Spiritual guru Deepak Chopra is a big believer in the power of the mind-body connection. It influences everything he does, from his teaching and writing to his spiritual practice and his fascination with wearable technology.
He is the founder of The Chopra Foundation, co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing as well as a medical doctor and a professor at University of California, San Diego, Health Sciences and researcher in neurology and psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is the bestselling author of 86 books, and his most recent, You Are the Universe: Discovering Your Cosmic Self and Why It Matters, was released in February.
If that wasn’t enough on his plate, he recently moved into the tech space with wellness hub Jiyo.com and in partnership with VR content studio, Wevr, to build the first-ever virtual reality meditation experience.
It seems that it’s impossible to be as wildly prolific as Chopra -- or be friends with Oprah -- without a degree of discipline and an understanding of where your work and presence fits into the grander scheme of things.
We caught up with Chopra to ask him 20 Questions and find out what makes him tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I start my around 4:30, 5:00 in the morning. I meditate for two hour; it’s a practice of reflection and also of transcendence and experiencing the simplicity of awareness. Then I do 45 minutes to an hour of yoga either in a class or by myself depending on where I am. I then take a shower, get dressed and do a daily podcast on Facebook which is put on YouTube, answering people’s questions. Then I’m done. The rest of the day is whatever comes along, and I live it to the fullest with no resistance.
2. How do you end your day?
I end my evenings by going for a long walk, unless I’m at a social engagement. After the walk, I will reflect on the wonderful things that happened during the day and experience gratitude for them. I then close my eyes, observe my breathe and go to sleep -- 10:00 at the latest.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind?
A book by the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti called Freedom from the Known. I read it in medical school more than 45 years ago. It made me realize that every thought we have is the result of centuries of conditioning. We don’t have to own it, identify it or be victimized by it. We can observe it, let it go and live our lives totally free of resistance in every moment.
4. What’s a book you always recommend?
I recommend a book called I Am That by an Indian teacher whose name is Nisargadatta Maharaj. It’s about how to realize non-dual being. I also recommend the writings of relatively modern philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I have some favorite fiction books by Somerset Maugham. There was also a book called Lost Horizon by James Hilton. It’s about an idyllic place called Shangri-La where no one ever ages.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
Actually, I stay unfocused, with only awareness of the moment, and its possibilities. I call that experience choiceless awareness. I believe in the experience of effortless spontaneity, getting rid of the notion of separateness and the richness of sensory experience in every moment.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a journalist or writer of fiction. When I was 14 years of age, my father, who was a cardiologist, wanted me to do be a doctor. He gave me a bunch of books by Somerset Maugham, a novelist who was also a physician. Many of the books were about doctors. I switched, but I became a doctor to return to being a writer much later.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I had a very traumatic experience with a very famous researcher in my field, which is endocrinology and neuroendocrinology. I was training as a fellow at a very prestigious academic institution. My boss was probably the most famous person in his field at the time but was also extremely unhappy.
My boss would lose his temper every time we didn’t perform to perfection in our research or publishing. So one day, I impulsively dumped my research materials on his head and walked out. I realized you could be very smart and even get a Nobel Prize but be extremely unhappy at the same time.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My parents. My mother was an amazing storyteller. When I was young, My brother and I would listen to her stories every night, and she would stop at a crisis or a cliffhanger, with the heroine and hero about to be killed. She said tomorrow, when we met again, come up with a happy ending to this. So we learned to imagine happy endings to all crises.
My father was a cardiologist and on weekends he saw patients free of charge. People would come to our little town in India from all over the country. My mother would cook food for them, and they would both make sure the patients had enough fare for the bus or train when they left. My father was an army doctor, and we moved from town to town every few years. Whenever we left there would be thousands of people to wish us off at the train station.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
LSD. It was literally a trip. At the age 19, some other medical students, and I experimented with LSD. I remember being on a train with them going to South India, and I had a feeling intense compassion from looking at a poster of Mother Theresa. She was kissing children with leprosy. It moved me.
10. What inspires you?
These days it's mostly children. My grandchildren are the best example of that. They inspire me a lot with their innocence, joy, curiosity, wonder and playfulness.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
I did self-publish my first book, which no one would publish for me. I felt I was learning so much from my patients -- they were telling me stories that were never written about in textbooks or journals. I tried my best to get those insights published in professionals journals but no one would accept them. Through a series of coincidences it ended up becoming a bestseller.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
While I was a resident because there wasn’t enough money to pay rent or buy food. I had two little kids and a family to support. I used to work in an emergency room in Melrose, Massachusetts, and Everett, Massachusetts. The pay was $4 to $6 an hour, but it was enough to make ends meet. You saw gunshot wounds and people dying all the time, so I learned to keep my head cool and centered.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
From my parents. My mother always said to commit to something bigger than yourself.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Driving ambition, hard work and exacting plans are the way to succeed. It’s part of the cultural ethic and mindset that I don’t believe in anymore.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
I have only a few simple rules. Is what I’m doing fun? Number two, are the people I work with fun to be with and derive joy from that? And number three, is it making a difference in the quality of people’s lives for the better?
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I wear wearables, like my Fitbit. I enjoy looking at them in the morning to see if I slept enough, and in the evening to see if I walked enough. I’m fond of devices, especially ones that monitor brain biofeedback. I’ve created a few of my own.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I think it’s an oxymoron. I think work and life and enjoyment of life should all be part of your life experience. For me, work is what you do for one third of your life, so it better be something you are engaged in and enjoying. When people ask, I suggest that their job and career, and higher purpose or calling, whatever that is should be in alignment, otherwise you will constantly feel worried about work life imbalance. There is a concept in Eastern wisdom traditions called Dharma. It implies many things, but one thing it does imply is how you fit in the big scheme of things. Imagine that the whole universe is a jigsaw puzzle and every part fits somehow.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
It’s been said before in all the spiritual traditions: your life passes by very quickly, like a dream. Every moment is born and dies as soon as it happens. When you realize that every moment is precious and not to be taken for granted, that’s how you prevent feeling burned out.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I have not experienced that. I have done over 85 books. But I do ask myself, these days more than ever before, when I am I going to stop writing? I have the intuition that maybe two or three books from now, if I have nothing more to say. Right now I just share my own experiences, that’s how my writing comes.
20. What are you learning now?
If you think that there was ever a peaceful world, it’s an illusion.
Humans are most violent of all creatures. When we idealize a past civilization as being amazing, it’s because we are looking at luminaries or philosophers throughout the ages. What I’m learning: stop fooling yourself, human beings are predators, the most dangerous animal on this planet, and now we have the capacity for extinction. I’m being realistic that unless we all drastically have some kind of spiritual mutation, we are heading for an extinction.
It sounds dire, morbid, doomsday. I tweeted asking everyone if they could commit today to total non-violence in their lives, in every aspect of their lives. It seems that a lot of people want to do that.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.