by Deepak Chopra MD: I’ve been proposing – that everyone faces a choice in how to live.
One choice is to follow the demands of the ego. The other is to live from a deeper level of the mind I’m calling the true self. (A term that has no religious connotations like “the soul“). In modern society, there is no contest. Ninety percent of people live automatically as the ego dictates, and they have little experience with the true self.
In the earlier posts I tried to even the odds, outlining the advantages of the true self over the ego. In a word, the ego stands for constricted awareness, the true self for expanded awareness. When your awareness is constricted, you have a limited viewpoint. You are tied to habit and conditioning. Your access to new ideas and solutions becomes restricted. When it’s put this way, who wouldn’t choose to have expanded awareness instead? The claim of “I, me, and mine” rings hollow when you discover that the ego-personality masks much insecurity and anxiety.
This has been the message of the world’s wisdom traditions for centuries. At this moment we are fortunate, because we have an advantage over all the saints, sages, and seers of the past. They did everything in their power to persuade people to walk the path of transformation. No one starts with a blank slate. The ego-personality is always firmly in place; therefore, you have to transform your ways of thinking, speaking, and doing – the three main activities of the mind – to become your true self.
The advantage that we have over the past is our ability to watch the brain undergo change. Neuroscience can point to specific areas of the brain, using state-of-the-art scans, as they light up, as new connections between neurons are formed, as new ways of thinking lead to new pathways. Thus transformation has totally changed. It isn’t seen as something rare and extraordinary. Your brain is being transformed constantly. Over that, no one has a choice. What you can choose is how to transform our brain.
It turns out that long-term brain changes depend on repetition, reinforcement, and attention. What you pay the most attention to will determine how your brain looks ten, twenty, or thirty years from now. The input that you keep repeating will also have a profound effect, and so will the things that get reinforced by positive outcomes. This sounds a bit technical, but it has been popularized as the “ten thousand hour thesis,” the notion that if you put 10,000 hours of practice into any goal, you will eventually attain it.
Although there are serious objections to this claim, there’s no objection to the underlying brain mechanism. Every skill requires attention, repetition, and reinforcement. Strange as it may sound, an inflated ego is a kind of skill, the skill of making yourself the only one who counts in any situation. So what is the skill of living from the true self? It’s not exactly the opposite of egotism. You don’t become a nobody who fades into the wallpaper and has no desires.
Instead, you transform the brain in the following direction:
– Becoming less attached to your limited point of view.
– Becoming more flexible and open-minded in your thinking.
– Bonding with other people emotionally.
– Learning to take responsibility for every action.
– Turning intentions into fruitful results.
– Cultivating reverence, respect, and kindness.
– Exploring the depths of love.
– Learning the value of selfless service and compassion.
– Becoming more creative.
– Opening up to new solutions.
I’ve made this a long list for two reasons. First, to show that the true self isn’t religious. It has practical advantages that stem directly from expanded awareness. Second, the true self achieves things that the ego falsely claims only it can achieve. These two points need to be clear; otherwise, people will continue to associate ego with ambition, success, status, and power, while denigrating spirituality as passive, detached, and unworldly.
If we drop even the term “spiritual,” which has a host of positive connotations, no such mistake is likely – by expanding your awareness, you won’t be making an either/or choice that cuts off success. Quite the opposite. Expanded awareness is the secret to success, as we’ll see in the next post.