Medicine and Health

What is mind/body spirituality?
Answered by Deepak Chopra MD
  • Deepak Chopra MD

    Deepak Chopra MD

  1. Deepak Chopra MD Author, Founder of The Chopra Foundation, Senior Scientist, The Gallup Organization


    I started by looking at the relationship between mind and body, but then I realized that the mind is complicated. How do you even define the mind? The best definition of mind that I've heard comes from a UCLA psychotherapist, Daniel Siegel, who says it's a process, and it's a relational and embodied process that regulates the flow of energy and information in our bodies. Now that's a mouthful, but actually when you begin to understand it, you do recognize that it's meaning, more than anything else.

    If I say to somebody, you know, "The stock market collapsed, all your retirement money's gone," they have a biological response, right? Their adrenalin goes up, their cortisol goes up, their immune system shuts down for a while, their platelets go sticky. Now all I've done is speak a sentence that caused a vibration of the tympanic membrane. I could produce the same vibration on a graph with bird song or with music or with "I love you," OK? And the message that goes through the nervous system would be an electrical impulse and some neural chemistry in the brain. There is absolutely no explanation for how meaning is processed in the brain, because the level of energy, it's the same electrical impulse. It's the same mechanical vibration here. It's the same neurochemistry there. Where does meaning come from?

    In science, we call this the hard question. We have no idea about subjective experience, intuition, insight, imagination, creativity, choice making, free will -- there's no mechanism -- or how we imagine the future, or how we remember the past. In science, this is called the hard question. The soft question is easy. Well yeah, when you have this experience, there's a neural representation, but that doesn't tell me how I experience -- or where is feeling? Where is imagination? Where is subjectivity?

    Now only spiritual traditions even begin to address this. When I talk to my scientist friends, they say, you know, "One day we'll figure it out. We will figure it out. We will figure out the problem of consciousness." And they call it a problem. The reason why that might be a false premise is, when you're looking at consciousness, consciousness is looking at consciousness. That, by definition, the spiritual traditions say, is a subjective experience, and any objective validation of that will at best be inferential. I'm thinking consciousness is out there, and I'm trying to locate it in what I'm observing, when it's the observer that's doing that. So what you're looking for is the one who's doing the looking.

    This is where spiritual tradition said you've got to combine your objective insights with your subjective experiences in contemplative inquiry, in meditation, in insight for insight meditation, in repast-mind mindfulness. So I started to do that. I started to say, you know, "Let me look at what science has to say, but then let me look at what wisdom traditions have to say." They're really profound and you know, they had a different methodology. But if we combine the two maybe we'll have a little more understanding. That's what I've done for 35 years, but what I'm realizing now is that in the 35 years that I was doing this intuitively, there are people now who can do PET scans and functional MRIs, neuroplasticity has exploded as a field.

    There's all this information on gene indeterminism, and mechanistic science has to address big problems, huge problems, which it assumed, you know? How do you answer the question of free will? Are we living in a deterministic, mechanistic world? Because that's what reductionist science would say, and yet you and I are convinced that we have choices -- at least it seems like that. We are convinced that there's somebody here having an experience. So the questions aren't answered; in fact they're becoming even more difficult to answer.

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