We had the good fortune of connecting with Alejandro Chaoul and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Alejandro, is there a quote or affirmation that’s meaningful to you?
“A Good Heart is the Best Religion” In 1989/1990 I spent almost a year in India, looking for a spiritual teacher. Having been born in Argentina–a very Catholic country–in a Jewish family and learning English in a Presbyterian school, i was exposed to different religious beliefs. Yet, nothing helped my existential questioning and anxiety. Reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, opened my eyes to the understanding of suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death, that i then understood came from the Buddhist teachings. Through a friend’s uncle I learnt meditation in High school, and after college went to India. As i was looking for a spiritual teacher I met a few wonderful Hindu teachers, and then i met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who at the end of a public blessing said, “a good heart is the best religion.” When i heard that–as simple as it sounds–it cracked my heart open, and i stayed crying under a tree, still in the courtyard of the Dalai Lama’s residence. Since then, these simple and profound words resonate and give meaning to my life.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My career has taken many turns, from my first undergraduate degree in advertising/mass communication to philosophy, oriental philosophy, eastern religions, meditation, and Tibetan yoga. Although education is highly valued in my family, studying towards a PhD in religious studies was perplexing, and even more in an eastern religion like Buddhism. However, during that time, my father and one of my Tibetan teachers were diagnosed with cancer, and I began volunteering at MD Anderson facilitating meditation classes for people touched by cancer. That also led me to do research on how these Tibetan mind-body practices like meditation and yoga, could help patients and caregivers. One of my dissertation advisors told me, ‘what you are doing is great, and touching the lives of many people, but you will not get a job in religious studies.” She was right, and the next two decades I worked at the Texas Medical Center, both at UT’s Medical School as well as at MD Anderson. Interestingly, this also changed the way my own family valued what i was doing; in particular my father as he came to my meditation classes and attended some of my talks. I remember he said, “what you are doing is not so bad.” I am glad that he is well and now is proud of what I do. It is also curious that as i got into Integrative medicine through meditation, my mother also got to integrative medicine but through psychology. She founded the integrative medicine association in Argentina.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would probably start at The Rothko Chapel–a favorite spot to admire, meditate and charge one’s inner batteries. Then, walk around the Museum district–so many wonderful museums that it would take a few days to see a few of them. Of course, would bring them to the Jung Center, where the Mind Body Spirit Institute, that i direct, is housed. I would also walk or bike around Rice University and have a coffee and/or empanadas at Salento Bistro in the Rice Village. Then bike around the bayou and stop around Hermann Park to meditate. On Saturday, i would take them to the Farmers Market of Urban Harvest, and would get kombucha from Pat Greer, eggs from Three Sisters farm, shitake mushrooms and arugula from Animal Farm, cheese from Lira Rossa, and tacos from El Topo, among so many other wonderful organic produce. An other day, I may go to the Williams Tower’s park, and feel the water-power of the fountain, very energizing too! From there we could drive to China Town and, after looking around, eat at Malla’s Bistro. Houston’s diversity is also expressed in food, and so there are many restaurants and cafe’s that i like besides the ones mentionedKhyber Indian grill, Pondicheri (Indian with a little fusion touch), Hugo’s Mexican restaurant, Qin Dynasty, Cavo’s coffee, Locals Foods and many others. In that way also visit different places in town like the Heights, where you can visit the Live Oaks Friends House–where Quakers meet–, and if nice day the roof opens to the sky, from there to the ISKON Hindu temple and maybe enjoy an Indian snack or a chai at their Govinda restaurant. Also I would take them to the Silos’ incredible renovated space with wonderful artist studios and galleries, and have a one of the best coffees in Houston at Catalina Coffee.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, a Tibetan Bon lama has been my teacher and mentor since 1993 as well as his teachers Lopon Tenzin Namdak and His Holiness Lungtok Tenpa Nyima. Through their teachings and the support of Ligmincha International, i have learnt, trained and started teaching these contemplative practices, that as Rinpoche says, are to promote openheartedness. In addition, with their support I was able to bring Tibetan meditation practices to clinical and research settings at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, with the mentorship of Dr Lorenzo Cohen and Dr Eduardo Bruera, at the Department of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine. This shoutout is thanks to and for all of them!!!

Website: mbsihouston.org. and alechaoul.com
Instagram: @MBSIhouston
Linkedin: Alejandro Chaoul
Twitter: @AleChaoul
Facebook: Alejandro.Chaoul
Youtube: The Jung Center of Houston
Email: achaoul@junghouston.org

Image Credits
Photos doing Tibetan Yoga (multiple exposure) by Andreas Zihler Photos on Lake by Volker Graf

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