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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. www.deepakchopra.com

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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. www.deepakchopra.com

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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.  www.deepakchopra.com

 

 

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”.

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

Although it takes place outside the headlines, even those that deal with science, a heated debate is occurring about mind and matter. On one side is a camp of so-called physicalists, formerly known as materialists, who hold fast to the assumption that any and all phenomena in nature can be reduced to physical processes, namely the forces and the interaction between objects (atoms, subatomic or elementary particles, etc.) — these are the building blocks of the universe. On the other side is no single camp but a mixed assortment of skeptics who hold that at least one natural phenomenon–the human mind–cannot be explained physically through such methods.

When one explanation (the physicalist) is supported by the weight of highly successful theories in physics, biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience, and the other side has no accepted theory on its side, the debate seems totally unequal. But in David versus Goliath battles, be careful of rooting for Goliath. The possibility of a science of consciousness, which would involve a thorough explanation of mind and how it relates to matter, can’t begin until the obstacles in its path are removed and old accepted assumptions are overturned.

That has already begun, on all fronts. In physics, the essential problem of how something came out of nothing (i.e., the big bang coming out of the quantum vacuum state) stymies cosmologists, while at the microscopic level the same mystery, this time involving subatomic particles, emerging from the virtual state, is equally baffling. In biology the prevailing Darwinism cannot explain the quantum leap made, with astonishing rapidity, by Homo sapiens in terms of reasoning, creativity, language, our use of concepts as opposed to instincts, tool-making, and racial characteristics. We are the offspring of the newest part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, and yet there is no causal connection between its evolution and the primal Darwinian need to survive. This is evident by the survival of a hundred primate species lacking a higher brain, reasoning, tool-making, concepts, etc. Finally, in neuroscience and biochemistry, there is zero connection between nerve cells, and their chemical components, and mind. Unless someone can locate the point in time when molecules learned to think, the current assumption that the brain is doing the thinking has no solid footing.

The day-to-day work of scientists isn’t dependent on explaining how mind arose in the cosmos–not yet. The relation between mind and matter has existed in philosophy for centuries, and working scientists don’t consider philosophy relevant to their research. Collecting data and doing experiments needs no help from metaphysics or philosophy. But when you look at the unanswered questions in physics, biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience, it’s more than a coincidence that all, without exception, impinge upon the same inability to know how consciousness actually works. By taking for granted the obvious fact that it takes a mind to do science, we’ve reached the point where science is leaving out the very component that might answer the questions that urgently need answering, not because philosophy demands it but because science does.

The sticking point is physicalism itself. If everything must be reduced to the smallest units of matter and energy, and yet there is zero evidence that mind follows that pattern, it is unscientific to cling to physicalism. Even a staunchly mainstream physicist like Stephen Hawking has commented that reality doesn’t necessarily match the current models in science. The mind is real, and since that’s true, defective models are required to change or even be thrown out. To repair the most glaring defect of all–our inability to explain mind–imperils all the sciences for the simple fact that science is a mental activity. If we set physicalism aside, what would be another starting point for a new model of reality?

Instead of conceiving reality from the bottom up, moving from tiny building blocks to larger and larger structures, one could do the reverse and create a top-down model. In other words, the starting point would be the whole, not the parts. So what do we know about reality as a whole?

* Reality is knowable through the mind. What humans can’t know, either directly or by inference, might as well not exist.

* What we know is tied to what we experience.

* Experience takes place in consciousness, nowhere else.

* Experience is at once boundless and very restricted. The boundless part lies in the human capacity to create, invent, explore, discover, and imagine. The restricted part revolves around the setup of the brain, which is confined to the behavior of space, time, matter, and energy. The brain is four-dimensional, while physics poses the possibility of infinite dimensions at one extreme and zero dimensions at the other extreme.

* Because the physical processing done by the brain works in parallel to the mind doesn’t mean that the brain is the mind. To assert that brain equals mind involves showing the atoms and molecules can think, which can’t be proven and seems highly unlikely. Therefore, the ground state of reality, the place from which everything originates, is consciousness.

* Consciousness is the only constant in human experience that can’t be removed from consideration in science, or any other form of knowing.

* What we call reality “out there” is constructed in our own awareness. These constructs follow predictable paths according to mathematics, logic, the laws of nature, and so on. But this doesn’t prove that reality is independent of our experience, only that consciousness is capable of extremely precise, predictable organization. In a word, the notion that everything is a mental construct is just as valid as the notion that everything is a physical construct. The two are merely different perspectives.

* If reality “out there” is a construct dependent upon consciousness, explaining the universe entails explaining consciousness. Where physicalists are stymied by how atoms and molecules think, non-physicalists are stymied by how mind creates matter.

* This impasse is broken by taking a concrete approach to mind; that is, by investigating the qualities of reality “out there.” These qualities, such as how an object looks, sounds, feels, tastes, and smells, are entirely created in consciousness. As Heisenberg noted almost a century ago, there are no fixed physical characteristics of an atom or subatomic particle. Everything is built up from the qualities, also known as qualia, that the human mind knows, experiences, and can conceptualize.

* Ultimately, even where nature sucks or emits all matter and energy into or out of black holes and naked singularities, either through classical or quantum physics, the actual horizon for science doesn’t lie there, or with the big bang, by which matter and energy reappeared in manifest form. The real horizon is where the inconceivable source of mind meets the conceivable phenomena in nature. The problem of something coming out of nothing is exactly the same when the cosmos was born as when a thought is born. This is the level playing field where mind and matter can be investigated as two sides of the same process: consciousness interacting with itself.

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

 

 

Pankaj Joshi is a theoretical physicist and Senior Professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental 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 adjunct Faculty with the New York University, and was awarded the A C Banerji Gold Medal and Lecture 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.

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