01.12.2006

Towards Happiness Margaret Evans reviews Deepak Chopra's latest - and so timely - book: Power, Freedom and Grace

If there's one word that defines our times, certainlyin the last month or two, I think it has to be "fear".Some of the most interesting and thoughtful people I'vespoken to recently have raised just that point- andI, reluctantly, have to agree. Fear manifests itselfas anger, impatience, intolerance and, of course, the"biggie" of our time - stress. Just sparea moment to think of all the things we're all collectivelystressing ourselves about - climate change, terrorism,unhealthy diets, the cost of living, kids' manners andmorals, rampant road rage, working longer and harder,our time-poor days and restless nights. I'll stop thereand let you take a long relaxing breath!

Into such a stress-fuelled maelstrom, the latest bookby that wonder healer and communicator Deepak Chopradrops like manna from heaven. It's called Power, Freedomand Grace: Living from the Source of Lasting Happinessand like many others I've no doubt, I found myself gravitatingtowards it and its promise of healing wisdom. Of course,when we consider that grace is the effortless flow ofexistence that allows events to occur with synchronicityas if ordained, it's only natural that Chopra shouldhave written this book at this time. The world needsit - and he knew we needed it months before that needreally became blindingly apparent!

Another reason I felt drawn to this modest little book(the cover and the only illustration repeated throughoutis taken from the Bhagavad Gita and is of a dove soaringinto the heavens), is that it encompasses two of ourlast three monthly themes, Freedom and now, of course,Grace. Such a coincidence is humbling and I admit toa double take when I first pulled it from its brownpaper packaging. Obviously, this was a book I had toread!

Deepak Chopra describes the work as "the essenceof all my talks over the last 20 years. It is the distillationof almost everything I have taught up to now."Indeed, for anyone wanting a deeper understanding ofthe at-times baffling concepts of raising consciousnessand the workings of the body-mind, Chopra, a physicianbefore he found his calling in the field of holistichealth, is an informed and wonderfully eloquent source.

His underlying premise here is to examine the eternaland troubling questions of our existence - "Whoam I? " "What do I want?" "Wheredo I go when I die? " and "What is the keyto lasting happiness?" His exploration of theseand other questions like them is a powerful synergyof truth understood in the ancient philosophy of Vedanta(based on humanity's oldest texts, the Vedas and Upanishads)and the sharpest of cutting edge findings of modernscience. His approach is three fold - to address TheProblem of "Not knowing who we are", followedby The Prescription, "Remembering who we are"and, finally, providing accessible solutions in thesection called The Practice, "Experiencing whowe are". It's here that Chopra addresses the threequalities of the title - Power, Freedom and Grace -and suggests practical ways we can attain each of them.He shares with us his vast experience as a physicianand holistic healer that points to happiness as "thegoal of all other goals". Vedanta's wisdom, though,is that happiness for a reason is, in fact, just anotherform of misery because that reason can be snatched awayfrom us at any time. It's only when our happiness arisesnaturally and effortlessly from our connection withall of creation that it is real and enduring. As Chopraputs it so beautifully: "There can be no more importanttask in our life than to get in touch with our own innerself, the source of all Being. The deepest self withineach of us is the Self of the whole universe, and it'salso the source of all healing and transformation."

This whole concept of the human body as a sensory illusion,that each of us, in fact, is not the finite being wethink ourselves to be, warts and all, is surely oneof the most exciting yet baffling ideas we've been presentedwith since movies like What the Bleep and Down the RabbitHole introduced words like "quantum physics"and "vibrational fields" into our everydayusage. Again, Chopra comes to our rescue: "Youmay think you are the body that your senses can locatein space and time, but the body is a field of invisiblevibrations that has no boundaries in space and time."While we grapple with the loss of our physicality, thegood bits and the bad, (probably a few too many of thelatter these days), this persuasive and compassionatehealer encourages us to go deeper. Armed with this newawareness, says Chopra, we aren't limited to just thisbody with just these thoughts and feelings. Each ofus is a "field of all possibilities" and whatunfolds before us is a "world of the infinite,unbounded, and free". Well, maybe letting go thelong-nurtured image of self in the mirror each morningisn't quite so scary after all!

Deepak Chopra's learning permeates this book effortlesslyand always in some illuminating way. Dare I say withthe ease of grace? We learn, for example, that the physicalbody we may be expressing our identity as today isn'tthe same one we had six weeks ago! And I'm not talkinginstant decrepitude! Radioactive isotopes show that,through the process of respiration, the body replaces98 per cent of all its atoms in less than one year.We gain a new stomach lining every five days, a newskin every month, a new liver every six weeks! "Evenour DNA, the genetic material that holds memories ofbillions of years of evolution, wasn't the same sixweeks ago." Chopra asks with justification: "Soyou think you are your physical body, which body areyou talking about?"

The high priest of holistic health is, as we've cometo expect from him, a mine of information on how ourbody-mind functions - and the importance of being insynch, as much as we are able in this citified world,with the eternal rhythms of nature. Even something assimple as spending time near the sea or anywhere innature is profoundly healing, because we are aligningour jangled biorhythms with those of the cosmos. Itmakes that annual break by the sea not so much a luxuryas an absolute necessity!

One section I found particularly helpful and fullyintend to put into practise is where Chopra urges, "Listento Your Body's Wisdom" as a way of experiencingand practising grace. Science, he tells us, has shownthat all the cells of our body are holograms of theuniverse, meaning that all the knowledge of the universeis encoded within the structure of each cell. Littlebit by little bit it does become easier to accept astruth that each of us is the universe and the universeis us - we are one and the same; that phrase again,"The deepest self within each of us is the Selfof the whole universe." If we can resist that deeplyengrained temptation to make decisions based on intellectand rationality and, instead, "listen to our body'swisdom", we're well on the way to developing ourintuition. When our body's response to a situation orimpending decision is calm and relaxed, our intuitionis telling us to proceed, says Chopra. It's then thatwe are most at ease with the flow of life all aroundus and it's then that life does seem to drop those unexpectedtreasures into our lap. Its opposite - and the truthof so much daily life if we let ourselves be caughtup in it - is where we ignore our body's wisdom andwe're constantly thrown off balance. In other wordswe're stressed!

Deepak Chopra discusses the concept of entrainmentwhere the vibrations of our body (and we are "ultimatelyjust vibration") fall into a rhythmic relationshipwith the vibrations that exist, unseen and unknown,all around us - the universe, in other words. Communicatorthat he is, Chopra understands the value of an everydayexample when the concept may seem too ephemeral. Welearn that entrainment was first described by a physicistwho noted that the pendulums of five clocks, which hestarted swinging at different times, after some hoursall started to swing synchronously to the same rhythm.The experiment has been repeated many times - and theresult is always constant. Entrainment keeps a baby'sheartbeat in synch with the mother's, during pregnancyand even after birth as long as they're reasonably close.Women living together will find their menstrual cycleswill start to coincide- at least peace will reign forthree weeks out of four!

Chopra offers us practical, yet very alluring, waysto honour our body's wisdom - by repeating as we breatheout a vowel sound, any vowel, which sets up a vibrationthat allows all our body's cells to entrain with oneanother; through beautiful music that secretes endorphinsand healing neuropeptides; through surrounding ourselveswith natural scenes and aromas that bring harmony tothe body-mind.

As a follower of the wisdom of Ayurveda, I have takenon board Deepak Chopra's simple, but I suspect, profoundadvice on bringing daily activities into synch withthe body's metabolic phases. Between six and ten, bothin the morning and the evening, is when our body isat its lowest metabolic rate, ideal for meditation inthe early part followed by exercise in the middle ofthis phase- especially if you want to lose weight! Eatyour biggest meal in the middle of the day when metabolismis firing along and after lunch, between two and six,is a good time to be active, both physically and mentally.Maybe the biggest challenge in a modern life, at leastin an Australian summer, is to eat dinner (a lightermeal of course) around 6pm and preferably before sunset.But if we do and manage to get to bed by 10.30pm, greatsleep and sweet dreams await us. To my mind, the qualitythat really infuses this lovely little book is compassion- Deepak Chopra brings his great knowledge and understandingof the fears and foibles that we all share to explainsome of those ineffable mysteries and guide us gentlytowards better health, and yes, happiness, too. In anice touch that reaches out "downunder", hededicates Power Freedom and Grace to "my friendLeon Nacson" of Hay House.

Power, Freedom and Grace: Living from the Source ofLasting Happiness by Deepak Chopra is published by Amber-AllenPublishing. RRP $22.95

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