Have you ever felt guilty thinking that you ‘should’ be doing something, but just aren’t prioritizing it? Maybe you wake up early to work out and meditate, but see an urgent email or your child needs you, so you skip it, telling yourself you’ll do it during lunch. Then, at noon, you get a call from your biggest client and have to put out a fire. And this goes on and on, day after day, as the guilt grows, and the motivation to take action falls lower and lower on your to do list.
Yet ironically, that guilt causes more stress, moving you farther from the original goal of feeling good.
Balance is a word that is thrown around often these days. Frankly, I don’t like it, as it creates an image of choosing this or that. However, when we think of balance as having peace and equanimity in our lives, I’m on board, and want to find ways to help others achieve it, as well.
So, I sat down with Deepak Chopra, the perfect person to discuss practical ways to find peace and balance, no matter how busy your schedule:
Darrah Brustein: For anyone who’s struggling to find balance, what is one thing they can start to do to slow down and reconnect with themselves?
Deepak Chopra: They can take five minutes to sit quietly, observe their breath, and any other sensations that they’re experiencing in their body, without interpretation. Sooner or later, they realize that the awareness and experience is not the experience. Awareness intrinsically is free of any experience unless you identify with it. So, when you become a silent witness of any experience and all experiences come in the form of sensations, images, feelings or thoughts, just learning to witness that experience without interpreting it allows you to recreate it.
Brustein: Five minutes is all one needs?
Chopra: Even a few seconds.
Brustein: So many people feel stressed and overwhelmed. What’s causing our disconnect from feeling peaceful and how do we begin to feel it?
Chopra: Stress is usually defined as the perception of physical, emotional, or psychological threat. It’s identifying with a memory of trauma or hurt in the past. Or, anticipating it in the future. If you’re totally present to what is right now, there’s no stress. So, the answer to your question is people are not connected to experience as it is happening, but rather only to the memory or imagination of an experience. This is pervasive because today, with social media and the bombardment we get through social networks, advertising, and news, there’s a lot of melodrama and soon people begin to think that melodrama is a normal way of functioning in the world. So, that’s the cause of the disconnect. We have become addicted to melodrama and we don’t realize it.
Brustein: It’s really interesting you’re saying that.. I hear a lot of people talk about this in their dating or marriage relationships where they think the drama cycles are the thing that they need to chase after because that’s where the passion comes from or that’s what makes them feel something. Why do you think it is that we’re so addicted to it?
Chopra: Well, addiction is the most common condition of human civilization. So, people are either addicted to sensation in the form of sex or food or substances because substances are used to alter how we experience sensations. They’re not in touch with their sensations and they want to numb them in some way. So, addiction to sensation is number one. Addiction to melodrama because of its pervasiveness is number two. Addiction to power or control is number three. And, addiction to what can go wrong or cynicism is number four. Addiction to security is a huge addiction and is the most common cause of insecurity. These are common addictions that are pervasive in our society. The fact that they’re so common is why we consider them normal. So, what we call normal is the psychopathology of the average. It’s not normal. It’s abnormal, but we accept it as normal. Then there are a few people who are free of these addictions. We think they’re abnormal. Those people are abnormal. So, it’s a huge collective misperception of reality.
Brustein: Yes, you see it a lot. You can hear it in people’s conversations. The way that they speak, the questions that they ask. So, next question: Many of our readers struggle to keep up with a consistent meditation practice. What do you suggest for them?
Chopra: For one thing, they can go to Jiyo.com which offers a range of meditations that are less than a minute and some much longer. Guided meditations as well. It also has twenty-one day meditation programs every three months that are free of charge. They’re online and we’ve seen about seven to eight million people use them. So, obviously there’s a big need for a regular practice, but now that we have the availability of online help, I think people should take part in it.
Or they can just sit quietly for five minutes or less, bring their awareness to the heart, and ask themselves simple questions like, ‘How do I want my day to be today?’. Then, allow any sensations, images, feelings or thoughts to come. That will start guiding them. I’m not a believer in what you would call forced mood-making, which is a big thing in the spiritual community. People want to feel spiritual, so they pretend to be spiritual. Making a mood is not the same thing as being authentic and having an authentic experience. The key to a good practice is not to try too hard. Not to stress over meditation, which is another thing that people do. They feel guilty about practices that they think they should do and not do: exercise, eat the right food, go to the gym. That guilt actually creates more stress. So, again I would say that the first thing is to be natural, and the second thing is just to sit down and press the pause button in your life and maybe do nothing for a few minutes and you see how enjoyable that is. It’s enjoyable to do nothing. I have kids. When we used to take them to India when they were little, they’d see a lot of people on the roadside sitting, squatting, doing nothing. They would ask me what are they doing. I said, “They’re doing nothing”. They found that very strange. But our culture has created human doings instead of human beings.
Brustein: What are the benefits of taking even just a few seconds a day to do these practices?
Chopra: Stop. S-T-O-P is the formula. S stands for stop. T means take a few deep breaths and smile. O means observe what’s happening around you or in your body. P stands for proceed with awareness. I call that the stop formula.
Brustein: You seem to have a really packed schedule. How do you keep your energy abundant?
Chopra: Well, I don’t identify with experience. It’s just the way I am or have been for many decades. I’m in the habit of observing the experience and letting it rise and fall in my awareness, knowing that the real me is not bound by experience. If you’re a student of eastern wisdom traditions, experience is called karma, and people are imprisoned by karma. There’s a short poem by Rumi. He says ‘Why do you stay in prison when the world is wide open?’ The reason we stay in prison even though the door is wide open is that it’s invisible. We can’t see it. It’s our own conditioned mind. Unfortunately it takes a lot of effort for people who are so imprisoned by their conditioned mind since they were children, but the untangling of that conditioning is not easy. For me, I live in that way and enjoy the fullness of experience as it occurs, knowing that no experience is graspable. As I walk around New York City, I see that people are like biological robots or zombies that are constantly triggered by people and circumstance into very predictable outcomes. So, they’re constantly at the mercy of every stranger on the street. You say something nice and they’re flattered. You’re a little nasty and they’re offended for the rest of their lives. It’s not a good way to live.
Brustein: You’ve shared with me before that you’ve never had a goal. So many people pride themselves on having a goal and a destination in mind. What do you have to say to people when they might be shocked to hear that you don’t plan anything yet you’ve achieved so much that so many people would admire or even envy?
Chopra: We have the ability to imagine the future and recall the past and also identify with it. This makes us special in one way because of our imagination and our creativity, we are able to construct what I call the human universe. Everything that you see around you right now is a human creation. But what people don’t realize is that even that which we call nature, our interpretation of it is human experience. When you look at a giraffe, the giraffe doesn’t know it’s called a giraffe. A tree is a human description for an experience. So, we live in a human universe which we have created collectively. Then that human universe recycles with every generation and slowly evolves to higher levels of creativity and deeper understanding, but that takes time. In the meanwhile, we are bamboozled by social constructs. At least in the western world, one of those constructs is that hard work, exacting plans, and driving ambition are the road to success. In my view, that’s the last refuge of the failure. The feeling that if you’re in touch with your true self, not your conditioned mind, then your true self is always comfortable with ambiguity, with ambivalence, with paradox, and with contradiction. It’s the feeling that, without that, there would be no creativity. So, creativity is a spontaneous expression of being comfortable with what is, because this moment is a result of enumerable other experiences. So, I let my life unfold. A reflective quiet mind, lightness of being, a joyful energetic body, and a loving compassionate heart are all that you need. If you have a joyful energetic body because you sleep well at night, because you move during the day, because you are a little bit conscious about what you put in your body as nutrition, if you have a reflective, alert mind. If you focus on love, joy, compassion, empathy, equanimity, then, spontaneously, you add lightness of being and lightness of being unfolds as spontaneous creativity. The formula is do less, accomplish more, and ultimately do nothing and accomplish everything. I feel I do nothing. Everything happens.
Brustein: I’m curious, when’s the last time you remember being nervous?
Chopra: I think when I was 14 and I wanted a girl to notice me.
Brustein: Did she?
Chopra: She did. She said, “Do you like the Beatles?”
Brustein: Did you?
Chopra: I did. That was the beginning of a good friendship.
Brustein: What might others who have a meaningful message to share learn from your history of collaborations?
Chopra: I think any collaboration requires three things: shared vision, emotional and spiritual bond with the person or persons with whom you collaborate, and then complementing each other’s strengths. If you include those three ingredients, it’s a good recipe for any collaboration.
Brustein: Well said. My final question is one from one of the readers who asks, “How do we sustain a high vibrational presence in service of our purpose to help humanity in a society where judgment and fear run rampant?”
Chopra: First of all, learn to be independent of the good or bad opinions about us. If you’re always at the mercy of other people’s opinions, then, in my opinion, you’ll never go anywhere. So, number one is focus on what your passion is- what excites you, what your unique gift is-and then give it away. The rest will happen.
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This article was originally published on Forbes.com.