by Peter Robb: When Deepak Chopra was a young doctor, he says he wondered why some people got better and some didn’t even though they had been given the same treatment…
It was the pursuit of an answer to that puzzle that has made Chopra a wealthy man and a global personality. Time magazine has called him “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine.” He has sold millions of copies of his more than 80 books. His thinking blends traditional Hindu medicine and mainstream medicine.
As a doctor, he says his intuition led him to conclude that the body has an ability to heal itself. And he began to push his ideas, along the way becoming very famous.
That fame has been accompanied by criticism from scientists, such as Richard Dawkins with whom he has a running verbal feud, and medical professionals who are concerned that what Chopra proposes may push people to ignore conventional treatments.
Chopra today says, “I didn’t have the science. The science has only emerged in the past five years” that he says is buttressing his position.
So at age 68 (he turns 69 on Oct. 22), Chopra is feeling somewhat vindicated.
“I struck a chord with the general public and it took a while for the scientists to come along but definitely we have a new movement of integrated medicine,” he said in an interview.
“As you grow older — I am going to be 69 in October — it really doesn’t matter.”
He has even been helped along by scientific advancements such as the Internet.
“I was always concerned that I could never get a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, although now I am getting it, but it seemed not to matter because the Internet expanded the conversation anyway more effectively than if I had been published in an important periodical.
“When I was 40, I would have said, ‘Oh, I showed it to them.’ ” Now he’s moving on.
And he’s bringing his message to Ottawa on Oct. 17 as the principal speaker for the I Am Genie foundation, which is dedicated to helping people cope as they confront cancer.
Chopra, who, when he practised, was an endocrinologist, has, as you might expect, his own take on cancer.
“It is not one disease. It is many, many diseases. At the bottom root of cancer, always, there is a mutation of one or more genes.
“It’s like a typo in a word. Some words are long and some are short. And with some typos you can still read the sentence, some are illegible.
“In the past few years, scientists have found that only five per cent of disease-related gene mutations are (what is called) fully penetrant. They are inherited and they cannot be stopped.”
But in the other 95 per cent of gene mutations, “lifestyle has a lot to do with it,” Chopra says.
“Now we are discovering that among the things that affect gene behaviour are sleep, meditation, stress management, emotions, food, exercise, yoga and breathing techniques.
“Most of these studies are in animals, very few in humans and none in cancer yet. But the data is enough to stimulate interest in lifestyle changes in relation to any chronic illness, including cancer.
“When I was in medical training, nobody talked about diet. Now we know diet influences what we call the microbiome, the bacteria that outnumber human cells 10-1.”
The microbiome is like the eco-system of the body, he says. If you disrupt it, illness can follow.
This is where Chopra sees his mission.
It is “more than a good attitude; you need to be seeing yourself through self-awareness, not through belief that you are part of a wholeness that is very orderly and self-organizing. To me that is the spiritual experience.
“That’s best definition of spirituality you can have.”
“Cancer is different in every individual and you don’t know who stands where on the curve of possible cancer outcomes, and we also know that attitude makes a difference. And there is a mechanism for it.”
His message, he says, has, at its root, been about consciousness.
“It is one of the big mysteries of science; we have no explanation for consciousness. We have no explanation for why we even have a thought, or even how perception occurs.
“The materialistic explanation is that the brain produces consciousness but then there is no further elaboration. We don’t know how the brain does it.
“Over the last four decades, that has been my passion: To understand consciousness both from a spiritual practice point of view and from a scientific point of view. This is not part of the scientific discipline; in fact, consciousness was never part of it. But in the last 10 years that has changed.”
Today, he says there are mathematicians and biologists who are talking about consciousness. At present, he is writing a book with a cosmologist, a physicist and an astrophysicist called Creative Cosmos. It considers that consciousness is as fundamental in the universe as time and gravity.
He is a phenomenally busy person but he participates in events such as the one in Ottawa because “deep in my heart, I believe that unless you have a critical mass of people enrolled in a world view, the world view doesn’t evolve.”
After 40 years, he says he remains “perpetually surprised at every turn” by his own success.
“It’s just totally astonishing that we even exist and that we can make sense of a universe that has natural laws that make sense to a logical mind.”
I AM GENIE
Joshua Dawson knows a bit too much about cancer.
He lost his father to cancer, and that experience prompted him to try to help people get through the long and painful treatment. His dad was 53.
“I was 29 or 30 at the time, I had my own business and I was pretty egotistical, and I thought I had it made.”
His father died three months after diagnosis. It was a hard way for Dawson to find out he didn’t have everything figured out.
His father’s death sent Dawson on a search for a reason “to be here.”
The result was a decision to start granting wishes to people suffering through cancer treatment. That is what genies do, after all. So he created a foundation, iamgenie.org, and started sporting a blue mask in public appearances.