Superman and Batman have a lot to teach us about ourselves and our capacity for greatness. Also, inside each of us lurks our shadow―the potential to become a villain, which we can learn to manage. It seems ancient mythologies and the world of comics have much more in common than we might think. These are some of the ideas presented in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes, a new book by Deepak Chopra, along with Gotham Chopra, that brings together superheroes and guidance for personal growth.
Credited with helping to bring Eastern philosophy into the Western mainstream, Deepak Chopra has written more than 55 books on mind-body wellness and spirituality. He started the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, which mixes healing arts of the East with modern Western medicine, and the humanitarian organization the Chopra Foundation. His son Gotham is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and author of three books, as well as the co-creator of cult-classic comic Bulletproof Monk. Bookworks is bringing the Chopras to Albuquerque on Wednesday, June 8, for a lecture and booksigning. In an email exchange with the Alibi, they spoke about Buddha, Batman and battling their egos.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes is a father-son collaboration. What was your writing process?
Deepak: I’ve been talking about a lot of the principles in the book for years. The original Seven Spiritual Laws of Success has been one of my all-time most popular books, in part because I think people like straightforward and practical guidance on how they can integrate ideas and exercises into their daily living and live more fulfilling lives. Gotham is probably one of the best examples of these laws because he’s been living around them for quite a long time, and hence the writing process was rather organic itself. He shared with me some of his favorite stories and characters from the world of superheroes and mythology, and I married them with some of my favorite spiritual principles, and the book emerged.
Gotham: I’ve been a fan my whole life of comic books and great comic book writers. Several years ago, I had the chance to meet and subsequently introduce my father to one of my favorite comic book writers, Grant Morrison. Turns out Grant was an admirer of my father too, and in his own words, was “talking about a lot of the same stuff” in his superhero narratives [as] my father was in his work. I think that was a light bulb for me, and I came up with the idea of marrying their two worlds into this book. I started bringing comics to my dad, and we even went and saw a few superhero blockbusters, and then the book started to percolate out from there.
Do people who grew up with, or are avid fans of, comics have a leg up in harnessing their greater power―a kind of subconscious absorption of the spiritual laws?
Deepak: From a purely Jungian view, I think those people who are attracted to comic books and great mythologies are tapping into the deep human yearning for purpose and meaning in their lives. They are already in touch with archetypal narratives that define our existence and give our lives definition and significance. To that extent, absolutely they are already predisposed to identifying certain qualities that define great superheroes and then integrating them into their own lives.
Gotham: Hmm—how do I follow that up? Look, if you’re a fan of Batman or Superman, Daredevil, Iron Man, Jean Grey, Storm, or Silver Surfer, and you think about the real qualities that define their superheroism, you’ll come across some of the same revelations that I think we did. Flying and great strength and x-ray vision and all that is the popcorn stuff, but a superhero’s real superpowers come from their presence and their psyche―attributes that I certainly believe we can nurture and embody in our own lives.
What’s your favorite new book or comic?
Deepak: I recently saw an operatic performance of Brian Greene’s book Icarus at the Edge of Time, which is a futuristic retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Icarus. It was fantastic, epic, dramatic, tragic and inspiring, which are all great qualities of mythic storytelling.
Buddha has always been my favorite superhero because his greatest superpowers are his groundedness in the present moment, his compassion for others and his understanding of the true mechanics of consciousness.
Gotham: Well, I am biased on this one, but I got to work with Grant Morrison on a book my company, Liquid Comics, co-created with him called 18 Days, in which Grant collaborated with one of our maverick artists named Mukesh Singh. 18 Days is the retelling of one of the Indian epics called The Mahabharata. ... Speaking without any self-interest, I’ll say that Daniel Way on Astonishing X Men is a great current series!
Who’s your favorite superhero?
Deepak: Buddha has always been my favorite superhero because his greatest superpowers are his groundedness in the present moment, his compassion for others and his understanding of the true mechanics of consciousness. When you reach the level of awareness that Buddha did―and understand that everything in existence is a projection of consciousness―that is true power, and the universe itself is simply a function of intention and attention.
Gotham: I guess I need to go modern now. I’ll say Batman. Aside from the super cool gadgets ... it’s Batman’s “humanness” that I think is really powerful and worth emulating. His superpowers are his ability to harness his dark side and transform tragedy into hope. He’s persistent, relentless and driven, without being self-righteous. He’s fearless also and creative. Those are all powerful qualities that define great leaders.
You mention yoga and martial arts as some possible practices of superheroes. To what mind-body disciplines are you devoted?
Deepak: I meditate and also practice yoga or some form of physical exercise every day, often multiple times a day. It balances me no matter where in the world I am, what I am doing, or where my mind and body are. Yoga actually means “yoke,” or “union,” or coming back into union with the self. Yoga and martial arts are forms of active meditation.
Gotham: Yeah, I’ve been meditating more or less since I was 5 years old. That’s what happens when you are born into this family. But I also agree with my father. I think exercise, or even play, is a form of meditation that I try and do every day. I find the same sort of mental release from the noise of the world happens whether I am sitting quietly in meditation or fully immersed in a pickup basketball game. The noise of the world fades away and you find yourself locked in on the present moment.
Can you talk about time when your superpowers have gotten you through an intense situation?
Gotham: I used to work as a war correspondent when I was younger and several times found myself in harm’s way―out on the frontier with terrorists, narco-traffickers or other characters that most of society deems as hostile or evil. Just to be in the presence of people like that, engaged in the types of activities they are, can be difficult and stressful, even if bullets aren’t flying. ... What I realized pretty quickly is that you have to surrender your prejudices and evaluate people with a fresh set of eyes. When I did, I started to detect that a lot of the people I was taught to hate or fear had a lot of the same concerns as me. They wanted to live in a safe place, send their kids to good schools, make money and provide for their families. But often the conditions in which they were living made all of the above next to impossible, which often drove them to acts of extremism. Superheroes don’t judge. They don’t impose definitions on people, which enables them to be more reactive and intuitive to people and their surroundings and, in turn, creative and empathetic in their treatment of other people. Definitely qualities I tried to emulate.
A strong message in the book is the transcendence of ego. Being in the spotlight, as a recognized artist, writer or other public figure, is naturally an ego-cultivating challenge. How do you navigate the sphere of media and popularity while staying true to the idea of a greater self and not getting mired in ego sludge?
Deepak: I love what I do and draw maximum fulfillment from it. I’m motivated by that and not by public accolades, nor do I get distracted by critics. One of my favorite quotes comes from the poet Rumi who says, “I want to sing like birds sing, not worrying what others think.” That’s how I live my life.
Gotham: I’m working on it. But yeah, already I have seen that if you live your life bound by others’ expectations, you’re going to find yourself pretty frustrated. So I try to stay grounded in the present moment and not [get] distracted by guilt from the past or the burden of future expectation. In that state, you tend not to worry about what other people think.
What can people expect at your booksigning in Albuquerque?
Deepak: Having done this sort of thing for 20 years, I am pretty spontaneous when it comes to doing events like these. With Gotham there, however, who knows what to expect! I think I can say that in general people can come expecting to be inspired and also inspire. We’ll share some stories, cite spiritual qualities, but most important, talk about what each one of us can do to integrate practical exercise in their lives that will enable them to express their superhero selves and live their most fulfilling lives.
Gotham: I’ll let my dad do most of the talking since he’s so good at it! I think the community aspect of these events is the most exciting element of any book tour. It’s not just telling stories and talking to an audience, but sharing ideas, synergizing thoughts and coming up with exciting new ways to shape our collective futures. We need new models for leadership—new superheroes if you will—and I think events like these are the places that will happen.