.

New clue #5: The qualities or qualia of experience are irreducible to physical building blocks or mental precursors. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that these qualities are inherent in consciousness and derive from a “pure’ form of consciousness.

In the current semi-chaos of speculation about how matter relates to mind, even the most self-evident clues will not satisfy everyone. But there is one sobering thought that everyone needs to ponder. Until some set of clues is settled upon, all possible answers will be

speculative at best and arbitrary at worst. Reality deserves better than that, which is probably what reality has been saying to us all along.

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 Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com

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How to Free Yourself from Your Brain

On many fronts people feel the urge to change their lives–so why don’t they succeed? We live in therapeutic times. Advice surrounds us about achieving success. Yet when we set our minds to do something seemingly simple–losing weight, giving up a bad habit, acting nicer to people, and so on–something intervenes between the intention and the goal. This “something” exists in the relationship between the mind, which issues a desire or intention, and the brain, which is the physical apparatus for carrying out desires and intentions.

If you assume that the brain is the mind, which is the working assumption in 99% of neuroscience research, there is little room for solving the problem. It’s as if you hear a piece of music you don’t like on the radio, so you try to rearrange the radio’s parts. Obviously a mistake is being made there, but the relationship between mind and brain is subtler. It’s like a conversation between two people, where one person is dominant one moment and the other person is dominant the next. In the dialogue between mind and brain, most of the time the mind is automatically dominant. If you want to raise your arm, the brain sends the appropriate signals without obstacle of interference.


 

But sometimes the brain interjects its own feedback, and then the signals become confused. In the last post we discussed how brain-trained responses can make us virtIMG_8879ual robots obeying old conditioning, habits, memories, and so on. The mind trains the brain to do X, and then without benefit of new training, the brain does X all the time. If you look at your own life, you can find endless examples of how brain-training limits your freedom of choice. For example,

– When you reject suggestions without giving them any thought.

– When your relationships repeat the same negative patterns.

– When you react to situations with anxiety, anger, or any negative emotion that comes up automatically.

– When you feel threatened by change.

– When old traumas rear their heads.

– When you’re stuck in your ways.

Being stuck in general will have some component of brain training to it, because the same pathways of habit, feeling, and thought are somehow imprinted in the nervous system. Explaining how this occurs is very tricky. Is it karma? It is the subconscious mind? Neither of those terms are actually viable explanations–they are just alternate ways to say that the mind finds itself blocked, stuck, or without freedom of choice. Yet the problem itself is obvious. We need to find a way to make the mind dominant in the mind-brain conversation. In the days of LP records, a needle could get stuck in the same groove, and to make the music go forward, you had to lift the needle. Being stuck in a mental groove is more challenging because mind and brain are so tangled and intertwined.

Some workable solutions have nonetheless emerged:

1. You can replace old brain training with new brain training. This occurs when people acquire better lifestyle habits in diet, exercise, and stress management, repeat the new ways over and over, and eventually make the new habits stick.

2. You can adopt a new way to relate to your brain. This happens when people take up meditation, for example, or other contemplative practices. These practices rely on the mind to stop warring with the brain. The new relationship is one of peaceful coexistence.

3. You can apply focused attention so that unconscious habits are brought into the light of awareness. This happens in mindfulness, for example, where you witness yourself during the day as if examining a situation without becoming involved.

4. You can seek therapeutic intervention, or perform the intervention on yourself. This happens in cognitive therapy, for example, where the therapist points out self-defeating thought patterns that can be changed for more positive, realistic ideas.

5. You can make self-awareness a primary goal, so that by knowing yourself completely, you untangle the hidden knots and obstacles that limit freedom of choice. This happens through examining your behavior and constantly asking “why do I do this?”

In one way or another, all of these tactics are both workable and self-limiting. The problem, to begin with, is that brain training is very stubborn and tends to persist despite our best efforts to undo it. In addition, most people find it next to impossible to know where mind ends and brain begins. If you say “I hate spinach,” are you being a robot obeying old triggers from your childhood, or are you expressing yourself as a person making a free choice? Being a biological robot sounds bad enough, but far more troubling is to expect that the robot has the power to fix itself.

For this reason, the Eastern spiritual tradition–which is also a profound tradition of thought, behavior and psychology–takes a different tack. It assumes that no one can step outside their own conditioning to the point of breaking free. We are inside our minds at all times, and the brain is interacting with the mind at every second. This is the setup in which change must occur. The only way to be free, then, is if freedom already exists. Beneath, behind, or beyond the working mind-body system, there has to be an entirely different state of awareness, one that is neither trained nor trainable, neither conflicted nor confused, neither involved or uninvolved.

In other words, this state of awareness must exist beyond the play of opposites, a play that keeps duality and separation constantly in motion. You cannot think your way to such a state, because the ego-self was created from the play of opposites. Every time you choose A over B, you are defining yourself by the choice you make. Some choices are major, as when you decide whom to marry; some choices are minor, like changing brands of detergent or hair color or shoes. but big or small, choosing between A and B keeps the choosing game going, and thus the brain gets trained to accept, record, remember, and install the choices that make you who you are today.

From this analysis, the Eastern tradition holds that there must be a state of choiceless awareness, for the simple reason that the chooser, the one making all of these big and small decisions, isn’t itself a choice. “to be or not to be” is definitely not the question. We all exist; we all have a self; we all participate in life. Thus the state of choiceless awareness is defined as the source of the mind, the starting or zero point that gives us our existence. Then the project of getting free is to realize that you are free to begin with.

This can sound like an empty insight, like Yahweh speaking to Moses form the burning bush, declaring “I am that I am.” The statement isn’t empty, however, because when you look into it, the “I” is a different identity, not the daily ego-personality with its unending demands, insecurities, fears, and hidden motivations but a self that precedes all of it. Yahweh is saying “I am existence,” with the implication that everything we call God-like (e.g., knowing everything, being everywhere, and having the power to bring anything about) is embedded in being and existing. The power to be precedes the power to become X, whatever X stands for.

In that light, choiceless awareness is problem-free, not by being passive and waiting on the corner while the world passes by, but by virtue of awareness interacting with itself. Instead of choosing new ways to act, think, and feel, we can shift our allegiance to a state of awareness where action, thought, and feeling automatically synchronize with what is needed. Thus all five ways of getting free of the brain and its inertia turn out to be right in their orientation, if not their results. They are all oriented toward consciousness in place of unconsciousness. Choiceless awareness is unique because it is complete. It recognizes that awareness is capable of dealing with life effortlessly, once we get out of the way.

So what does getting out of the way entail? An adequate answer would have to describe the whole spiritual path, but in capsule form, here are the steps derived from the world’s wisdom traditions.

1. Recognize the state of duality.

2. Find reasons for why you no longer want to be trapped in duality.

3. Find a teacher or teaching who convinces you that there is a better way.

4. Test the teaching on yourself, being neither too credulous nor too skeptical.

5. Keep in mind that expanded awareness is always the goal.

6. Shift your allegiance away from “I, me, and mine” toward a higher sense of self.

7. Hang loose and allow the process of higher consciousness to work its way through.

In the end, what makes this process so appealing is that you can devote yourself to steps to change that have been effective for centuries. The problem of how the mind relates to the brain doesn’t have to be answered–there’s little chance that neuroscience is going to do this any time soon. What’s necessary is to see how your own inner world can be expanded and liberated. The possibility is open to everyone, as it has been throughout humanity’s quest for freedom.

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 Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com

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