We must start seeing ourselves as co-creators of everything – and take over the story of our lives on earth.
The September issue always feels like a fresh start – but lately, with all that’s been happening in the world, even an optimist like me is struggling to find ways of thinking about “new beginnings.” I need guidance, a North Star for inspiration. So, I set up a meeting with Dr Deepak Chopra, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being, as well as Chopra Global, a health company at the intersection of science and spirituality. He is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation and the author of more than 90 books. As we Zoom (me in Umbria, Italy, and him in New York), the first question I ask is, how can we still find hope?
“I don’t like to use words like hope, because it automatically implies despair,” answers Chopra. “If you don’t have despair, you don’t need hope. What if we don’t need either of them? We need to look at what’s happening and see if there’s a solution. In the world right now, there are obvious problems: war, terrorism, injustice, climate change. There are toxins in our food and environment, and we have toxic relationships and emotions. There is no denying that it’s a recipe for sleepwalking into extinction. Yet if we died, this planet would rejoice! If insects disappeared from the planet today, human life would cease in five years. If humans disappeared, all life would flourish. It will be back to the Garden of Eden. Then there is another scenario, which comes from neither hope nor despair – but it will take a total disruption, which means total creativity. Every problem has a creative solution. Either we recycle the old or we resurrect. But to have resurrection, you must have the death of the old paradigm. That’s where creativity plays its role. Creativity is a new story that has nothing to do with the old narrative. It’s a new way of dealing with relationships, a new context, new meaning.”
As Chopra speaks, I think of how environmental activist and scientist Vandana Shiva recently also advocated the need for “a new paradigm for living on earth, because the old one is clearly not working. And the alternative is needed not only at the level of tiny shifts and tools; it is needed at the level of our world view. How do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? Are we merely money-making, resource-guzzling machines, or do we have a higher purpose? I believe we do – I believe our first identity is that of being citizens of this earth.” She calls this “earth democracy.”
I wonder whether a paradigm shift also implies using new words, starting with the word “sustainability.” Chopra smiles. “We need a critical mass of conversation on a global level with participants who care about themselves, who have empathy, compassion, love, joy, peace, and equanimity. It’s called the science of emergence, or maximum diversity.” Aren’t we missing the magic link then? That sense of connection or interdependence that would allow us to operate in a new way? “Maybe it’s more about memory,” says Chopra. “When I was a child, my father was often talking about the horrors of the Second World War. What has happened? Has anything changed? No. My grandfather would talk about the Great Depression and the horrors of the First World War. Did anything change? If you go back to the dawn of history, what do you find? Violence, racism, bigotry, hatred, prejudice, slavery, colonialism… nothing has changed – and that’s because we do not remember, and we do not remember because we don’t care.
We don’t have a spiritual connection. We have an emotional connection, but it’s totally dysfunctional. It’s not about love, it’s about self-importance, ego. What we need is a spiritual renaissance. We need to seriously find spiritual solutions to these problems. For example, with sustainable fashion, one of the solutions is to make clothing so exclusively expensive that nobody will throw it away or recycle it. Instead, we will all tell a story about how the clothes were made, by who, and how animals or the land were treated in the process. We must take over the story. I want to give you an example, which is very close to my heart. Suicide is the second-most common cause of death among teens and every 40 seconds, someone kills themselves. So, with actor Gabriella Wright, whose younger sister died by suicide, we created an ecosystem called NeverAlone.Love. It has an AI chatbot, named Piwi after Gabriella’s sister, who answers teens’ questions in English (and soon in Spanish and other languages). More than 10,000 mental health crises have since been detected (including suicide), with 16 million messages exchanged and more than six million minutes of chats. It’s a global movement built around attention, affection, appreciation, and acceptance. This is taking creative solutions in our own hands rather than depending on other people.”
I tell Chopra that my hope (which does not imply despair!) for the younger generations is that they turn it all around – and it’s how we decided with Eco-Age to create the Renaissance Awards to honor young leaders who are working on solutions for a more equitable, just world. Suddenly his eyes flicker with excitement. “I have an idea! Let’s do Piwi for the fashion world. Mental well-being for the fashion community.” And before you know it, our Zoom meeting ends, and my inbox tells me there is a new message: it’s Chopra putting me in touch with Wright so we can work on a creative solution for the future of fashion. Hello September, I am ready!
Originally published in the September 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia