Live (almost) Reflections from ISE2.
In a time when controversy and charisma are more common in spiritual teachers than not, it’s practically unsettling to listen to someone like Deepak Chopra. Last night he took the stage at the main hall here in Monterey, to the great delight of nearly 500 Integral enthusiasts.
The retreat I’m attending—the Integral Spiritual Experience—is as diverse as it is challenging, and during yesterday’s schedule, chock full of wild characters and excruciating openings, my heart was raw, my soul splayed naked in new, uneasy ways. My new favorite yoga teacher, Sofia Diaz, reminded us in class this morning that there’s a difference between pain and intensity. Just so, I think, there’s a difference between intensity and spiritual growth: in our culture of sensationalization, we often forget that the former doesn’t always entail the latter and the latter doesn’t necessarily require the former.
Well, not all of us forget.
Deepak Chopra took the stage last night with a humility and simplicity that were practically shocking for someone with such prestige. Author of fifty-one books, with as much name recognition as any Oprah or Bono, the man’s a bit of a spiritual rockstar.
Don’t get me wrong—he electrified the room, his blazing red clogs and rhinestone-rimmed glasses discreet hints at a charisma that was palpable despite his reserve.
If the themes of his talk weren’t a complete surprise, both the style and format were. Chopra’s known for his facility articulating the interweaving of quantum physics, medicine, consciousness studies, and divinity itself. His talk last night— even before 500 people, it exuded enough ease that I need not call it anything so high-falutin’ as a presentation—centered on consciousness and its stages of unfolding, through, by, and as love. He echoed powerful themes we’ve already touched on here at ISE2, including love as a reliable and joyful path to enlightenment. Yet he did so without the abandon and panache of other, iconoclastic teachers: his presence was radical for its reserve.
While many of the teachers here delve headfirst into the guts and juice of a more emotional spiritual experience, Deepak’s talk erred on the heady. He listed the stages of consciousness outlined by his tradition, Advaita Vedanta, and did so with the commanding agility of a surgeon. Well, at least one with an unparalleled bedside manner: he exuded a certain nonchalance in discussing things as esoteric as cosmic consciousness and “fundamental space-time geometry” that intimated intimacy with the field, not alienation. As he described witnessing consciousness, for example, he provided simple, elegant pointing-out instructions that immediately brought the room into what he was describing—yet there was no production around this: it was as simple, evident, and familiar as his couch cushions or fingernails.
I left his talk last night a bit confused and stirred, strangely enough, because I wasn’t confused and stirred. Deepak’s calm, steady, reasoned demeanor, if unfamiliar, point, I think, to power of the deep, traditional roots he hasn’t cut himself from.
This isn’t to suggest he was cold or overly detached. On the contrary, he was, dare I say of someone I respect so much, adorable. At the end of his linear, reasoned talk, he pulled out his Blackberry and read us some of his favorite Sufi poems, from Tagore and Rumi. His own love and devotion were evident, both for and through these poems. Indeed, he spoke of ecstasy as the highest stage of consciousness in the Advaita tradition. His calm when speaking of ecstasy doesn’t mean he’s separate from it, but rather so intimate that it no longer takes him over. How unusual! Indeed, after Deepak closed with ecstatic poetry, the incomparable Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei took the stage, visibly moved: “From precision to… breathless,” she spoke, voicing the admiration of the entire room.
We’ve talked a lot here at ISE2 about love being not a feeling, but rather a capacity for perception. Deepak’s gift to me last night was witnessing that perception, not only as a wild, empassioned abandon or destructive Kali vitality, but also as a calm, steady gaze, clear, humble, and twinkling.
Stay tuned to elephant for more from ISE2.
You can catch up on Deepak’s talk and all the rest of the keynotes for ISE2 via the online media collection with live streaming webcast.