Who are we? What is our purpose? These are some of the greatest questions that humanity has been asking since the beginning of time. Searching for the answer, we have forgotten about ourselves in the process. We are walking around earth on autopilot, numb to our surroundings, searching outwardly for something that resides inside of us.
Listen to the Madness of Rumi
The Invaluable Skill of Paying Attention
By Deepak Chopra, MD
There’s a common grumble, generally directed at the young, that they are constantly distracted by texting, video games, and other ways to stop paying attention. But few of us have truly mastered the skill of paying attention, or even realize that it is a skill. This is because we haven’t looked deeply into how awareness works.
Attention, which is another way of describing focused awareness, is important because whatever you pay attention to grows in importance and significance. If you focus on your job, your relationship, or a favorite hobby, your attention nourishes a feedback loop–you become better at what you pay attention to. Your brain strengthens or weakens in specific areas depending on the input it receives, and paying attention provides concentrated input. Attention can’t be faked or forced. When a schoolteacher scolds an unruly class with, “Pay attention, people!” he may get results for a few minutes, but the demand loses its effect very quickly. Asking a restless mind to settle down and pay attention is even more futile. The secret is to know how attention can be mastered.
There are some basic requirements to be met. The first is being centered, the skill we covered to begin this series of posts. Distraction is self-defeating. Second, your awareness focuses naturally when you have a desire. We focus on what we want. Third, attention works best when combined with intention – envisioning a way to fulfill your desire. When the three ingredients come together – you are centered, you have a desire, you intend to fulfill your desire – attention becomes extremely powerful. The tale is told by anyone who has fallen in love at first sight; it’s the definition of laser focus. But for some people the same focused attention applies to ambition, money, and power.
Attention becomes more elevated when you focus on objects of a deeper inner longing. Almost everyone has wondered “Who am I?” but the people who actually find out are driven by a desire to know. This desire is as strong as other people’s desire for more money, status, and power. If you ask spiritual questions casually, they amount to very little. God could send you a telegram with the answers and it wouldn’t change your life. The path must be driven by desire. Let’s say that you experience a moment of inner peace that has arrived without expectation. It’s just there, appearing in the midst of an ordinary day.
You might casually notice it, or a train of thought could begin, as follows:
- I’m at peace. How unusual. I like this.
- I wonder where it came from.
- I want to find out, because it would be good to be at peace more often.
- I’m going to follow this experience up. It’s too valuable to forget.
This is a natural train of thought, and every self-aware person I know has followed it, not necessarily from a moment of inner peace. Some have experienced sudden joy; others felt protected and looked after; a few sensed a spiritual presence that caught them totally by surprise. What they had in common was that they really paid attention to their experience. The process can be simplified into three steps. The next time you have an inner experience of peace, joy, love, inspiration, or insight, pause for a moment.
Step 1: Notice what is happening. Sit quietly without distraction. Soak up the experience without commenting or interrupting it.
Step 2: As the moment fades, don’t rush away from it. Consider how significant it is. Put the significance into context, reflecting on how different you feel from your ordinary self.
Step 3: Make the experience valuable. Consider how transformed your life would be if you could repeat the experience. Even more, think about a life filled with joy, peace, and love. See it in your mind’s eye; feel how beautiful your life would become.
In these three steps you are activating the emotional brain and the cortex, or higher brain, the first by fully feeling your experience, the second by applying thought and reflection. This is how dreams come true. You combine a vision of possibilities with the kind of focused intention that creates new pathways in the brain. The world “in here” is connected always to the world “out there.” You can’t seize an opportunity without being aware of it; you can’t nourish a new possibility without wanting to. When awareness, desire, and intention come together, you are mastering the skill of paying attention.
(Originally published by The San Francisco Chronicle)
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 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are The Healing Self co-authored with Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D. and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com
The Faith-Based Science of Neil deGrasse Tyson—It Needs Correcting
By Deepak Chopra, MD
Peacekeepers entering war zones frequently find that both sides are angry and intransigent, to the point that even mentioning peace causes tempers to flare. This has been the situation with the debate—now worn out to the point of exhaustion—between science and religion. There are ways to bring peace, but they are stymied by militant partisans.
The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson broke out from his warm persona as our national science explainer in 2014 when he stated, in line with previous opinions, that philosophy was useless, telling an interviewer, “My concern here is that the philosophers believe they are actually asking deep questions about nature. And to the scientist it’s, what are you doing? Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning?”
The reason that more people got upset over his remarks goes beyond the small and dwindling coterie of professional philosophers. DeGrasse Tyson was arguing in broad terms that science is the only avenue to truth and that inner inquiry was an obstruction to uncovering the secrets of reality. He believes, science requires no acts of faith and therefore is the only reliable guide to knowledge.
Millions of people would agree—after all, modern civilization was built upon the foundation of science and technology. But deGrasse Tyson doesn’t realize that his brand of simplistic materialism runs exactly counter to the insights of quantum physics beginning a century ago, when the reliable structure of space, time, matter, and energy was completely undermined. This is no longer the stale, exhausted war between science and religion or between science and philosophy. The nature of reality, unknown to so-called naïve realists, has become increasingly mysterious.
DeGrasse Tyson places himself in the camp of naïve realism, the belief that what the senses report is fact, that raw data, once systematized and explained, establishes the physical universe as the basis of everything real. That is actually an act of faith. The great pioneering physicist Max Planck, who coined the term “quantum,” insisted that “mind is the matrix of matter.” He elaborated on the point speaking to a London reporter in 1931: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
The fact that the observer affects what he observes, links mind and matter, although precisely how is still debated. DeGrasse Tyson recently dragged my name into his combative attitude, labeling me as a suspicious character who threw around big words to disguise my own ignorance. But having written several books on the nature of consciousness, I feel like a peacekeeper rather than a combatant. One role DeGrasse Tyson has adopted is a kind of “There’s nothing to see here, folks. Just move on.” He represents the happy face of a unified scientific community marching hand-in-hand toward the ultimate explanation of everything.
The problem with such an attitude is its combination of willful ignorance and outdated science. The salient points are these:
- Physicists find themselves more baffled than ever about the nature of the universe, thanks to the discovery of dark matter and energy, which contradicts many previously held assumptions.
- The holy grail of science, the sought-after Theory of everything, is farther than ever from being achieved. This has led to a deep rift and much doubt among theorists—see Stephen Hawking’s book, The Grand Design, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow. In explaining their M-Theory, they use the phrase “model-based reality.”
- The traditional way for dealing with consciousness has been for science to ignore it, be suspicious of the entire subjective realm, and ridicule anyone who brought up the subject. This attitude, encapsulated in the phrase, “Shut up and calculate,” is a mask for ignorance about the nature of the mind. Like it or not, science is a mode of explanation that rests upon experience, just as other modes of explanation do.
- Without understanding consciousness, science as pure physicalism may be reaching a dead end. Once you arrive at the quantum vacuum state, the void from which time, space, matter, and energy emerged, there is no more data to harvest. Across an uncrossable horizon lies the “nothing that gave rise to everything.” A new mode of explanation based on consciousness offers a way past this barrier. But about this deGrasse Tyson knows nothing.
- Pride in being a know-nothing is gradually fading among far-seeing scientists. In an influential Scientific American article in 2014, the prominent British physicist George Ellis knocked the scientific attack on philosophy. Ellis’s central point was that the assumptions behind science are metaphysical to begin with, yet practitioners of science remain woefully ignorant of this fact. Both opposing camps, the one that derives creation from material forces and the one that derives creation from an invisible transcendent agent of mind, are making philosophical statements, not proven statements of fact.
Taken altogether, these points, which are well known in and out of science, are not quackery or suspicious anti-science attitudes promulgated by exponents of woo woo. I can shrug off unfair denigration, but deGrasse Tyson needs to get past his faith-based view of science. Instead of disparaging better thinkers than himself, he should join the peacekeeping mission that might, at long last, repair a division that needs healing, not misplaced antagonisms.
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing and Jiyo.com, 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, member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and Clinical Professor at UCSD School of Medicine. Chopra is the author of more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers along with You Are the Universe (February 2017, Harmony) co-written with leading physicist, Menas Kafatos. Other recent books include Super Genes co-authored with Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D. and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com
Does the Mind Create the Brain or Does the Brain Create Mind?
By Deepak Chopra, MD
Neuroscience has risen over the past few decades to a crowning place in medical science, due to two innovations, advanced brain scans like fMRIs and the completion of the Human genome Project in 2003. Brain scans allow us to peer into the activity of a living brain without surgery or having to use tissue from cadavers. A complete map of human DNA opens up the possibility of detecting and correcting genetic anomalies connected to a huge range of disorders, including those of the brain.
No one can argue against the value of these advances, but they have had their downside. In particular, the assumption that the brain is the same as the mind has become dominant, not just in neuroscience but in articles aimed at the general public. In the first place, it’s only natural that a burgeoning field of science will claim more success than it has achieved, so the bias of neuroscience in favor of making the brain the answer to everything probably is unavoidable. But advances in technology and medical treatments are not the same as solving the mind-body problem.
The mind-body problem centers on the relationship between two levels of experience. The level of mind brings feelings, thoughts, images, and sensations in a steady stream. These non-physical occurrences belong in the domain of consciousness. The body, including the brain but not restricted to it, exhibits parallel activity that is the correlate of mental activity. However, no one has proved in any generally accepted way that the mind creates the brain or vice versa. They arise simultaneously and display their own peculiar qualities.
It would surprise most people, but given a choice, we can do without the brain in everyday life, something that’s not true about the mind. By “doing without the brain,” I’m referring to a simple fact. Living as conscious beings, humans do not have insight or access to brain activity. Until the brain is exposed to examination, we do not know about neurons, synapses, axons, and ganglia, or about stem cells, the reptilian brain, the amygdala, hypothalamus, or cerebral cortex, just to mention some main areas of inquiry by neuroscience. Instead, we all exist at varying levels of awareness. There is an interplay between the conscious and unconscious mind. Enormous strides are made through creativity, genius, insight, contemplation, and self-awareness in all its phases.
This picture doesn’t depend on any knowledge of the brain as an organ, and yet in the current climate of opinion, we are told that everything will eventually come down to the brain, which is like saying that all the news in a newspaper can be explained by paper and ink. The brain is the physical instrument of mind, not the mind itself. Even to call the brain a privileged organ is misleading, because there is equally intelligent, coordinated activity going on in many places throughout the body, including the central and peripheral nervous system, the immune system, and the gut. Messaging going back and forth from the brain to every cell in the body depends just as much on how the receiver responds as on what the message says.
How the receiver responds is overwhelmingly a matter of life experiences, including your beliefs, expectations, conditioning, predispositions, imprints from past traumas, and family input from childhood. There is zero evidence that the brain has any of these experiences. It’s not your brain that loves music, wants a fulfilling relationship, has a short fuse, worries about the kids, or anything else. Experience happens to you, a self. The self is the only source of experience as well as the interpreter of it. Therefore, only by investigating the self will the mind-body problem eventually be solved. One thing, however, is certain. The brain isn’t going to tell us the answers we seek–it holds no secrets about truth, beauty creativity, intelligence, insight, or personal evolution.
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. discoveringyourcosmicself.com