INNER PEACEKEEPER

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"There is a part of me that has a romantic notion to disappear," says Deepak Chopra.

He could step hard on the gas in his BMW and just keep going, going.

Yes, Chopra admits, sometimes even he longs to escape the responsibilities that come with being a best-selling author, New Age high priest and the human bridge spanning ancient Indian healing and high-tech Western medicine.

"I consider myself somebody who offers the tools for inspiration," the 58-year-old lapsed endocrinologist adds. "I'm just kind of a catalyst, you know?"

He's actually a much-in-demand, crossover-culture millionaire. And don't count on him disappearing anytime soon.

For somebody who preaches the virtues of living a balanced life, Chopra keeps an insanely busy schedule, spending about a third of his time on the road, managing to write most of his 30-plus books while sitting in the cramped confines of an airplane.

At the moment, he's talking by way of cell phone from his car, en route to his office in Carlsbad, Calif. He just returned from South America where, he says 16,000 fans in the drug-cartel-controlled town of Cali, Colombia, packed a bullring to hear him speak.

No doubt they left on a holistic high. Chopra is all about harnessing body, mind and spirit - the mule team of good health. Toss those prescription pills. Go herbal. Listen to the muffled voice of your soul. As he has said, "Understanding your body's natural rhythms and needs activates unbelievably powerful disease-fighting processes."

Marylanders get their chance to hear that message in person this weekend. Chopra and Dr. David Simon, co-founder of the Chopra Center at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, will lead a three-day Mind-Body Conference in Ellicott City.

In 1999, Chopra made Time magazine's list of the Top 100 "heroes and icons" of the 20th century. His popularity and energy show no signs of waning in the new millennium.

Indeed, he just published his most thematically ambitious book, Peace Is the Way, an all-you-need-is-love-vibes foray into geopolitics. The goal is to create a "global community of peacemakers."

We've entered a period of epic change, Chopra says. You can practically wage war with a Palm Pilot. Either chaos or mutual cooperation will prevail.

"The world is a projection of our collective consciousness," he says. "Absolutely, there is a connection between the individual level of peace of mind and world peace."

This is a big leap forward for a guy who still sells Mystic Om Pillar Candles ($18.50 each) on his Web site and who only a few years ago wrote a decidedly more modest tome: Golf for Enlightenment.

Build a peaceful world, one nonviolent convert at a time? Just who does Deepak Chopra think he is?

"He's the public face of a huge movement," says Bob Duggan, president of Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts in Laurel, which is sponsoring this weekend's conference.

Duggan notes that the "wellness industry" - which includes everything from nontraditional medical treatments like to upscale spas - is a $200-billion-a-year industry. Some estimates run as high as $400 billion.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 36 percent of Americans over age 18 have tried some type of nontraditional medicine.

Just as telling, however, are the big-name investors gravitating toward the action. For example, ex-America Online wonderboy Steve Case just sank $500 million into a company that owns a New Age cable TV channel and plans to operate 100 wellness centers.

Chopra, in Duggan's opinion, deserves credit for helping give birth to an East-meets-West sensibility that is transforming conventional medicine and our notions of what constitutes good health.

"Deepak is an extraordinary modern interpreter of an ancient healing tradition from India," says Duggan. "He happens to be a traditional doctor, happens to be charismatic, and happens to be a good writer."

Chopra was born in India and graduated medical school there, then emigrated to the United States in 1970 with his wife, Rita. He taught at Tufts University, became chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital in Boston, and eventually opened a private practice.

But Fast Track Deepak picked up a lot of bad habits along the way. He smoked too much, drank too much, worked too much, and was a bundle of frayed nerves.

In 1980, Chopra bought a used book about transcendental meditation and, inadvertently, found his road map to happiness.

He began meditating and later delved into the ayurvedic folk medicine of his native land, which focuses on using herbs and oils in treating ailments. Like the Beatles before him, he journeyed to India and logged some time at the feet of the TM master, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

His career subsequently veered off the beaten path. He returned to the states and worked in several alternative-medicine facilities. He began writing about the mind-body connection, a then-controversial notion that infused his first book, Creating Health.

Gradually, Chopra sharpened the message and the prose. His fourth book, Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide, sold well. Next came Ageless Body, Timeless Mind in 1993. It caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey, and Chopra was invited on her TV show. By the end of the week he appeared, 400,000 copies of Ageless Body had flown off store shelves.

The books started coming fast and furiously. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success ... The Path to Love ... How to Know God ... Healing the Heart. There were spin-off CDs, audio tapes and a public-television series.

Chopra branched out into selling herbs and nutrition supplements, and offering seminars and meditation trips to India. In 1995, he and Simon opened the first Chopra Center for Well Being, near San Diego. Three more have sprung up. They're essentially wellness spas where clients come for physical and spiritual renewal, and maybe a "primordial meditation" workshop.

Chopra, meanwhile, became a fixture on the lecture circuit. He can deliver a two-hour monologue seemingly off the cuff, quoting Sufi poets and Walt Whitman, tossing out the occasional Vedic aphorism.

Deepak Inc. attracted its share of celebrity pilgrims seeking higher truths. Madonna and Michael Jackson and George Harrison tuned in. Chopra lunched with Princess Diana. Demi Moore got into an Ageless Body, Timeless Mind groove and crowed about possibly living to be 130 years old. (That kind of pronouncement "definitely dilutes the message," says Chopra.)

Susan Weis, who owns a New Age book store in Hampden, stumbled upon Chopra about 15 years ago and was instantly hooked. She thinks he got too slick for a while ("I call that his mousse-in-the-hair period"), but believes that he lately seems to have rediscovered his original understated style. Weis calls Peace Is the Way a "beautiful" read.

"He comes from the heart with his words," she says. "The man wants to make us healthy and happy any way that he can."

Just about the time Weis discovered Chopra, state Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat, overheard someone talking about him at a party. She read a few of his books and picked up the habit of doing "brief meditations" throughout the day.

Bobo is going to miss a grandchild's first communion because she'll be attending Chopra's mind-body conference.

"He's one of the people out there in our somewhat tumultuous world who's teaching us to have peace and equanimity in our everyday lives," she says. "I find it very helpful."

In 2002, Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Ga., signed a three-year, $400,000 contract to have a Chopra Center on-site - the first (and currently, only) hospital in the country to form a wellness partnership with Chopra.

"What we're trying to do," says Scott Regan, executive vice president of Memorial Health, "is develop a model that can integrate alternative medicine with mainstream medicine in a way that a lot of hospitals and even Deepak haven't been able to do."

Memorial Health sent 150 employees to California to take a weeklong workshop at the Chopra Center. Among other things, they're using meditation to help cancer patients manage pain and, says Regan, are getting "good results."

The hospital offers Chopra-approved yoga classes, massage therapies and prenatal care to the public in a spa-like setting. There are plans to reach out to the city's homeless population by providing free meditation instruction.

Regan believes so strongly in the alternative-medicine movement because of his first-hand experience. He read Chopra's Seven Laws of Spiritual Success and took to heart its premise of honoring the divine spark in everyone, of creating ripple effects of communal respect.

"It benefited my marriage," says Regan. "I think I raise better children because of what I learned from Deepak Chopra. I'm a better boss. We're talking about not just the health of the individual, but the community."

Chopra himself is in fine fettle. He meditates every day for an hour and a half, usually starting at 4 o'clock in the morning. He's also a home-gym rat, putting in an hour of daily cardio work on the elliptical trainer or treadmill, followed by weight lifting.

"I will not skip a single day of my workout," he insists.

The health of the planet, however, troubles him. And he's thinking in a big way about it. Chopra and Gallup Poll researchers are about to conduct the first large-scale attitude survey of Muslims worldwide. They hope to have results compiled by December. Chopra, raised a Hindu, wants to better understand the Islamic heart and soul.

Likewise, he has begun taking his workshops into urban areas. Thus far, he has primarily been embraced by upper-income, white, suburban America.

"That's the goal now," he says, "to spread into the ghettos and inner cities."

Chopra has ventured to HarLem, N.Y., and Reno, Nev., talking to blacks, Latinos and Asians about people being rivers of energy. He tells them their mind is wired into every cell of their body, that nasal breathing techniques can effect brain activity, that ayurvedic herbs can pack as much punch as any drug.

How does Chopra think it's going so far? What do city folk make of his New Age wisdom?

"They say, 'Deep stuff!' "

Deepak Chopra

Born: 1947, New Delhi, India

Medical background: Son of a cardiologist. Went to medical school in India and was trained as an endocrinologist in the United States.; former chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital in Boston. Later studied ayurvedic medicine.

Family: Wife, Rita. Two grown children (daughter, Mallika; son, Gotham) and two grandchildren.

Celebrity pals: Partial list includes the Dalai Lama, Madonna, Demi Moore, Hugh Hefner, Sting and former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Breakthrough moment: July 12, 1993. Chopra appeared on Oprah Winfrey's talk show. A spiritual star was born.

Conference

Deepak Chopra's East Coast Mind-Body Conference will be held this morning through Sunday afternoon at Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in Ellicott City. Tickets remain for Saturday's session, which runs from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Price: $295. Call 888-424-6772, ext. 1639.

Tools for living

For those unfamiliar with Deepak Chopra's self-help books and CDs, here are some of the New Age sage's "keys to happiness." Don't expect life-changing advice in a few sentences. Think of these as pieces of inner peace.

Live in the present, for it is the only moment you have. Look for the fullness in every moment.

Don't contaminate your body with toxins; either food, drink or toxic emotions. The health of every cell directly contributes to your state of well-being.

Take time to be silent, to meditate. Realize that you are reconnecting to your source of pure awareness.

Relinquish your need for external approval. You alone are the judge of your worth.

Replace fear-motivated behavior with love-motivated behavior.

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