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Master Mind: Deepak Chopra on the Mindfulness Movement

The Oprah-approved expert reveals how he meditates, the effect on the individual, and how society can change with the practice


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Photo by Todd MacMillan

Deepak Chopra has helped millions cultivate their spiritual knowledge and consciousness through his lectures, workshops, books, and retreats at The Chopra Center, located right here in San Diego. An avid practitioner for the past 35 years, he’s written or cowritten 85 books, including his latest, The Healing Self, and recently cocreated the well-being app Jiyo. His education- and research-based Chopra Foundation helps at-risk youth, low-income women and teens, prisoners, and educators, and initiates research that examines the effects of mind-body practices on health and well-being (Want to live longer, anyone?). We caught up with Chopra to pick his brain about, well, our own.

 

Let’s start at the top. What exactly is mindfulness?

Being aware of who you are and what you are doing at any given moment. It’s the opposite of acting out of habit, old conditioning, and automatic reflexes. You no longer are a brain puppet reacting.

 

What is the longest you’ve ever sat and meditated?

I’ve never looked at it that way. Once you have the experience of going inward, it can last a long time or a few minutes. Then it becomes part of your inner life, so if I meditate on a flight for eight hours, or a group meditation for 10 minutes, the effect is the same.

 

What’s the one thing everyone can get from meditating?

Increased self-awareness. But the first thing most people notice is a state of inner peace and quiet.

 

What’s the best way to receive or discover a mantra?

A good teacher who understands how to introduce the practice is essential.

 

Are we getting more anxious as a society?

It’s hard to say, but prescriptions for tranquilizers and antidepressants are at an alarming high. For everyday anxiety, the kind that arises from the evening news or running short financially, meditation is the start to reaching a level of consciousness that isn’t prone to fear of any kind.

 

Does mindful meditation have measurable effects on our health? How so?

The evidence has mounted for 40 years that meditation has multiple benefits, including lower blood pressure, reduced stress, and improved heart health. But today the real frontier in meditation is higher consciousness as the key to lifelong well-being.

 

Mindfulness is the opposite of acting out of habit, old conditioning, and automatic reflexes. You no longer are a brain puppet reacting.

 

What’s the connection between mindfulness, meditation, and lon­gevity? How can we slow aging?

The best indicator, which was measured in a study here at the Chopra Center, is an enzyme called telomerase that is directly connected to how long your cells live and how aging affects them. We are only as old as our cells, so improving telomerase levels, which happens with meditation, holds huge promise.

 

Tell us about your new book, The Healing Self.

The Healing Self shifts healing away from being totally physical to being a collaboration between mind and body. In fact, there is no separation. We should think of ourselves as having a “bodymind.” Every thought sends signals to all 50 trillion cells in your body. Each thought can contribute to healing or not. So your state of awareness is crucial.

 

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be?

A practicing endocri­nologist, but that’s just a guess. That was my profession for 15 years.

 

Do you really believe that it’s possible for many of us to reach a level of higher consciousness where the self is not run by the ego?

Can only a select few like yourself master this? I don’t feel that I belong to a special or select category. Higher consciousness is really just a process of expanded awareness. The process comes naturally to the mind. We are pulled toward truth, beauty, creativity, love, curiosity, and other things. Those desires that open the mind create the path to full awakening.

 

How do we find compassion for individuals who seem to be harming the planet, people, and animals—for their sake and for our own peace of mind?

Compassion is a quality of awareness that is nonselective. As it grows, compassion is felt for everyone. It’s like being nonjudgmental. If you pick and choose only the people you don’t want to judge, your mindset will still be judgmental. If you pick and choose the people you feel compassion toward, you are still uncompassionate. So it’s better to be true to yourself and honest with others. Once the spark of compassion is lit, it grows of its own accord.

 

What’s the great secret of the universe you have discovered?

The existence is consciousness, which means that the universe is created entirely out of consciousness.

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