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A pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine and author of dozens of best-selling books on Eastern philosophy and personal transformation, Deepak Chopra, MD, is known for bringing traditional wisdom to contemporary issues.
In his latest book, The Future of God: A Practical Approach to Spirituality for Our Times, he dives into the question of the existence of God, and offers his own thought-provoking approach to the ongoing debate between skeptics and believers. He doesn’t give black-and-white answers; rather, he encourages readers to explore their own inner sense of these questions and provides a framework and a set of practices to help each of us discover answers within.
In the excerpt offered here, Dr. Chopra gives new meaning to the term “spiritual seeker,” explaining that true seeking is not a journey to find wisdom outside yourself, but a deeply personal process of introspection. Try the four-step practice below to begin to tap into your personal guiding principles, from which you can live a life of integrity and connection to your core self.
Survey Your True Desires
You are a seeker if these ingredients exist inside you. They may only be seeds; nonetheless you feel a stirring within you, some sort of desire percolating inside.
- The desire to be real
- The courage to step into the unknown
- A refusal to be fooled by illusions
- The need to feel fulfilled
- The ability to go beyond material satisfaction
- An intimation of other levels of existence
The material world is chaotic, filled with events beyond anyone’s personal control. To be a seeker, you are required not to conquer the chaos but to see through it. The Vedic tradition uses a clever metaphor for this: A seeker must walk through a herd of sleeping elephants without waking them up. The elephants are your old conditioning, which insists that you are weak, isolated, and abandoned. You can’t fight this conditioning, because once you wake it up, your fear, insecurity, and certainty that you must struggle to survive will have tremendous power. Once the elephants wake up, they’ll trample you.
So the world’s wisdom traditions figured out another way through. Sneak past these obstacles, without trying to fight them head on. Shift your allegiance, silently and inwardly. Stop being ruled by chaos and be ruled by your core self.
To become a seeker, you don’t have to walk away and exist as an outsider from society; you aren’t required to turn your back on those who love you or to proselytize a set of new beliefs. Those are the customary trappings of religious conversion. Instead, reexamine your present situation. Sit down and confront what your existence is about.
See also Is Yoga a Religion?
Step 1: Rate Your Outer Activities
In one column, list the external things you put effort into. Beside each category, put down a number, either the hours a week you devote to this activity or how much you value the activity, on a scale from 1 to 10.
Here’s a sample list:
- Family and friends
- School, higher education
- Wealth, property, and possessions
- Church attendance
- Service organizations and charity
See also Tap Your Higher Power
Step 2: Rate Your Inner Pursuits
In another column, make a list of the inner activities that you put effort into. Rate these things, too, with a number, reflecting the value you put on each one or how much time you devote to it.
Here are some examples:
- Prayer or self-reflection
- Stress management
- Reading spiritual literature
- Psychotherapy and personal growth
- Bonding with someone else empathically
- Appreciation and gratitude, toward yourself and others
- Exploring the world’s wisdom traditions
- Taking a period of silence
- Going on a spiritual retreat
Step 3: Compare Your Priorities
Now compare the two lists. They will give you a rough sense of where your allegiance lies between the inner and outer. I’m not suggesting you play a spiritual blame game—almost everyone predominantly pursues outward activities. The material world holds us fast. And remember, it’s alright for inward activities to take place in the material world; they can be part of one’s daily routine.
Step 4: Assess Your Life’s Focus and Set Goals
Unless you devote time and attention to inward things, you are not seeking. Being pious and doing good works are not a substitute. They remain all too often on the external plane. If you wish to set spiritual goals, I’d begin with two that have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with getting real: Find your center, and then run your life from there. Both goals are necessary. If you leave out one, the other will have limited use.
Finding your center means settling into a stable, coherent state of awareness. Outer forces do not dominate you. You’re not restless, anxious, worried, or unfocused. The second goal is running your life from your center, which means obeying your subtle inner guidance, such as instinct, intuition, love, self-knowledge, trust, and compassion.
Take a look at your life and assess which of these two lists sounds like you right now:
You are finding your center when you:
- Act with integrity
- Speak your truth
- Remain unswayed by the need to be liked
- Do not fear authority
- Respect your personal dignity and others’
- Remain self-reliant, not dependent on others
- Do not blind yourself with denial and self-deceptions
- Practice tolerance
- Become slow to anger and quick to forgive
- Aim to understand others as well as you understand yourself
You aren’t living from your center when you:
- Focus on external rewards
- Crave approval from others
- Open yourself easily to outside influences
- Put too much emphasis on rules
- Set yourself up as an authority
- Compete as if winning is the only thing that matters
- Gossip and belittle others
- Hold on to prejudice or ideology
- Seek revenge
- Skirt the truth
- Keep your inner world a secret
Once you achieve the two goals, your material world will hold together in the same way that you hold together. Inner and outer will no longer be two separate domains; you will have made them connect. You can operate from a core of integrity and express your true self. That’s how a person learns to overcome the material world’s chaos and fragmentation.
This project of seeking that I’ve outlined is existential, to put it in a word. The courage to be has traced a path to a solid sense of what it means to be real.
- When you begin to suspect that you are the author of your own existence, seeking has begun.
- When you use your awareness to actively shape your life, seeking has brought answers.
- When you look around and know that reality is based entirely on consciousness, seeking has reached its goal.
The next stage is to journey deeper, always moving toward the source of creation, which is where real power lies. Seeking takes place in the material world, but finding happens somewhere else.
Reprinted from The Future of God, Harmony Books, an imprint of Random House, November 2014.
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