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Ask Deepak: Different Beliefs, One Family
Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Family conversation
Photo: Bananastock/Thinkstock
Q: I converted to Buddhism in 1993. My family is Christian, and they constantly remind me of how "I won't be with them in heaven." I usually just smile and nod because I just don't know how to respond. They are always "praying for me." It's just a constant guilt trip. Help.

— Mkiwa K., Clementon, New Jersey

Dear Mkiwa,
From what you indicate, your family is very traditional and closely bonded. Be happy for that if you can. Trying to achieve close bonding is an enormous difficulty in the lives of millions of people.

But every good thing is entangled with other things that aren't so good. In traditional culture, religion is what makes you who you are: a member of a family, tribe, ethnic group, race or culture. Perhaps only a few of these apply to your situation, but your letter could just as easily be coming from someone whose family was aghast that she was marrying someone of another skin color or ethnic group. Tradition makes people want to cling to their identity. Change is the enemy.

At 57, you need to accept this understanding and move on. You are too old to be placating your family. One would expect such worries from a person half your age. I suspect that you are giving mixed signals. You do everything you can to get your family to believe you are still the old you, the one they fully accept. Yet this odd difference, Buddhism, sticks out.

You can't change their resistance, but you can stop playing both sides of the fence. Show them that you are happy and secure being a Buddhist. Make clear that criticism isn't fair or welcome. The next time it crops up, leave the room or the house. Keep doing this until they get the message that your deeply held beliefs are off-limits. The rest of you is someone they can accept.

Love,
Deepak

How do I help a family member who's mourning?

Every week, Deepak will be answering questions from readers just like you—ask your question now!

Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.

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    Ask Deepak: How to Help a Family Member Who Won't Get Help
    Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
    Women having serious conversation
    Photo: © 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
    Q: I want to know if we are not to judge others and we are to love unconditionally, how do we deal with a loved one who is in such a spiritual mess that it has affected her life and relationships? Loved dearly, this person cannot get out of her pain. To let her go on (which we have done) will be her demise. Sharing concern usually leads to a short conversation. She needs help in every sense of the word but feels money is the only answer to get her out of trouble. We offer love but are tapped out on the money. This is not drugs, alcohol or gambling. We are talking depression, hoarding and spending. Her home is a reflection of the pain and chaos inside her life.

    — Odie P., Waukegan, Illinois

    Dear Odie,
    You are facing a double problem. Your relation—let's call her your daughter—is constantly rationalizing her mess instead of facing it. You are rationalizing her rationalizations. The two of you, in other words, are sharing in denial and helplessness. An emotional bond is making you do this. Perhaps your daughter learned her behavior from you. Perhaps you both learned it together in childhood if she's not your daughter.

    Your real question, then, is how to stop rationalizing. You can't stop her, and that's not your responsibility. Depression is a serious problem, but many depressed people lead productive lives. They don't leech off others. If this is clinical depression, your daughter needs to seek professional help and stop neglecting her duty to herself and to you. But let's say she won't do any of these things. What is your responsibility?

    • Feel what you feel, but act sensibly.
    • Learn that "no" isn't the same as "I don't love you."
    • Look closely at your tendency to be a martyr. Also, look at your need to control. Either you or your spouse probably has one of these issues.
    • Realize that suffering doesn't make you a good person. It also doesn't make you part of the solution.
    • If you know that your daughter can't be helped, don't keep doing more of what didn't work in the first place.
    Your daughter needs to wake up to her actual situation. If you can't help, stop fixing and walk away. She may be shocked; she may get more depressed. But only when she stops leaning on others without making progress will she get better. I regret that the road ahead is so rocky. But better a rocky reality than a smooth illusion.

    Love,
    Deepak

    What should I do if my job is draining me, professionally and spiritually?

    Every week, Deepak will be answering questions from readers just like you—ask your question now!

    Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.

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      Ask Deepak: How to Deal with Marital Doubts
      Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
      Confused woman with husband
      Photo: Stockbyte/Thinkstock
      Q: How do I know when my desires and the signs around me are really from my soul and not from my ego? I ask this question as I stand at a crossroads about several things, the main one being whether or not to stay in my current relationship. I have been mostly sure for the past six months that I want to move on, but I'm trying to be as sure as possible about it before I end it because I have young kids to consider as well.

      You say that if you are living from your soul that you are selfless, and yet I feel like I am being selfish for wanting to leave, even though I really believe that's what would be best for me. When I think about staying, I just don't want to, even though it would be "easier" and there are a lot of good things about the relationship. How can I trust myself? How can I know when my desires are true and not being influenced by my ego? In some cases, I'm sure it's obvious—wanting peace versus wanting a fancy new car—but in matters of love and career, I'm not sure how or when to move forward. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

      — Tracy C., Portland, Oregon

      Dear Tracy,
      You've put an intimate situation in rather abstract terms, which makes an answer more problematic. Are you dropping a clue with the phrase "wanting peace?" That implies a tempestuous, angry or even abusive relationship. Yet the rest of your letter seems to come from someone who is musing about her relationship with such distance that it could belong to someone else. This tone of lofty confusion is hard to address.

      But let me try. Human awareness isn't actually split into ego and soul. Those are terms of convenience. They arose because of our divided nature. We have a long tradition of seeing ourselves as good versus bad, sinner versus saint and so on. In this state of duality, our awareness became divided against itself, which is why you—and everyone else who admits to feeling conflicted—find it hard to sort your feelings out.

      As I see it, all conflicts have many dimensions. Past conditioning, old hurts, escape fantasies, reluctance to let go, blame of the other person and old wounds are just the beginning. To these can be added the parenting you experienced, the good and bad marriages you have observed, your self-image, your view of yourself in the future and much more. This entangled set of elements is the situation, not a clean split between ego and soul.

      All such conflicts turn messy because there are only two ways forward. Either you untangle the mess or you don't. I hate to disappoint you, but the way you want—a clear decision based on pros and cons—is a fantasy. Unresolved issues lie at the heart of almost all relationships problems. So what to do? You must honestly confront your partner, find out if he is willing to work through these issues you share, and then see what comes next. Sitting alone in a tower of hazy confusion only perpetuates the problem.

      Love,
      Deepak

      I'm not sure if I believe in God anymore

      Every week, Deepak will be answering questions from readers just like you—ask your question now!

      Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.

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        Ask Deepak: Confused About Faith and Seeking Answers
        Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
        Sad nurse
        Photo: Polka Dot/Jupiterimages/Thinkstock
        Q: I have been searching for "God" for several years. I have been on antidepressants for the biggest part of my life. I am recovering from alcoholism and am following a 12-step program. I have felt the presence of God before, and the feeling was so awesome, but fleeting. I work as a nurse in hospice, and I can see other people's concept of God comforting for them, but I can no longer connect with a greater consciousness. I don't believe in God anymore. I believe more in the science of things: the Big Bang theory, evolution and that there is no afterlife. It's a very lonely feeling, but why pray? I would like to find another concept of God that I can hope for. What do atheists have to hope for? When I pray, I feel like I'm talking to myself! What happens when we pray? I know there are no right and wrong answers, but maybe another way to see the meaning of life without a "heavenly father."

        — Laura D., Bloomingdale, Indiana

        Dear Laura,
        I think many readers will empathize with you and would put their situation in the same terms. It's much easier to walk out of a church or temple than to find a new place to walk in. You may expect that I have a long spiritual answer for you. Let me cut it short by referring you to Life After Death, a book I wrote in order to give the most thorough argument for the afterlife that I could find. Because you are around the dying all the time, it would help for you to go deeply into this subject. You don't have the luxury of escaping it, which is what most people do. Nor is it an idle topic. Much in your life depends on sorting out the relationship between life and death.

        As for finding God, I think for you the best thing would be to solve your lonely feeling first. Even though you don't live in a major city, I'm sure that there are groups or churches somewhere nearby where people would welcome you on the terms you offer: You are a troubled seeker who wants new answers. So are they. Find the like-minded and experience fellowship and support from them. You are a born helper. It's time you helped yourself by nourishing the part of you that wants to belong and be comforted. The God part comes in due course.

        Love,
        Deepak

        What to do if you're having trouble sleeping naturally

        Every week, Deepak will be answering questions from readers just like you—ask your question now!

        Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.

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          Ask Deepak: How to Keep Positive Energy During Tough Times
          Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
          Unsure woman
          Photo: © 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
          Q: This past year, 2009, proved to be very challenging and heartbreaking. Within a matter of months, my husband and I separated, we declared bankruptcy, we lost our business (a winery and distillery) and our house (in which I am currently living) is in foreclosure. I have been catapulted into being a single mom of two without a savings, career or potential residence to move with my children, dog, cat and fish. I turn 50 this April and often feel completely lost. I try to be optimistic and believe that this new journey will be greatly satisfying. An opportunity to find my life's true purpose and provide a secure and happy future for my children. Some days, particularly those when I receive responses back from my job inquiries that the potential employer has received well over 100 résumés from very well-qualified candidates and I did not make the short list, I slump into pessimism...I'm too old, I've been self-employed too long, I'm not qualified, not good enough and on and on. Throughout my life, there have been times that I feel a door has opened within myself and that I can achieve whatever I want. I like the person that I am. I am confident and glowing with inner belief. People like me and respond to my positive energy. This part of me comes and goes. My question is: How do I keep that door open?

          — Susan T., Gabriola Island, Canada

          Dear Susan,
          I can assure you that your letter has sent a shudder through many hearts. In the current recession, older workers who thought that they were nearing the fulfillment of their working years find instead that the bottom has dropped out. They are poorly prepared for the loss of job or home or savings—all the safety nets we provide for ourselves as our careers mature.

          To open a new door, I think we must fall back on the adage about nature abhorring a vacuum. Right now you have a space inside that contains the following: regret, disappointment, nostalgia for better times, hope for the future, anxiety over the future, self-esteem and self-doubts. In other words, there's a disorganized tangle of conflicts. Shadow energies are coming up to make you feel afraid. The instability of your outer life is mirrored by inner instability as well.

          You need to create space for clarity, inspiration and new beginnings. You already possess the life skills for all of that. The problem is that so much is swirling around inside that no clarity is possible, or it only comes by fits and starts. Realize that you are in crisis mode. You cannot ask everything of yourself. Where are outside helpers, support and, most of all, where is your husband? I know he has his own anxieties, but he was part of the collapse that led to this crisis. He should be part of the path that leads out of it. Asking you to bear the burden alone is inexcusable.

          I'm afraid you need to be tough-minded right now. Go to those you helped in the past and make it known, in no uncertain terms, that you need support during this crisis. Don't be brave; don't be a martyr; don't fall into victimization and the wishful thinking that comes packed with it. Look at yourself as if you were another person—someone you know well who needs sound, rational advice. What would you tell her? Being objective helps to clear out the confused swirl of emotions that tug one way and another day after day.

          You have a good sense of your core self; that comes through clearly when you write. It's the core self that gets people through crises. Externals come second. Yes, the recession and the blows it has delivered to the lives of good, well-deserving people are real. But inner resilience and the ability to bounce back are personal qualities, and they prove decisive in cases like yours. Align yourself with someone who has this kind of resilience so that your own can be strengthened. Find another oak to weather the storm with you. Anyone who is in touch with his or her core self will always respond.

          Before you worry about staying positive, take steps, however small, to get out of crisis mode. Once you orient yourself realistically in that direction, the doors that need to open will begin to.

          Love,
          Deepak

          How can I survive my depression?


          Every week, Deepak will be answering questions from readers just like you—ask your question now!

          Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.

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            Ask Deepak: Make Better Relationship Choices
            Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
            Woman who wants to be in a relationship
            Photo: Stockbyte
            Q: Why is it some people go through life making poor choices in relationships? I have had four relationships that were long lasting but ended (one for 20 years). I always wanted a relationship that would last a lifetime. Loving, happy, fulfilling. But they don't last. Is this a lesson I'm suppose to learn in this lifetime?

            — Marcia W., Concord, California

            Dear Marcia,
            You've asked a deep question, and I imagine every reader can't wait to hear the answer. At 58 years old, you have no excuse for being naive. You have seen your patterns. You've seen the same mistakes being repeated. Multiple partners have sent you a reflection of who you are and what you are doing. So, yes, indeed, this is a lesson you need to learn in this lifetime.

            But we don't have to use quasi-spiritual language. This is a lesson you need to learn today, as a way of finding out who you are. The problem here isn't bad choices. The problem is that you don't know yourself, and therefore how can you be expected to judge another person accurately? Certain obstacles are hindering you, and the list is fairly long:

            • Wanting to fulfill a fantasy.
            • Denying what is before your eyes.
            • Trying to reinforce a cherished self-image.
            • Buying into beliefs that don't fit reality.
            • Stubbornly insisting that your way is the right way.
            • Depending on others too much, or the opposite, trying to control others too much.
            • Acting immaturely.
            • Imitating your parents' relationship or the opposite, trying to have the opposite of their relationship.
            • Repeating the past because you distrust the future.
            • Projecting on to others what you cannot face inside yourself.
            These are the big 10 ideas to keep in mind when it comes to relationships that repeatedly fail by falling into the same repetitive problems. Getting past these obstacles requires change on your part. I am not blaming you. Our society doesn't teach us the kind of coping skills that lead to healthy relationships. Everyone is basically self-taught, and many people don't want to learn. Therefore, such basic things as having arguments, reconciling differences, learning to adapt to someone else's habits and asking for love from the right people are a mystery to millions of people.

            I can't solve your frustration. Only you can do that. But if you seriously consider every item on the list and write down how it applies to you, self-awareness will begin to grow. Awareness is the golden key, and you need to turn it.

            Love,
            Deepak

            How to get your mojo back if you're experience a midlife crisis

            Every week, Deepak will be answering questions from readers just like you—ask your question now!

            Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.

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