By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP
Commencement Speech at Hartwick College
Today as you celebrate this major milestone in your life and commence a new stage of your life journey, I ask you to reflect on the gift of life itself. And life, in essence, is nothing but awareness. Furthermore human life, considered the pinnacle of biological evolution, is not just awareness, but self-awareness. Amongst creatures on this planet, we human beings are not only aware; we have the capacity to be aware that we are aware, to be conscious of our consciousness. In that self-awareness lies our potential and power to direct our own future evolution and the future evolution of civilization.
Biological evolution has been summed up in the phrase of “survival of the fittest”, but with overpopulation and overconsumption of resources, the future belongs to “survival of the wisest”. It is imperative for the future of humanity that wisdom becomes the new criterion for sustainable life on this planet. And wisdom is that knowledge that nurtures life in all its dimensions not only for us but also for the generations that follow us.
Today’s age is frequently referred to as the Information Age. The hallmarks of this age are the gifts of science and technology that have created the miracles of molecular medicine, real-time imaging of cellular function, instant accessibility of global knowledge, and social networks. Yet despite this emerging global brain, paradoxically we are beset with the same scourges of war and terrorism, radical poverty in 50% of the world’s population, irreversible climate change, along with deepening social and economic injustice! Furthermore, humanity suffers from massive malnutrition in which half the world suffers from hunger and the other half from obesity leading to inflammatory disorders, increasing the risk of chronic illnesses including many types of cancer and cardiovascular diseases while the hungry die from compromised immune function and infectious diseases. The information revolution has not led to the wisdom needed to solve our world crisis in health and well-being.
If ever humanity had the power of mass self-extinction on planet earth, it is today. And if it happens it will be because we allowed our emotional and spiritual evolution to be outpaced by the evolution of our science and technology. Nuclear proliferation, biological warfare, eco destruction, the extinction of species and the poisoning of our atmosphere, our rivers and waters and the very food that sustains our life and all life loom before us as imminent threats. But just as in other critical phases of transformation, while there is disaster looming on one hand, there is on the other hand the potential to create a radical reorganization into something much greater than was conceived of before.
Today, I ask you my young friends, you who are the future hope of humanity, you who are the future leaders of the world; today, I ask you what Mahatma Gandhi once asked, “Can you be the change you want to see in the world?”
In fact, there can be no social or world transformation unless there is your own inner transformation. Today, I ask you to face a fundamental truth. Today, I ask you to consider that there is no ‘you’ that is separate from the world. The gift of life, your own self-consciousness is your key to inner transformation and wisdom, and that in turn is how you will transform the world. Today, I ask you to acknowledge that you are the world and that your transformation of consciousness will be the future of the word. This self-transformation is the wisdom for our planet’s survival.
As I enter the autumn of my life and you the springtime of yours, I want to leave you with seven skills in self-awareness that I have learned and that I hope will serve you well no matter what profession you choose, or where your life and destiny take you.
Skill # 1 Become the best listener you can be. Learn to listen with the instruments of the body, the feelings of the heart, the logic of the mind and the stillness of your soul. As you listen deeply, reflect on the following questions: What am I observing? What am I feeling? What is the need of the moment? What is the best way to fulfill this need?
Skill#2 Bond emotionally with friends, family, professional colleagues and those you interact with daily. Understand that each of us is part of a web of relationships that is nurtured through love, kindness, compassion, empathy and joy. Emotional bonds create effective teamwork where nothing is impossible because you have a shared vision for service, contribution and success and because you complement each other’s talents and strengths.
Skill # 3 Expand your awareness by knowing that all human beings have a hierarchy of needs that start with survival and safety and progressively expand through stages that include love and belonging, true self esteem, success as in the progressive realization of worthy goals, creative expression, higher consciousness and self-actualization. As you expand your awareness learn to harness your spiritual gifts that come in the form of the powers of intention, intuition, creativity, imagination & conscious choice making.
Skill #4 Remember the importance of action. Learn to be action oriented and know that there is no power higher than love in action. Remember that love without action is meaningless and action without love is irrelevant.
Skill# 5 Assume responsibility for your own well being in all its various facets. Your well being encompasses every aspect of your life – your career, your social interactions, your personal relationships, your community and your financial success. Take time to rest and play, to be with your family and friends, to exercise and nourish your body with healthy food.
Skill# 6 Empower your self with true self-esteem. Learn to be independent of the good and bad opinion of others. Recognize the power of presence. Do not allow yourself to be distracted. Know your life purpose and the contribution you want to make to society.
Skill # 7 Know your true self. Your true self is not your self-image that is dependent on the labels you and others have given yourself. Your true self is the innermost core of your being that is beyond all labels, definitions & limitations. All the wisdom traditions tell us that the human spirit is a field of infinite possibilities, a field of infinite creativity love compassion joy and profound equanimity. Know you can only give to the world that which you possess in that innermost core of your being. Remember that you will create peace only when you are peaceful and create a loving world only when you have learned to love.
I entreat you to not lose your idealism with the passage of years. That idealism is connected to your knowingness of the good that can be created and the power to manifest it. In you lies the potential for a more peaceful, just, sustainable, healthier and happier world. Remember that the goal of all other goals is to be happy. I am reminded today of an assignment that John Lennon was given by his elementary school teacher when he was seven years old. He and his classmates were asked to write a short description of whom they wanted to be when they grew up. John Lennon wrote down that he wanted to be always happy. When his teacher complained that John did not understand the assignment, John’s mother told him to tell the teacher that he did not understand life.
But what do we really know about happiness? Recently there has been a lot of research on the dynamics of happiness. Most people think that if they are successful in achieving their goals or have good relationships or if they are healthy, they will be happy. In fact it is the other way around. If you are happy person you are likely to have healthy habits, and nurturing relationships and great success in life. Social scientists describe what they describe the Happiness formula: H=S+C+V
H stands for happiness
S stands for set point in the brain
C stands for conditions of living
V stands for voluntary choices
“S” stands for the set point in the brain and refers to our mechanisms of perception. We all have a semi-fixed place on the happiness spectrum based on our outlook on life. Happier people see the opportunities, where unhappy people see problems. The set point for happiness can be upregulated, or shifted toward greater happiness, through self-reflection on limiting beliefs. The set point determines 50% of our happiness experience on a daily bases. The ‘C’ in the formula is the conditions of living and refers mainly to material success and personal wealth. It determines about 12% of your daily happiness experience. If you win the lottery you will be extremely happy for a few months, but after one year you will return to your set point. Voluntary choices represents choices that we make on a daily bases. Choices for personal pleasure bring transient happiness, while selfless choices bring inner fulfillment through purpose and meaning, e.g. by making other people happy meaningful relationships bring more permanent happiness. So to be happy it’s fine to have material comforts around you, but that will only account for 12% of your happiness. To really be happy you need to expand awareness and overcome your self-limiting beliefs and then choose selfless actions, or ways to be of service to others. This leads to true and lasting happiness and wisdom.
Finally today, more than any other day, remember to be grateful. Gratitude opens the door to abundance consciousness. Express your gratitude today particularly to your parents, teachers and fellow students, all who have helped bring you to this threshold of life.
You are now ready to embark on the hero’s journey, the hero’s quest. Good luck and God speed.