I recently had the opportunity to attend a fascinating lecture by Deepak Chopra, author and pioneer in alternative medicine. He was at Yoga Journal Live New York speaking about his latest book, You Are The Universe, co-authored by physicist Menas Kafatos.
The experience reminded me of some beliefs I held in my early years in yoga, which I had not thought about in a while. As the discussion began to touch upon these familiar concepts, I recognized an opportunity to finally revisit these beliefs that, up until now, I’d had difficulty fully expressing and embracing.
In retrospect, I didn’t completely discard these concepts over the years; I just didn’t have the language or the science to adequately articulate them. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, if I’d said to someone, “You know, you really are the universe,” and they’d replied, “Can you explain that?” I would have struggled, trying to find some way other than talking about the personal experiences that had given rise to the concept for me.
Let me share with you a few of the things Deepak spoke about that resonated with me, and validated my beliefs.
Deepak informed us there are about 150 “open questions” in science—questions that can’t be answered, such as “What happened before the Big Bang?” and “Do we live in a conscious universe?” He said we could easily Google the phrase “open questions in science” and see the entire list. His new book addresses a few of these questions in some detail, and shows how a deeper study of them unfolds a new paradigm—a new way of thinking about who we are, where we are, and how we interact with IT (the universe). Or, more accurately, how we indeed ARE the universe, and not the product of our constructs about ourselves in what we see as our temporary life. In fact, we don’t even live in the same universe as a dog or a cat or a horse. They do not share our version of reality. So their “universe” is different.
If all this seems a little hard to grasp…it is. But if you could stay the distance, (and for those attending the lecture, Deepak’s skill as a speaker made that part fairly easy) you could not only see his point, but perhaps also understand why it makes perfect sense. With the new views currently being explored in science, it seems we’ve reached a turning point. We’re embracing a new awareness of the way things really are out there, and how we as human beings are a big player in all of that.
Supported by this “new science,” along with the failure of our “old science” to come to terms with the long-held unanswered questions, the authors boldly declare that “the shift into a new paradigm is happening.” They go on to say, “The answers offered in this book are not our invention or eccentric flights of fancy. All of us live in a participatory universe. Once you decide that you want to participate fully with mind, body, and soul, the paradigm shift becomes personal. The reality you inhabit will be yours either to embrace or to change.”
This statement struck a chord with me, and brought back the memory of a pivotal moment in my life from 1984. After about a year of living in an ashram (the “old” Kripalu) and practicing yoga every single day, I experienced a few minutes in my practice one morning that turned my world as I knew it into something new and different. I was at that place in a fairly edgy back bend where I had reached my limit. I could feel the tolerable discomfort and could engage it. As I had been teaching myself, I was at the moment where there was nothing to do other than just be there for a bit and notice.
In that moment, on this particular morning, a fairly dramatic shift happened. The discomfort subsided, the intensity disappeared, and I seemed to take a plunge into a different experience of myself. It was quiet, still, blissful, and calm. Time seemed to stand still. There was no thinking, no struggle, no reason for anything. It was just this very empty—and at the same time, completely full—experience of what seemed like both nothing and everything all at once… but the “at once” wasn’t really there either.
I don’t know how long I was there, but do remember my mind kicking in to tell me it was time to disengage. I noticed my breath full and deep and a sense of calm throughout my entire being—not just my body. Coming out of the posture was almost like a rebirth, being born to a new life, or at least a new way of experiencing my life. For a few hours I felt like I was floating and nothing seemed serious or important. My movements slowed. It probably took a few hours for me to re-engage my old world fully, and even once I came back, there was a sense of freshness to it.
In the 30 or so years since that day, I’ve had several similar experiences, and witnessed them in my clients. But perhaps this one experience was all I really needed to inspire me to believe that I could shift the paradigm of how I experienced my world. I believe that this, along with a continued commitment to engage my body in this way on a daily basis since then, has indeed supported my changing view of who I am. It has deepened my trust in our amazing power and connectedness as human beings, along with our capacity to change ourselves. This experience has also influenced my work. It has led me to continue on the same path not only for myself, but in helping others to embrace their power; to act as one body, one mind, and one soul from a place of deeper attunement to everything there is.
So thank you, Deepak, for reminding me of the shift I experienced long ago, putting some understandable language to it, and for being bold enough to write about it, talk about it, and hopefully inspire many more to engage this exciting new paradigm.
Michael Lee, M.A., Dip.Soc.Sci., C-IAYT, E-RYT 500 , is the Founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, a leading edge yoga based modality in body-mind therapy with an IAYT Accredited Yoga Therapy Training Program. His conference keynote presentations include the International Yoga Teachers Conference in Singapore, IAYT Conference 2016, Yoga Journal Conferences, and Family Therapy Networker. Michael is the author of two books, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy and Turn Stress Into Bliss and a contributing author in the APA published text Movement and Expressive Techniques in Clinical Practice and the recently published Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine. Michael also offers programs for Psychotherapists and professionals wanting to apply a yoga based embodied mindfulness approach to therapy and lifestyle change.