What I loved and hated about Deepak Chopra _ã_ lessons for happiness

What I loved and hated about Deepak Chopra _ã_ lessons for happiness

On Saturday April 24 I went along to the Sydney Convention Centre to see my first _ã–guru_ã. Although I_ã_d read, watched on TV and/or listened on my iPod to many of the leading lights in the personal development arena I_ã_d never yet seen one live. There are various reasons for my absence from these events but in short, my attendance on this day was largely due to a strong dose of curiosity and just as importantly, the receipt of a free, VIP ticket!

And so it was that I found myself walking into the event, with a few thousand other people, ready and waiting to hear what the best-selling author, friend of rock stars and politicians, superstar speaker would have to say.

Now before going on, I should note that this blog posting is not really a critique of Chopra_ã_s content or message; well, it partly is. But mostly, it_ã_s a commentary on what I saw and observed in the audience members who I watched just as closely as the star attraction himself. It is, as if often my way, predominately a summary of my observations and my thoughts on their relevance to finding more happiness.

My first observation came with the very low key entrance and extremely laid back style of this supposed _ã–rock star_㝠of the personal-development circuit. In my books, this was quite a good thing and the lack of loud, pumping music and general _ã–rah-rah_㝠ambience reassured me that I wasn_ã_t going to feel completely out of place.

My second observation came when Chopra began to summarise some of the positive psychology research from the last decade or so. Now much of his writings are based on quantum physics and various other supposedly scientific fields and I can_ã_t claim to have much expertise in any of these; but I do have quite a bit of knowledge and, I think, expertise in the specialised domain of positive psychology so when I picked up first a few, and then quite a few more distortions and outright mistakes in his commentary I was, to put it bluntly, concerned and amazed. It should be said that none of what I perceived to be mistaken claims were horribly dangerous but they were, nevertheless, far enough off the mark to have the academic within me proffering a grade of barely more than a _ã–pass_㝠(and remember, this wasn_ã_t some undergraduate student I was assessing here).

Now again, I_ã_m not an expert in some of the areas of medicine and physics to which he referred at other times but I can only assume that if his presentation of these _ã–scientific facts_㝠was as distorted and myth reinforcing as his presentation of some of the positive psychology and happiness literature was then some serious question marks about the fundamentals of his hypotheses had to be raised (at least they were in my mind, anyway).

And yet all of this is not the point of my article; rather, the point relates to my third observation which came when I watched and listened to the amazingly unquestioning acceptance of the people in the audience (or, at least, those sitting in my vicinity). It was as though everything he said was the gospel truth; it was as though everything he said, because he said it, was fact. Now this should not really have come as a surprise because disciples of gurus are, by definition, believers in their leader_ã_s beliefs. But surely some of the outrageously bold claims deserved at least the hint of a raised eyebrow.

Let me give you some examples; according to Chopra, I_ã_m everything and nothing; I_ã_m everywhere and nowhere; I_ã_m always and never! According to Chopra I_ã_m not even a physical entity or structure but rather, a process.

Now I fully acknowledge that I_ã_m a relatively simple man and I know that after 3 degrees in science I_ã_ve effectively been brainwashed in the logical, rational thinking style of western philosophy…but I really struggle to get my head around these seemingly incongruent positions (if I_ã_m not a physical structure then why doesn_ã_t the water I drink spill all over the floor?).

And yet throughout all of this, despite the questions ruminating in my mind, I saw smiling, happy faces; I overheard people talking about changing their lives, being more true to themselves, devoting more time and energy to finding lasting happiness and fulfilment. These, surely, are good things are they not!

Which is where this all comes together; for me, anyway.

As far as I can tell, Deepak Chopra is a kind, funny, caring man who has devoted much of his life to helping others find health and wellness. Whether his suggestions for finding spirituality and for building a healthier existence are true or not, I guess not one of us really knows. However there_ã_s indubitably something in what he does that helps others…and that is that in his way he creates hope. Regardless of the empirical validity and reliability of his claims, he does what many therapists and coaches believe is the sine qua non of helping people find confidence to bring about more happiness; that is, engendering hope and beliefs that things can be better. He does this; there_ã_s no doubt; so from that perspective I say _ã–good luck_㝠to him.

But, and this is my final comment, happiness also requires questioning; questioning of oneself and of others. Happiness doesn_ã_t necessarily come to those who know the right answers but rather, to those who know the right questions. And maybe that_ã_s the secret to happiness; finding that balance between questioning and believing, challenging and accepting, standing up for what_ã_s really important but choosing your battles and backing down when appropriate; devoting passion and energy to whatever gives you meaning and purpose, and sitting down and resting at times. Which is what I_ã_m off to do right now.