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Why the “Pathless Path” Makes Sense

More people than ever have undertaken a spiritual path of their own, independently of organized religion. “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual” has become a common expression, and I count myself among those who struck out on their own as a seeker. My search has covered a lot of ground over the years, from mind-body medicine to quantum physics, higher consciousness, the future of God, and personal transformation.

What all of these disparate topics have in common is reality, in the sense that everyday reality is hiding from view the “real” reality that needs to be unveiled. (Readers might want to look at last week’s post, “Unveiling Reality,” which details what it means to unveil reality.) There’s no question that the five senses detect the world in a very limited way, since they give no clue that molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles exist, not to mention genes and DNA. But unveiling a deeper physical reality is far from the whole story.

The physical sciences are about the external world, while another hidden reality, which is crucial to spiritual seeking, takes place “in here,” where the mind is the explorer and the territory being explored. This sounds like a contradiction, and so does the traditional way of reaching higher consciousness, which is called “the pathless path.” How can you unveil reality “in here” when the explorer—the mind—isn’t separate from the territory it wants to explore. The difficulty emerges clearly if you ask a question like “What do I think about thinking?” or “Am I aware of awareness?”

At best these questions sound circular, like a snake biting its tail. But the contradiction is straightened out, and the pathless path makes sense, when you realize one simple thing: The active mind isn’t the same as the still, quiet mind. Every method of spiritual seeking, if it is successful, goes beyond the active mind and its restless baggage of sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts, with the aim of settling down into pure, undisturbed awareness. By analogy, one dives below the churning surface of a raging river, moving through deeper waters where the currents are slower, until one reaches the bottom, where the river is almost motionless.

Here, however, the analogy breaks down, because meditation, which is like an inner dive, can reach the zero point of no motion or activity of any kind. At the source of your awareness you can encounter pure awareness. Why is this experience worthwhile? Because the field of pure awareness is the origin of traits that are innate in us: Intelligence, creativity, evolution, love, and self-awareness are chief among these.

The pathless path makes sense for that reason; it leads you, without going anywhere, to a deeper level of awareness. Once you experience the deeper level, you find that there’s a shift. You identify less with your everyday self, which is totally dependent on the active mind (along with the desires, hopes, wishes, and dreams it generates), and you start to identify more with the field of pure awareness.

In this way higher consciousness gets assimilated into who you are and how you live your life. The word “spiritual” isn’t mandatory to describe this shift; I prefer to describe the whole process in terms of awareness, which is a more neutral term. What baffles people is that the whole project of seeking gets tangled up in misguided ideas. Let me list the pitfalls one is most likely to encounter.

  1. Mistaking the goal for some kind of self-improvement.
  2. Assuming that you already know what the goal is.
  3. Hoping that higher consciousness will solve all your problems.
  4. Struggling and striving to get somewhere.
  5. Following a cut-and-dried method, usually a method backed by some spiritual authority or other.
  6. Hoping to be looked upon with respect, reverence, or devotion as a higher being.
  7. Being tossed around by the ups and downs of momentary successes and failures.
    I doubt that anyone who has honestly undertaken an inner journey is immune to some or all of these pitfalls. There is an enormous gap between where you find yourself today (totally dependent on the active mind) and the reality yet to be unveiled. Nothing less than an all-encompassing illusion surrounds us, a construct of the human mind that conditions everything we think and feel.

When it is put that way, the pathless path seems impossible or at the very least difficult and probably painful. But what’s difficult and painful are the pitfalls I’ve listed. The illusion creates all the problems. It’s crucial to see this. The actual path is effortless and pain-free. The mind by its own nature can know its source in pure awareness. By analogy, you can go through troubles, worries, everyday crises, and arguments with your children, but without a doubt you know you love them. Love goes beyond the other stuff—that’s how transcendence, or going beyond, works.

The same holds true in the process of unveiling reality, which also goes by the simple name of waking up. The ancient Vedas declare that everyone is defined by their deepest desires. Desire leads to thoughts, thoughts to words and actions, actions to the fulfillment of desire. So in a very basic way, the pathless path is a path of desire. If your deepest desire is to wake up, to escape the illusion, to unveil reality, and in the end to know who you really are, the message gets through. Your deepest desire activates a level of awareness that will lead you to the goal.

As with raising kids, the everyday stuff rises and falls, but love, caring, attention, and devotion steadily work their way. The same is true of you the seeker, even though you are both parent and child to yourself, both teacher and student, healer and healed. Because these dual roles merge into one, the pathless path makes sense, and it works.


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

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We Can Reverse Death–Now What?

The near-death experience (NDE) has entered popular culture, starting in the 1970s, and “going into the light” is considered by the average person to be what happens after you die, assuming that anything happens. But the largest study of NDEs, which examined 2,060 patients who died under emergency or intensive care, arrive at the conclusion that death isn’t a single event–it is a process. During this process, there are ways to reverse death. If you are successful at getting the heart, lungs, and brain to come back to normal functioning, about 40% of those who died and came back remember that “something happened” when they were flat line.

This part of the study, which was titled AWARE and was led by intensive-care doctor Sam Parnia, seems irrefutable. But very quickly the details of “something happened” become controversial. We have to dive into a few details to see what the issues are. Out of the 2,060 patients who died (the study went from 2008 to 2012 and included 33 researchers in 15 hospitals), 104 were resuscitated. The first point to note is that all had actually died. They were not “near death.” Their hearts and lungs had stopped functioning, and within 20-30 seconds their brains showed no activity.  The decomposition of cells throughout the body actually takes several hours to commence afterward. During the interval between dying and being brought back is when 39% reported the memory of being conscious even though their brains had stopped.

Dr. Parnia believes that this is probably just a fraction of those who had such experiences; the rest had their memories erased either by brain inflammation, which occurs for 72 hours after a person is brought back from death, or because of drugs that are administered as part of resuscitation that also causes memory loss. But of the 101 out of 104 who completed the questionnaire about their experience during death, only 9% had an experience compatible with the typical view of NDEs; the majority of memories were vague and unfocused, sometimes pleasant but sometimes not.

Only 2%, which means two people out of the 104 who completed questionnaires, had the experience of full awareness or out-of-body experiences like looking down from above their bodies watching and listening to the medical team as it was working to revive them. Of these two people, only one could accurately narrate what had been happening in the room in such a way that it corresponded to timed events. So what does this one person tell us about dying?

It depends. Skeptics shrug off all such experiences as purely physical, claiming that if we had finer measurements of brain activity, at a very subtle level we’d discover that the brain hadn’t actually died. Dr. Parnia accepts that this might be true. His main focus is on how to achieve better results at resuscitation that might bring back a normal person with no organ damage, particularly brain damage after clinical death. But Parnia’s personal conclusion is that a person can be fully conscious without brain function, as this one patient was. He points to the basic disagreement, thousands of years ago, between Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle contended that consciousness was a physical phenomenon, Plato that it was non-physical, residing in a soul that transcends the body.

The AWARE study didn’t confirm either side. Unsurprisingly, skeptics and believers didn’t change their position, or their prejudices one way or another. One can say that it’s a significant step to turn death into a process that can be reversed. It’s also significant that awareness during death covers a wide range of experiences, not a one-size-fits-all of going into the light. Parnia found that people’s spiritual interpretation of their death experience coincided with their own faith. They interpreted the light as being Christ, if they were Christians, which was different for Hindus and non-spiritual for atheists.  but the consensus was that death is a comfortable process, not to be feared. Having directly experienced that their old fears were groundless, these people who came back had a different perspective on life. Many if not most also concluded that they should lead more selfless lives in service to others.

If we stick with the Aristotle-Plato split, scientists are almost totally committed to the physical explanation for consciousness (i.e., the brain creates consciousness) while a strong majority in the general public tell pollsters they believe in the existence of the soul. I think it is useful that the AWARE study validated that “something happens,” but why are we trying to settle the issue of consciousness at the most extreme moment when life and death are at stake? It’s like trying to validate gravity by asking survivors of a plane crash about their experience of falling from the sky.

It is the normal, everyday experience of consciousness that needs to be explained, not the extreme states. I’ve debated or conversed with many neuroscientists, and all, I concluded, believe that the brain creates the mind. Yet despite being experts on brain activity, none has been able to answer the simplest questions about consciousness. These simple questions include the following:

What is a thought?

How does the electrochemical activity in a neuron turn into words, sights, and sounds in our heads?

Why is a person’s next thought totally unpredictable?

If someone has a vocabulary of 30,000 words, does this mean that a clump of brain cells knows 30,000 words? If so, in what way are the words being stored? For the word “cat,” is there a place inside a brain cell that holds the letters C-A-T? 

All brain activity occurs here and now, in the present, because chemical reactions and electrical impulses are instantaneous events. So how is it that I remember, relive, or revisit the past?

There is such a thing as “sudden genius syndrome,” where a person who has little knowledge of music, mathematics, or art suddenly acquires deep knowledge. How can they suddenly know what their brains never learned?

Genius exists among child prodigies. A musical prodigy can play Mozart before age three on the piano. How is this consistent with the known facts about the development of infant’s brains?

There are lots more of these basic questions, and assuming that they can be answered by measuring brain activity is wobbly, so wobbly that the basic belief about the brain creating the mind should be taken by everyone with a huge grain of salt. Not just Plato but some of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century were convinced that consciousness simply is–it pre-existed the evolution of the human brain and indeed is the basic “stuff” of creation. It is only a tiny step for one patient to see and hear what is happening around her when she was clinically dead, but in that one experience could be hidden an important conclusion: consciousness exists outside the brain.

 

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

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Genes Turn Topsy-Turvy, Which Is Good News

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

The field of genetics is so complex that the story is simplified for popular consumption. The simplified story is that DNA contains the “code of life,” a master blueprint that jumps into action the instant an egg is fertilized in the mother’s womb. From that point on, a human being develops from a single cell to 37 trillion cells as the blueprint unfolds. The traditional view is that we are then the sole products of our genes. Yet, increasingly, evidence shows that “nurture” plays a much bigger role over “nature” than even professional geneticists have ever envisaged. When it comes to genetics, “nurture” exerts its effects on “nature” via epigenetics, as we laid out in our book Super Genes.

 

As powerful as the “code of life” story is, behind the scenes a growing number of geneticists don’t buy into it; in fact, they think we’ve gotten a lot about genes, wrong. At the same time, a new, improved picture of human development, based on the interplay of genes and lifestyle, is emerging. This revolution is outlined beautifully in an online article at Nautilus.com titled “It’s the End of Genes as We Know It.” The author, Ken Richardson, is an expert in human development, and he is worried that wildly exaggerated assumptions about the deterministic effects of DNA could lead to social policy that echoes the racism that fueled the eugenic movement decades ago, most notoriously with the Nazi ideology of a master race. As a case in point, Nobel Laureate, James Watson, who co-discovered the structure of DNA in 1953, was recently stripped of all his honors at Cold Spring Harbor, Laboratories, where he spent much of scientific career, after he continually expressed his bigoted opinion that black people and women are less intelligent than others based on their genetics.

 

Richardson’s article cuts much deeper, into everyone’s everyday aspirations, in fact. The problem with the traditional “code of life” story is that it has huge holes in it that are growing bigger every day. There’s no substitute for reading Richardson’s argument in detail, but here’s the gist. DNA’s purpose is to produce the proteins that are the basic building blocks of a cell and other products that regulate the genes that produce these proteins. But DNA, alone, does not account for the many ways cells, tissues, and organs use these proteins. Jumping to the conclusion that DNA is the final blueprint for the body, mind, and behavioral traits of a person is dead in the water.

 

Recent research has shown that cells have their own intelligence. They are dynamic systems that change their makeup “on the hoof,” as Richardson puts it, a process of self-regulation that begins almost the moment a sperm fertilizes an ovum. As soon as that one cell forms into a ball of identical cells, “the cells are already talking to each other with storms of chemical signals. Through the statistical patterns within the storms, instructions are, again, created de novo [i.e., from scratch].” It turns out that totally independent of DNA, a cell is controlling all kinds of information contained in amino acids, fats, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and various kinds of nucleic acids (RNA)—a whole factory of ingredients necessary to keep the cell going are not predetermined by our genes at all.

 

In the newly emerging view, the cell controls DNA just as much as DNA controls the cell.  DNA, it seems, emerged at a later stage of evolution. In their earliest stages, billions of years ago, cells had no DNA but were self-enclosed vats of molecular soup that likely used RNA, the blueprint of proteins. This soup somehow began to regulate itself, giving rise gradually over time to permanent structures that were needed on a regular basis. The information for these structures was then coded as DNA, which serves as a kind of passive database.

 

A validation of this new understanding is that cells, in fact, can alter their own DNA via epigenetics. This means that the life of a cell is intelligent, dynamic, responsive to changing conditions, and creative. DNA possesses none of these traits; they operate outside the manufacture of proteins. Richardson notes something else that puts DNA in its rightful place as a necessary part of a cell’s existence but not its whole complex life. “More startling has been the realization that less than 5 percent of the genome is used to make proteins at all. Most produce a vast range of different factors (RNAs) regulating, through the network, how the other genes are used.”

 

If the life of a cell is dynamic, intelligent, self-regulating, and creative, it is no wonder that complex life forms, including Homo sapiens, display the same traits.  But where did they come from? At present, the new story is stuck on two factors: information and complexity. The notion is that primal “molecular soup” found ways for atoms and molecules to form complicated structures through information exchange and the statistical possibilities that arise when zillions of molecules start churning around.

 

But is that feasible? As someone wittily put it, the notion that complexity is enough to explain the behavior of a structure as complex as the human brain is like saying that if you add enough cards to the deck, they start playing poker.

 

In our book Super Genes we tackle these issues head-on in great detail. Our premise is that a cell, tissue, organ, system, or a complete person are all expressions of an underlying field of consciousness. Only consciousness explains what must be accounted for: intelligence, self-regulation, dynamism, and creativity. It’s good news that these traits have been tracked to the level of the cell. It’s also good news that the notion that we are robots controlled by DNA is being dismantled. But just as important is the next step, to stop defending physical matter as the only basis of life, turning to consciousness, as well. It was the ideology of materialism that got us into trouble in the first place.

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
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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Peace Week New York Town Hall Conversation

Peace Week New York Town Hall Conversation to heal our communities from the disease of violence and the disparities of mass incarceration hosted by Peace is a Lifestyle on January 21, 2019.  An interactive conversation amongst influencers, thought leaders, LIFE Changers and community members impacted by violence and incarceration.

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Blind Spots, Falling Off the Empire State Building, and You

There’s an old joke about a man who falls off the Empire State Building. As he passes an office window on the way down, someone shouts, “How are you doing?” and the man answers, “I’m okay so far.” I don’t know anyone who doesn’t laugh at the punchline the first time they hear the joke, but there’s also a wince thinking about the thud that awaits the man at the end.

 

Science has been okay—so far—in explaining how nature works, riding the crest of success for several centuries now. But the thud is near at hand, as outlined in a very readable, perceptive online article titled “The Blind Spot,” jointly written by two physicists, Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser, and a philosopher, Evan Thompson. It’s well worth your time to read it, because the blind spot referred to in the title has been of tremendous but hidden importance in your life.

 

The blind spot refers to science’s rejection of consciousness as a key factor in describing reality. Rigidly adhering to a belief that it holds the key for explaining everything, science hasn’t seen its own blind spot—or taken it seriously, with a few exceptions—and therefore the vast majority of working scientists don’t hear the thud that awaits them. The authors of the article do, and they go right to the heart of the problem. As they view it, science has been wrong on two counts. The first is the belief that science can accurately and objectively describe the real world as it exists. The second is the belief that physical reality is all that must be accounted for.

 

But as the authors cogently argue in plain language, “To put it bluntly, the claim that there’s nothing but physical reality is either false or empty.” This conclusion can be supported in countless ways, but the most important way, which touches all of us, is that the mind isn’t material, and no attempt to explain thoughts as the byproduct of physical activity in the brain has been remotely successful.  The fact that 99% of neuroscientists assume that the brain produces the mind—which is roughly akin to the assumption that a piano composes the music it transmits—testifies to how blind the blind spot actually is.

 

No matter what branch of science you examine, it works through reductionism, breaking existence down to the smallest unity, the source and cause of whatever is being examined. Like the man who is okay on his way down to the ground, reductionism has proved wildly successful in physic, chemistry, medicine, biology, and so on. We know how atoms, cells, and chemicals work in fine detail. But there’s a fundamental problem, which is that at a certain point—the point where you hear a thud—reductionism fails.

 

If you reduce the mind to atoms and subatomic particles, none of these can actually think, nor is there a viable argument for showing how they learn to think. If you reduce time to the first instant of the Big Bang, this tells you nothing about how time came into being, only when the cosmic clock started, which isn’t the same thing. If you search for the tiniest bit of matter, it vanishes into invisible waves in the quantum field, totally losing its solid “thingness.” In fact, by reducing the universe to ripples in the quantum field interacting with ripples in the electron field, the quark field, the gravity field, and so on, the entire cosmos becomes a mathematical riddle that is impossible to calculate.

 

There are many such difficulties with reductionism, presented in detail in You Are the Universe, which I co-wrote with physicist Menas Kafatos. Our arguments are totally in accord with the blind spot article. Yet in either case the average person will say “So what?” The interactions of the quantum field have zero bearing on finding a job, raising a family, and all the other activities of everyday life. Yet each activity begins with our experience of the world and the mental models we carry around in our heads.

 

If you get in a fender bender, for example, you can explain it by any number of models. The accident could be caused by an act of God, random chance, bad luck, a sleepy brain, distracting thoughts, a malfunction in your car, slippery roads in winter, crowded traffic patterns, or lousy drivers clogging up the road—take your pick. Each explanation leads back to one thing: how you perceive the accident. Every experience involves an interpretation; perceptions are never impersonal.

 

The fact is that since birth you have undergone the process of living in an interpreted world, which is where the theoretical problems in science bump into “so what?” Science is the chief bulwark of modern life and the models we follow to explain how everything works. If science discounts consciousness and cannot explain the mind, then we as ordinary citizens have inherited this blind spot. As a result, any belief that we know how things “really” work is wobbly. Or to recall the blind spot article, our assumptions are either false or empty.

 

Examples of our muddled state greet us everywhere. Why are some people geniuses, criminals, hungry for power, cruel, or saintly? No one can explain it. What is talent? Is Schizophrenia a disease? Why do some people get hooked on drugs after trying them one time while others walk away and never become addicted? What is love? Can animals think?

 

What these questions have in common are two things. First, we’ve all experienced them or know someone who has. In other words, they are inescapable, and it’s natural to want reliable answers. Second, using reductionism to provide the answer doesn’t work. Being human isn’t about physical “stuff” bouncing around, either in the brain or out there in the cosmos. Instead of a first cause, which is what science looks for all the time when exploring space, time, matter, and energy, human experience is embedded in a cloud of causes.

 

Going back to all the explanations that can be applied to a fender bender, it is obvious that no single one is “the” answer. Not so obvious is the fact that being human is about our infinite capacity to interpret experience any way we choose. Thus we are creative users of consciousness. As the answer to science’s dilemmas and failures, I think we must concede that first and foremost Homo sapiens is a species based on consciousness. There’s no other way to get rid of the blind spot. As long as we consider ourselves a bundle of physical “stuff” operating like a complex machine, the most urgent problems of everyday life will not be solved.

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

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