About two years ago Mallika Chopra was feeling overwhelmed, unhealthy, and exhausted, so she did what many working moms might do and turned to her family for support. It just so happens that her father is Deepak Chopra, and the advice he provided laid the groundwork for a journey of inquiry, self-discovery, and transformation that she outlines in her new book Living with Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy. Throughout the volume Chopra provides an account of her own struggles on the path to well-being and outlines a six-pronged process for understanding and fulfilling one’s intent. Along the way, Chopra draws insights and support from wellness luminaries such as Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, Andrew Weil, and Dan Siegel, providing a thoughtful discussion of what it means to live with intent, purpose, and in line with your deepest desires.
Why have you chosen to focus on “intent” in your business and your new book?
I learned how to mediate when I was nine and one of the exercises my dad would do after our meditation is he would guide my brother and me in this quotation from A Course in Miracles. It goes: “I am responsible for what I see. I choose to feel the experience and set the goals I will achieve. And everything that seems to happen to me I asked for and receive it as I have asked.” He’d ask us what we would want, what we asked for, and we’d say things like a trip to Hawaii—but he would then ask us, “What about love, hope, inspiration, connection, purpose?” We were taught to ask for these qualities in our life. So when I talk about intent it’s really asking for these qualities, and the deepest desire is what we know will make us happy, healthy, more connected, and feel more purposeful. Intents for me are very different from goals. Intent comes from the soul whereas goals are very mind- and task-oriented. So, yes, intent has basically been a part of my life since I was a kid and has obviously led to so many things in my life including my business Intent.com.
You mention purpose, which is another big topic of interest these days. Can you explain the relationship between intent and purpose?
In our tradition we are taught that we each have a unique purpose in life, it’s called “dharma,” and to be honest many times I have been stressed, like, “Oh my God what is my purpose? Why I am here? I have to do something really meaningful and significant.” But the journey of this book and the journey I have been going through is kind of discovering my purpose, but in a way where I really listened to what I wanted and how I could serve in the best way possible, which sometimes isn’t in a grandest most life-saving role. For me, it’s very much my role as a mom and a member of my family and my community that I have created with intent. I think everyone wants to feel significant or relevant in the world today, and so as we figure out how we can serve, even if it is in a small way, even if it’s beginning to just serve ourselves, to nurture ourselves, then I think we start to feel more purposeful.
In the book you provide six strategies for fulfilling intents. Can you explain what it means to “incubate” and why this is a vital first step?
I came up with this path of intent based on the acronym INTENT. I is “incubate.” To me incubate is really tapping into that silent “space between,” both tapping into who we really are and reconnecting with our soul. When we tap into that space we go beyond all the chatter that is constantly happening in our mind—the self-doubt, the self-criticism—and we really start, hopefully, to honestly listen to our deepest desires. In the “incubate” chapter in the book I talked a lot about meditation. For me, that has been my tool since I was a kid. Some people like to go and swim at the beach or in the lake, others go for hike, some people like to run, other people like to dance and do their yoga. We all have different things that just help us go beyond that constant chatter and the ego. Sometimes we need to take the time to really think about who we are and what we want before we know what our intents are. These things don’t always happen immediately; sometimes we just need to take the time to remember what is going to make us feel happy.
You’re very candid about your inner dialogue throughout the book and you share many moments of worry, guilt, uncertainty, and questions about your own path and progress. Tell me about how that inner conversation evolved through this “intent” process.
The second step in the “intent” process is really about noticing our internal dialogue and noticing the messages that our bodies are sending. For me there was a lot of body pain and I had to really notice my diet and what I was doing to realize how I was not taking care of myself. But, yes, the dialogue is always there. But for me, once I start noticing it, that’s when I just take a deep breath. Just noticing helps me re-anchor and remember what is important and realize what is just chatter in the background. When we were kids my dad used to have us do this game where we did not criticize, condemn, or complain for a day, and that kind of exercise really helped me realize at a young age how that dialogue influences your reality. I was reminded as I went through this journey that by always saying, “I am tired, I am overwhelmed, I am too busy,” that dialogue was creating my own reality. The shift in the dialogue both internally and externally really did make a big difference for me.
You share that one thing that led you down this path was the distinct feeling that you were out of balance, emotionally and physically. Can you explain how intent ties into physical health and well-being?
I think I just got to a point where I was feeling so overwhelmed and unhealthy and stressed, but I honestly didn’t even know why. I was busy all day, but at the end of the day I’d think, “What did I do today?” and I didn’t really know. And so for me I knew I was not living with intent—when I say living with intent, I really think of it as living a healthy, happy, more connected, and purposeful life. I looked at all of those things and I wasn’t feeling up to par in all of them. I tapped into my dad for advice, which I had never done before, and we created this balance wheel that is in the book. For me that was very helpful, to take that feeling of being overwhelmed and break it down into different aspects of my life and realizing the areas where I was really struggling, whether it was sleep and rest, physical, my diet, or health. And then I went on and thought about intellectual stimulation and fun and play and spirituality and connection—it’s a holistic model. We have to look at everything, we can’t just look at one aspect of our life. Sometimes we are thriving in one area, but we are really struggling in another. The reality is when I gorge on chocolate chip cookies and coffee I am not feeling good and I just can’t be living a healthy and happy life.
Connecting with others was a recurring theme throughout the “intent” process. This sometimes manifested as a personal goal, a support system, or just a happy outcome of expressing and living with intent. What are your thoughts on the power of connection as it relates to intent?
The book has a whole chapter called “Nurture” and that is really about nurturing ourselves, but also nurturing our relationships. For me, I want to feel connected as a mom with my kids, with my mom, my husband, my parents, my brother—and I am very lucky I come from a very close family. But I did notice that I was not as connected to my friends. I have so many amazing friends and I became so consumed with my busy life I’d lost sight of a lot of people that I really loved. I realized that was important. I also realized there were other things; for example, I had stopped reading, or I wasn’t doing exercising or doing yoga. I realized, for me, when I did that with other people I was happier and more committed and accountable. So I started doing yoga with my friends, I did a reading group. It was actually Gretchen Ruben who pointed out to me that this desire to feel connected is my nature, that it’s pretty much why I started Intent.com, because intent is all about stating intents, but then also getting support from other people. It’s through the support of others that you are like, “Oh, I can do this,” or “I feel comfortable.” Gallup has done a lot of studies and research showing that our friends influence us: If we have a happy friend, we are more likely to be happy. When we have friends who are exercising and on the health path, we are more likely to do that. So for me that connection really makes me feel more confident, but also more accountable and more inspired in general.
You talked to so many amazing people in reporting this book. What was the most impactful conversation you had as you were writing the book?
You know every conversation offered its own insight. It was amazing because I had come up with this path to intent and had almost decided I was going to plug people into certain places in the book, but then when I talked to them they’d always say something so completely different than I thought they would. For example, I went to talk to Andrew Weil thinking we should talk about my addiction to sugar and all this physical stuff that I was going through. But he loved the idea of trust and trusting the universe and he told me an amazing story about [rescuing] an owl in his neighborhood. When I went to meet with Eckhart Tolle I felt this time pressure because I had been told we had only a certain amount of time to talk, and then we sat together [for over an hour and at one point] we just listened to bells ringing, and that was just a magical experience. With Marianne Williamson, who for me has always been such an amazing, brilliant person that I was intimidated by her, when I went to talk to her she just talked about the importance of not sacrificing time with my kids and being a mother, she just became so reassuring to me. I think what was thrilling for me in each of the conversations was that each one brought this very unique perspective, but in a way that I didn’t expect. I feel so lucky and humbled that I was able to go talk to all these people.
How has your perspective changed about the idea of being “ordinary” versus “extraordinary”?
Yes when I met with Eckhart Tolle, after we sat and listened to bells in such a beautiful place, I was really honest with him and we talked about purpose and I said that often I feel like I have to do something great, that this is an expectation for my brother and for me, just because of our name, that we are going to do something great. I think everyone faces different expectations and I am an ambitious person, but sometimes I feel like right now I am just a soccer mom, and I told him, “I don’t know, is that enough?”
And he talked about the importance of what he called “frequency holders” and the everyday people who are doing the extraordinary in their lives, and that may be just in their own personal lives, in their families, in their communities, at work, and he really empowered me to feel like, “You know what? Actually what I do as a soccer mom is pretty extraordinary every day.” And that nurturing of my children and the joy and security I am giving them and that I am getting from them and then expanding from there, that is okay. I don’t have to be a superhero. It’s okay to just be present every day and be true and authentic and go from there, because then I am upholding my part of the frequency.
It’s clear that “living with intent” does not have an end point but is an ongoing journey throughout one’s life. What aspect of this process has been most transformative for your approach to living?
I would say [the most transformative thing] for me [was] recommitting to my meditation practice. I have been meditating for 35 years and I have gone through phases where I meditate twice a day very regularly and then I go through years of not meditating, and before this journey I had really lost the practice. So, for me, meditation is a very anchoring process and I meditate for 15 minutes once a day—it’s not like it’s a huge thing, and I often miss it two or three times a week, frankly. But just having the intent to do it and to now be more consistent about it… it requires discipline. I now put it in my schedule between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., between my work and picking up the kids, so I am committed to it. The last step of intent is about taking action, because I think ultimately we do have to create smart goals and make shifts, and that’s not easy. I’ve realized that, and I also try to remember to forgive myself and know that ultimately this is a journey about joy and embracing the joy of life.