For many years I've tried to reconcile the big questions about life--Who or what am I at my core? What is this universe made of? Where did it come from and where will it go? Where does awareness come from?--with everyday life. My everyday life also included school for many years, so naturally I tried to find a way to neatly fit what I learned in school into the big picture as well.
It hasn't been easy.
I've looked to many people for new ideas and inspiration on these matters. One of them is Dr. Deepak Chopra, author of over 20 New York Times bestsellers. He has spent the last several decades exploring and communicating about questions similar to my own.
I had a chance to have a conversation with Deepak recently when I was in New York to attend a wedding. Before long we were in the thick of it, asking and answering...
What is the universe made of?
We could say it's made of atoms, but the atomic universe is actually less than 5% of the universe. And when we zoom into even that 5%, we see that atoms are made of particles, which are themselves abstractions of a field. There are no "things" that make up the universe.
Where is awareness located?
The popular answer (and the one I was taught in school) is that the brain is the control center of experience. Yet no matter how much we explore neurons in the brain, we will never find awareness. Is awareness in the brain or is the brain in awareness?
It seemed we both had a similar perspective: Awareness is fundamental in itself. First comes awareness, then comes everything we can be aware of, such as the universe itself.
But surely the universe was there before me, one might say. My awareness surely began way after the universe came around. The key is to recognize that individual awareness is a modification of pure awareness. The latter is fundamental. The former comes and goes.
While awareness of being an individual person has a beginning and an end, pure awareness has no such limitations.
Recognizing that there is awareness beyond the confines of the individual mind is the process of regular introspection, including meditation.
The conversation continued...
Are we really seeing the universe as it is?
What we call the universe is an interpretation of the human nervous system. An animal with a different nervous system senses a different universe. Which one is real?
Is the universe real?
What do we mean by real? If we mean that we experience it, then we can say the universe is real. But there are many things we experience that we say are not real. We call them hallucinations. Is the universe a collective hallucination? How would we know?
The last dream you had was in fact a hallucination. We don't call it a hallucination of course; we call it a dream. Within that dream, the world was physical; it was real. Your body was real. You could do all the things you can do while awake, maybe even more.
Now, while awake, ask yourself "What was that dream-universe made of?"
What answer could you give? It wasn't made of atoms, particles, air, nor space. Thinner than space. Mind?
The conversation continued...
Is there a mind?
What we call mind is the flow of desires, thoughts, emotions, and perceptions. When attention is given to this flow, the flow appears real. When attention is expanded beyond the mind to awareness itself, the flow of the mind begins to slow. A still mind approaches no mind.
And on and on we went. We touched on the evolution of language, the current state of science, enlightenment, and what could be done to facilitate a greater understanding of such topics.
Before I knew it, well over an hour had passed. The conversation gently came to a close. As I snapped a pic with Deepak and stepped back out onto the bustling sidewalk, I knew that the questions we explored deserved a place in every school's curriculum as well as in popular culture.
The quality of our lives is largely dependent on the state of our minds.
It therefore makes sense that regular introspection into our minds and beyond may not only yield answers to some very interesting questions, but also make today and tomorrow that much more enjoyable.
Anoop Kumar, MD, MM is the author of Michelangelo's Medicine: How redefining the human body will transform health and healthcare. He is the creator of Meditation Starter Kit and a course on The Three Bodies. He is a practicing emergency physician in the Washington, DC metro area.