Mallika Chopra ’89 recalls the songs she played during her senior chapel talk at Concord Academy: “Stairway to Heaven” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” She remembers how she felt standing at the podium, her heart beating so fast she could barely hear her own voice. She was shy, and it was her first time addressing an audience.
That experience of expressing herself in front of the school, of stretching to meet expectations, was pivotal for Chopra, now an author, entrepreneur, and public speaker who isn’t fazed by a crowd of 5,000. “The kind of education you receive at Concord really grounds you with confidence and skills for the rest of your life,” she told students who assembled virtually on February 17, along with faculty and staff, to hear her deliver the 2021 Hall Fellow talk, part of Concord Academy’s Centennial Hall Fellow Series.
In her discussion with students, as well as later that evening in conversation with alumnae/i and parents, Chopra shared what she called her “messy journey” to discover what she really wanted to do: teaching meditation and speaking about intention, balance, and living a life of purpose.
That journey started when she was in high school at Concord. Her father, Deepak Chopra, had yet to become a well-known figure in mindfulness and integrative medicine. He was “a pretty stressed out, miserable doctor,” his daughter said. But his discovery of meditation transformed his life: Overnight, he quit drinking and smoking. And during her teen years, he started writing books, dictating the first of them as she typed.
As a young person, Chopra had little interest in following in her father’s footsteps. After completing her undergraduate studies at Brown University, she wanted to have fun, to travel, so she sought out, she said, “the coolest job I could find.” At 23, she was charged with launching MTV in India, where she met her future husband at New Delhi’s first rave and roamed the streets of Bombay with bands such as No Doubt as they filmed music videos, in between trips to London and Singapore to arrange sponsorships.
“I think it’s important, while we can learn breathing techniques and meditation techniques, that ultimately we use them also to ask ourselves who we want to be.”
– Mallika Chopra ’89
One day she had a realization. The air conditioned car she was riding in with coworkers, celebrating a business success, got stuck in traffic as it passed through the sweltering Bombay slums. At a roadside shack outside her window, she saw destitute children mesmerized by something: a television in the corner, the picture flickering in and out, and on the screen, images of high school kids grinding to hip-hop on the beaches of Santa Monica, Calif.—where Chopra now lives.
“I remember sitting in that car, and everyone in my car beginning to cheer, because here MTV — we saw that logo there on that television — had reached every corner of the planet,” Chopra said, recounting the moment for CA students. “And while everyone in my car cheered, my heart stopped. And I thought, ‘What am I doing? What am I doing?’”
Chopra had often heard her father talk about meditation and intention; he had frequently asked her how she could serve others. The MTV job had given her an exceptional business education, but Chopra knew she wasn’t serving in the way she needed to serve. So she left to figure out the right path for her.
She went on to earn an MBA from Kellogg Business School and launched two companies, raising millions in venture financing; she found prestige in the business world and also weathered bankruptcy. On 9/11, she was five months pregnant with her first child. “Suddenly the magic, and the hope, and the excitement, and the miracle of becoming a mom became fear and anxiety and stress, and really a sense of being overwhelmed,” she told CA alumnae/i. It was another pivotal moment in her life that focused her on questioning who she was, what she wanted, and how she could serve herself and her family in a world that’s suffering.
The seeds of her current career were planted. She soon began work on her first book for parents, 100 Promises to My Baby, followed by 100 Questions from My Child. In her book Living with Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy, published in 2015, Chopra presents a structured pathway for living with intention. Her recent focus as an author has been on writing for children. The newest in her Just Be series — a trio of books on mindfulness and emotional awareness for kids ages 8 to 12 — Just Be You, will be released on March 2.
In 2018, Chopra earned a master’s in psychology and education, with a mind, body, spirit concentration, from Teachers College at Columbia University. She has now written six books and is in demand as a public speaker. She told students that sharing her struggles, and her moments of doubt and confusion, as well as her successes helps her connect with audiences about living authentically and setting intentions. “It looks fine on paper,” she said, “but with each step there was a moment where something failed, where I felt miserable, and I had to recalibrate, get anchored, and then think about my intentions moving forward, and from there, planning how I’m going to get there.”
Chopra stressed that meditation techniques from wisdom traditions around the world were not developed to manage stress, though research now shows many benefits of mindfulness. “Ultimately these techniques were about something bigger — they were about self-realization,” Chopra said. “And so that’s why I think it’s important, while we can learn breathing techniques and meditation techniques, that ultimately we use them also to ask ourselves who we want to be.”
Mallika Chopra ’89 gives Concord Academy’s 2021 Hall Fellow Lecture and answers questions from CA students via Zoom.
In both of her talks with CA community members, Chopra shared a three-minute meditation practice that included self-reflective questions — a simple yet powerful tool individuals can use to chart their course according to their deepest desires and values.
Chopra called herself a “very irregular meditator,” though meditation has been part of her life for 40 years. “I’d lose the practice and find it again,” she told alumnae/i. She takes the same approach with her own children, and in her advice for other parents and for teachers. “I’m a big believer in never forcing your children, or your students, to meditate,” she said. “Be honest and authentic about your practice. Be honest and authentic with your children that you struggle also, and that you’re trying to figure it out.” What she has found most effective with children, she said, is “introducing them to tools, and more importantly demonstrating tools, and then trusting that they will find them again when they need them.”
To CA students she offered this advice: “Life is a process of asking questions, and actually not knowing the answers often. And so it’s about living the answers and figuring it out.”