I have just met one of the icons of my youth… Baba Ram Dass (a.k.a. Dr. Richard Alpert). In the 70s I remember sitting on my living room floor sharing with my roommates the very colorful Remember, Be Here Now. We were all reading it together. I was puzzled and so were they. We had no context to understand the simplicity of the spirit of the book. It was only as I experienced life and got older that I understood the joy of being in the moment — of being conscious of real communication and compassion. I would like to think that that was the beginning of my personal path toward becoming a more aware human being and a family therapist.
This past week I was in Hawaii with my dear friend who is making a film about Ram Dass. I was the gofer, the assistant, and the shaper of questions. – certainly a far cry from being in my office in New York City. And because of that I had the privilege to peer into the window to the soul of this wise man.
Ram Dass is about 74 years old. Today he lives in Maui and has suffered a physically debilitating stroke which has not robbed him of wisdom nor wit. He was ready and enthusiastic for his on camera interview. He talked and generously shared his experience. He told stories, many stories, about his life in the 50s and 60s (which bring to mind the characters of the series MadMen!)
Born Richard Alpert to a financially well-off family in Boston he was the youngest of three sons. Richard “had the privilege of studying psychology at Harvard when his two brothers entered more traditional professions. At that time psychology and child development were just beginning to flourish. Prior to the 60s child development was primarily Dr. Spock and Sigmund Freud. The idea of developmental process and interaction was still just the tip of the iceberg. Observation was a tool of journalists, not the scientific study of psychologists. So, in his own words, Richard Alpert entered an exciting field with unknown borders.
Moving on from the end of the Eisenhower years to the turbulence of the 60s Richard Alpert and his peers went out on a limb in their research and in doing so helped to change our minds about the way we view ourselves as a collective community from the 70s forward. Ram Dass stands as a seminal figure of an era.
Although it is well known that Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary (both Harvard professors), along with Aldous Huxley (then a professor at MIT) experimented with mind altering substances that was not what emerged as the central tenets of his message as he became Ram Dass. He looks to the collaborative spirit of life with the compassion and kindness. He urges us to bring balance into our lives, and thereby the world, by not getting caught in our own self-importance and roles.
Sitting in his living room with a hug picture window overlooking the Pacific Ocean where we could see the spherical curve of the earth in the horizon his stories assumed a surreal aspect. The messages and philosophies that Ram Dass brought to western society – after his long studies in India – are now so widely accepted and prevalent that they are now even quoted on Oprah!
I won’t re-cap all of these philosophies for you, but I can break it down to a simple idea which will help to create a more satisfying day to day existence.
It is a necessity for each of us to quiet the chatter in our minds so we can assess each experience as it presents itself. Before just reacting – as perhaps you may have in the past – greet the new experience in its present context.
With this, I’ll leave you with the following quotes for your consideration:
“Each of us finds his unique vehicle for sharing with others his bit of personal wisdom”
Ram Dass, Remember, Be Here Now.
“If you think you are so enlightened” Ram Dass said, “go and spend a week with your parents”. It is often a good test for your ability to live in the present.
Quote from Ram Dass in Echkhart Tolle’s, A New Earth