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12 April, 2008


The world you accept as real seems to have definite qualities. Some things are large, others small; some things are hard, others soft. Yet none of these qualities means anything outside of your perception. Take any object, such as a folding chair. To you the chair isn’t very large, but to an ant it is immense. To you the chair feels hard, but neutrino would whiz through it without flowing down, because to a subatomic particle the chair’s atoms are miles apart. The chair seems stationary to you, but if you observed it from outer space, you would see it revolving past you, along with everything else on Earth, at a thousand miles per hour. Likewise, anything else you can describe about the chair can be completely altered simply by changing your perception. If the chair is red, you can make it appear black by looking at it through green glasses. If the chair weighs five pounds, you can make it weigh two pounds by putting on the moon or a hundred thousand pounds by putting it in the gravitational field of a dense star.

Because there are no absolute qualities in the material world, it is false to say that there even is an independent world “out there.” The world is a reflection of the sensory apparatus that registers it. The human nervous system takes in only the most minute fraction, less than one part per billion, of the total energy vibrating in the environment. Other nervous systems, such as that of a bat or a snake, reflect a different world, coexisting with ours. The bat senses a world of ultrasound, the snake a world of infrared light, both of while are hidden from us.

All that is really “out there” is raw, unformed data waiting to be interpreted by you, the perceiver. You take “a radically ambiguous, flowing quantum soup,” as physicists call it, and use your senses to congeal the soup into the solid three-dimensional world. The eminent British neurologist Sir John Eccles pierces the sensory illusion with one startling but irrefutable assertion: “I want you to realize that there is no color in the natural world and no sound nothing of this kind; no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent. . . . .” In short, none of the objective facts upon which we usually base our reality is fundamentally valid.

As disturbing as this may sound, there is incredible liberation in realizing that you can change your world—including your body-simply by changing your perception. How you perceive yourself is causing immense changes in your body right now. To give an example: In America and England, mandatory retirement at age 65 sets an arbitrary cutoff date for social usefulness. The day before a worker turns 65, he contributes labor and value to society; the day after, he becomes one of society’s dependents. Medically, the results of this perceptual shift can be disastrous. In the first few years after retirement, heart attack and cancer rates soar, and early death overtakes men who were otherwise healthy before they retired. “Early retirement death,” as the syndrome is called, depends on the perception that one’s useful days are over; this only a perception, but for someone who holds it firmly, it is enough to create disease and death. By comparison, in societies where old age is accepted as part of the social fabric, elders remain extremely vigorous—lifting, climbing, and bending in ways that we do not accept as normal in our elderly.

If you examine old cells, such as ones that form liver spots on the skin, through a high-powered microscope, the scene is as devastated as a war zone. Fibrous streaks run here and there; deposits of fat and undiscarded metabolic wastes form unsightly clumps; dark, yellowish pigments called lipofuscin have accumulated to the point where they litter 10 to 30 percent of the cell’s interior.

This scene of devastation was created by sub-cellular processes that went wrong, but if you look through less materialistic lenses, you will see that old cells are like maps of a person’s experience. Things that made you suffer are imprinted there, along with things that brought you joy. Stresses you long ago forgot on the conscious are still sending out signals, like buried microchips, making you anxious, tense, fatigued, apprehensive, resentful, doubtful, disappointed—these reactions cross the mind-body barrier to become part of you. The clogged, toxic deposits in old cells don’t appear uniformly; some people acquire much more than others, even when there is little genetic difference between them. By the time you reach age 70, your cells will look unique, mirroring the unique experiences you processed the metabolized into your tissues and organs.

Being able to process the raw, chaotic vibrations of the “quantum soup” and turn them into meaningful, orderly bits of reality opens up enormous creative possibilities. However, these possibilities exist only when you are aware of them. While you are reading this book, a huge portion of your consciousness is engaged in creating your body without participation. The so-called involuntary or autonomic nervous system was designed to control functions that have slipped out of your awareness. If you began walking down the street in a daze, the involuntary centers in your brain would still be coping with the world, keeping on the lookout for danger, poised to activate the stress response at a moment’s notice.

A hundred things you pay no attention to—breathing, digesting, growing new cells, repairing damaged old ones, purifying toxins, preserving hormonal balance, converting stored energy from fat to blood sugar, dilating the pupils of the eyes, raising and lowering blood pressure, maintaining steady body temperature, balancing as you walk, shunting blood to and from the muscle groups that are doing the most work, and sensing movements and sounds in the surrounding environment—continue ceaselessly.

These automatic processes play a huge part in aging, for as we age, our ability to coordinate these functions declines. A lifetime of unconscious living leads to numerous deteriorations, while a lifetime of conscious participation prevents them. The very act of paying conscious attention to bodily functions instead of leaving them on automatic pilot will change how you age. Every so-called involuntary regulation, from heartbeat and breathing to digestion and hormone regulation, can be consciously controlled. The era of bio-feedback and meditation has taught us that—heart patients have been trained in mind-body laboratories to lower their blood pressure at will or to reduce the acid secretions that create ulcers, among dozens of other things. Why not put this ability to use in the aging process? Why not exchange old patterns of perception of new ones? There are abundant techniques, as we will see, for influencing the involuntary nervous system to our advantage.

Source: AGELESS BODY, TIMELSS MIND By Deepak Chopra.

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