Deepak Chopra on Finding Peace in a Pandemic: Humanity "Deserves to Be Saved"

Deepak Chopra - Getty - H 2020
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Deepak Chopra is not speaking right now. 

He's nearing the end of a week of meditative silence, but the best-selling author and global wellness leader is answering questions. He's always in demand but maybe now more than ever as people across the globe seek to find solutions to minimize the stress, anxiety and fear amid a global coronavirus pandemic. To help with that, Chopra has teamed with The Well for a live-streamed global mantra-based meditation event titled H(OM)E, led by Chopra, on Sunday at 9 a.m. PT.

Millions are expected to join in from across the world, and Rebecca Parekh, co-founder and CEO of The Well, says her organization is honored to partner with Chopra and his Chopra team during what is "a uniquely difficult" moment in history: "The Well seeks to empower people to take greater agency for their health, helping them understand their well-being from a whole body perspective. It is my hope that H(OM)E will remind people of the ways in which we are so deeply interconnected and that to care for our whole selves means to care for our whole society.”

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Chopra about the movement, what his self-isolation looks like, how to find peace amid chaos and why he's so encouraged by witnessing acts of service: "The impulse to serve gives hopeful evidence that humanity will not only be saved but deserves to be saved."

You’re nearing the end of a week of silence. What is your re-entry process like? Has the experience delivered any new revelations?

"Revelation" would be too strong a word. Silence, for me and for anyone else who experiences it, gets you closer to the level of mind that is undisturbed by chaos, fear and confusion. The active mind can be a tyrant in distressing times. It’s good to reclaim your freedom once in a while.

What has your lockdown or isolation experience been like? Are you at home or at a retreat? Has it been challenging for you to practice social distancing?

Compared to most people, social distancing for me means staying at home and taking long walks with my wife Rita, meditating and reading. It’s an existence I’ve always enjoyed. Of course, all my talks and events have been canceled, which is frustrating, and I have to be mindful not to sink into the panic and fear that has seeped into the collective consciousness.

There’s certainly a lot to talk about these days, but while it’s important to keep up on the day’s news, it's just as important to quiet the mind and find peace in a chaotic time. What are your tips on how to do that?

Keeping informed should be minimal. Bingeing on bad news all day, compulsively watching the news, constantly talking about the virus — these things have adverse effects, because they promote low-level chronic stress and inflammation. On the positive side, meditation is obviously a good thing, but so is centering. You sit quietly, take a few deep breaths and center your attention in the region of your heart. Do this every time you begin to feel agitated or out of balance. 

Finally, being in contact through Skype or the telephone at least one to two hours a day with people who are meaningful in your life is actually a very good way to settle the autonomic nervous system, which goes into overdrive under stress. Don’t talk about the virus, but about things that are everyday sources of interest and enjoyment. Feeling close and supported is important right now.

You are coming back to lead a mantra-based global meditation Sunday from the Chopra Center in partnership with The Well. Tell us how this event came about and why you decided to lead this global effort.

It grew out of a feeling I’ve had long before the COVID-19 crisis, a feeling that global disruption needs to be countered by global community. The same level of silent mind that produces peace in a person produces collective peace when a critical mass of people align at the level of consciousness. Peace is an inner quality. Without it, the peace achieved by negotiations and talks is temporary, grudging and superficial. If anyone tells me that they are for world peace, my response is “Have you experienced your own peace? Start there.”

You’ve held global meditations in the past but never during a pandemic of this scale. Personally, how are you processing what is happening in the world?

I am processing it as an opportunity for healing. I was very struck, as many have been, by how self-isolation brought down global pollution. Respiratory disease is a huge problem in many overcrowded cities like New Delhi. Suddenly people can breathe; they can see the stars. There is no doubt that in our moments of clarity, we want to be personally healed living on a healed planet. The pandemic might allow us to come to that realization. I hope so.

Health experts have cautioned people about the importance of hygiene and washing their hands. You have mentioned how important mental hygiene is as well. Tell us what you mean by that.

I’ve touched on that a bit already. Fear, panic, chaos and stress have devastating effects on sleep, blood pressure, immune response, hormonal balance, markers for inflammation — the list of effects extends everywhere. People don’t think holistically, so they might wash their hands while saturating their minds with bad news as it pours out of the media 24/7. It is imperative, in my view, to emphasize mental hygiene, because it is so critical to holistic well-being. The advice I gave about meditation and centering and so on is the place to start.

It is an unprecedented time, but you have lived through many crises and people have often relied upon you for advice and guidance. Have you noticed any significant differences in the number or tenor of the calls and requests?

In a general way, stress is stress, distress is distress, anxiety is anxiety in any bad situation. The only difference today is that everyone has the same thing on their minds.

During the coronavirus outbreak, you have responded, not only by hosting this global event, but by offering free daily meditations online. What else is in the works?

I keep expanding the outreach of my message. I got on social media very early on and use it enthusiastically. We are incredibly fortunate to have a global conversation that crosses boundaries. Social media has its downside, of course, but instant communication on a mass level, including podcasts and the daily videos I do on Facebook, is an amazing positive force.

While negative news may feel as if it's taking most of the oxygen, the pandemic has also put humanity on display as individuals have rallied to help medical workers and vulnerable populations such as the elderly, those experiencing homelessness and workers who have lost their jobs. What is the best thing you’ve seen come out of this crisis?

I see exactly what you describe — selfless service in the face of a mounting threat. What happens next month or even next week is unknown, but the impulse to serve gives hopeful evidence that humanity will not only be saved but deserves to be saved.