October 6, 2022 at 5:29 pm

Ram Das Speaks in Silence

Ram Das. You remember who he is? Sure, he was the Harvard professor who gave his students LSD, went to India before anyone else did it, and wrote “the book” of the ’60’s. Be Here Now put the spiritual backbone into memorable times. Ram Das was a charismatic speaker. Most of us can remember when we saw him the first time. I have a vivid memory of the time I heard him speak in small, packed theatre in New York and I especially remember the excitment people felt just being in his presence. He was joyfully alive, a wild phenomenon holding center stage midst flowers, candles, and random young men and women sitting cross-legged. He wove the audience right into his talk until everyone was swaying to his irreverent, original, and funny thoughts. After that, he became a fixture of American culture — like the Nike swoosh, everywhere and nowhere. He never wrote another great book and he never seemed to get a real job. But we all seemed to be wearing him on our shirts and shoes, inspiring us to be all that we could be. Whenever, I heard him speak, he continued to ramble on about his latest discovery of consciousness and wanted you to love rambling as well. He walked his talk.

Well, he’s back. A stroke that has left him somewhat speechless has given him something powerful to say. There was an article about him in the NY Times about how he’s on the circuit, presumably selling a book he wrote before the stroke. But he’s lost his glib ability with speech. Sometimes he has no words to say what he’s come to say and he lapses into silence. He waits. The audience waits. Ram Das invites the audience into the silence with him. Instead of hiding away from the problem, he makes it part of his talk and brings his experience out into the open. The loss of speech has often seemed to me like the next major human fear after the fear of falling. Silence makes everyone comfortable, reminding us of the ultimate, inevitable end of human consciousness. He is out there, one more time taking people where they fear to go — into the void. He may not be speaking, but he’s still teaching.

He comments on how he ‘once upon a time’ thought he knew what people who were sick and dying were experiencing. He thought they felt closer to God and felt a more direct contact with the divine. Now that he has had his own near death experience, suffering every day with a debilitating illness, he acknowledges that this was a projection. Being ill or dying are just more states of living. Not especially special, different. Not to be afraid of, but not to be ignored or interpreted out of existence. But Ram Das is doing what he’s always done. He makes the void palatable, more comfortable, and sharable.

My dad liked to tell me stories when he was bed-ridden from strokes that would one day take his life. My favorites were about an angel named XOX who taught him how to levitate, use magical words to get what he wanted and bring my mother when he needed her. One story that he told many times was about how my mother would take him to a faraway church at night, leaving him there even though it was very cold. Somehow he would return, finding himself in his bed in the morning. He told me that he knew that one night he wouldn’t come home but I shouldn’t tell my mother. And often he would fall silent between stories. Ram Das gave me a way to understand that the silences were part of the inner landscape he was traveling. I wished I had known that I was sharing a special stretch of the road. I usually thought it was time to leave.

 

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