When Deepak Chopra Comes Over
--Nipun Mehta
11 minute read
Mar 14, 2011


Emergence is exciting.  You never know what happens.  Like last week, a friend casually writes to see if I had complementary tickets for a Deepak Chopra talk.  The tickets were $140 each, for a fundraiser. Unfortunately, I didn't even know about the event. However, I drop Deepak a one-liner to see if he wants to catch-up while he's local.  He does.  So then, in true CharityFocus style, why not share the joy and invite a few others?  He's game.  "Our usual format is to sit in silence for an hour, have the speaker share his personal journey and engage in some dynamic Q&A.  Its non-commercial and super grassroots.  Will that work for you?" I ask. "Whatever you want," he responds immediately with a smiley face.
Really?  Here is a fellow who has written 61 books, 18 of which are NY Times best-sellers and 2 of which alone have sold 30 million copies.  Time Magazine named him Top 100 Icons of the Century. People pay 30 thousand bucks to spend a weekend with him.  Even Kim Kardashian calls him up to learn meditation.  This is not a man who has a shortage of speaking invitations.  Yet, here he is, agreeing to spend a morning in a family room where a bunch of everyday folks will be sitting on the floor, where no books will be sold, and where he'd spend a bunch of his time in silence.  
Of his own accord, Deepak does mention us in his talks and media, invites our input in meta-level visioning brainstorms, includes CF'ers on his radio show, and "tweets" us twice a week to his 400K followers.  Yet, he has no formal position with CharityFocus nor do we ask him to do anything.  We don't do formal, and we don't seek :) so that makes our life easy.  Just take whatever is given and give whatever is taken.  So here it was -- Deepak Chopra rolling out as a "Wednesday" guest.

Instead of an email blast, we opt to email some CF'ers and ask them to pay-forward the invites and trust serendipity to do its magic.  Almost immediately, responses start flying around:  "What an honor!  I think I've checked out nearly all his books out of the library and renewed them again and again so I could fully take them in."  Grateful for being invited, a filmmaker writes: "WOW.  I have chills running up and down my body!"  A retired engineer remembers the exact moment of his life's tipping point: "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, page 97, second paragraph." As expected, the 100-person guest list fills up rapidly.  And it's really diverse.  Some renowned leaders next to college students next to entrepreneurs next to unemployed folks next to professors next to front-line activists.  One big, happy family. :) Many are intrigued by the unlikely intersection of Deepak's celebrity-scale wisdom and CharityFocus's grassroot-scale service.

Everyone knows that every part of the event is a gift.  Naturally, people want to give, even before they've received.  Dozen folks meet the night before to chop veggies and prepare for next day's meal offering.  A woman, elated to be invited writes, "I just had this vision of tagging everyone with a book.  My little Oprah moment! Surprise, everyone, look under your seats for a book that's yours to keep." She scours book stores to find 100 copies last minute.  In the meantime, others volunteer to set up, photograph, clean dishes, anything that is needed.  Its beautiful.
Next morning, Deepak arrives with his wife, to a room crammed with upright-back meditators.  Even before the 10AM bell rings, gratitude is felt through the room.  As people scoot in to fill up all the empty space, Deepak pics up the mic and starts sharing his journey. It's somewhat fantastical.  His father was a doctor who would come home and tell his mother about his patients and they would pray for them together; on weekends, he would serve patients for free.  Both Deepak and his brother became doctors -- his brother is now the Dean of Harvard Medical School.  Early on in his career, Deepak saw himself as a legalized drug pusher that "treated diseases, not people"; often stressed, he smoked two packs of cigarettes everyday.  One day, though, he walked out of a meeting and quit his job, cold-turkey.  Next day, he saw an ad in the paper to help a Nicaraguan doctor for five bucks an hour -- and he took it.  Soon after, he ended up attending a lecture by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (known to the world as the "guru of the Beatles") and, "After the lecture, I had just come out of the men’s room, and suddenly there he was, coming round the corner. He walked right up to us and said, 'Come up to my room.' We followed him upstairs, and after asking me a few questions about myself, he started telling me I should do Ayurveda, and I should talk about consciousness to the world."  At one point, Deepak wrote a small booklet that no publisher wanted to publish; so he self-published five hundred copies.  A couple of his friends took the books on their bicycles to bookstores and convinced the Harvard Co-op manager to put it in their window for three days, and sure enough, an agent picked it up and the book became a best-seller.  "The next thing I know, I’m lecturing in Paris with Maharishi, and I’m getting calls from people like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  It was totally unexpected," he said. In 1992, with the publication of his third book, Oprah hosted him.  In twenty-four hours there were 130,000 books sold. In the first week, 800,000 books sold. In the first month, one million books sold. And one could say it never stopped.  
"Since the time I wrote my first book, everything I touched was gold.  It has just been a state of grace," Deepak tells us in the family room.  There is a sense of unmistakable confidence coupled with contentment to his tone.  A vibe is building in the room, as he continues to speak without stumbling.  
Soon the Q&A starts.  At one pause, it seemed like half the room had their hand up.  He responds with pentrating insights, research and stories.  Humor, too. :)
He has a way of grounding concepts in practicality.  Citing a study by Gallup, Deepak mentioned that only 20% of Americans are engaged in what they do; another 20% are actively disengaged and the rest are simply punching in the clock.  This costs our economy 380 billion dollars a year.  So, what makes a fun, invigorating, productive environment? Well, if your manager ignores you, you're disengaged 45% of the time; if your manager criticizes you, it drops to 20% because you would rather be criticized than not noticed.  But, here's the kicker -- if your manager notices a single strength that you have, your rate of disengagement falls to less than one percent.
"The best indicator of health is how you feel," Deepak says at one point, while somehow weaving in technology, meditation and health.  "If you send someone an emoticon, and just email them saying that I'm thinking of you, it shifts people's biology right then.  If a patient has a heart-attack, and the nurse calls him/her once a month, heart rate mortality drops by 50%." Projects like WeFeelFine.org crawl the web to see how we're feeling and correlate that input with data point like crime-rates.   You can expand that into Mindfulness Beyond Borders.  It ultimately helps us too, as Deepak pointed to the work of Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 Nobel Laureate in medicine who recently wrote a paper about how meditation can slow our cellular aging. Of our 500 genes that influence most disease, 400 can be turned off by daily meditation and exercise, good sleep, healthy diet and loving relationships.  Combining all this, Deepak simplifies it as "seva, simran and satsang" --  service, meditation and community.
Audio of the Deepak Chopra's Talk

In between responses, he artfully threw in memorable lines.
"Unless there's a personal transformation, there can be no social transformation."
"You are not the drop in the ocean, but the ocean in the drop."
"Believe the doctor's diagnosis, but not the doctor's prognosis."
"80% of medicines have little impact on us; we spend $100B on angioplasty and it doesn't extend life by even 1%."
"As J. Krishnamurti said, the highest form of human intelligence is the ability to observe yourself."
"Financial well-being is simply not thinking about money you haven't earned, to buy things you don't need, to impress people you don't like."
"I am because you are."
"The only people who really worry about money are the very poor and the very rich."
"The luckiest person in the world is the one whose wife and children don't take them seriously."
UN notes that the Fastest way to change the world is economic empowerment of women."
And here's a classic line, that he had his kids repeat everyday while they were growing up: "Let today be more uncertain than yesterday."

Then, of course, there were the anecdotes that ranged from his testimony around the nocebo effect of the Australian Witch Doctors and his tales from taking on athiests in front of Cal Tech.  "There was a guy who had written three books with Stephen Hawking and he tells me that he disagrees with everything I said.  So I wrote to him and said, 'You know so much about Math and Physics and I know a thing or two about concsciousness.  Let's learn from each other.'"  Sure enough, they are now co-authoring a book -- War of the Worlds -- and that man, Leonard Mlodinow, was at his meditation center last week and noted, "I still don't agree with you, but the experience is good."
In this ambiance, many would later point out, Deepak's human-ness far out-shined his media persona.  People almost forget the celebrity world that he's in, that Michael Jackson called him two days prior to his death or that Alicia Keys asked him to perform her wedding ceremony.  It didn't matter. And Deepak also lets all of that fall to the side, even giving out his personal email address to everyone in the audience. :)
Love is in the air.  To close out the talk, I share the story of the woman who wanted to tag everyone.  "She couldn't find 100 books, but found 42 at East West bookstore.  So we have 42 for all of us.  Not only that, the elderly man who took the order happened to be reading Deepak Chopra just that morning, so we invited him as well.  He was elated! Unfortunately, he couldn't make it on 12-hour notice, but he insisted on sending another colleague -- Is Dave here?"  He was.  As people applaud, Deepak offers to donate the remaining 58 books.  Soon after, Deepak picks a card from the Smile Deck; similarly, everyone else picks a card and committs to do the small act of kindness to pay-forward their gratitude.
We spend two powerful minutes in collective gratitude.
As Viral drops off Deepak and Rita back to their hotel, at one point Deepak pauses and says,"There was a presence in the room."  There certainly was.  In that space of service and trust, it is natural to create new ties and deepen old ones.  Two attendees, who didn't know each other, had spontaneously connected the previous night, in a theatre line, where one had tagged the other with a movie ticket!  What are the odds of that?!?  Like several others, Marsha Clark, who runs Dalai Lama Foundation and is no stranger to such events, called the event "life changing".  People connected, ideas bloomed, epiphanies emerged.  Kate, for whom it was the first time in the home, summed it up well: "Walking away from yesterday's event, I felt like I had a party favor of warmth and new ideas and confident hope that I was carrying with me.  What a great morning!"
As the event wraps up, bunch of folks storm the sinks for dishwashing (yup, storm is the right word :)).  Uma finds a vacuum cleaner and vacuums the whole place.  People rearrange the furniture, fold the comforters, and set everything back in its place.  Carpoolers find each other organically, and within in an hour, there is practically no material trace of the event.  But its reverberations keep buzzing.  Kim, a board advisor for Engage Network, took lots of notes and emailed it to everyone with the subject: "With overflowing gratitude".  Neerav re-engineered the audio files so everyone can share it and Rishi stepped it up and put together this gorgeous photo-audio vignette:
So much value was generated, and that too, on just a few days of notice, none of which will ever show up on the GDP counter. Everyone pitched in what they could and remarkable goodness was created just by coming together.  That coming together, though, was underscored by principle.  Everything was by volunteers, and for volunteers -- no one was paid or charged; there was service without seeking -- the event didn't have to feature lunch but it did anyways; there was honoring the "small" -- the event could've filled an auditorium, but instead we stuck with a humble living room, where the mic sometimes relayed a less-than-perfect static.   So yes, per the CharityFocus ethos, lots of serendipity, but also lots of hard work, and lots of principle.
And it didn't stop there. The next day, I wrote an email to a few friends, titled: "SpiritTed: Less Ted, More Spirit".  Instead of $6000/ticket and networking as an organizing principle, what if conscious thought leaders could speak in homes across America as a gift, local volunteers could film the talks and spread them online, and service-hearted families could host and build community.  I ended my note with: "In reading all the remarkable thank-you notes this morning, I thought I'd write you guys a note -- and see if it struck a chord, or if I was just under the influence. :)"  Deepak's daughter, Mallika, quickly responded saying that not only did she love the idea but she'd love to host in Los Angeles. And Deepak followed: "Its an idea worth pursuing globally! SpiritTeds in many houses all over the world.  Let's discuss."  
The ripples continue.

Posted by Nipun Mehta on Mar 14, 2011

21 Past Reflections