"Commitment is one-pointed intention toward the fulfillment of your deepest desires." – Deepak Chopra
At the conclusion of his newest book, The Ten Commitments: Translating Good Intentions into Great Choices (Health Communications Inc.), David Simon, M.D., writes about how he understands why, for thousands of years, people have been threatened with punishment to get them to do something. But he also has learned, especially in raising his three children, that such an approach rarely is a win-win for anyone.
"The problem with this approach is that it ususally doesn’t work, and even if it temporarily does, the price paid is rarely worth it."
Simon, co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in San Diego and author of such books as The Wisdom of Healing, Return to Wholenss and Vital Energy, has written a powerful book that, if applied, can change lives out of balance into ones that are creative and healthy. In an interview with Edge Life, Simon says he now introduces the Ten Commitments whenever he speaks in public, "because I think in many ways it’s the essence of everything that we’ve been teaching at the Chopra Center for the last fifteen years."
He shared with us his experience with the wisdom of this book.
How would you characterize the difference between Ten Commandments and Ten Commitments?
David Simon: The Commandments are really based upon a sense of inequality between the person making the choice and the person demanding the choice. Commandments are always based upon a sense that unless there’s the fear or threat, then people will not make choices that are ultimately in their best interest or in the interest of those around them. Whereas, commitment really is based upon the assumption that given the information and honoring the essential aspect of a person to make good choices, that people will make the right decisions because that’s who they want to be in the world.
Commandments keep us acting like children, and commitments call us to be responsible adults.
Do you feel like the Ten Commandments are ineffective in the world today?
DS: Yes, I do think they’re ineffective in the world today. I think that the newspapers are replete with what happens when people are behaving because of fear of an authoritarian figure who loses its power. And so, as long as we are raising children with that fear, as long as we are trying to negotiate politics with that fear, what happens is that as soon as there’s any shift in the dynamics of power, those pent-up resentments come to the surface and create more conflict.
I’m not sure the Commandments ever really served their role. Perhaps there’s just a different vocabulary, but I think there’s essential truth to every Commandment that we can experience through commitment – other than through the fear of either going to hell or not going to Disneyland, based upon who’s making the Commandment.
What inspired you to envision the Ten Commitments?
DS: There are three different threads that I think have woven together to create this book. One is as a physician. I’ve been practicing medicine now for almost 30 years. Modern medicine knows that most illness is preventable if people made good lifestyle choices, and yet most people don’t make good lifestyle choices despite this almost perpetual barrage of commandments: "If you don’t lose that weight, you’re going to get diabetes. If you don’t stop smoking, you’re going to get lung cancer." I’ve seen first hand that those types of demands are not very effective in getting people to change their behavior from the perspective of a physician.
I’ve raised children. I have two young children now and I see the same thing, that when you start to escalate demands, then usually all it does is create greater resistance rather than acquiescence, because of your demand. I’ve seen that with my kids. The more I can treat them as equal and encourage them to make good decisions because it’s good for them, the more likely they are to make better choices than if there’s always this threat of punishment.
The third thread really was looking back at the Judeo-Christian tradition and seeing that this sense of commandment really dominates our political view of the world. Whenever another country is not doing something that we like, we immediately start placing demands upon them. At least so far, I haven’t ever seen that treating another country as if they were inferior and holding out the threat causes them to suddenly behave in a responsible manner.
I think those three threads together are giving us some clues that this particular approach to getting our needs met might not be the best one.
Beyond the personal and individual use of the commitments, could there even be a societal use for them?
DS: Ultimately, society is the sum total of how all the individuals in the society are thinking about themselves and treating themselves and the people in their closest relationships. The macrocosm and the microcosm are intimately related.
Speaking as a doctor, do you have examples of how the Ten Commitments relate to healing?
DS: Absolutely. In fact, my experience is that when people suddenly are diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer, those people who use it as an opportunity to make new commitments to their own well-being generally have the best outcome.
When someone looks at this cancer and says, "This is some type of a wake-up call, and as a consequence to that, I’m going to start eating healthier, managing my stress better, making better decisions about how I’m going to interact in my closest relationships, and eliminate substances which may not be so life supporting." When people are willing to make that commitment, those are the people who often have the exceptional outcomes to any illness.
Once someone chooses to commit to something, how does he or she stay committed?
DS: By taking time to go inside on a regular basis by closing your eyes, quieting your mind, re-connecting with your soul, and reinforcing – through the envisioning of what it is that you’re trying to achieve – that the commitment that you made is moving you in the right direction. It’s different than trying to make an affirmation in which you’re reminding yourself every day. It really means reconnecting with that quiet place in your soul and then aligning your choices and your words and your actions with that deepest intention that arises from the deepest place in your being.
Let’s talk about the Ten Commitments themselves. For each, what the greatest challenge for somebody in making the commitment, and what is the greatest reward. Let’s start with freedom.
DS: The greatest challenge is that we’re so willing to sacrifice freedom for security. People are easily habituated, and therefore, they are likely to do the same thing over and over again, whether or not it’s really providing them with the reward or the outcome that they’re looking for. It seems like we’re just wired to be habitual. Resistance to change is something that I think is generally pervasive among our species. The reward, though, is new freedom, new love, new opportunity, new abundance, new vitality, new enthusiasm. If we’re not willing to take that step into freedom, then our future will pretty much look just like our past. We’ll be essentially living in the past. So the rewards for freedom are exhilaration. In fact, in most spiritual traditions, the goal of freedom is the ultimate expression of a spiritual life.
DS: The obstacle to authenticity is the desperate need for approval that we have from other people. It starts in childhood. To get people to like you, you will show them the face that you think they want to see in the hopes that you’ll receive their approval. The reward for being authentic is that you will like what you see when you look at yourself in the mirror. It’s certainly my experience that when you’re being authentic, when you’re living your life according to your internal principles, then the people who are attracted to you are the people who genuinely like you. You’re not wasting all that energy trying to put on a good disguise.
DS: The ultimate obstacle to acceptance is when we have ego as our internal reference point. It’s when we begin to think that we know better than the Universe as to what is supposed to unfold. So when we’re in that mindset of needing to control, needing to exert power, needing to manipulate, we live in a state of preparedness to be offended. When we’re able to relinquish that attachment to the known, then it allows us to accept the moment as it is. The opportunity is to have peace and exhilaration and also to access creativity. If we spend so much energy resisting what’s happening in the present, there’s very little energy left over to actually create something that might even be more fulfilling, moving forward.
DS: The ultimate obstacle to relax is that the society as a whole is not giving us much encouragement. We’re in such a high-paced, information-rich environment right now that the idea that we should close our eyes and go inside is not encouraged tremendously. The benefit is that it allows us to get clear on what it is that we’re trying to accomplish. It allows us to access deeper energy and creativity that’s within us. It’s like trying to shoot at a target using a bow and arrow. If we’re running around in such a turbulent way, we’re just shooting frenetically and we’re less likely to hit the target than if we quiet down, pull back, get clear that what we’re shooting at is what we really want to reach – and then release the arrow in such a way that it’s most likely to accomplish what we’re looking for.
DS: The nature of the mind is to continuously creating divisions. That’s what language is. Language is a process of dividing the world. We’re all conditioned to think in terms of duality: there’s right and there’s wrong, there’s good and there’s evil, there’s masculine and there’s feminine, there’s powerful and there’s weak. The nature of the way that our minds are wired is to create duality, but the opportunity for wholeness is to look beneath the obvious differences that we perceive on the surface and find the underlying unity. When we’re willing to embrace the wholeness, then we spend much less energy trying to defend one particular point of view – and we make that energy available to find creative solutions to just resolve any conflict that we have.
DS: We have this innate, primitive response that whenever anybody hurts us, we want to hurt them back. That’s literally wired into our nervous systems with our fight-or-flight response. It’s a human quality to want to get an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but if we can access that more expanded level of Self, that more divine aspect, then it allows us to release any resentments or grievance or regrets that we’re carrying with us. That then enables us to actually empower some of the earlier commitments, particularly the commitment of freedom. There’s nothing like carrying around a resentment from the past to inhibit our ability to be completely open and free in this moment.
DS: There are not any obstacles to love. It’s just a question of the identity of the person who is loving. Love is that ultimate expression of our need and our desire to unify with something outside of ourselves. Having an individuality also creates a level of anxiety. Being separated naturally creates a sense of alienation and isolation, and ultimately anxiety. The nature of our minds and our hearts is to try to find unity to overcome that anxiety. Because we tend to think of ourselves as skin-encapsulated egos, for many people love is expressed physically, primarily through sexuality, which has a tremendous value. But when you combine sexuality with the expression of love on an emotional level, which is the ability, or the willingness, to reveal yourself, to share more vulnerable aspects of your common humanity with other people, then it actually allows for a spiritual experience. It’s being completely in the present without concern for the past, without worrying about the future. To have a sense of unboundedness, where your boundaries and your lover’s boundaries are blurred, where you’re feeling ecstatic. If we take it to the next level, adding silence to the equation of love, then we develop compassion. Compassion is really seeing through differences so the underlying unity is what predominates in our awareness.
DS: Abundance is more of a state of consciousness than any particular number in a bank account. Abundance has obstacles on both levels. From one side, it’s people thinking that if they have a certain amount of money, then they’ll be happy – and of course, they’re likely to be disappointed with that. On the other hand, people who see themselves on a spiritual path often have a certain internal resistance toward abundance, because they have this idea that you can’t care about material abundance and care about God at the same time. Those are both obstacles. The reward for embracing abundance is part of the spiritual journey, of recognizing that nature is inherently abundant, that the Universe is inherently abundant. We develop a state of consciousness in which we’re feeling abundant, independent of any particular external manifestation of that.
DS: The obstacle to truth is that everybody thinks that they know the truth. Once you’re convinced that you know the truth, then you’re prepared to hurt other people who may share a different truth. The first president of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, once said that we should associate with people seeking the truth, and run as quickly as possible away from those who have found it. The most important truth are those truths that unite us, and perhaps the golden rule is the one truth that we can express, treating everybody else as we’d want to be treated, and to not treat anybody else as we would not want to be treated. When we start arguing about how my truth is better than your truth, that seems to take us away from truth, rather than rewarding us with that underlying sense of unity and safety that comes from acknowledging more universal truth.
DS: The obstacle to peace is a right/wrong mindset. And so as long as we’re thinking in terms of right and wrong, and good and evil, and win and lose, then there’s no possibility for peace. If I’m wedded to a particular point of view that I think is right, that almost certainly implies that there’s somebody else with a point of view that I would label as wrong. Almost certainly, they believe that their point of view is right and my point of view is wrong. The rewards for going beyond the duality is that sense of connectedness, that we’re not looking for a peace that just means the absence of hostility. We’re really all seeking a peace that transcends any particular situation or circumstance or relationship that we’re engaged in – in the past or in the present – and if we can access that level of peace, then we once again have achieved the essence of the first commitment, which is that we will have complete freedom.
Through your study of Eastern philosophy, what conclusions have you reached about the similarities between the East and the West?
DS: Truth is universal and transcends time and space. Because I’ve done most of my writing and lecturing on things Eastern, it’s not uncommon for me to hear from a Western audience say, "What’s the relevance of these principles," particularly principles that come from a place in the Far East from long ago.
What I’ve realized is that just because Newton was English doesn’t mean that gravity is only applicable to the United Kingdom. Just because Einstein was German doesn’t mean that relativity is only true in Germany. Certain truths apply across time and space. When you go deep enough, the essential truths of East and West, of modern and ancient, of science and philosophy, are all pointing to the same reality. Part of our challenge right now is to see how these underlying truths have their interesting expressions in different cultures and societies and places on Earth. If we can look through the disguise, then our inherent unity will predominate over our obvious distinctions.
Tell me about the workshops that are taking place around the Ten Commitments.
DS: We recently had our first Ten Commitment workshop, where we explored each commitment using a meditative process, where all the participants were taught in the first session how to go inside and access that deep, quiet place of wisdom. As we explored each commitment, we asked some very basic questions: What is it that we really want? What is it that gets in the way? How will we address those obstacles? What do we have to let go of in order to move to this next level? What’s the reward, and is it worth it?
Through this process of self-discovery, people gained tremendous insights into what they really wanted, what was holding them back, and what they were prepared to do to finally achieve what it is that they’ve been seeing in their lives – be it loving relationships, making better choices for their health, focusing on a business so that they could have the material abundance that they’re looking for, engaging in a regular spiritual practice so that they could regularly connect with that source of their own being. It seems as if that the principles in the Ten Commitments are easily and practically translatable into actual choices that people can make.
For more information on The Ten Commitments and the Chopra Center, visit www.chopra.com/tencommitments, e-mail [email protected] or call toll-free 1 (888) 424-6772.