Editors’ Note: With full acknowledgment of the big-picture implications of a pandemic that already has claimed thousands of lives, cratered global economies and closed international borders, Deadline’s Coping With COVID-19 Crisis series is a forum for those in the entertainment space grappling with myriad consequences of seeing a great industry screech to a halt. The hope is for an exchange of ideas and experiences, and suggestions on how businesses and individuals can best ride out a crisis that doesn’t look like it will abate any time soon. If you have a story, email email@example.com.
Launching this morning, Deepak Chopra’s new podcast Now for Tomorrow is something of a departure. While his books and other podcasts tend toward existential discourse, this is specially tailored to a world in crisis, for people needing immediate answers, advice and spiritual support.
His son Gotham—a sports Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker who directed and executive produced Kobe Bryant’s Muse—is the driving force behind the podcast. Deciding people needed to access his father’s messages in a very direct, instructive form right now, he worked with Deepak to boil down his philosophical and spiritual teachings into more of an action plan. The resulting podcast is produced by Magnificent Noise and Religion of Sports, a sports media company co-founded by Gotham, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady.
Kicking off with episodes addressing forgiveness and self-confidence, Deepak includes what he calls “homework” in every episode. Advice-giving may not be Deepak’s usual way, as he usually encourages us to look within ourselves for answers, but he says he trusted his son’s judgment when it came to creating this more practical viewpoint. “A lot of times I don’t actually agree with him,” he says, “but I let it go, and then he turns out to be right.”
Here, Deepak and Gotham take a look back at their relationship over the years, recalling the family’s journey toward spiritual enlightenment, their father-son clashes and collaborations, and how it felt to go from being “an average immigrant family” to Marlon Brando calling them at home.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: The day Gotham was born in 1975 I was working in an emergency room. I was actually moonlighting there for $5, or sometimes $10 an hour, because I was a resident making $200 every two weeks, which wasn’t enough to pay for rent, not to mention groceries. My wife called me from what is now part of the Brigham Women’s Hospital and she said, “Congratulations, I want to tell you that you have a son.” I wasn’t even there for his birth. I was very busy for the first five years of his life, and it was my wife who took care of him mostly.
My wife and I sent Gotham to an all-boys school and then he became totally fascinated by sports. All he would do is watch the Celtics or the Bruins or the Patriots. My wife would worry. She would say, “He’s never going to make it. He’s never going to have a profession. Is he going to go to a good college?” And I said to her, “One day, he’ll either own a sports team or he’ll have a big company that will be talking about sports.” And that’s what happened. I knew, because it was his passion. He was as passionate about sports as I was about medicine.
I started getting interested in transcendental meditation in 1980, when Gotham was five years old. I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. I was drinking heavily on weekends. I was totally stressed out. Then, slowly, I made that transition. It was very difficult, but I had to do it because I had 30 patients in the hospital, 10 patients in the ICU, 20 patients in outpatient. I wasn’t taking care of myself, so how could I take care of my patients? At the same time, my research was in neuroendocrinology, the study of brain hormones. And remember, in the late 1970s or the ’80s, people didn’t know as much as they know today about things like serotonin and dopamine and opiates and oxytocin, and for me that was a very exciting time because I could see the connection between our emotions and our biology just based on our research.
By the mid-’80s, we were going on meditation retreats as a family. We started to spend quality time together. I cut down on my obsessive work, I was sleeping better, and I wasn’t smoking or drinking. Also, by then, I was fully trained as a physician, so I had a reasonable income and a practice. And as a practicing physician, when I saw two patients who saw this pain doctor, and got the same treatment, and had completely different outcomes, I knew there was something more to healing and to medicine. I was taking a risk by talking about all this, and I also knew that some of my colleagues were embarrassed by what I was saying. I felt that they might fire me, so, in 1993, when I got the opportunity to move to California where there was more openness, I moved, just because I felt if I didn’t leave, I would be fired anyway.
For me, the process of becoming known was kind of disconcerting. I’d pick up the phone and it would be Marlon Brando on the line, or Elizabeth Taylor or whomever. But after a while, you realize it’s not important at all. Everybody’s equally insecure.
I’d left India with $8 in my pocket, and a future that I didn’t know. For me, that was the biggest adventure of my life. So, when Gotham said he wanted to be an international reporter for Channel One, we thought that because he was passionate, it would be a big adventure for him. Of course, every adventure comes with risk, but in our family, everybody is given permission to pursue their passion and move freely as who they are. As parents, we never tried to discipline our children into our own modes of thinking and behavior. I never believed in that. I believe that if your child has a passion for tennis and is poor at mathematics, you should get him a tennis coach and ignore the mathematics. One day he might be able to hire the mathematician to be his accountant.
Gotham had a natural talent for telling stories. When he did something like a war story, you got every perspective and you got a very interesting story that was from every side. And that’s what he’s essentially done with Religion of Sports. That’s why he’s successful, because he’s a natural storyteller. A couple of weeks before 9/11, Gotham was returning from Pakistan, having interviewed one of the Taliban leaders for the television news channel. He was at the airport in Islamabad and he was arrested because they found some empty shells in his bag that had been gifted to him by the Taliban. They put him in a makeshift prison by the airport. My wife and I were obviously very nervous for his safety and his life, so I called Colin Powell to get him released. Then, two weeks later, there was 9/11, and I believe his interview tapes were confiscated by the government.
Sport is about a peak experience. When people have intense spiritual experiences, they lose their sense of personal identity, which is their ego identity. They go into a state of joy and ecstasy. Time slows down, even though the people in the stands are cheering and making lots of noise. Athletes will tell you that in those moments they can’t hear any sound, everything seems to be in slow motion. There’s no sense of personal self. There’s no resistance, there’s no regret of the past. There is just an experience of flow. In the early days when I was talking about spirituality, one of the people that I used to talk to was Joe Namath, the great football quarterback. I had taught him to meditate, and he would say that in moments of peak performance, he lost all sense of personal identity. He was one with the universe, and everything became quiet and slow motion.
I think Gotham realized very early that there was a commonality between the cheerleaders of today and the Greek games of thousands of years ago, and the spiritual practices and all the rituals and the music and the hymns of all this. Sport today, at least for the average white male, is the best spiritual or realistic thing you can have. And I’ve always maintained that golf is mystery school for Republicans. It’s such an unpredictable game, you have to embrace the mystery, and so that’s the best experience a Republican can have with spirituality.
I resisted this new podcast in the beginning, because my life has been a sequential unfolding from being, to feeling, to reflecting, and finally doing. I’ve never been an action-oriented person. I basically made a career by shooting the breeze and talking about the abstract. And I’m surprised that so many people actually relate to it. This may sound like a strange statement, but internally I’ve always believed that if it’s practical, it’s useless. You know that life is more about being grounded in your spirit, feeling love, compassion, joy, equanimity, and putting that into practice, reflecting on the meaning of your existence. Then finally, if you’re going to do something in the world, it should follow that sequence of being, feeling, reflecting and doing. If you practice that, then what you do is automatically and instinctively the right thing and the right response to every situation as it occurs.
I’ve actually personally never been a planner, and that’s been a criticism of my work. [It’s always] “So what do we do now?” Some people call it profound bulls**t, some people call it pseudoscience, some people call it non-doing philosophy. It’s “What’s the practical benefit? What do I do right now, today?” Which is not the way I think.
I have two other podcasts. One is called Infinite Potential and then Daily Breath. And people still enjoy them. I’ve done no podcast which has said, “Okay, this is your homework for today. And then tomorrow I’ll give you more homework,” which is exactly what Gotham wanted. So, I resisted that, but I said, “Why not give it a try and if people benefit, then we’ll continue with it.” Honestly, it’s an experiment. If it works and people enjoy it, then I’ll continue doing it.
For me life is about being, feeling, then reflecting, then doing, but the world is only coming from ‘doing’. They don’t have time to feel, or reflect, or be, at all. Everybody’s in a rush to get somewhere. I realized a long time ago that the only point of arrival is where you are right now.
At this time, on a spiritual level, I hope people reflect on the meaning of their existence and on not taking it for granted. You take your existence for granted unless there’s a crisis. Right now, everybody’s facing existential crisis, anxiety, panic, stress and fear of debt. They should have questioned all along: Why do we exist and what is the meaning? We’re going through a grief process right now and grief has stages. But people feel victimized because they think it’s only them. The first reaction is victimization. And then anger, then there’s frustration, and then there is a sense of hopelessness. Then there is resignation and then there is finally acceptance. As a physician, I’ve seen that in patients who are dying. And I see that when they go to the stage of acceptance, they actually are at peace. But a few people who come out from that stage find meaning and opportunities to ask themselves, “Who am I, what do I want, what’s my purpose? What am I grateful for? How can I make the difference?” But most people don’t do that. I think right now, because of collective existential anxiety, this is an opportunity, at least for those who are reflective, to find a new way of being, living, feeling, thinking and doing.
On a practical level by the way, I’m a professor at UCSD Medical School in the Department of Public Health, and I am collaborating with the Dean of Harvard School of Public Health, Michelle Williams, and Rudy Tanzi who is the head of genetic neuroscience at Mass General Hospital and [the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology] at Harvard, to look at how we can actually minimize that damage that occurs even when you’re infected with COVID-19. We are doing our own medical research, looking at the connection between inflammation, stress, and the immune system in those who get sick and those who recover. And we are finding some correlation.
GOTHAM CHOPRA: I’m first-generation American, so I’m the first member of my family ever to be born outside of the Indian subcontinent. I think I had a pretty traditional or average immigrant experience. My parents came to this country in the early ’70s. Until my teens, my dad just worked. I don’t have many memories of him being around. I don’t have any memories of playing catch with my dad or any of the traditional things you hear about, because my dad was always working. He was very driven and successful. He was the Chief of Staff and all the things that come with high achievement in traditional medicine.
The memories I do have of my dad, and he’ll talk openly, I’m sure, about this, are that he drank a lot. He smoked. He worked hard, and I don’t want to say played hard, because I don’t have many memories of him, but he would come home and his ‘taking the edge off’ was having a scotch or whiskey and smoking. But those are my pre-teenage memories of him. After that, things started to change. The catalyst for that was his personal transformation, when I think he just got fed up with his lifestyle and knew he was burning out. He started going to the Cambridge Transcendental Meditation Center to learn how to meditate, then I think he just had such a radical reaction to it that it quickly accelerated and became also professional for him.
This is all in hindsight, but I think I intuitively knew that my dad was not happy, because it was pretty obvious how stressed he was. I think, as a result, my mother wasn’t happy. My mom then quickly learned how to meditate with my dad. She became passionate about it too.
We were part of this Indian community who all also quickly became a part of this Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement. But then honestly, I was a teenager, I didn’t care. I had my own life. I was a sports fan. I spent most of my time worrying about the Celtics and the Bruins and the Red Sox. It was just like, some sh*t my dad’s doing now. I don’t even know if I really knew what it meant.
We were spending a lot of our weekends, all of a sudden now, in Cambridge at the TM center, and the good news was, because so many other people started doing it, there were other kids around and we would just hang out together and play games and go for walks in Cambridge. It was a cool place to hang out.
I’d say I realized my dad had become a big icon in 1993, when he was on The Oprah Winfrey Show. So, I would have been around 18. But even leading up to that, he had started to gain this following. On the one hand, we were having dinner with Michael Jackson and seeing Elizabeth Taylor, but on the other hand, I went to a very traditional all-boys, mostly Catholic school, and it was very rigid. Nobody there really cared that my dad was some up-and-coming new age celebrity. It was like, Hey, can you play ice hockey? Are you on the football team? I was able, in a way, to separate those two parts of my life.
Rebellion came after I graduated from college. The first real job I had was with a company called Channel One, a news organization based in Los Angeles at the time. Now I know I got hired because one of the senior executives was a fan of my dad’s. It was a news organization that broadcast to teenagers all over the country. It’s where Anderson Cooper got his start, and Lisa Ling. So, all these people who are illustrious reporters today. I got hired because there was this goal of softening it up or spiritualizing the broadcast.
I wanted to do what Anderson and Lisa had done. I wanted to go cover war zones, to go to Afghanistan and Pakistan and Columbia and Chechnya. And I did. That was my form of rebellion. It was like, there was an expectation that I was my father’s son and must be super spiritual. I was 22 at the time and wanted to understand why kids younger than me were at war with each other. It was like, No, I don’t want to fit into that spiritual thing. But, I will say now that it was actually the most intense spiritual period of my life, because you go to those places and you meet these people who are so committed to a cause.
My dad and my mom have always been big advocates for doing what you’re most passionate about. Contrary to the stereotype of immigrants, especially South Asian immigrant parents, I never got pushed into medicine. I never got pushed into engineering. I got pushed into what I was passionate about. Growing up, my dad had wanted to be a journalist and a writer. He got pushed into medicine and he said it took him this 40-year journey, basically, to come back to what he was passionate about. So, I think he thought, Well, if you know now what you’re passionate about, go for it. Don’t do what I did.
In Boston, sports is such a big part of the culture. So, I’d say my assimilation as an American came via sports. Fenway park was like this little jewel. It was like a pilgrimage. You would literally go on a pilgrimage to this cathedral in the middle of the city to watch these Gods of baseball and sport playing on the hallowed ground, as part of the fabled mythology that they never win. The Celtics were a dynasty. The old Boston Garden was again, this very hallowed place. As my dad started to become involved with the TM movement, I used to always say to him, “Hey, everything you’ve talked about in spiritual tradition, pilgrimages and community and rituals, they exist in sports.” You don’t have to believe in it. You have to go to the games. You see it. You feel it. That’s ultimately what being a sports fan is, is becoming attached to something that you have no control over. Right? It’s just based on faith.
This spiritual practice has been a part of my life now for so long, I definitely lean on it a lot. I’m leaning on it now, I would say, in this period that we’re going through. With Kobe, I had a pretty strong relationship, a friendship with him. It wasn’t always easy, but that was part of his greatness and his brilliance. What’s comforting in some ways about Kobe is his legacy is very much intact, and it gives his wife and daughters something for them to protect and preserve forever.
I’m still very close to my dad, and very close with my mom and my sister. My wife is close to my sister too. We all communicate constantly with each other. I probably speak to my father two or three times a day. Over the last few weeks, while this whole crisis has hit, I started noticing like everyone else, my dad was on everyone else’s podcast talking. He’s on CNN all the time. The key with my dad’s lifestyle is he’s constantly on the road and he’s constantly talking to people. So, all of a sudden, like everyone else, he couldn’t do that anymore either, he was quarantined like everyone else. He has two other podcasts that he does, but they’re bigger and they’re evergreen and they’re more existential topics. And he was getting asked to do all these other podcasts, with everyone asking him, How do I cope with all this anxiety and uncertainty? So I said, Why don’t we just create a podcast on that? That’s very practical. I’d say that’s the main rub between my dad and I. He wants to talk about existential issues and consciousness, and I’m always saying, “Yeah, cool, but I want to reduce my anxiety right now. I’m not worried about existential issues. How do I get through the day without freaking out?”
So, that’s where the podcast came from. With this new set of circumstances, what can we create now? He’s in San Diego, I’m here. Our producer’s in New York. What can we functionally produce now to help people? This wasn’t like, how can we create something where we can get a big, huge sponsor? This was, how can we be of service? Because this situation is pretty stressful. And literally, everyone across every spectrum is feeling the same thing.
The first episode is about the act of forgiveness. You’ve been holding onto a grudge for a long time? Well now, in this moment in time, you can address that. What are practical things you can do to relinquish that from your life? Ideally, we all want to come out of this fresher, newer, and with a renewed sense of energy. This is obviously a moment of reflection. Then there’s one on self-empowerment. Why do I lack confidence? Here’s a few exercises that you can do. They’re very short. They’re seven minutes.
I asked him after he recorded it, “What did you think?” And he said, “Well, they’re not exactly about higher consciousness and causality and existential issues.” But you really need practical things, like self-confidence or forgiveness, and I think people will really like them. I mean, look, he’s written 100 books or something. His most popular one is the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, because I think it very effectively takes those big existential themes, but is also short, it’s an easy read, it’s practical.
I think he’ll probably say the same thing, but we drive each other crazy. I’m always trying to ground him, and he’s always saying, “Why are you concerned with these mundane issues?” My dad’s incredibly successful, and he’s very happy. It’s almost like what I said about Kobe, I want to help preserve this legacy that he’s built and just extend it.
To listen and subscribe to Now for Tomorrow, go to https://apple.co/nowfortomorrow
Coping With COVID-19 Crisis
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.