The Five Awakenings
After Chopra Center co-founder Dr. David Simon was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he found himself waking very early, reflecting on his life journey and what gives our human existence meaning. In the quiet hours alone, he distilled his musings into five core principles or awakenings that he believed were the most important aspects of life:
- dharma (purpose)
As he continued his treatment, David shared his reflections about these five awakenings at some of the Chopra Center’s retreats and workshops, and it was clear that his words resonated deeply in the hearts of everyone in attendance. In order to share the essence and power of the five awakenings with more people from throughout the world, the Chopra Center has created a new retreat called Silent Awakenings, a five-day inward journey inspired by David. The first Silent Awakenings retreat will take place this September 4–8 in the beautiful Northern California coastal retreat setting of Asilomar.
Learn more here >>
Each day of Silent Awakenings will be dedicated to one of the five awakenings, giving guests an opportunity to dive deep and experience each of these essential qualities of life. The retreat will be led by Dr. Deepak Chopra, Brent BecVar, and Amanda Ringnalda. Amanda is a talented and loving teacher – a Vedic Master certified as an instructor of Primordial Sound Meditation, Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, and Perfect Health / Ayurveda. Amanda is also the Chopra Center’s Director of Operations & Events, overseeing the operations of our Wellness Center as well as orchestrating the Center’s signature workshops and retreats with grace and ease. In addition to her many roles, she is also a regular contributor to the Chopra Center’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge™, leading beautiful guided meditations for participants around the world.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Amanda in David Simon’s office as she reflected on the gifts David gave to so many people, including the teachings of the five awakenings and the power of simplicity.
Chopra Center: The first of the five awakenings is silence. David taught that taking time to experience silence, through meditation and other practices, is the most important thing we can do in a world whose noise, stimulation, and demands on our attention are ever increasing. In your experience with David and in immersing yourself in the Chopra Center’s teachings, what has silence come to mean to you personally?
Amanda: I have learned that silence is truly the teacher. Silence is our guru. It is the source that we are all seeking. It’s paradoxical that we are constantly seeking knowledge outside of ourselves. We read hundreds of books, we take course after course, we go online looking for more information, inspiration, and anything that will give us answers to our deepest questions. And yet everything we are seeking is already within us . . . in the silence. The answers are always inside but can be difficult to hear because of all the chatter in our mind. If we take some time to get quiet, we can more easily hear their whisper.
I think one of the things that David taught us so beautifully is that we can make our lives complicated or we can choose simplicity. After all, what could be easier than silence? Many of us make it complex and there’s a tendency to resist being in silence, or to feel somewhat fearful of it. As brilliant, talented, and learned as he was, I think David’s greatest gift was to make things simple and present these timeless teachings in a way that we can understand and use.
At the Chopra Center we teach a meditation practice that David and Deepak created, known as Primordial Sound Meditation. With this simple technique, we sit and witness the movement of our mind from our mantra to our thoughts. We observe the ebb and flow. Initially, the movement is very quick. But after sitting for a little while, we notice our thoughts start to quiet and the movement back and forth slows down. When our thoughts are slower, the space between our thoughts becomes longer. And this gap between our thoughts is where peace and silence await us. Spend more time there, spend more time in peace. It’s really that simple.
For a long time, the Chopra Center has wanted to create a retreat like Silent Awakenings, where all the participants engage in an extended experience of silence. It’s an opportunity to literally unplug from the outside world and to give yourself space and time to shift your attention within. A silent retreat encourages you just to be.
Chopra Center: You’ve participated in several silent retreats. Can you share with us your experience of what it’s like to spend an extended period of time in silence?
Amanda: Yes, it’s really an amazing journey. It’s somewhat indescribable but I’ll share what I can. The first couple of days I realized how external and outwardly focused I was in daily life. I felt really frustrated because I wanted to share with all the new people who were there at the retreat with me . . . to at least learn their name and a little bit about them. Then gradually a deeper feeling of serenity moved through me and I realized there was no need to say any of the things I had been bursting to express earlier. I had an opportunity to evaluate everything from a total witness perspective, and to notice whether my desire to speak was just a need to fill up space. As the retreat continued, I found myself in a state of inner calm and spacious mind, quieter than I’d ever experienced it to be. And the wonderful thing is, the essence of this experience stayed with me long after I had left the retreat. Each day when I sit down to meditate, the pathway to silence is familiar terrain. It was as if the path once walked is never forgotten.
Chopra Center: The second awakening David talked about is nature. He loved working or sitting outside in his garden, and he often encouraged people to spend time in nature, enlivening our five senses with beautiful sights, sounds, tastes, aromas, and touch. Have you found that your relationship to nature has changed since you’ve been at the Chopra Center?
Amanda: Yes, and primarily because of David. About a year and a half ago, at one of our courses he gave the group a simple assignment. We were in Sedona, and he said, “You’re surrounded by so much beauty here, and in the remaining days I invite you take an opportunity to notice one small aspect of nature and really pay attention to it.”
That night I went back to my room and noticed a large succulent plant and its cluster of new flower blossoms, which were just about to emerge. I sat down and looked at it in detail. I took a picture of it in my mind and studied its details from right to left, from top to bottom, in and out, memorizing its beauty. It is a practice in itself to see the most delicate intricacies of nature. The presence of the creator became evident – as if revealing itself and its orchestration of the happenings of the universe.
Each day as I passed, I looked at this succulent as I left my room, came back at breaks, and returned in the evening. In just a couple of days the stalk had almost fully bloomed. As I watched the petals unfolding according to some inner timing, I thought, It’s all happening effortlessly. The flowers aren’t thinking, “Today I need to open two more millimeters.” They’re not thinking about deadlines, the list of things they need to do, or their future. They’re just being and allowing the process to flow through them.
I saw it as a lesson – we, too, can allow our blooming to flow through us. The more we let go and open, the more we see that the whole process of life can be quite effortless. While our lives are more complex (at least from our perspective) than a plant’s, we can also experience the same natural unfolding. Like us, a flower has to weather storms and obstacles, yet it keeps opening and evolving.
From this easy exercise David assigned us, I gained great wisdom about nature.
Chopra Center: Through his teachings and writings, David helped so many people let go of emotional pain and rediscover the love and wholeness that is our inherent nature. He chose love as the third of the five awakenings and encouraged people to live out their own greatest love story. Can you share a little about David’s perspective on love and how it weaves through the teachings of the Chopra Center?
Amanda: Yes . . . love is who we are and it is all we are. It’s all about Love. However, as David observed, many people have doubts about their own lovability – usually as an inadvertent result of being brought up by parents or caregivers who were, in David’s words, “emotional amateurs.” If we didn’t receive the message that we were lovable and we didn’t learn how to express our needs and emotions, we will probably experience a great deal of emotional turbulence and pain until we can awaken to who we really are, which is pure love.
There are a million ways to move beyond the blocks to love, and at some point people will notice the block and start to shift it. For me, it’s so extraordinary to be able to work in a space where I get to see this opening to love every day – not just in the guests at our programs and retreats, but in myself, in the staff members, and in all the other people whom we interact with. We stand as witness to each other’s transformation. There are few things that beautiful.
We have a misconception that love is tied to relationships, and specifically to intimate relationships. Of course, love is in relationships, but it’s in everything else, too. David described it as the “impulse that moves us from separation to unity.” At its root, the essence of love is unity. It’s yoga, which means the union of body, mind, spirit, and the environment. All of our teachings at the Chopra Center really are about love. Whether we’re talking about meditation, mindfulness, nutrition, wellness, relationships, abundance, spiritual awakening, or any other topic, the foundation of everything we teach is love, unity, and wholeness.
The Course in Miracles teaches that everything is a choice between love and fear. We don’t always see the options that clearly, but the more time we spend cultivating love, the more we will align with it and the more we will naturally choose things that are nourishing rather than destructive. Again, it’s quite simple. Keep choosing love.
Chopra Center: The fourth awakening is dharma, a Sanskrit term that we usually translate as our purpose in life. Could you share your understanding of dharma and how we can discover our true life’s purpose?
Amanda: Every single one of us has a unique talent or gift that can be expressed in our special way. When living in our dharma, we are able to touch the hearts and minds of other people easily and authentically. Simply put, it feels extremely good, on every level of our being, when we are engaged in purposeful work. Some of us feel like we haven’t found our purpose yet. The thing is, our purpose doesn’t need to be “found” because it’s not actually lost. We will come to recognize that it is, and always has been, part of us.
If you're seeking a deeper sense of purpose, pay attention to what lights you up inside and spend time doing that. If you can’t do it every day, do it once a week or however often you can. When you a have a choice, favor the direction that is in alignment with whatever brings you joy and happiness – and with whatever brings joy and happiness to others.
When you wake up and think about your day, what activities make you excited? What thoughts fill you with butterflies of happy anticipation? What is it that draws friends or even strangers to you? When do you feel like time has flown by? If money were taken out of the equation, what would you spend your time doing?
David taught me a lot about divine timing and not pushing or forcing things to happen. When you look back at everything that has transpired in your life, you realize why something had to take five or ten years, why that heartache had to happen, why you didn’t meet someone until a particular time – it’s all perfectly orchestrated by the universe if we can surrender and release. It’s not easy, but it is simple.
Chopra Center: As a board-certified neurologist and expert in Ayurveda and traditional healing practices, David was a pioneer in mind-body medicine. His perspective on healing, the fifth awakening, was extremely different from the prevailing medical paradigm he experienced as a young medical student. Can you tell us a little about David’s approach to health and wellbeing?
Amanda: What I learned from David is that our natural state is balanced and whole. From an Ayurvedic perspective, health is not just the absence of illness but a state of harmony and happiness. As with love and dharma, we tend to overcomplicate healing. We tend to look outside ourselves. David encouraged us to connect to our own wisdom and bodily intelligence rather than relying on the “expert” opinions. In fact, one of David’s most frequently quoted sayings is “The best use of a physician's knowledge is to teach patients how to heal themselves.”
The more we experience the other awakenings of silence, nature, love, and dharma, the more we can open to healing. David taught a three-step process for nurturing our health. The first step is to come into the present and accept the now. This allows you to see the choices available in this very moment and to respond creatively. The next step he taught was to accept the signals of your body, feeling all of its sensations and listening to its deepest messages. While the mind tends to get caught in its own complications, the body resides in the present and is the most accurate guide to making the most healing choices. The final step is to accept responsibility and commit to whatever action your expanded awareness has guided you to. This step is about making new choices and letting go of habits that no longer serve you.
Ultimately, David taught that healing is our return to the memory of wholeness. If we can expand our awareness beyond identifying ourselves as our body, our mind, our ego and all those temporary aspects of ourselves . . . and we can realize that our true self is pure consciousness, pure love, and pure spirit, then we will experience the deepest meaning of healing.
Chopra Center: Thank you for this wonderful conversation! Do you have any closing thoughts?
Amanda: David Simon was and will forever be an exceptionally brilliant soul and one of the most extraordinary teachers of our time. To spend the past six years working with and being taught by him will prevail among the greatest blessings of my life. May Spirit continue to give me and all of us the ability to participate in carrying out his legacy, guiding us to an understanding of expansion, unity, and true love. I know and I have seen and will continue to recognize David’s impact on this world within those who come through the Chopra Center – they are the reflection of his teachings.
I love you David.