Being Here Now

August 3, 2010

This summer I have been immersed in the legacy teachings of my lifelong mentor and elder spiritual brother, Ram Dass, and it has stretched me beyond anything I might have anticipated when I offered to organize an event to honor the 40th anniversary of his landmark book, BE HERE NOW, in my hometown of Taos, New Mexico, where Be Here Now was created.

I first met Ram Dass when I was a teenager at the Lama Foundation, on fire with love for God, determined to do anything to “get enlightened.”  I was also grieving my first love, Phillip, who had recently died in a gun accident, and my yearning for my boyfriend was all wrapped up with my longing for the Divine.

I followed RD around for years, puttering in the background, setting up the stage, fluffing his pillows, lighting incense, serving tea: (successfully) practicing invisibility.  I was (pridefully) determined not to be one of those cloying groupies who were constantly sucking the man’s energy, though I was just as thirsty for the Truth.  Years later we served together on the board of a non-profit organization, where I continued this pattern and (comfortably) hid behind my role as meeting facilitator.  Jenny died in the midst of this period, and Ram Dass called me right away, offering his love and compassion through the long stretches of silence his stroke wove into all his conversations.  It was this loving quietude I needed most.  When he came to Taos for the last time, before his health made it clear he could no longer travel, Ram Dass presided over a ceremony in Jenny’s honor.  He sat beside me in his wheelchair beneath the young cherry tree and wept.  I had never loved him more.

Because of my abiding connection with both Ram Dass and Taos, it made sense for me to put together an event that would celebrate the connection between them.  I worked on the planning and promotion for months, stumbling my way through a mounting mass of details for which my skills had not prepared me, fielding misunderstandings and soothing disappointments.  Finally, in early July, two weeks before the event, I had the opportunity to visit Ram Dass in Maui where he lives.  I had a feeling this would be the last time I would see my old friend and teacher.  This time I counted on nestling myself into my role as event organizer, another handy disguise to add to the list of concealments I have draped over myself in RD’s presence.

As it turned out, there were no other visitors when I went to stay with Ram Dass in his beautiful home overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  There was nowhere to hide.  And so I sat with my friend Ram Dass for hours, reading him prayers from my new book, telling him about my counter-culture childhood in Taos, my radical parents, my current writing challenges, my belief in the beauty at the heart of profound loss.  I asked questions about his teachings, and he shared the heart of his legacy, which is nothing other than unconditional love: not feeling it or cultivating it or talking about it, but simply BEING unconditional love.  And I have to say, the man the world has known as Ram Dass, the eloquent speaker, translator of the mystical wisdom of the East into the vernacular of the West, has been distilled to the essence of love.  To be with him is to bathe in that delicious elixir.

There is a lot of silence with Ram Dass.  The effects of the stroke make it difficult for him to find words, though he still speaks with brilliant insight and humor.  There are long stretches inside of conversations, and those periods of companionable silence were my favorite times with Ram Dass.  I did not feel compelled to finish his sentences or fill in the blanks with the sound of my own voice.  I was happy just to be with him.  For the first time in the thirty-five years I have known Ram Dass, I got to just hang out with him.  It was delicious.  It filled my cup.  And though it was a relief to finally reveal something of myself to him, and though I felt deeply seen and loved, there was something utterly impersonal about our time together.  As Ram Dass says, he loves everyone and everything: the rug beneath our feet is as dear to him as his oldest friend.  I did not find this threatening in the least.

When I say that I went to Maui to say good-bye to Ram Dass, it’s not that I think he is about to die.  It’s just that he is so far away, he no longer travels, and I can’t afford another ticket to Hawaii.  It’s also true that he his body has been transfigured by a major stroke, and that body is aging.  Eventually, it is going to fall away, and it seems likely that this will happen before I have the chance to be with him again.

I am at peace with this — probably because Ram Dass is at peace with his own brokenness.  I have never known anyone so truly “in the moment” as Ram Dass.  He seems to have fully arrived, here now, with exactly WHAT IS.  There is a profound joy in this.  As I said to a friend, Ram Dass seems to be fully at home in an inhospitable body.  Just as he has been a guide to the world for walking a spiritual path with courage, humility, and passion, he is now on the vanguard of conscious aging, returning to the place where it all began: BEING HERE NOW.  I feel unutterably blessed to have glimpsed this unfolding first-hand.

I love you, Ram Dass.  More than the rug beneath my feet.  But I am not yet fully here now, where all is one.

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9 Responses to “Being Here Now”

  1. Doug said

    Mirabai, thank you so much for this, you have made a journey and visit for many of us who won’t be able to. I often question (from a somewhat selfish and competitive place) if Ram Dass made the last “push” to the summit he talked about, did he really go the “distance” as he so often reminded us we all eventually must do. Did he get all the way home? And if he did what does that look like from his place? I have felt recently an almost obligation to find out, thinking of visiting someone who has meant so much in my life. And like you I don’t have the money to fly there (or back there), and I certainly don’t have the “credentials” that perhaps would warrant a visit from an unknown outsider even though I have often quoted him thru out my life, in AA meetings, in spiritual communities and even in the heights of my drug use days he was always a guiding light. His self honesty and compassion were the measuring sticks he made for himself, and thus me and reminded us what the journey is really about; especially coming through the back drop of the sixties when our search for truth was either accelerated by, or clouded by the use of drugs. At that time I felt we had to have someone who got to the other side of all this, at times honestly motivated drug culture, and reflect on what its traps and liberations were really about.
    I owe Ram Dass more then he could ever know perhaps, it doesn’t matter. Yes at times I feel an obligation to myself to go meet the man who has had so much influence in my life for the last 40 years and find out first hand where he ended up, did he live up to his words he taught us? You have answered that in so many ways Mirabai. If honesty and compassion originating from total presence in the moment are the end results of a spiritual path, then Ram Dass seems to have arrived. And perhaps like he might teach, he like all of us are already there, we just need to realize it..
    One of my favorite stories of him was from a talk he gave in Anchorage back in the 80’s where he told the story of being in New York and standing in a line to see an x-rated movie and a young person came up to him exclaiming “Ram Dass”. RD thought first to move out of the line before the young person saw what he was in line for. But as he often told us, truth is often the best way and he decided to stay in line. As the young man’s eyes followed the line down to the movie entrance and up to what was playing, his eyes shot back to Ram Dass and went from wonder to disbelieve, the humor in the story, and Ram Dass’s decision to be seen for all of himself as he often taught us to do, or as he put at other times, to admit when you have egg on your beard, are lessons of honesty that are so vital to any sincere spiritual program.
    Maybe I will still make that journey to see him some day, and perhaps he would still see an unknown visitor, and unknown, unrecognized reluctant to call himself disciple. I like so many others, who in the end had his spirituality and his live shaped by Ram Dass’s teachings.
    Thank you again Mirabai, by sharing your connection to him you’ve allowed us all to touch him again…. Doug in Traverse City

  2. Mirabai said

    Thank you, Doug, for your reflections. I always appreciate your insights and the authenticity with which you seem to have always lived your life. As I’ve been working with the 40th anniversary of Be Here Now I’ve had the opportunity to see how many people consider Ram Dass to have been a guiding light and profound influence in their lives. We are a tribe.

  3. Babs said

    All encompassing unconditional love is the home from which we all were born. It is always a good idea to go home.I can’t wait to get there, but it is going to take some time. While I have little trouble feeling it for the rug(it behaves the way I expect it to) relationships are a bit more of a challenge!
    I had the priviledge of seeing Ram Dass at University of West Florida in my early twenties. I was seeking the truth but could not yet hear. I don’t remember the message but I do remember thinking it sounded too simple. How I would love to revisit that night.Simplicity is much more appealing now.
    I am so glad you were able to spend such precious private time with your inspirational mentor. What an incredible blessing.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to write about this piece of your recent life. I’ve been wondering how that trip to Hawaii had gone for you. And now I’m tickled to learn that in the presence of such abiding love you dared to emerge from hiding. Few of us are that brave!

    • One of the effects of having experienced profound loss, I think, is that it strips down to a kind of spiritual and psychological nakedness where the things that used to matter don’t anymore, as if there were nothing to lose because you’ve already lost what matters most. It can be very freeing. Thanks for your sweet note, David.

  5. Mary Jo Belongea said

    Dear Mirabai,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with Ram Dass on Maui. I, too, had spent some time there with him in his beautiful home for a few days after a Sacred Pilgrimage he hosted in the May 2009. It was the 2nd time I was there to see him. I also have a long history with him having worked for him as a volunteer in the 80’s when he was chairman of the board for the Seva Foundation. I have also spent much time at the Hanuman temple in Taos for Bhandaras and Guru Pornimas since 1987. I was there for your daughter Jenny’s memorial too. Anyway, my history and connection to Ram Dass, Neem Karoli Baba is long and very very deep. I had an amazing time with Ram Dass when I went to Maui to see him, like you, profound and life changing and so grateful to have had the grace to spend time with him….receiving guidance and support for where I am now. Five months after my visit with him my youngest son, Ryan, passed away. I can’t help but feel that my time with Ram Dass before he died and the Sacred Pilgrimage I went on, helped me to prepare for this loss. The time thee has been so precious and transforming….he has always had this effect on me.

    Ryan passed over on 12/27/09. It is long sad story so I won’t share it here, but I have been wanting to connect with you having been to your website a few times since my son passed. I found your name and website from Krishna Das’ book “Chants of a Lifetime”….which I highly recommend. I am sure I have met you over the years. (Did your mother used to be the “story teller” at the temple?) I just have not had the energy yet to share my loss with many…..but I will soon. You were one I had thought to do it with.

    Thank you so much, Mirabai, for having this blog available to those of us who have had such profound losses. Your wisdom, honesty, and willingness is truly inspiring.

    Much love,

    Mary Jo

    • Oh, Mary Jo! I’m so glad you reached out to me. I am holding Ryan in my heart even now, and you. I am lighting a candle for you both. Please come see me when you are here for a festival, and you and I can take a walk and you can share your story. Bless KD for bringing us together! My mother lives in Taos, yes, but she is not an NKB devotee. She was at Jenny’s memorial w/ RD though. I am relieved to hear that you also had RD’s sweet love to help you through such a difficult loss. It sounds like Ryan’s actual death was only part of the suffering. I am here if you want to tell me the rest. Love, Mirabai

  6. Mary Jo Belongea said

    Thank you Mirabai….I will surly contact you when I come to Taos again. I will not be there for Bhandara this year as I have a seminar to attend here in Ann Arbor, MI.

    You are right about Ryan’s actual death being only part of the suffering. Though I know he is okay now, I still am caught in the images of how much he suffered during his adult years. He was 28…he died just 10 days before his 29th birthday. He was going through a very painful divorce….so much mellow drama to wade through and transcend….and hopefully, in the end, be transformed by.

    Ryan has three beautiful young daughters ages 9,6 and 4….all who love and miss him very much as I do and as his brother Brent does. Both my son’s have been to the Taos temple….which I am grateful for. I am sure Ryan is with Maharajji. I prayed to Maharajji intensely for years, months and days before Ryan passed over. Maharajji came to me in a dream two weeks before he died….I would like to share this dream with you privately sometime when we have some time to talk.

    Thank you Mirabai for your loving response….I will be talking with you soon.

    Much love,

    Mary Jo

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