Posted on October 9, 2014 by Tia Lalani

Read a student’s response to 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Dr. Lalit Chawla’s visit to Augustana – with photo gallery!

By Heather Marshall, 4th Year BA Env Studies

IMG_5376One of my mentors likes to say, “You’ve got to be the main character in your own story.”

For me, this means to spend my life telling the story I want to tell, rather than just being dragged haphazardly across the stage. Augustana’s 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Dr. Lalit Chawla (BSc ’91) addressed this issue on Monday, September 29, in his talk, “Better Decision-Making Through Illusions”. Chawla explained how using imagination and illusion in his medical practice challenges his patients to see their circumstances in a new light.

Dr. Chawla, author of Magic & Medicine, emphasized how people’s view of themselves becomes a key force in their personal story. As the lights dimmed over the large crowd at the new Performing Arts Center last Monday night, there was a lively buzz in the air. Sharing from his own story, Dr. Chawla wove symbolic elements of magic and illusion – ropes, coloured sand and card tricks – throughout his talk. He demonstrated how both the scientific and creative perspectives during his years at Augustana had allowed him to re-envision himself and see his future with fresh eyes. New horizons opened for Chawla when he decided to put aside a medical career to become an illusionist; he later decided that he wanted to do both.

Writer Donald Miller challenges people to ask themselves: If my life were a movie, would people care, would it be a meaningful story? While living in Tanzania six years ago, I was challenged to examine the story I was telling with my own life, as well as the greater societal story I am a part of. Dr. Chawla says that the key to innovation is through questioning, and if there was one thing I had plenty of while living in Africa, it was questions!

Dr Chawla combines magic and medicine in his career and his stories.

Dr Chawla combines magic and medicine in his career and his stories.

One of my primary questions was: Why do we hold on to this “us” and “them” idea to separate our actions from how they impact others? Over time, I internalized that “we” are all together in this, on this one planet. I then went on a journey to discover what that epiphany meant for me, and how I could best live out my part in that broader story.

Dr. Chawla asserts that some of the keys to who we are were already present in us as children. He also states that part of what makes a person’s story meaningful is when there is genuine sacrifice, where individuals move beyond themselves to contribute to others’ well being. I spent much of my early childhood wandering through the woods, delighting in the wonders of the natural world. Once I realized how much solace I found and beauty I witnessed in nature, I considered how I might give back.

I decided to become more involved with the local food movement and worked on several organic farms. The grassroots, communal approach connected me with both nature and others who shared the connection I felt (along with many other questions!) and sparked a desire to finish my degree in Environmental Studies.

Dr. Chawla points out that, “Imagination is the key that sets knowledge free”. I agree: imagination is essential in coming up with truly impactful changes. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to think and live creatively here at Augustana, amongst many who have become a part of my individual and collective story.

Thank you, Dr. Chawla, for reminding us to look with fresh eyes at our circumstances and for reminding us to tell only the most compelling stories with our lives. Visit his site at


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