More than three decades ago I had the opportunity of meeting the iconic Ram Dass for the first time on Martha’s Vineyard at a satsung. Satsung is a Sanskrit word that means “gathering together for truth,” which usually involves teaching, music and meditation. This evening rocked my world in a subtle yet profound way.
Ram Dass, formerly known as Dr. Richard Alpert, the eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer, traveled to India in 1967 where he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. It was he who gave Ram Dass his name, which means “servant of God.” Ram Dass’s experience in India catapulted him into an intense dharmic life, meaning he became devoted to following “the path to righteousness.”
He became a pivotal influence on a generation that reverberated with the words “Be Here Now.” Ram Dass’s spirit and teaching have become a guiding light for three generations. He influenced millions of people helping them to diminish their suffering and find greater inner peace and compassion. His most famous book, Be Here Now, continues to be the instruction manual of choice for spiritual seekers worldwide.
I sat mesmerized with about twenty other people on the beach that night under a blazing sunset and full moon as Ram Dass spoke melodiously a rhythmic stream of consciousness about being present and not worrying so much about the past and the future. We knew then that we sat before a man with great wisdom, whose words represented a whole new way of experiencing our lives. He spoke softly and definitively about love, kindness, and compassion. We knew these ideas, but for Ram Dass, loving kindness was about the journey as well as the destination.
My work as a psychologist and educator slowly began to change as I embarked upon my own spiritual journey. I learned the powerful effects of breathing and meditation as vehicles for being in the moment and began teaching these methods to my patients and students.
Last night I had the rare opportunity to witness, via the internet, an interview for health practitioners around the globe with the now wheelchair-confined, Ram Dass. After a partial recovery from a stroke he could no longer walk and struggled with his speech. At times he whispered his message about our needing to “wake up to ourselves and become loving awareness.” Periodically there were pauses as he searched for his words. He put his hand to his head and then to his heart and said, “It is here.” He advised us to repeat the mantra whenever possible, “I am loving awareness.”
It is about being in the moment with our aging selves. He urged us to go deeper into our spiritual hearts and accept the Now. Concentrate on what is and let go of what was, without judgments or comparisons. Clearly Ram Dass’s body was confined but his mind and soul seemed free. With great poise he exemplified the idea that it is not about what life hands us, but rather how we respond to it. Loving awareness of whatever life brings quiets the suffering and helps us to find inner peace and grace.
How can you find loving awareness in your own life?