Deepak Chopra is one of the most influential integrative medicine and meditation experts in the world. However, he wasn’t always the epitome of calm. Early in his medical career, as a resident, Chopra turned to smoking and alcohol to combat the stress he was feeling. But noticing that these habits weren’t working, on an impulse, he decided to change the course of his life. “I was very busy taking care of patients. I wanted them to feel better, but I couldn’t give them any advice because of my own situation,” he tells Thrive. “So I decided to be the change I was seeking in others. I started getting good sleep, cultivating healthy emotions like compassion, joy, kindness, and peace, changed my diet to a more plant-based diverse diet, exercised, and started yoga.”
This was over 50 years ago. Since then, Chopra has written over 85 books, founded The Chopra Foundation and Chopra Global, serves as a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California in San Diego, and hosts the podcast Deepak Chopra’s Infinite Potential. TIME has described him as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”
Chopra sits down with Thrive to discuss his latest book, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential, how you can be present anywhere, how to handle criticism, and his advice for managing your relationship with technology.
Thrive Global: What is your morning routine?
Deepak Chopra: I wake up anywhere between 4:00 to 6:00 in the morning, depending on what time I go to sleep, but I get eight hours of sleep every night. Then I do about two hours of a combination of meditation, reflection, breathing, yoga, and I set my intentions for the day, which are always the same — joyful, energetic body, love and compassion in the heart, reflective alert mind, and lightness of being. Then, I just do what needs to be done.
TG: For someone who wants to start meditating, what are your tips to begin the practice?
DC: Meditation simply means going beyond the conditioned mind or thought. You can be in that state any moment by being fully aware of any experience, like attending to your breath, to a thought, to a sensation in the body, to an image in the mind, or to using a mantra. So if you want to be in that space right now, close your eyes and ask yourself, “I wonder what my next thought is going to be.” And there is silence. That’s meditation. You can be in that state all the time.
TG: Often, people are hesitant— resistant, really — to change. What advice would you give to someone to embrace change?
DC: I think one can be stuck in a rut and a routine because of the addiction to security. Actually, the addiction to security is the biggest cause of insecurity. We don’t live in the past. The past is the known. We live in the present that actually creates the future. So if you’re not present to experience right now — if you’re not enjoying experience right this moment, because you’re constantly thinking of the future — then when the future arrives, even the future that you want, you won’t be present for it. The key to actually creating a more meaningful life, a life of purpose, and ultimately a life of success, is to know that we live, breathe, and move in the unknown. Take a risk, otherwise you’ll be a victim of the past. If you want to be a pioneer of the future, take a little risk.
TG: You have written over 90 books, which is remarkable. What inspires you to come up with new material and new ways of sharing your experience?
DC: My training. I’m a physician. My career has evolved from being an internist to being an endocrinologist to a neuroendocrinologist, to somebody interested in mind-body medicine, which then evolved to integrative medicine. Now, I’m going a little bit beyond that, into a deeper understanding of what is fundamental reality. We think that reality is this body, this mind, and this world, but actually, there’s a more fundamental reality beyond the conditioned mind. I am obsessed with what the wisdom traditions call “higher states of consciousness.” So every book that I write is actually just a little step further than the previous book, because I think of evolution as a spiral staircase. When I write books, I don’t actually think about who I’m writing for, or who the exact audience is. I’m sharing my own evolution as it has occurred over the last 50 years.
TG: Are there any principles that have really remained steadfast from book one to book 90?
DC: The main principle that has stood through the whole range of books that I’ve written, numbers one through 90, is healing. The word healing comes from the word wholeness, which means all-inclusive mind, body, spirit, environment, personal relationships, social interactions, work, well-being, social well-being, community well-being, financial well-being, physical well-being, emotional well-being, and spiritual well-being. There’s a lot to cover, but it all has to do with healing.
TG: With so many distractions around, what’s the best way to quiet the noise?
DC: You can quiet your internal dialogue just by being present in the moment to any sensory experience. Right now, even with your eyes open, just be aware of sound, without labeling it, or be aware of your breath, or be aware of the sensations in your body, or simply ask yourself, “Am I present?” We are distracted by experience without ever being aware of who or what is having the experience.
TG: What is your relationship with technology?
DC: I believe technology is neutral. Technology can destroy the world, but technology today can also help us in rewiring. The internet is the global brain. Everything about the human condition is there. When we personally evolve in the direction of joy, empathy, and compassion, and we share our spiritual practice with others, then we create a sangha. A sangha is a community. Today, with technology, I personally have a sangha, or a community, of 15 million people and it’s growing. If we keep doing that, then technology becomes a divine tool to create joy and healing. You use technology, don’t allow it to use you. It’s that simple.
TG: How do you handle criticism?
DC: Social media is a reflection of who we are, collectively, just like the world is a mirror of who we are collectively. So if you really want to make a difference in the world, then you have to be independent of both the criticism and the flattery you get from people who engage with you. If somebody flatters me, I just acknowledge them with a thank you, but internally, it doesn’t make a difference. If somebody criticizes me, sometimes I also acknowledge them with a thank you, but internally I’m independent of both. If you’re dependent on other people’s opinions of yourself, then be prepared to be offended for the rest of your life.
TG: What is your evening routine?
DC: I stop working at around 5:00. I engage with friends and family for a little bit. Usually I also go for a little walk, eat a very light meal before sunset, and ideally go to bed before 10:00 in a totally dark room with total silence and no technology.
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