June 12, 2023
SF Gate

Why the Only Choice Is Illusion or Infinity.


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

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, FRCP

It is generally conceded that everyone’s life is limited by behavior rooted in the brain. No one’s brain is free from the past, and over time we’ve all developed fixed behavior patterns. The worst patterns, such as phobia, prejudice, and addiction, make free choice almost impossible. But even less destructive patterns, like overeating, refusing to take risks (or the opposite, taking too many risks) or being too shy to interact well with others, pose limitations in countless lives.

It is quite remarkable, then, that the world has any spiritual traditions, because all of them in their own way hold out an ideal life that escapes the bonds of limitation. Why didn’t the realists win out long ago, because realists are people who take human limitation as a given and try to work with it.

Modern brain research has located the crux of the problem in “conscious agency,” as it is known. You are a conscious agent when you are the author of your own story, meaning that your deliberate choices outweigh what your brain is controlling. “I am in total control” would be the apex of conscious agency. “I am out of control” would be the low point of giving into fixed habits, responses, beliefs, traumas, and conditioning in the brain.

As you’d expect, no one is exactly at the top or bottom. If I ask you to lift your arm and you do, that’s a conscious act we depend upon thousands of times a day. But an electric stimulus to the motor cortex can make your arm lift involuntarily, then if asked if you lifted your arm, you’d say no. The line between conscious and involuntary behavior is blurry, and much of this comes from the inability to tell if you are the author of your actions or not.

People find it very hard to admit or recognize when they are acting like brain puppets. If half an entire political party believes in an absurd conspiracy, its members would be outraged if told that they are puppets, but history is filled with groupthink carried to the point of violence and destruction. Most of us defend beliefs that we bought into second-hand; we act in a way to curry favor; we lay low to feel more secure and less vulnerable; and we prefer the distraction of texting, video games, and watching TV because these involve little or no conscious thought.

Idealism has gained an edge in every generation by pointing out that these limitations are self-imposed and have no real validity. In other words, they work in support of an all-envelopingillusion, namely, that you are an isolated human being fenced in by limitations, fears, habits, bad memories, second-hand thinking, and old conditioning. Far from being an object to glorify, the human brain reflects every aspect of this illusion, down to the most basic perceptions received from the outside world. For example, only 1% of your visual field is actually in focus and detailed; everything else you see is a lingering snapshot from the past as this 1% darts around. Even the sense that you see a filled-in picture of the world is wrong, since your brain papers over a large blind spot in the center of your retina that sees nothing.

The chief reinforcer of illusion is the ego, whose agenda controls everyone’s life. Ego is like the 1% of focused, detailed sight. “I” filters experience down to the minimum that makes “I” stronger. The ego agenda can get very complicated, but its essentials are basic.

  • Minimize pain, maximize pleasure
  • Project a confident self-image
  • Avoid potential threats and risks
  • Paper over any signs of insecurity
  • Shove unwanted emotions out of sight
  • Don’t expose your vulnerabilities
  • Exaggerate your strengths
  • Convince others that you are socially worthy

Following these basic reactions, which are automatic once a child has gotten to grade school, they become innate. Asa result, we aren’t the authors of our own stories; we are willingly following an agenda based on unconscious subservience to “I, me, and mine.” The ego hides its flaws and insecurities, which we connive in because flaws and insecurities are unpleasant to face.

Yet the ultimate reinforcement of the ego’s agenda comes down to “Who else are you going to trust?” Despite the wrap-around illusion produced by unconscious living, people see nowhere else to go.

Idealism (meaning every spiritual tradition East and West) holds out a surprising alternative: infinity. Infinity can be personified as Gods or the gods; it can be impersonal as a state of awareness known as enlightenment. The flavors of infinity reflect the culture that looks at it. Ultimately, every religion became infected with new kinds of limitations, illusions, and even outright evils. (As a cynical quip goes, “God handed down the truth, and the Devil said, ‘Let me organize it.’”)

To have infinity guide your life, you must walk away from illusion. It isn’t the journey of a single step, but it is perfectly doable. The foundation of illusion can be demolished one brick at a time. The necessary steps all occur in self-awareness.

“I” is fatally flawed because it constantly projects and reinforces the illusion we accept as reality. This mistake, however, doesn’t affect reality. Inside your body a flow of intelligent behavior keeps trillions of cells operating with incredible accuracy for decades at a time. You willingly give yourself over to this invisible intelligence, and idealism says that you can do this with your behavior, attitudes, and identity.

Giving yourself over to infinity is realistic because what your ego and your brain connive to reinforce is false. They send messages telling you that you are isolated, alone, weak, and overpowered by forces of nature. In reality, you are unbounded, without dimensions, and are constantly tapping into infinite possibilities. In a word, you are living from your infinite source (a devout believer would call it your divine source), but you aren’t aware of this one essential fact. If you were, you could stop being a mixture of conscious agent and brain puppet.

As a start, look back at the list of basic reactions that form the ego’s agenda. If you stop every time you catch yourself following one of these innate responses, you will create an open space, a pause into which a new response can offer itself, which is the same as saying that a better you (call it the true self) is allowed a say in your life. Get into the habit of ignoring the illusion, and you will become more firmly ensconced in reality.

A big step will be gained once you see that the only escape from illusion is infinity. This is the secret of every tradition of higher consciousness, and its truth will never abandon us.

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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