Deepak Chopra has a simple life strategy, as he calls it, "I go with the flow." As the author of more than 65 books and the co-founder of The Chopra Center for Well Being, Dr. Chopra is both a world renowned expert on mind-body healing as well as an outspoken advocate for the "contemporary synthesis of science and soul." I recently had the opportunity to speak to the prolific writer and found him to have an in-depth and comprehensive awareness of who we are as human beings and the world we now live in, envisioning a future where, "we will be citizens of the globe, and nation states will be obsolete, and nationalism will be an old tribal idea." To further his work and theories, he has formed a philanthropic arm called The Chopra Foundation which is organizing an event taking place August 16th-18th, the annual Sages and Scientists Symposium in Carlsbad, California. Moderated by Chopra, the event brings together distinguished experts in science, business, healthcare, and humanity to examine and seek solutions to the problems that affect humanity's evolution to a more peaceful, just, and sustainable society. (Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington will be a featured speaker amongst other luminaries).
In addition to organizing ambitious events like this, and supporting cutting edge research about consciousness and working with a variety of world renowned experts and organizations, Deepak is interested in empowering the individual and helping facilitate a "collective awakening" by encouraging practices like meditation. In fact he is currently spearheading a groundbreaking 21-day Meditation Challenge with media pioneer Oprah Winfrey, who is similarly promoting this same type of positive and spiritually oriented programming on her web sites and her OWN network, on which Deepak appears frequently. The last time he and Oprah led the meditation challenge, over 700,000 people worldwide participated, which Deepak says was "the largest meditation experience in the history of humanity." During this current challenge (join in here) Chopra says he is even looking into entering the event into the Guinness Book of World Records, by using technology and new media to achieve "close to 1 million people globally meditating every day as a global community." Practices like meditation, says Chopra, leads to people having greater self awareness - "an awareness of their body, awareness of their mental space, awareness of their relationships - not only with each other, but with life and the ecosystem." That type of awareness, Chopra believes, would lead to a "more conscious, awakened world".
What is exceptional and inviting about Deepak Chopra is his belief that spiritual reality must be grounded in our practical everyday world. He focuses on our ability to enhance the everyday lives of people around the globe by using the "collective intelligence, creativity, intention, and problem solving." He cites an example of a project the Chopra Foundation supports in India, "where we ask college students to go to a neighboring village, identify the problem, and solve them. And they do it." He is also particularly excited and encouraged by the role of social media and modern technology, which he sees as a way for a more awakened consciousness to reach "critical mass".
With his event this weekend, which is being livestreamed, Deepak hopes people will come away with not only a sense that there is "a lot of mystery in the universe" and a "feeling of reverence and humility, and wonder and awe," he also hopes that they will see "the potential within themselves to not only make a difference in their lives, but to help transform the world."
Marianne Schnall: What inspired this year's theme of the Sages and Scientists Symposium?
Deepak Chopra: Well, originally it was because of some scientists that I'd met who were not happy with what you can call the materialist interpretation of reality. These days they call it the physicalist oncology, because it's very difficult to explain meaning, purpose, insight, intuition, imagination, creativity, free will, if you think only in terms of a world made up of matter, a world that is constructed where the building blocks of reality are physical. So that's how it started and about four years ago we started this conference, called Sages and Scientists and it grew. And I think the way it evolved was that more and more scientists came out of the closet to start talking about consciousness, which in wisdom traditions is called "spirit" or "spirituality" or "awareness". And in the third year we also announced a prize. This is all done through our non-profit, Chopra Foundation. So we announced a prize and we called it the Rustum Roy Award, because Rusty was a physicist, a scientist of what they call solid state material physics and yet he was very interested in consciousness and he was also a member of the Academy of Science, not only in the United States, but in Great Britain and Russia and China. He's passed on, but he brought the first group of scientists to our conference, including Hans Peter Dürr, who was the former director of the Max Planck Institute. And so it became quite prestigious when we gave awards to Rudy Tanzi, who is a professor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, Director of Genetics at Mass General, to Stuart Hameroff who has done work with Sir Roger Penrose on consciousness in the universe, to Menas Kafatos who's a physicist who talks about consciousness in the universe and to Joel Primack who has described dark matter in the universe. So all of these people were sympathetic to the idea that the universe is not just matter or material. It's also consciousness.
And so this year we are giving two prizes: one to Elissa Epel, who works with a Noble Laureate, Elizabeth Blackburn, and they're looking at the enzyme telomeres and also the chromosomes in people who have learned to meditate at the Center. And indeed, the entire genome is being looked at as people practice meditation. And the other prize we're giving is to a cognitive scientist called Donald Hoffman, who's at the University of California at Irvine, who also explains consciousness in the universe as a really good mathematical model to experiment. So you know, that's been my fascination for thirty years, so it's great to do that.
And now we have announced The Consciousness Project, which will bring together people from all over the world - scientists, philosophers - to discuss and unravel, hopefully, the mystery of our own self, because we're conscious beings. And do it scientifically, just like people did the genome project or people put man on the moon or they even made the atomic bomb - we should be able to figure this out. So that's the whole basis of what we're doing. But of course, for a lot of people, this is irrelevant, unless it makes a difference in their lives. How does this improve the quality of our lives as human beings? Does understanding our deepest consciousness make us more compassionate, more loving? Can it help create a more peaceful, just, sustainable, healthy, and happier world? So The Consciousness Project is taking on all these things with community outreach, research, experiments, validation, the creation of products and services, and ultimately community outreach to help create a better world. That's basically it.
MS: I know this year's symposium is tied to the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and pays tribute to the civil rights movement. How do see our progress 50 years later, and how is it interrelated to the work that you are doing?
DC: The work that we are doing is about identity. We still have very tribal identities, and we have modern technology, modern capacities, but everybody's identity is ethnic or racial or religious and it doesn't seem to be who we are. And so I think taking the whole civil rights movement and looking back at it and looking at these pioneers, to say, where were we in the past, where are we now and where are we going in the future?
MS: Some of our most messy times in our history can often be the most transformative. What are your thoughts in the wake of the Trayvon Martin episode? What has come out of that that we can learn from?
DC: First of all, it's very clear how polarized and racist and in many ways ethnocentric American society is on the one hand, but also the moral outrage and all the aftermath of it has also created a new awareness that we really need to address racism in the United States and that we can't do it just by moral preaching. We have to really educate ourselves in a way about who we are, what our real identity is.
MS: Do you feel like we're getting closer to seeing each other as one global family? What is it that really gets in our way from seeing ourselves that way?
DC: What gets in our way is history and culture and religion and economic conditions. It is part of the hypnosis of our social conditioning. And what might help us is technology, because even this interview will be seen by lots of people, and now I'm going to the Middle East and I just announced it on Twitter and people from Saudi Arabia and Egypt and everywhere say, 'Oh, we're coming to see you.' We're realizing that there's a whole movement, particularly in women and the millennials that is definitely marching forward in a new direction. Even in the Middle East, their strongest voices right now in leadership are the millennials and women.
MS: That's interesting. Why do you think that is?
DC: I just know it from demographics and from Gallup where I work as a Senior Scientist and from my network of people in the Middle East. It's all mostly younger people on Facebook and Twitter and its either women, or as I said, the millennial generation, and they're very articulate and they seem to be educated. They seem not to want to be imprisoned by old identities.
MS: Looking out at the world, what types of paradigm shifts do you think need to take place, to get humanity on a more positive path? How do you see the evolution of human consciousness over time and where we are today?
DC: We have a global identity. If I may dare say - and this might seem outrageous to most people who read this, so they can decide to print it or not - I think even nation states should be and will be obsolete. I think nationalism will be seen in the future as a form of tribalism and I think what we call "Democracy" will be "Netocracy", where people, globally, can work on issues. So you don't have to be a U.S. citizen to vote on climate change or global warming or legalization of same sex marriage or discrimination in any way. That we will be citizens of the globe and nation states will be obsolete, nationalism will be an old tribal idea, and that we'll then be looking at outer space to colonize the galaxy, as human beings. But that may not happen in my generation.
MS: How do we get there? Certainly a vision like that comes from a more awakened perspective. Many people, understandably, are so busy managing their own personal lives that they don't have time to cultivate that type of deeper or more expansive perspective, often going through their lives on autopilot, most of the time. People sometimes often misinterpret meditation or spirituality as some kind of a "self-help" thing. How is this type of inner work connected to what goes on in the larger world? How are the inner and outer connected?
DC: It's not self-help. I dislike the word self-help. Self-awareness, yes, but not self-help. People need to know that they have all the tools within themselves. Self-awareness, which means awareness of their body, awareness of their mental space, awareness of their relationships - not only with each other, but with life and the ecosystem. Self-reflection, asking questions like, "Who am I? What's the meaning and purpose of my existence? Who's asking the question?" etc., etc. Transcendence, which is where meditation comes in. A more conscious, awakened world would require a tipping point or critical mass, where technology will come in. What can we do to accelerate it? I don't know - it's probably part of our evolution and even technology is part of that evolution.
MS: Speaking of using technology, I know that you and Oprah have been using the Internet to lead a 21-day meditation challenge. Is that connected? What do you hope to accomplish with that?
DC: Definitely - the 21-day Meditation Challenge is free. Last time we had over 700,000 people globally. I have been to China recently and Korea and Russia and I would ask my audiences how many people took that meditation and ten percent or more would raise their hands, so it was probably - not probably - definitely the largest meditation experience in the history of humanity. Primarily because we now have the technology to make that happen and I think we may have a million people this time, and in fact [laughs], we have asked our staff to look into the possibility of entering the Guinness Book of Records. We certainly qualify. I don't think this has ever happened, close to a million people globally meditating every day, as a global community. So that's part of the collective awakening, I think, and it can only get better.
MS: When injustice happens, when people are outraged, whether it's the Trayvon Martin case or other forms of injustice around the world, how does one work towards positive change, without producing more judgment, more violence, or more negativity?
DC: I personally do not believe in strident activism. I do not believe in moral outrage, because even moral outrage is rage, and rage is rage - it adds to more rage in the collective consciousness, if we understand how consciousness works. So I think whenever something like that happens, instead of being outraged, we should be asking, 'What's a creative solution for the future? What can we learn from it?' And there's always a creative solution and every creative solution is ultimately a solution at the level that is higher than the level where the problem is. And I think just by asking ourselves that together, increasing awareness, will bring light. Otherwise you're fighting darkness with darkness. It doesn't work, and by now we should know that. I mean, we've had all kinds of angry activism and we've even had peace activism, by people who are otherwise foaming with rage. It doesn't make sense. People get Noble Prizes for Peace and they don't have peace in their lives.
So, first of all we have to be the change that we want to see in the world, and secondly we have to ask ourselves, collectively - you have to harness collective intelligence, collective creativity, collective intention, collective problem solving. And it's happening. I mean, I know of projects that we are supporting through the Chopra Foundation in small places in India where we ask college students to go to a neighboring village, identify the problem, and solve them. And they do it.
MS: So are you feeling hopeful about, as you say at the website, a future where "the synthesis where science and soul coexist comfortably," that these types of mergings are happening? Do you see this as part of humanity's evolutionary path?
DC: I do. On the other hand, I don't know what else I would do with my life. [laughs] I don't want to be bored. So this is a good thing to do.
MS: I follow you on Twitter, so I see how active you are. You're tweeting, you're organizing these events, you're writing books - what drives you? What is the source of all of your energy to do the important work that you're doing?
DC: I think the source is, really, that I don't strive towards a future, and I realize that there's really no point at where you can say you've arrived. That makes for a very rich daily experience for me. So I go with the flow. I don't get tired. I'm going to Australia tomorrow. I'm really excited and I'll Tweet about it and share my experiences, because I like to do that.
MS: The event marks an anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech. What is your dream, if you had to articulate it, for the future of humanity?
DC: My dream is reaching that critical mass or tipping point - and for some reason I pull out a number out of a hat, a hundred million people, who are on a journey of personal transformation, whose personal transformation will lead to a collective transformation. And the mantra I use is 'a more peaceful, just, sustainable, healthier, and happier world'.
MS: I know that people are able to watch the livestream of the Symposium. Why should they watch it? What do you hope people will take away from this event?
DC: I think if they watch this event, they'll take away, first of all, that there's a lot of things we don't know, that we take for granted, and there's a lot of mystery in the universe, which brings us a lot of reverence, a feeling of reverence and humility, and wonder and awe. But at the same time they will also see the potential within themselves to not only make a difference in their lives, but to help transform the world.
Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine, In Style, CNN.com, EW.com, the Women's Media Center, and many others. Marianne is a featured blogger at The Huffington Post and a contributor to the nationally syndicated NPR radio show, 51 percent The Women's Perspective. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women's web site and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice based on her interviews with a variety of well-known women. Marianne's forthcoming book, What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power will be published by Seal Press in Fall 2013. You can visit her website at www.marianneschnall.com.