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Where Personal Power Comes From


By Deepak Chopra, MD

 

One can often feel powerless when confronting the naked use of power, as in politics or corporate life. Meaningful action can be taken, however, the first step being to overcome one’s personal sense of weakness. There is such a thing as personal power, even though most people haven’t experienced it. That’s because their notion of personal power aims at the wrong goal. They define a powerful person as someone with money and status who can exert his will over others. Such a person is imagined to be strong, smart, lucky, and more than a little ruthless. Examples crop up from Washington to Wall Street, any area of life where competition is fierce and the spoils go to the victors.

 

But the real secret to personal power lies elsewhere. The difference is that one kind of power, the kind I’ve just sketched, comes from what you do while the other comes from who you are.  Before writing this post, I reviewed in my mind the qualities I’ve observed in the most powerful people I’ve met over the past thirty years, and it was astonishing how many qualities come directly from being rather than doing. Here’s my list:

 

  • A powerful person has built a life filled with meaning and purpose.
  • They are able to realize their intentions.
  • They direct their attention with efficiency and focus.
  • Their choices benefit themselves and the people around them.
  • From inside themselves they tap into creativity, imagination, and insight.
  • They can feel out a situation through reliable intuition.
  • Their accomplishments haven’t led to self-importance – humility and gratitude are present in their makeup.
  • At the end of the day life is a continuous source of joy and equanimity for them, not a battlefield of struggle and frustration.

 

Not every powerful person exhibits these qualities every day; room must be left for personal growth and a host of personal differences. Yet no matter how unique each of us is, we share a common source in the consciousness from which all personal power arises. Once you have made contact with this source, the most valuable things in life – love, compassion, strength, a sense of truth – can be accessed naturally. There is no need to rely on your ego to win them for you (or to do without once your ego fails at the quest).

 

The kind of power I’m describing isn’t the fruit of worldly success – it lies at the source of who you are.  Therefore, success is guaranteed and cannot be taken away. This message has been delivered for centuries by the world’s wisdom traditions, yet it is left to each of us, at any age, to realize the truth by testing it for ourselves. A journey is implied, a lifelong project to know who you really are.

 

It’s a problem that modern society has such conflicted notions about the inner world, where a muddle has been created by the conflicts between science and religion, contending approaches to psychology, the demands of daily life, and the buried aspirations we never achieve because we spend so much time and effort on distractions. Even so, these obstacles exist in the realm of doing. The realm of being isn’t damaged by them; its door is always open.

 

How do you recognize if you are accessing your own being? Personally, when I look at myself, I ask if I’m living up to the following traits:

  • Am I immune to criticism but responsive to feedback?
  • Do I feel that I’m beneath no one and superior to no one?
  • Do I feel fearless?
  • Am I standing up for my own truth?
  • Do I find myself in the company of those who seek the truth (and act cautious around those who claim to have found it)?
  • Do I exist in mutual respect with everyone I encounter?
  • Do I feel the kind of courtesy that comes from the heart?
  • Do I know when to defer and when to assert myself?

 

These touchstones are the most valuable ones on a day-to-day basis because they tell me that I am connected to who I really am, my true self, as opposed to the image I project and the labels that others attach to me.  It’s not always easy to remain connected to being; you have to leave room for self-forgiveness and a wide tolerance for making mistakes. But the kind of self-power that is rooted in the self and not in ego is unmistakable and deeply satisfying. The fact that it is open to all remains one of the great secrets of human existence.

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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Reinventing the Brain: The final Step

By Deepak Chopra, MD

We’re living in a golden age for brain research, which aims to revolutionize how we think, feel, and behave.  Thanks to brain scans like the fMRI, brain activity can be localized and even the most precise activity pinpointed. For example, researchers can spot the minuscule area in the visual cortex that, when damaged, prevents a person from recognizing faces, including one’s own.

 

The ultimate challenge in neuroscience is to map the whole brain down to the tiniest detail. This is the brain equivalent of mapping the human genome, and a public-private collaboration began in 2013 called the White House BRAIN Initiative is underway.

 

But what will we use the completed brain map for? One obvious area is medicine. The more we know about what goes wrong in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, the closer we get to a cure.  Yet one could argue that a higher goal would be to reinvent how we use our brains. “Reinvent” isn’t an exaggeration. Thirty thousand years ago Homo sapiens had evolved the same genetic array that modern people inherit. In those thirty thousand years arose reading, writing, advanced art and music, government, mathematics, and science.  Their foundation was an ever-evolving relationship between mind and body.

 

If genes and a fixed structure of brain cells told the whole story, it would remain a total mystery why a cave dweller after the last Ice Age should have just the right complement of neurons to discover gravity or write a symphony. Now we realize that the human brain is far from fixed. New brain cells are being formed throughout life; trillions of connections between neurons are developed; and the genetic activity inside each neuron is dynamic, responding to every experience and every stimulus from the outside world.

 

Human beings reinvent the brain as we go along, day by day. It’s not a matter of eons. Wherever your mind goes this very minute, your brain goes. In short, the brain is a verb, not a noun. It is reshaped by thoughts, memories, desire, and experience. Once we realize this, the final step in brain evolution can take place—we will fuse brain, body, and mind into a single process, the movement of consciousness.  The groundwork has already been laid.

 

Because it is dynamic, fluid, and ever-renewing, the brain is much more malleable than anyone ever imagined.  Consider a remarkable British medical journal article from 1980 entitled, “Is the brain really necessary?” It was based on the work of British neurologist John Lorber, who had been working with victims of a brain disorder known as hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), in which excessive fluid builds up inside the skull. The pressure that results squeezes the life out of brain cells. Hydrocephalus can lead to mental impairment as well as other severe damage and even death.

 

Lorber had previously written about two infants born with no cerebral cortex, the thin outer layer of the higher brain (cortex in Latin refers to the bark of a tree). Yet despite this rare defect, the two infants seemed to be developing normally, with no external signs of damage. One child survived for three months, the other for a year.  If this were not remarkable enough, a colleague at Sheffield University sent Lorber a young man who had an enlarged head. He had graduated from college with a first-class honors degree in mathematics and had an I.Q. of 126.  There were no symptoms of hydrocephalus; the young man was leading a normal life. Yet a CAT scan revealed, in Lorber’s words, that he had “virtually no brain.” The skull was lined with a thin layer of brain cells about a millimeter thick (less than 1/10 of an inch), while the rest of the space in the skull was filled with cerebral fluid.

This is an appalling disorder to contemplate, but Lorber pushed on, recording over 600 cases. He divided his subjects into four categories depending on how much fluid was in the brain. The most severe category, which accounted for 10% of the sample, consisted of people whose brain cavity was 95% filled with fluid. Of these, half were severely retarded; the other half, however, had I.Q.s over 100.

These findings were not seriously challenged as being false or distorted. However, a controversy arose over how to explain them.  Even now, when the old view of a fixed brain has been replaced, such radical adaptability is mystifying. Researchers witness the brain’s ability to heal in various ways, such as recovering from a stroke, where the dead or damaged areas of the brain no longer function, but other areas take over.

As long as we are stuck with the brain as a physical object that produces the mind, reinventing the brain foresees a dead end. The way forward is to abandon the very assumption that the brain thinks. There has never been the slightest proof that the atoms and molecules inside a brain cell are different from the atoms and molecules outside the brain. There’s little chemical difference between the contents of a brain cell and a drop of ocean water.

We need to realize that brain, body, and mind are on an equal footing. They are all experiences in consciousness. It’s not easy for people to take this step, because we so easily accept that the brain is a privileged object that produces mind the way a bonfire produces heat. First comes the brain, then the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images that fill our heads. But this sequence of cause-and-effect has never been proved, either.

Nothing is more important for the future of human awareness than to stop feeling dependent on the brain as a kind of magical machine. There is no magic and no machine. To prove why this is so will be the topic of the next post.

(To be cont.)

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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LSD, Magic Mushrooms, and “Tripping All the Time”

By Deepak Chopra, MD

A new wave of medical interest surrounds the potential value of psychedelic drugs, spurred by a through, sensible review of a once-taboo subject by Michael Pollen in his first-person account, How to Change Your Mind.  For hallucinogens to resurface was a “come out, come out, wherever you are” proposition. LSD, magic mushrooms, and mescaline had their day in the Sixties and came out of it badly tarnished. Leaving aside various anti-drug laws largely prompted by fear, a medical researcher who looked into psychedelics would face censure, perhaps career-ending censure. At the very least such research wasn’t taken very seriously.

 

The general view of psychedelics has been that they are potentially unsafe and medically useless. What has changed this conventional wisdom is deeper knowledge of the brain. In particular, the area of the brain that seems to cause the mind-altering effect of LSD and company is the so-called Default Mode Network (DMN), a collection of regions in the higher brain that organizes and regulates a wide range of brain activity. The DMN filters out the flood of information that bombards the brain every day, selecting and controlling our response to the world.

 

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by stimuli, we approach life with a balance of judgment, experience, and self-interest. The DMN has been called the “me” network, because it functions in the brain the way the ego functions in psychology, tamping down irrational impulses and keeping them in check while organizing a balanced adult self.

 

The DMN doesn’t develop until around age five, and in the words of a current psychedelic researcher, before that age babies and young children are “tripping all the time.” They possess what the English writer Aldous Huxley called “Mind at Large.” This sounded desirable to Huxley, who was an early champion of guided psychedelic trips, because Mind at Large implies expanded consciousness, as opposed to the “reducing valve,” Huxley’s term for how we filter and obstruct all kinds of neural input.

 

To make this view respectable, psychedelics had to get past their hippie image, and brain scans proved to be the key. It is conjectured that the DMN, although totally necessary so that we aren’t tripping all the time, has a downside. Over time its automatic (i.e., default) responses become ingrained and rigid. On the one hand that may account for the stubborn narrow-mindedness associated with growing old, while on the other there may be a therapeutic tie-ins to disorders like anxiety, depression, and addiction.

By releasing the hold of the DMN, it is conjectured, psychedelics allow for an opening to altering brain function among people with these disorders. Pollen’s book should be read to get the complete story about the future promise of psychedelics. Particularly intriguing is the use of “micro-dosing,” in which tiny amounts of a psychedelic are taken, enough to loosen the grip of the DMN but not altering normal thinking. The hope is that instead of altering the mind in a drastic, trippy way, micro-dosing permits self-awareness to observe and reflect upon beneficial possibilities that a person cannot access under normal conditions.

 

All of this sounds intriguing, and every researcher makes it clear that the use of psychedelics needs to be monitored and guided—guided trips were Huxley’s preference decades ago. But the respectability lent by brain scans also contains a flaw. To a neuroscientist, the DMN is like the adult in the room, a brain region that keeps the wilder, more primitive impulses at bay. Thus a specialized group of cells has taken over the exact function Freud assigned to the ego.

 

That’s typical of our age, where psychiatry is highly dependent of pharmaceuticals to combat anxiety and depression, replacing years of expensive, time-consuming couch therapy, an approach that in the end didn’t benefit many patients. As therapy has become a matter of shifting molecules in the brain, so has everything else about the mind. But the notion that Brain = Mind is fallacious, just as it is fallacious to say that a piano composes music. Both are instruments and delivery systems for mind.

 

The fallacy crops up glaringly in the DMN, because if it indeed controls the balancing act that is the adult mind, who gave it such ability? How did it learn about the world in the first place? The DMN has no creator, instructor, or higher intelligence if those things are also brain-created. Researchers treat the DMN as if it was a conscious agent with flexible intentions and good judgment. Attributing such qualities to brain cells, which in their chemical composition are not drastically different form heart, liver, or skin cells, is a form of magical thinking. Clumps of chemicals don’t understand how life works, only consciousness does.

 

The pitfall of psychedelics isn’t special to them; all drugs that alter the brain run head-on into the mind-body connection. If you go in and mess around with a piano, music starts to sound distorted. To go into the most sensitive areas of the higher brain runs a similar risk, but my point isn’t to sound old alarms grounded in fear and suspicion—quite the opposite. Mind at Large contains the full range of human potential, and it can be accessed naturally through yoga, meditation, and various contemplative practices. These practices also bring beneficial brain changes, accomplishing this through the most natural of mechanisms: the mind learning to know itself.

 

The time for psychedelics to come out of the shadows is now, but if they add to the false belief that Brain = Mind, the effect will not advance what is really needed, more self-awareness.  The opposite of self-awareness is the mechanistic view that a human being is a brain puppet, an underling of neural activity whose sense of self is a figment of DMN processing. Insofar as psychedelics have medical uses, we should cheer them on. But Huxley’s insight that Mind at Large is the real issue still holds true.

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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Is It Time to Stop Believing in Magic?

By Deepak Chopra, MD

A culture can be judged by where it spends its money. One glance at the great French cathedrals speaks of the vast sums spent on building them, which if translated into current dollars would probably dwarf modern American funding of the Apollo program to land on the moon or the Hubble telescope. Medieval churchmen allocated money for God; we allocate money for science. To us, the way we spend is rational; the way they spent wasn’t.

 

Money follows history, and history follows money. The medieval world saw reality in terms of God, angles, souls, etc., which to a modern skeptic is magical thinking. Having pushed that worldview into a small corner of modern Western society, we prefer hard realities, and therefore a pittance goes to religion and philosophy while mountains of money go to science and technology. There’s no room for magical thinking anymore, and it’s no surprise that in rising economies like India and China, up to 80% of college graduates, among the men, are engineers.

 

But this picture of magic versus realism covers up a blind spot. A world like ours, organized around science and technology, indulges in its own version of magical thinking. In fact we are all entangled in it, and every day we make decisions that are based on unexamined assumptions about reality. Here are some of the leading magical beliefs that most people accept:

  • The universe is made of solid physical objects.
  • A body is a fixed object in time and space.
  • The body has sensations.
  • The brain does our thinking for us.
  • It takes only the brain to explain the mind.

 

The last time anyone with a major public personality tried to persuade people that these beliefs had no basis in reality was probably the British philosopher Bertrand Russell in his 1927 book, The Analysis of Matter. In it, Russell thoroughly exploded the notion that the sequence of physical events that make up the body and brain have any relationship to the emergence of mind, or as he narrowed it down, sensations. The atoms and molecules that participate in building a body/brain don’t have sensations. Atoms don’t feel anything. Therefore, Russell, said, it must be considered miraculous that the end product of atoms and molecules should feel anything.

 

Miracles were not acceptable to a mathematical philosopher like Russell, and he proposed a neutral stance. If it is magical thinking to believe that atoms and molecules cause us to have sensations, it is equally miraculous to think that a mind can create physical objects. The answer, according to Russell, was to claim neither notion. The basic, irreducible ground state of everything isn’t mind or matter. (I’m skimming a complex subject here. For details, see the article on “neutral monism” online at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 

An explanation that rules out mind as the creator of the universe but also matter as the creator of mind is a negative philosophy—and that won’t do. Thinkers have sought a positive philosophy that will actually explain where mind and matter came from. At the moment, everyone’s experience is that there is a huge, unbridgeable gap between mind and matter. In an effort to close the gap, every thinker wants to be realistic. The medieval Christian notion that God created the world shifted the problem to a divine agency. Some scholastics went so far as to believe that everything in the world was taking place in God’s mind; we were part of his dream.

 

With no divine mind to rely upon, closing the mind-matter gap has been enormously difficult. Literally every possible answer has been proposed. Today’s fashion is for creating mind and matter out of information as the basic “stuff” of creation, or by giving every object a mind, which is known as panpsychism. But in this scramble to reconcile mind and matter, it is first necessary to accept the negative points made by Russell (among others). These negative points briskly clear the air.

  1. The universe is not made of solid, fixed physical objects.
  2. The body is not fixed in time and space.
  3. The body has no sensations.
  4. The brain does not think.
  5. The brain is not enough to explain the mind.

These statements don’t actually tell us what lies at the basis of mind and matter, but they accomplish something almost as important: they dispel magical thinking. If you try to counter any of these statements, not through blind belief but through reason, you can’t. There is no point in the evolution of the cosmos where anyone can say atoms and molecules started to think, feel, and have sensations, and yet we assume that. There is the riddle, the mystery, the miracle. If you believe that your body feels heat and cold, if you believe that your brain remembers your last birthday, if you think granite is a solid object—in other words, if you participate in magical thinking—you are not on the road to finding out what is actually real.

 

Let’s say, contrary to the current habit of accepting all of these false beliefs, that you acknowledge Russell’s negative points—then what? The door is open to getting real. What lies through the door is worth the journey it takes to get there. But looking around, one sees most people satisfied to accept the magical thinking of the conventional world because they don’t realize there is a practical alternative — an experience of reality that is experienced directly. Few people, by comparison, spend personal time, effort, and thought (it’s not a question of money) in discovering the nature of reality.

 

I don’t need to repeat my own position, which is that consciousness lies at the heart of creation. Consciousness isn’t the same as mind. Mind is active while consciousness is a silent field of pure potential. Consciousness isn’t physical. It has the potential to transform into physicality as well as mentality. In say these things, I accept the neutral position that Russell outlined, because without a doubt all of his negative points are correct. There is a common source for both mind and matter that isn’t mind or matter (Russell’s basic point). To take the next step, turning a negative philosophy into a positive one, the journey leads to consciousness, nowhere else.

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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The Light of Love

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

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