Aging: Change Your Reality

Given a choice, how many people would elect to grow old and decompose over time? Not many, judging by how hard most of us work to keep at bay the visible signs of aging. Yet try as we might to delay it, it happens. Day by day, year by year, one step closer to the funeral pyre. This is the notion most of us have been operating under all our lives: you're born; God willing, you grow old; and then you die. We see it happen in our families, in nature, in ourselves. Unavoidable. Yes, unavoidable but according to Deepak Chopra, M.D., aging is unavoidable only because we expect it to happen. Our expectation of growing old dictates a message to our cells telling them to age. Crinkley skin, sagging jowls, thinning bone mass, disease, all by choice? Pretty radical theory.DR. COSMOSBut it sells. With 15 books and 30 audio-visual tapes translated into 25 languages to his credit, Deepak Chopra is probably the most popular author on the New Age bookshelves. Dr. Chopra has practiced endocrinology since 1971. A Fellow of the American College of Physicians and former chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital, Chopra is also the founder and president of the American Association of Auyervedic Medicine. He has worked extensively with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who brought Transcendental Meditation to the West. Chopra uses his knowledge of Western medicine, Vedic science, and the physical laws of the universe to support his theories and to explain how a thought can cure cancer or how disliking your job can make you sick.SEEING IS BELIEVINGWhile Chopra certainly is not the only one out there writing about the mind/body connection he has managed to capture the attention of millions of readers. Clever marketing? Sure, but there's more to Chopra's popularity than a successful PR campaign. For one thing, Chopra's message is ultimately hopeful. "Reality is not a given," he states in, Creating Health, which he wrote in order to give his readers, "...a taste of what it is like to be totally free of boundaries." According to Chopra, our individual reality is created by our perceptions. Therefore, if we can alter our perceptions, we can create a different reality than the one we may feel stuck with. Ah yes, personal responsibility. No more shaking a fist at the skies and cursing our misfortune. After all, we created it. Because of the intimate connection between mind and body, thoughts can manifest physical reality.In fact, Chopra states that there is not a mind and a body but a bodymind, "a seamless web of intelligence." For example, the mere thought of making a speech in front of a group of strangers can instantaneously produce sweaty palms, a nervous stomach, and rapid heartbeat in someone who fears public speaking. It's just a thought, but it has power. "You cannot experience the faintest mood without your heart cells sharing it, and at the same time your lungs, kidneys, stomach, and intestines," Chopra writes. "These organs participate in your mental life as fully as your brain does."THE BODYMIND AT WORKUsing examples from his childhood, Chopra explains how every event, image, thought, taste, smell, we experience is perpetually creating us. Chopra's childhood was filled with contradictory realities which have gone into creating what he has become and continues to become moment by moment as new experiences continually shape and create a "new" Chopra. Growing up in India with a mother who was a devout Hindu and a father who was military doctor, he remembers the many different cultural influences which surrounded him. At one of his birthday parties he remembers all the other children being fascinated by an Indian snake charmer while all he was interested in was his model train set from England. Educated at a Catholic school near Delhi he lived next door to a swami who sat in deep Samadhi (pure consciousness), barely moving for days at a time. Chopra believes his inner self contains the impressions that all of these characters and experiences have made on his physiology. Each time there is a shift in thought there is a corresponding shift in physiology involving millions of neurons sending messages out to the cells. An example of how this works would be simply to watch the transformation an older person undergoes while he is reliving a treasured memory from his childhood. For those moments he is no longer an old man; he is the young boy and it shows in his face.MORE THAN HAPPY THOUGHTSAcknowledging that healing is more than just a matter of thinking yourself well, Chopra explains that, "mastering the forces that shape personal reality" is not just about altering your psychology or employing massive amounts of willpower. Repressing negative feelings will only allow that energy to manifest somewhere else in the physiology, he says. True healing cannot be forced, yet it can and does occur. The key to healing lies in perception, which is not a passive act. Your experience of the world is determined by whatever lenses of perception you are wearing. If you wake up happy, the world looks rosy; if you wake up depressed, the world looks gloomy. It's the same view out your window yet it can look very different depending upon what you bring to it. TWO WAYS TO SEE THE WORLDChopra says that by identifying with the seer within instead of the scenery outside, a person has infinitely more control over what the scenery looks like. This is known as the principle of self-referral and is one of two ways that the world can be perceived. The other option is to perceive the world through object referral which means to know who we are only through the relationship we have with some object outside ourselves. This could be a lover, job, idea--anything that lies outside of ourselves to which we attach our identities. When operating through object referral it is easy to give our energy and power to the object of identity and be left feeling drained or victimized by the world around us. Self-referral offers the possibility of a state of bliss -- happiness which is not attached to the feedback we get from our environment. "[True happiness] comes from knowing who you are. To know yourself beyond any level of experience is to be grounded in a knowledge of your pure potentiality," according to Chopra.BREAKING FREEBy getting in touch with one's inner core or "silent witness" we become rooted in a truth which is not dependent upon outside influences. This is the way out of the prison of conditioned responses we have accumulated through habit and memory. Conditioned responses set up conditioned expectations (like growing old) which turn into predictable behavior and bio-chemical responses in our bodies.To get in touch with one's inner being is possible through meditation, which practitioners believe allows one to transcend the waking state of consciousness and contact the field of pure creative intelligence that is the home of the laws of nature. Chopra asserts that the unified field one experiences in meditation is the same unified field that Einstein was convinced underlie all of the forces of nature.Through regular meditation one gradually comes more into harmony with natural law and begins to perform spontaneous right action. One's thinking begins to change at the deepest level, so that instead of trying to make a mood of happiness or forcing positive thinking one begins to genuinely radiate these qualities. This is the beginning point for true healing.A HAPPY WORLDThe world according to Chopra is a place where all desires can be fulfilled. Happiness is our true nature and the universe is a playground where we create our reality as an extension of ourselves. Although Chopra does his fair share of prescribing specific techniques to unfold one's full potential and create a better quality of life (see, for example, his current bestseller, The Seven Spiritual Laws For Success) he doesn't stop at writing how-to manuals. Unlike some of his contemporaries competing for space on the same bookshelves, Chopra doesn't just bleat on about the power of positive thinking and its application for healing and living a happy life. He uses the wisdom of the Vedas written 6,000 years ago by holy men called rishis to dismantle conventional notions of how the mind and body work. He also urges his readers to discover that the limitations Western science has set are really false.SIDEBAR: A SKEPTIC LOOKS AT DEEPAK CHOPRABy Robert DownesAs an off-and-on meditator who's been dismayed by the chicanery which passes for science among some members of the Transcendental Meditation movement, I find that the theories of Deepak Chopra have a rather tinny ring at times.At best, Chopra's theories offer us an Eastern insight that's lacking in allopathic medicine, along with some admirable guidelines for living.But, like any medical researcher, Chopra should also be subject to skepticism and the standards of scientific proof. And even a non-scientist can find holes in his findings which bear further discussion.For instance, if, as Chopra claims, growing old were due only to our expectation of aging, then why do animals age? Unlike humans, animals are believed to have no sense of time and do not share our sense of self-consciousness. If a sea urchin or a sparrow has no ability to perceive that it is aging, why then does it age?And why are there no documented cases of yogi's living for hundreds of years if meditation could alter one's perception on life and aging? If Chopra's theories on meditation are correct, we should have at least a handful of enlightened individuals who have passed the 200 year mark -- documented evidence, not the anecdotal tales which pass for proof among true believers.Then too, some might argue that Chopra's interpretation of the unified field theory is wishful thinking along the lines of mixing apples and oranges, in much the same way that a person from a primitive culture might misinterpret electricity to be magic. Considering that the best physicists on the planet still don't have a clue as to the exact nature of the unified field theory, one has to wonder if this concept isn't being manipulated by Chopra, the Maharishi, and company. Worth noting, the quest for contacting the field of "pure creative intelligence" comes with a considerable price tag on the necessary mantras supplied by the trademarked Transcendental Meditation movement.As with faith healers, Chopra and the TM movement have an easy out for those who die young or fail to achieve wellness through his theories. They can simply say that poor meditational technique was the cause, or perhaps, a lack of faith.

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