July 3, 2023
SF Gate

A Life-Changing Choice: The Wave or the Ocean?.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, FRCP

If you look at the difference between the ocean and a wave on the ocean, you are on the verge of a momentous decision. You can choose a vision of your life that is either finite or infinite.

The most important choice that all of us face is also one the vast majority of people ignore. What vision should I live by? For centuries there were ready-made visions in the form of religion, but there have always been lesser visions that exerted a tight grip, such as what tribe, nation, or ethnic group you belonged to.

The same visions still exist, but in modern society they aren’t automatic. Free choice is available as never before. But free choice is bewildering. The path of least resistance is to skip the whole notion of finding a vision to live by. In the whirlpool of activity that is modern life, countless distractions, diversions, worries, duties, and demands pull us in other directions.

But to ignore a vision of life risks feeling empty and soul-sick, however you want to define the condition. More importantly, there might be a vision so beneficial that to miss it would be a great loss, even a tragedy.

For centuries just such a vision has existed—in fact, it is the ultimate vision as taught in every Eastern tradition as well as the mystical offshoots in the West. Setting aside cultural differences, one image unites these traditions—the image I began with of the wave and the ocean. Both are symbols. The wave symbolizes the active side of existence, which encompasses all thoughts, feelings, sensations, and physical actions.

Like the ocean, these waves are constant and extend in all directions without limit. From the moment you were born, you were plunged into wave-like action. Your entire body and mind have been consumed by it ever since.

And matters could have stood like that. Life never stops of its own accord. Finding an alternate vision required a momentous discovery that cannot be dated in history or prehistory. The simplest name for this discovery is self-awareness, which begins with an experience everyone has had: “I exist. I am here right now.” This first step doesn’t automatically lead anywhere. Existence is just a given until you take another step, which is self-inquiry.

“I exist” can lead to questions about why I exist, what my purpose is, and where I fit into the scheme of Nature. Those questions launch the questioner deeper into self-awareness. A journey begins, but it is a very peculiar journey. No destination is marked out in advance, no map, no fixed or predictable path.

These factors are mystifying, which is why even dedicated seekers are turned back or get discouraged. There is nothing to cling to. Besides, the instant you look inward, a screen of mental activity (a jumble of thoughts, desires, wishes, fears, memories, and so on) blocks your view. Now what?

This is where the image of the wave and the ocean rescues us. It is obvious at first glance when standing on the shore that the waves rippling across the sea are made of the same water as the sea. The two are essentially the same. Suddenly, there is no mystifying journey to undertake. The reason self-awareness has no goal, path, or destination is that a single insight is the only necessity.

It is the insight that like the wave and the ocean, the jumble of mental and physical activity share the same essence. The essence of the ocean is water; the essence of mental and physical activity is consciousness. “I am” means two things at once: “I am every tiny wave of activity” and “I am the essence of life.”

Here it’s good not to be waylaid by semantics. Only one term—essence—needs to be grasped. In another famous analogy from the Vedic tradition of India, many objects are made of gold, but no matter what shape, use, or other properties found in a gold watch, gold tooth, gold earring, etc., their essence is gold.

The main reason that everyone isn’t taught about wave and ocean is that water (and gold) are physical, and we all have a bias for trusting things we can see and touch. As our essence, consciousness is invisible and intangible. The way we notice it isn’t as an essence but as “mind in motion.” Some philosophies skip the whole difficulty of infinite consciousness by saying, “My existence is proved by thinking, not by being here.”

In short, the waves have won out over the ocean time and time again. We blindly accept mind-made reality because no one has ever seen the ocean of pure consciousness from which creation springs. Enter the tricky field known as metaphysics, which bewilders everyone and seems to be of no help in everyday life.

But the message of metaphysics is simple: Go beyond. Only humans can transcend the evidence of the five senses. When we do, we realize that our whole lives has been spent bouncing into the transcendent. The things we most value—love, compassion, empathy, insight, truth, and beauty—were not invented or mind-made. They are qualities that spring from our essence, our source in consciousness. No journey is needed to find them. “I exist” is enough.

Far from being an act of faith or a sign of mysticism, going beyond is the whole reason humans are self-aware. “I exist” is the platform we stand on, yet the instant there is a spark of self-awareness, life explodes in all directions to expand into love, beauty, creativity, and all the rest. Choosing to see yourself as the ocean instead of the wave (or a collection of many, many waves) gives you a platform to stand on. This platform stabilizes your existence. It gives you a shared existence with all things. It ends soul-sickness, and in the end, once you are well established in this vision, you realize that you are whole.

DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, FRCP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation.  Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 91st book, Total Meditation: Practices in Living the Awakened Life  explores and reinterprets the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits that the practice of meditation can bring.  For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution. His latest book,  Living in the Light co-authored with Sarah Platt-Finger. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com

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