The greatest hunger in life is not for food, money, success, status, security, sex, or even love from the opposite sex. Time and again people have achieved all of these things and wound up still feeling dissatisfied – indeed, often more dissatisfied than when they began.
The deepest hunger in life is a secret that is revealed only when a person is willing to unlock a hidden part of the self. In the ancient traditions of wisdom, this quest has been likened to diving for the most precious pearl in existence, a poetic way of saying that you have to swim far out beyond shallow waters, plunge deep into yourself, and search patiently until the pearl beyond price is found.
The pearl is also called essence, the breath of God, the water of life, holy nectar – labels for what we, in our more prosaic scientific age, would simply call transformation.
Transformation means radical change of form, the way a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. In human terms, it means turning fear, aggression, doubt, insecurity, hatred, and emptiness into their opposites. Can this really be achieved? One thing we know for certain: The secret hunger that gnaws at people’s souls has nothing to do with externals like money, status, and security. It’s the inner person who craves meaning in life, the end of suffering, and answers to the riddles of love, death, God, the soul, good and evil. A life spent on the surface will never answer these questions or satisfy the needs that drive us to ask them.
Finding the hidden dimensions in yourself is the only way to fulfill your deepest hunger.
After the rise of science, this craving for knowledge should have faded, but it has only grown stronger. There are no new “facts” to discover about life’s hidden dimensions. Nobody needs to peer at more CAT scans of patients undergoing a near-death experience or take more MRIs of yogis sitting deep in meditation. That phase of experimentation has done its work: We can be assured that wherever consciousness wants to go, the human brain will follow. Our neurons are capable of registering the highest spiritual experiences. In some ways, however, you and I know less about the mystery of life than our ancestors.
We live in the Age of the Higher Brain, the cerebral cortex that has grown enormously over the last few millennia, overshadowing the ancient, instinctive lower brain. The cortex is often called the new brain, yet the old brain held sway in humans for millions of years, as it does today in most living things. The old brain can’t conjure up ideas or read. But it does possess the power to feel and, above all, to be. It was the old brain that caused our forebears to sense the closeness of a mysterious presence everywhere in Nature.
That presence, which is found in every particle of creation, suffuses your life, too. You are a book of secrets waiting to be opened, although you probably see yourself in totally different terms. On a given day, you are a worker, a father or mother, husband or wife, a consumer combing the mall stores for something new, an audience member waiting impatiently for the next entertainment.
When you are living the truth of one reality, every secret reveals itself without effort or struggle.
It comes down to the age-old choice of separation or unity. Do you want to be fragmented, conflicted, torn between the eternal forces of darkness and light? Or do you want to step out of separation into wholeness? You are a creature who acts, thinks, and feels. Spirituality fuses these three into a single reality. Thinking doesn’t lord it over feeling; feeling doesn’t stubbornly resist the higher brain; doing occurs when both thought and feeling say, “This is right.” The one reality can be recognized because once you are there, you experience the flow of life without obstacles or resistance.
In this flow, you encounter inspiration, love, truth, beauty, and wisdom as natural aspects of existence. The one reality is spirit, and the surface of life is only a disguise with a thousand masks that keeps us from discovering what is real. A thousand years ago, such a statement would have met with no argument. Spirit was accepted everywhere as the true source of life. Today, we have to look with new eyes at the mystery of existence, for as proud children of science and reason, we have made ourselves the orphans of wisdom.
Therefore, this book must work on two fronts. First, it must persuade you that there really is a mystery lying in the hidden dimensions of life. Second, it must inspire you to feel the passion and dedication required to get there. This isn’t a project to postpone until you are ready. You have been ready since the day you forgot to keep asking who you are and why you are here. Sadly, most of us keep shutting out thousands of experiences that could make transformation a reality. If it weren’t for the enormous effort we put into denial, repression, and doubt, each life would be a constant revelation.
Ultimately you have to believe that your life is worth investigating with total passion and commitment. It took thousands of tiny decisions to keep the book of secrets closed, but it takes only a single moment to open it again.
I take it literally when the New Testament says, “Ask and you will receive, knock and the door will be opened.” It’s that simple. You will know every secret about life when you can truly say I must know. I can’t wait a moment longer. Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree and Jesus wrestling with demons in the desert are symbolic of the same drama of the soul that you were born to repeat. Never doubt this: You are the most significant being in the world, because at the level of the soul you are the world. You don’t have to earn the right to know. Your very next thought, feeling, or action can begin to uncover the deepest spiritual wisdom, which flows as pure and free as mountain waters in spring. It isn’t possible for the self to keep secrets from itself forever, no matter how thoroughly we’ve been trained to believe otherwise.
Secret #1: The Mystery of Life Is Real
The life you know is a thin layer of events covering a deeper reality. In the deeper reality, you are part of every event that is happening now, has ever happened, or ever will happen. In the deeper reality, you know absolutely who you are and what your purpose is. There is no confusion or conflict with any other person on earth. Your purpose in life is to help creation to expand and grow. When you look at yourself, you see only love.
The mystery of life isn’t any of these things, however. It’s how to bring them to the surface. If someone asked me how to prove that there really is a mystery of life, the simplest proof would be just this enormous separation between deep reality and everyday existence. Ever since you and I were born, we’ve had a constant stream of clues hinting at another world inside ourselves. Haven’t you ever fallen into a moment of wonder? Such moments may come in the presence of beautiful music, or in the sight of natural beauty that sends a shiver up your spine. Or you may have looked out of the corner of your eye at something familiar – morning sunlight, a tree swaying in the wind, the face of someone you love as he or she sleeps – knowing in that moment that life was more than it appears to be.
Countless clues have come your way, only to be overlooked because they didn’t form a clear message. I have met an astonishing number of people whose spiritual beginnings were nothing short of amazing: As children, they may have seen a grandmother’s soul leave at the moment of her death, witnessed beings of light surrounding on a birthday, traveled beyond their physical bodies, or come home from school to see a beloved family member standing in the hallway, even though the person had just died in a terrible auto accident. (One man told me he was a “bubble boy” for the first ten years of his life, journeying in his bubble high over the city and away to unknown lands.) Millions of people – this is no exaggeration but testimony from public polls – have seen themselves bathed in a pearlescent white light at times. Or they heard a voice they knew came from God. Or they had invisible guardians in childhood, secret friends who protected them while they slept.
Eventually, it became clear to me that more people have had such experiences – truly secret voyages into a reality separated from this one by a flimsy veil of disbelief – than not. Parting the veil means changing your own perception. This is a personal, totally subjective, yet very real shift.
Where would you begin to solve a mystery that is everywhere, yet somehow never forms a whole message? A great sleuth like Sherlock Holmes would start his search from one elementary deduction: Something unknown wants to be known. A mystery that doesn’t want to be known will just keep retreating the closer you come to it. The mystery of life doesn’t behave that way: Its secrets are revealed immediately if you know where to look.
But where is that?
The body’s wisdom is a good entry point into the hidden dimensions of life, because although completely invisible, the body’s wisdom is undeniably real – a fact that medical researchers began to accept in the mid-1980s. The former view was that the brain’s capacity for intelligence was unique. But then signs of intelligence began to be discovered in the immune system, and then in the digestive system. In both these systems, special messenger molecules could be observed circulating through every organ, bringing information to and from the brain, but also functioning on their own. A white cell that can distinguish between invading enemy bacteria and harmless pollen is making an intelligent decision, even though it floats in the bloodstream apart from the brain.
Ten years ago, it would have seemed absurd to speak of intestines being intelligent. The lining of the digestive tract was known to possess thousands of nerve endings, but these were just remote outposts of the nervous system – a way for it to keep in touch with the lowly business of extracting nutrition from food. Now it turns out that the intestines are not so lowly after all. Their scattered nerve cells form a finely tuned system for reacting to outside events – an upsetting remark at work, the threat of danger, a death in the family. The stomach’s reactions are just as reliable as the brain’s thoughts, and just as intricate. Your colon, your liver, and your stomach cells also think, only not in the brain’s verbal language. What people had been calling a “gut reaction” turned out to be a mere hint of the complex intelligence at work in a hundred thousand billion cells.
In a sweeping medical revolution, scientists have stepped into a hidden dimension that no one had ever suspected. Cells have been outthinking us for millions of years. In fact, their wisdom, more ancient than cortical wisdom, could be the best model for the only thing more ancient than they, which is the cosmos. Perhaps the universe has been outthinking us, too. No matter where I look, I sense what cosmic wisdom is trying to accomplish. It is much the same as what I myself want to accomplish – to grow, expand, and create – the main difference being that my body is cooperating with the universe better than I manage to.
Cells have no problem fully participating in the mystery of life. Theirs is a wisdom of total passion and commitment. So let’s see if we can link the qualities of bodily wisdom with the hidden dimensions we want to uncover: the wisdom you are already living.
Excerpted from ‘The Book of Secrets’ by Deepak Chopra, M.D. Copyright © 2004 by Deepak Chopra, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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