“We’re fascinated by the words, but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” -Ram Dass
I recently had the great fortune of spending an hour with Ram Dass on a “heart-to-heart” Skype conversation, as he calls them. He was in his home on Maui, and I was at home in Brooklyn. It was the first time I met him- albeit virtually- although I have been a student and admirer of his work for the last 5 or 6 years now. I have taken in countless hours of podcasts, YouTube videos, lectures, interviews, articles, anything I could get my hands on (and there is certainly no shortage of material out there). It seems that Ram Dass, now 87, and his Love Serve Remember Foundation are deeply committed to getting his message out to as many people as possible, especially the younger generations who came up after the height of his popularity and may not have discovered him yet. The LSRM has developed a big social media presence, and has millions of followers around the globe, making the deep catalog of Ram Dass’ spiritual teachings and transformative wisdom available to a world that sorely needs it.
At the beginning of our call, Ram Dass greeted me as though we were old friends, with a huge Cheshire-Cat grin on his face, and excitement in his voice. It didn’t matter at all that I was a complete stranger to him, he welcomed me with a warm, virtual embrace. His manner put me at ease, although I was a bit nervous at first, which I suppose is somewhat natural when meeting a cultural icon, but I soon relaxed, and I too then felt that I was simply talking with an old friend. There was such comfort and grace being with him.
Ram Dass talked about soul awareness - the idea that we are best served by identifying with our soul, instead of with the ego-personality, or the body - and I realized that that’s what Ram Dass has become. He is an embodiment of soul awareness. If there’s any ego left in him, it isn’t much. You can really feel the soul awareness in him. He wasn’t looking at me or talking to me as some guy, as David from Brooklyn, but as a timeless, eternal, wise, loving being, just like him. He made me feel totally and completely loved and accepted, which is what souls do.
“Souls love. That’s what souls do. Egos don’t, but souls do. Become a soul, look around, and you’ll be amazed-all the beings around you are souls. Be one, see one. When many people have this heart connection, then we will know that we are all one, we human beings all over the planet. We will be one. One love. And don’t leave out the animals, and trees, and clouds, and galaxies-it’s all one. It’s one energy.” -Ram Dass
With him, I felt that I was truly being seen. Seen beyond my computer screen, beyond my form, beyond my personality. Seen as a soul. Seen as love. When someone looks at you this way- so completely, so purely, so truthfully, so lovingly- it cuts through all your defenses and opens you up. It calls to you at a deeper level, and awakens that part of you that is beyond your personality. It’s invites your soul to come out and play. When he looked at me that way, I smiled, I giggled, I got tears in my eyes. I was filled with gratitude, and awe. It immediately took me out of my ego, and brought me into my heart. It feels good to be seen in this intimate and truthful way, and it feels good to see another in the same way. It’s a rare and true gift in this world. It’s deeply healing. I’ve only received this gift, the gift of being seen with this kind of love, one other time, and it had the same profound effect on me. I was floating on clouds afterwards, my heart bursting with love for the whole world. Once you get a taste of this, of receiving this kind of love, you naturally want to develop it in yourself, find it within, bring it out, embody it, and share it with others. This, to me, is really all that the path of spiritual awakening is - becoming your soul awareness, or as I like to call it, the true self, the essence of which is unconditional love.
My guess is that the vast majority of people have never experienced being seen with eyes of unconditional love, which may in part explain why there is such an epidemic of isolation, loneliness, sadness, and depression right now. We don’t see each other. Mostly we don’t know how to, as we are identified with our egos, and not our souls. An ego is incapable of witnessing someone in unconditional love. “Love” to an ego is transactional, meaning, it works out agreements, arrangements, and alliances. It always has an agenda, needs, terms and conditions. This is very confusing in our culture, because when most people talk about love, they are actually talking about this kind of ego-love, which, to me, is not real love (that which is unconditional), but is really just “liking” things to different degrees. Ram Dass was not looking at me through his ego, but through his soul, and I could feel it. I could feel the completeness of it. There was no agenda, he didn’t need anything in return, didn’t need me to love him back (though I surely did), and there was no judgement or condemnation of any kind. He embraced me and accepted me totally in that moment, and it was a true gift. It was profoundly healing.
When Ram Dass had a stroke back in 1997, his life radically changed. There were the obvious physical challenges - slowing down, becoming wheelchair-bound, and dependent on the help of others - but his speech also slowed way down, which was a radical shift for someone like Ram Dass, who used to jokingly say that the “Ram” stood for “rent-a-mouth”. He talked about how post-stroke it became harder for him to connect the ideas he was having in his head to the words his wished to use to express them. His speech has improved significantly since then, but there are still more gaps in his speech. There is more silence. He has used this as a spiritual practice, as grist for the mill, as he likes to say. He says the silence has become his teacher.
While we discussed many interesting topics - psychedelics, the importance of having a guru, death and dying, parenting - what has stayed with me and affected me the most was not what he said, but what was happening in the silence, in between the words, when neither of us was talking. The silence was full, meaty, filled with presence, awareness, and love. It pulled me in, opened my heart, and made me present, helping me to see beyond my ego-self and just be with him. Being with him in this way really shifted my awareness, and even in the days following our call, I have felt myself to be more present with others, more loving, more neutral, and more aware of myself as the I AM presence behind my thoughts, and not just the contents of my head. I feel like my true self is in the silence, not the words. Perhaps this is the meaning behind the old Bible verse, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
There was a moment towards the end of our time together where he was just looking at me with such warmth and love in his eyes that I fell completely silent, and just looked sweetly back at him. The moment seemed to stretch out, it felt like we slipped into a timeless state together. I eventually slipped back out, at least enough to say, “You’re so beautiful, Ram Dass. We could just sit here and look lovingly at each other, and that would be enough, wouldn’t it?” Really, it was enough. It was a beautiful reminder that, in a world so focused on doing and achieving, we also need to learn to simply be with one another, share space, witness each other, and love one another.
Ram Dass likes to use the mantra “I Am Loving Awareness”, which I have also adopted as one of my own. After my call with him, this mantra seems even more real, as I have now experienced what it feels like to be on the receiving end of someone who really, truly embodies it. Early the next morning, after the call, I was doing my morning meditation, and I saw Ram Dass in my mind’s eye, sitting with me, beaming that big, joyful smile of his, loving me, witnessing me. That’s all it was. That’s all he is now. A loving witness. It was so wonderful, and powerful, to feel him there with me. He’s a soul now, and that’s what souls do. Of course, Ram Dass is still in his body, but because of his decades-long practice, he is so much more identified with his soul. And being in his presence, its hard not to become identified with your own. Thank you, Ram Dass, for seeing me. I see you. And I love you.