Body of Wonder Podcast

Episode #2 Deepak Chopra - Consciousness: (The Self) Experience of A Lifetime

What is consciousness? Are "you" your body or your mind...or something else entirely? Is it possible to quiet the mind and free it from wondering thoughts? Can psychedelics and cannabis help you reach higher states of consciousness?

In this episode of Body of Wonder, Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Deepak Chopra, two of the most well-known integrative health advocates, are interviewed by Dr. Victoria Maizes for a conversation that explores the experience of human consciousness and perception.

Hear how Dr. Weil and Dr. Deepak personally define consciousness, their recommendations for healthy aging of the mind and the body, and how death is an important part of one's own "self" experience. Dr. Chopra's new book Metahuman: Unleashing Your Potential is out now.

Body of Wonder is hosted by Dr. Victoria Maizes and Dr. Weil and produced by the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Learn more about this and other topics by going to Connect with us on Twitter: @BodyofWonder, Instagram: BodyofWonderPodcast, or Facebook/BodyofWonder

Please note, the show will not advise, diagnose, or treat medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare provider for questions regarding your health.

Please note, the show will not advise, diagnose, or treat medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare provider for questions regarding your health.


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Guest Bio

Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, is the founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a modern-day health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego.  He is the author of 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”

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Consciousness: (The Self) Experience of A Lifetime with Deepak Chopra, MD

Victoria Maizes: Hi, Andy. 

Andrew Weil: Hi Victoria.

Victoria Maizes: How are you today?

Andrew Weil: I'm good. Getting ready for the holidays. 

Victoria Maizes: Excellent. So today we have Dr. Deepak Chopra joining us. I'm really looking forward to hearing the two of you.

Andrew Weil: An old friend and colleague, and he and I have had some very rich dialogues, especially in the past 10 years.

Victoria Maizes: Well, we're going to be talking about consciousness, which I know is a topic that you have been thinking about and writing about for years, and so has Dr. Chopra 83 books on it. 

Andrew Weil: Amazing, he's much more prolific than I am.

Victoria Maizes: Alright. Looking forward to the dialogue. 



Victoria Maizes: It is my great pleasure today to welcome Dr. Deepak Chopra, who is a physician an author, a speaker, and an advocate of alternative medicine and spirituality. Throughout his life his interest has been in the human experience; perception, emotion, thinking, and the exploration of consciousness. He's a long-time meditator and he believes in the transformative power of mindfulness and contemplation. It is really my great pleasure today to have a chance to do a little bit of moderation as Dr. Weil and Dr. Chopra educate you about consciousness.

So I thought I'd start with you, Andy, and maybe you can tell our listeners how you and Deepak first met.

Andrew Weil: Well, I'm not so sure, and maybe Deepak, has a better memory than I do. I recall a Deepak, we were both keynote speakers to an American College of Physicians event many years ago, but I don't remember if we met before that.

Deepak Chopra: I do remember the keynote that you gave at the American College of Physicians. And then there were other occasions where we met, but I think we didn't know each other until after you started coming as a teacher and a keynote at our conferences at the Chopra center.

Andrew Weil: We had wonderful dialogues. They're a very wide-ranging topics from a medicine consciousness, uh, the microbiome, all sorts of things.

And, and by the way, tell me what's happened with the Chopra center. I understand that the one that we, that I came to has closed. 

Deepak Chopra: Yeah. So, Andy I turn 73 this last year and for two years, I've been kind of considering what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And do believe that even though I'm in the best of health, um.

I couldn't be in better health than I am right now, but I do believe that this is fine this season or the final chapters of my life, and I wanted to see and reflect on the nature of guess what? Consciousness, and existence and spend lot more time in my personal practice, uh, which is now up to two, three hours every day.

And I have not wanted to be involved in the business. So, I was actually going to close the Center. But what happened is a few friends, who are, um, I can share now who they are Alice Walton from the Walmart family and a few others there said, “Why don’t you not to close it? Why don't you let us take over and create a new company called Chopra Global and you can get a salary.

And you can focus on consciousness, but we'll use the platform for integrative medicine and all things holistic. And so, I said, why not? And so I'm doing that. And then there will be another center, actually, uh, somewhere in Arizona soon. Where we will be doing the perfect health program, which is a seven days ayurvedic program, and that's all we'll do there. And it's a facility, that already is a resort facility. And then depending on these new partners, they might do something similar in New York and Arkansas and other places, but I think they're going to turn their attention to turning it into a digital teaching platform.

And at some point come to you and ask you if you would like to do any webinars or workshops digitally, at least in the, in the way we've done them before, but now on a much better scale. 

Andrew Weil: Oh, good. I'll look forward to that. 

Victoria Maizes: I'm wondering whether each of you would actually define consciousness.

Deepak Chopra: Okay. You know, I've been to many conference and people argue this forever and how, what it means, but here are some definitions that I actually like a lot. And, I support these definitions. So, first definition is consciousness is the knowing element in every experience.

So, you know, we are constantly having experiences, perceptual experiences, mental experiences, experiences of the world. The common element in all these experiences is consciousness. So that's one very good definition. And another definition that comes from some non-dualistic is that consciousness is that in which all experience occurs. 

Is also that in which all experience is known. And is also that, and this is the tough part that some people argue about, and is also that out of which all experience is made. So all experiences made is a modified form of consciousness. 

Andrew Weil: Now, Deepak, as you are aware, you are, you and I are in a minority in the Western world, and especially in the Western scientific world, in, in a not buying into the materialistic paradigm that consciousness is a byproduct of neurochemistry, and electrical connections in the brain.  I believe, as I'm sure you do, that consciousness is primary. And, you know, my feeling is that consciousness precedes matter and organizes matter into forms that are more and more self-aware.

Deepak Chopra: Well, that is a very good point of view, Andrew, and a lot of people are actually very sympathetic to what you just said. And It is actually emerging as the dominant view in the consciousness literature, which is, which is called “panpsychism”. So, you know, even even, Christof Koch is now saying that consciousness exists at every level from particle to galaxy.

And it's, it's a vague. Good window into what I think we can go a little deeper and that say that matter itself is a human construct. Four modes of knowing and experience in kinds consciousness and particles before we give them a name have to be experienced in consciousness. And you know it's true of anything, whether it is your own physical body, or the Milky way galaxy, or the phone you are holding in your hand.

Before, you can call it an object. It's an experience, it's a perceptual activity, and the perceptual activity is in nothing other than a modified form of consciousness. So that view, which is the nondual view, goes a little bit even beyond panpsychism. Uh, you know, matter is just a human construct.

Atoms and molecules, a human construct and electricity and gravity and everything that you call force fields and all these are names that humans have given, do experiences and, you know, experience proceeds, the naming of an object, uh, and, um, the experiences is a perceptual activity. And in this case, it's the human perceptual activity.

It's not the perceptual activity of an insect with multiple eyes or a snake that navigate through experiences through infrared or a bat that navigates its own experiences through the echo of ultrasound. So matter is a useful construct for doing science and for creating technology. But it doesn't answer really basic fundamental questions about existence.

I mean, we know there is existence because we are aware of it. Awareness has to proceed anything. How do we know we exist? How do we know we have a body? How do we know there's a universe? Because we are aware of it and we're aware of it because of a perceptual activity, which is a modified form of consciousness in any case.

So I personally, I believe that consciousness is the only reality and everything else is a modified form of it. So, you know, we are on the same page.

Victoria Maizes: Many of our listeners would love to know, and, and maybe if consciousness proceeds matter, as Andy just said, this isn't even feasible, but many of our listeners would love to know, what can an individual do to expand their consciousness or their conscious awareness.

Deepak Chopra: [ [Laughing] Well, I think the only way to actually know consciousness itself is not through observation, because consciousness is always the observer. It escapes inspection because it is the inspector. So when, when we practice various forms of mindfulness or mindful awareness, whether it's awareness of the body or awareness of mental space or awareness of the web of relationship or awareness of our own self inquiry, then at some point we realize that all experience is sensations, images, feelings, perceptions, and thoughts. Thought interpretation of experience. And so the wisdom traditions have always said, go to the source of thoughts, which is basically the first thing you read about when you read the yoga sutras, or potentially the sentence says, yoga is the quietening of the mind so that you can experience the source of thought.

Right now, the source thought is the source of sensations and images, imagination, perceptions, everything we call experience. They're all entangled sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts are entangled. So, for me right now, yoga has assumed a really great importance in my daily practice. Yoga with awareness, understanding that the yoga postures are actually seats of awareness. And when you combine that practice with meditation, including mantra practice, which helps you transcend thought. Then slowly by and by you start to experience what is called pure consciousness, which is prior to anything that we can call it even mind. Pure consciousness has not yet been conditioned into experience, and that's, that's what yoga is all about.

The word means union, union of the self with the source of a thought. 

Andrew Weil: So maybe Victoria, the problem is not to expand consciousness, but they become aware of the fact that our consciousness extends beyond us and to everything. 

Victoria Maizes: That could be. Deepak, you just mentioned some of the elements of those two to three hours a day of personal practice.

You mentioned yoga, meditation, mantra… are there any other aspects of that two to three hours a day that you're spending that you didn't yet mention. 

Deepak Chopra: Yeah. You know, I ask myself, there's something called self-reflective self-inquiry, and my, the changing body, or am I the awareness in which the body's a changing experience.

I mean, I was once a fertilized egg and then there was an embryo, and then before that I was a zygote. Baby and a toddler. It's obvious that what I call my body is a changing perceptual activity. Where is this happening? Well, it's happening in consciousness, so the body is not the container of consciousness.

It's in the experience of consciousness. So I do this practice of self-inquiry am I my mind, or I am I awareness in which the mind is a changing experience. Am I the body or am I the awareness in which the body is a changing experience and then, you know, at night I actually also meditate on my physical death and what does that mean?

If I had no experience whatsoever of a perceptual reality would I still exist. And as a formless being, which consciousness is because you know, consciousness doesn't have a form, you wouldn't be. Otherwise, you'd be able to see it. It's, as I said, it's always the seer, so the more comfortable we can get in experiencing our formless being, which happens by the way, every night in deep sleep. But now you can actually suggest yourself, which is also part of the yogic practices called yoga nidra and many others that actually have, I've seen a, uh, Andrew expound on these practices as well, is that you can ultimately know yourself as formless without form. 

Victoria Maizes: One of the ways people are trying to experience themselves in our society today as a without form is by turning to psychedelics. I'm wondering what your thoughts are about the wisdom of using psychedelics to better understand one's consciousness, is it wise or is it a mistake? 

Deepak Chopra: Well, let, let me, ask Andrew to answer that first because you know my first actual introduction to Andrew a long time ago when I was still a resident and working in Boston and I, I know Andrew went to Harvard Medical School. He was writing about long time ago before this recent interest in psychedelics.

Of course, I, I've written about the psychedelic too in my book Metahuman mostly quoting the work of Michael Pollan. But, Andrew, I'd love to hear your take on all the shamanic experiences that you've talked about. 

Andrew Weil: Sure, one of the questions that came up in the 1960s when in the first wave of interest in psychedelics was, um, objections by spiritual teachers to the claims of people that they were having spiritual experiences through psychedelics.

Uh, the charge was that these were not legitimate. And my feeling is that the only way you can judge legitimacy is by the effect they have on a person. Uh, you know, if someone has a profound psychedelic experience, and as a result of that makes very significant changes in how they live and how they act towards other people then I would say that was a useful, genuine experience. If people take these drugs repeatedly just for sensational effects I think probably that is not a very worthwhile pursuit.

Deepak Chopra: I agree, totally with what Andrew is saying. And having said that, you know, I have earlier on as a medical student in the sixties, I did experiment with LSD and magic mushrooms and so on. And I say, that was my first insight into an unedited reality because our normal conditioned mind and even our brain edits reality, which is much broader than our narrow band of perceptual activity and human narrow band of perceptual activity.

So I think under supervision they could be useful. And right now there's a lot of discussion about things like ketamine and other things, even for treatment, for, of depression. 

Andrew Weil: You know Deepak one of the experiences that, uh, that I had more than once, and it was on various agents, but taking these, uh, in an outdoor, natural setting, experiencing a fundamental, I don’t know, I should call the vital energy flowing through my body that appeared to be corpuscular, brilliant luminescent and in motion. And it extended not only through my body, but to the rocks that I was lying on to plants. I felt this was something that pervaded everything in the universe. And that was some essential, self-aware, luminous or something. 

Deepak Chopra: [Laughing] Well Andy, I can say that was exactly my experience too. I can definitely relate to that. And as you said, we don't, once you have this experience, you don't have to go back to it. It's not something like…

Andrew Weil: Right.

Deepak Chopra:  …Alcohol or other addictive substances you will, once or twice have the experience under supervision you don’t actually needed after that.

Andrew Weil: Yeah. This was Alan Watts had a famous line saying, once you get the message, you can hang up the telephone. 

Deepak Chopra: That's a beautiful line. That's a beautiful line. Now since we're on the subject you know, there's a lot of talk right now on cannabis and CBD, and I was very curious to know your take on the medical uses of cannabis and, um, and not just a CBDs, but even THC, because, as you know it's the talk of the town these days.

Andrew Weil: It’s on every street corner in Tucson, there are people selling CBD. First of all, I'm not so sure CBD by itself does anything, I mean, the only real evidence we have is for treating drug resistant seizures in children and all the other claims for it I think we have no real evidence for. in 

Deepak Chopra: Including anti-inflammatory is that true? 

Andrew Weil: That's true. But in combination with THC and the other constituents in cannabis, it may have a useful effect. To me, the great virtue of cannabis as medicine is its lack of toxicity. You know, you can't kill people with it, and it has interesting effects. I think we don't know all of them, but there are possibilities that it we may find ways of using it to regulate appetite affect pain, uh, to treat and prevent some kinds of cancer to affect the immune system. I think there are many, many possibilities there, but at the moment, I don't think we know enough about all the constituents. 

Deepak Chopra: Yeah. But I'm seeing all that anecdotally and also in the literature, I'm seeing people that say that the seizures have disappeared, that they're inflammatory bowel diseases are better, et cetera, et cetera. So it's certainly something we need to look out for. 

Andrew Weil: One confounding fact about it is that there's a great deal of variation in individual response. Some people can use cannabis to fall asleep. Others say it makes them stimulated. So this is confusing for doctors to know how to use it and what preparations to use. We need a lot more information. 

Deepak Chopra: Good. Victoria. Sorry, we digressed.

Victoria Maizes: That's terrific. I love hearing the two of you ask questions of one another. Deepak, I want to go back to something you were speaking about earlier. You were mentioning a process of reflective self-inquiry in part about your own aging, and one of our listeners wrote a question to us.

Throughout my life, I have believed that my body can heal itself and have seen it happen time and time again. However, as I have aged, I have found it to be more difficult. What tools can I use to get this back? 

Deepak Chopra: Okay. I mean, yeah, I know that Andrew has written books on healthy aging as have I. Here'ssomething I would like to say, and then I'd like to hear what Andrew has to say. For me right now movement and a daily practice, so yoga, eating, food that is not processed or refined, manufactured, or has chemicals or inflammatory products. Walking 10,000 steps a day, um, keeping your emotions healthy, getting at least 8 hours of restful sleep.

 Basically be in some connection with nature, managing your stress through meditation and mindfulness practices definitely alters your aging profile, the biological markers of aging do get affected. And we have done research at the center along with other institutions and where in a one-week retreat, a meditation practice people had an increase in their telomers level by 40%. I don't think there's any drug that does that. And this study was done in collaboration with Elizabeth Blackburn who won the Nobel prize for this discovery of telomerase. Now, as far as healing is concerned, I think ultimately healing is homeostasis. You know, our body's already always self-regulating itself in the direction of homeostasis.

And that is something that we should always keep in mind. That healing is a real phenomenon and it's the restoration of a dynamic non-change in the midst of change in, in your biology. And that homeostasis can be achieved through a quiet mind and a body that is both, uh, dynamically active, but can also get deep rest as sleep.

Uh, so I think you are the person who's inquiring, making this inquiry. He should not be discouraged by the fact that he's getting older. It is possible to get older and still maintain a healthy body. Only 5% of disease gene mutations are fully penetrant, which means they guarantee the disease.

Um, and this is a very significant finding that actually, I was first alert it to by one of my co-authors, Rudy Tanzi, who's a geneticist at Mass General. And basically 5% of all chronic illness is because of these fully penetrant gene. Somebody has a Baraka gene for breast cancer, or there are some Alzheimer’s genes that are fully penetrant.

But even the last vast majority of gene mutations that are associated with chronic illness are influenced epigenetically through lifestyle. 

Andrew Weil: So Deepak, I could not add anything to your list of healthy lifestyle practices. That's a total agreement with mine and am very much in agreement with your point of view about homeostasis being the essential aspect of healing.

Deepak Chopra: Correct.

Andrew Weil: And I would add to that the organism wants to be in a state of equilibrium. There is a desire to get back to that. And to that point, I think it is true that the healing ability of the organism declines as we age. But I have seen remarkable examples of healing in very old people, even in people who were dying, who were able to mount a very significant healing response once, uh, obstacles to healing were removed and energy was supplied to the body.

So I, I think following your general principles, the same ones I advocate of healthy living ensures that you always are able to draw on that potential.

Deepak Chopra: Well, that's great, Andrew. I mean, this is very useful that you sharing this with and we are sharing this with people. I think not many people know this. You know, that homeostasis is in fact something that is part of our self-regulating biology. I mean, we learned about it in medical school, but then after that, we never paid attention to it. 

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Victoria Maizes: I'd love for each of you to offer some practical tips to our listeners who say, ‘I would really like to meditate, but I just can't sit still’, or ‘I just can't quiet my mind’, or ‘I just can't fill in the blank’.

Deepak Chopra: Okay. Anybody who says they don't have enough time, they're the ones who need it most because they're you know time stressed, number one. Number two, trying to quiet in the mind is actually an activity of the mind. So you can never try to quite in the mind, in fact, you more if you'd tried to do that, you'll increase the turbulence of your mind.

So I would say for a beginner, even sitting five minutes observing the breath or observing sensations in the body, or repeating a phrase like ‘Thy will be done’ or you know, the ‘Lord is my shepherd’ or whatever they feel like. You know, um, our, our mantra, which is part of a tradition, it doesn't matter. Five minutes, seven minutes increase.

And also note that the only time thought really stops or it comes to an end is in deep sleep or in death. So don't worry about it if you have thoughts, that's part of the upward stroke of meditation. 

Andrew Weil: What I would tell people who ask that question is to try to notice that on some level they are meditating already and some part of the mind is always in a meditative state.

And to look for areas of your experience such as watching a movie, reading a book, being absorbed in some experience with full directed concentration. That is a variety of meditation, so being aware of what you're already doing and then trying to bring it together.

Deepak Chopra: That’s great. Yeah. Music for me is something that does that, you know.

Victoria Maizes: So looking for other places in one's life where perhaps. One is already having a meditative or even a trance-like experience. 

Andrew Weil: As you know, Victoria, I've always said that cooking for me is meditation. Chopping vegetables. 

Deepak Chopra: Or gardening.

Deepak Chopra: There you are. Exactly. 

Andrew Weil: Deepak, can you tell us about your new book?

Deepak Chopra: Well, I think we covered a lot of material on that. ‘Meta’ means beyond. And human in this I said the conditioned human mind. So the book a very slowly deconstructs what we call matter into experience and then deconstructs experience into perceptual activity and then deconstructs perceptual activity as in modified form of consciousness and its interpretation as thought.

And so, you know, people say, so what good is it? You know, even if we do all that, what good is it? And if you look at the great spiritual traditions and the wisdom traditions of the world, you see three common features that would the basis of all religious or spiritual experience. One was transcendence, which is going beyond thought.

And going into this source of thought and sensations and images and feelings and, and every perceptual activity. The second was the emergence of what we frequently refer to as platonic values, truth, goodness, beauty, harmony, love, compassion, joy, equanimity. And the third is the loss of fear of death. If anyone would have those three experiences, transcendence emergence of platonic values and ethics, ethical values, not out of a compulsion to be moral because, but out of the natural outcome of this experience of unity and lose their fear of death then I think I take that anytime. 

Victoria Maizes: Well, those are profound, higher states that we all want to get to. I'm going to ask about a little of the opposite and I ask all of our guests what is one guilty pleasure that you have?

Deepak Chopra: [Laughing] Me? I used to guiltily very guiltily, uh, have three or four cups of coffee every day til my brother, who's a professor at Harvard Medical School, said, actually, coffee has a lot of benefits, so now I don’t have any guilty pleasures.

Victoria Maizes: That was a very innocent, guilty pleasure and it went away. 

Deepak Chopra: You know, I've watched Andy's career right from the beginning and I consider him in many ways, my mentor as well. So, Andy you know I see that you are now [00:32:46] also in my stage of your life. And so, what are you focusing on right now? 

Andrew Weil: Well, I'm focusing on letting go of things and letting other people take over and making sure that there is a good foundation for carrying on the work of integrative medicine. Focusing on a lot of the things that we talked about in this program, I'm 77 so I'm a bit ahead of you.

Deepak Chopra: Well you’re a very healthy good example, and I want to be like you.

Andrew Weil: Okay, good. 

Andrew Weil: I also think a lot about my own death and, uh, what that experience will be. I think that's one of the most important things that we can contemplate.

Deepak Chopra: Its part of our life. Yes. It's always a pleasure and I hope that we can continue to collaborate on a few projects. 

Andrew Weil: Yes.

Deepak Chopra: It's always a pleasure and I hope that we can continue to collaborate on a few projects. 

Victoria Maizes: Well, I want to thank you, Deepak, so very much Dr. Deepak Chopra for being our guest today on Body of Wonder. It has been really illuminating to listen to this conversation between you and Andy. 

Deepak Chopra: Thank you, Victoria. Thanks Andy.