Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Ram Dass and the Courage to Face Our Fears
Category:
Spirit
"If you know how to live and to love, you know how to die." —Mirabai Bush

“Dying is the most important thing you do in your life; it’s the great frontier and love is the art of living as a preparation for dying,” says Mirabai Bush, who was a frequent collaborator with the late Ram Dass and is founder and senior fellow at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. “Ram Dass taught me that allowing ourselves to dissolve into the ocean of love is not just about leaving this body, it is also the route to Oneness and unity with our own inner being while we are still here. If you know how to live and to love, you know how to die.”

Mirabai’s reflections strike a universal chord in light of Ram Dass’s death late last year. In workshops, she posits the following question to seminarians: can we see death as an invitation to a new kind of relationship, in a place where we all are one?

“My hope is that we can experience well-being and renew a commitment to learn from everything in our lives,” Mirabai says. “There is an ease that comes with being loving and being loved, a reminder that each of us can change. This gives us hope for the change we want to see in the world, to experience less fear of dying and to live more fully with deeper awe at the glory of this fragile planet.”

Mirabai believes that engaging in conversations about love and death is not only vital but downright timely. After Ram Dass passed away at the age of 88 on Maui in December of 2019, she noticed many people returning to his published works such as Be Here Now, Be Love Now: The Path to the Heart and Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying, which he co-authored with Mirabai. “Ram Dass showed us to trust in the unfolding, not try to control outcomes so much; to have faith and to let go of whatever gets in the way of being fully in the moment. I think we needed a reminder that the process is more important than the product. And that we can see death as a gift.”

Can these reminders also add levity and hope for society? According to the 2017 called Survey of American Fears, conducted by Chapman University, more than 20 percent of Americans are “afraid” or "very afraid" of dying. When asked why she thinks that is, Mirabai is candid.

“I think people fear death because it is unknown, a mystery,” she says. “There are no experts, only some wise guides. You have to do this ‘work’ yourself and it is easy to avoid but the more you do avoid it, the more the fear can grow and affect your actions while you are living. When you look closely, many people find that they are not really afraid of death but of pain while dying, which can usually be relieved.”

Finding Courage to Face the Fear

In his many books and talks, Ram Dass often addressed how our culture supports the fear and denial of death. “He pointed out everything from the glorification of youth in the media to embalming practices that make the dead person appear to be still alive,” Mirabai explains. “We are discouraged from looking at the bare bones, as it were, of mortality. He said, ‘We have to get close to what we fear, so we know it. See our attachments and let them go. We have to be willing to look at everything. Keeping death at arm’s length keeps us from living life fully.’”

Ram Dass also illuminated that the root of fear is the feeling of “separateness” that can exist within oneself; that the separateness is where fear starts. “Once that feeling of separation exists, it then keeps reinforcing the feeling of vulnerability,” Mirabai adds. “This is true of all fear, and if you can go beyond your fear of death, many other fears fall away, too. The transformative process of spiritual work is reawakening to innocence by going behind that model of separation that cuts you off and made you a tiny little fragile somebody.”

Many contemplative practices can help us let go and go beyond the feeling of separation: loving awareness, compassion, mindfulness practices and one that Ram Dass often addressed in his work: the repetition of the phrase, “I am loving awareness.”

“Simply becoming more familiar with death—seeing your fear and letting go—also dissipates that fear,” Mirabai says. “So does reading about it, being with others who are dying, and meditating and reflecting on your own death.”

A History of Courageous Acts

Mirabai and Ram Dass began their friendship in 1970 in Bodh Gaya, India, during the first mindfulness course taught to Westerners by Satya Narayan Goenka, a Burmese Buddhist teacher.

“I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into,” Mirabai recalls. “As I was approaching the monastery where the workshop was being taught, I saw this group of men outside. They were all dressed in flowing robes and I wondered what was going on. I heard Ram Dass talking. He was charismatic from a block away—even then. It looked as if they were talking about something deeply esoteric.

But as I got closer, I realized that Ram Dass was talking about how many cookies he should get for the retreat because there were no sweets being served. I immediately liked him. I immediately got his ‘regular’ guy-ness.”

Mirabai and Ram Dass, known as Richard Alpert at the time, spent several months in India, mostly in silence. After the retreat, they remained in India for two years, discovering their guru, Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharaj-ji, who transmitted to Mirabai and Ram Dass a simple philosophy: love everyone, tell the truth and give up attachment to material things.

Upon returning to North America in 1972, Mirabai and Ram Dass did just that. Mirabai settled onto a farm in Quebec, Canada, with others from her Indian retreat. Years later, she and her family moved to Cambridge, Mass., where she lived with a group of people in the home of David McClelland, a Harvard University Social Relations professor and expert in human motivation.

“Ram Dass would be in and out; he was always traveling,” Mirabai says. “He never had a home. He stayed with friends and with me at different times when I had a big house. Baba told him not to have an ashram or a center and I think he took that as to not settle in—until he had a stroke. He was on Maui about to give a retreat at that time. And when he got out of the hospital, he just stayed on Maui—that was in 1997.”

In 1978, Mirabai, Ram Dass, Dr. Larry Brilliant and others founded Seva, a global nonprofit eye care organization that transforms lives and strengthens communities. In addition to Seva, Mirabai says among Ram Dass’s greatest contributions was the introduction of Eastern contemplative practices to the West and his understanding of how those practices complemented and went beyond Western psychology, including their use as a way to integrate insights that come through psychedelics.

Is there anything about Ram Dass people might not know?

“He used everything in his life as a teaching story,” Mirabai notes, “but people may not know that he loved cats and ginger cookies. He also read and thought about national and international news until he died. And he discovered that he had a son a few years ago by a woman he knew at Stanford University in the 1960s.

“We were always very tuned to each other,” she adds. “Ram Dass gave his full attention to each experience and his resilient energy kept him radiant until he died at 88.”



“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Ram Dass and the Courage to Face Our Fears

About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Category:
Spirit
"If you know how to live and to love, you know how to die." —Mirabai Bush

“Dying is the most important thing you do in your life; it’s the great frontier and love is the art of living as a preparation for dying,” says Mirabai Bush, who was a frequent collaborator with the late Ram Dass and is founder and senior fellow at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. “Ram Dass taught me that allowing ourselves to dissolve into the ocean of love is not just about leaving this body, it is also the route to Oneness and unity with our own inner being while we are still here. If you know how to live and to love, you know how to die.”

Mirabai’s reflections strike a universal chord in light of Ram Dass’s death late last year. In workshops, she posits the following question to seminarians: can we see death as an invitation to a new kind of relationship, in a place where we all are one?

“My hope is that we can experience well-being and renew a commitment to learn from everything in our lives,” Mirabai says. “There is an ease that comes with being loving and being loved, a reminder that each of us can change. This gives us hope for the change we want to see in the world, to experience less fear of dying and to live more fully with deeper awe at the glory of this fragile planet.”

Mirabai believes that engaging in conversations about love and death is not only vital but downright timely. After Ram Dass passed away at the age of 88 on Maui in December of 2019, she noticed many people returning to his published works such as Be Here Now, Be Love Now: The Path to the Heart and Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying, which he co-authored with Mirabai. “Ram Dass showed us to trust in the unfolding, not try to control outcomes so much; to have faith and to let go of whatever gets in the way of being fully in the moment. I think we needed a reminder that the process is more important than the product. And that we can see death as a gift.”

Can these reminders also add levity and hope for society? According to the 2017 called Survey of American Fears, conducted by Chapman University, more than 20 percent of Americans are “afraid” or "very afraid" of dying. When asked why she thinks that is, Mirabai is candid.

“I think people fear death because it is unknown, a mystery,” she says. “There are no experts, only some wise guides. You have to do this ‘work’ yourself and it is easy to avoid but the more you do avoid it, the more the fear can grow and affect your actions while you are living. When you look closely, many people find that they are not really afraid of death but of pain while dying, which can usually be relieved.”

Finding Courage to Face the Fear

In his many books and talks, Ram Dass often addressed how our culture supports the fear and denial of death. “He pointed out everything from the glorification of youth in the media to embalming practices that make the dead person appear to be still alive,” Mirabai explains. “We are discouraged from looking at the bare bones, as it were, of mortality. He said, ‘We have to get close to what we fear, so we know it. See our attachments and let them go. We have to be willing to look at everything. Keeping death at arm’s length keeps us from living life fully.’”

Ram Dass also illuminated that the root of fear is the feeling of “separateness” that can exist within oneself; that the separateness is where fear starts. “Once that feeling of separation exists, it then keeps reinforcing the feeling of vulnerability,” Mirabai adds. “This is true of all fear, and if you can go beyond your fear of death, many other fears fall away, too. The transformative process of spiritual work is reawakening to innocence by going behind that model of separation that cuts you off and made you a tiny little fragile somebody.”

Many contemplative practices can help us let go and go beyond the feeling of separation: loving awareness, compassion, mindfulness practices and one that Ram Dass often addressed in his work: the repetition of the phrase, “I am loving awareness.”

“Simply becoming more familiar with death—seeing your fear and letting go—also dissipates that fear,” Mirabai says. “So does reading about it, being with others who are dying, and meditating and reflecting on your own death.”

A History of Courageous Acts

Mirabai and Ram Dass began their friendship in 1970 in Bodh Gaya, India, during the first mindfulness course taught to Westerners by Satya Narayan Goenka, a Burmese Buddhist teacher.

“I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into,” Mirabai recalls. “As I was approaching the monastery where the workshop was being taught, I saw this group of men outside. They were all dressed in flowing robes and I wondered what was going on. I heard Ram Dass talking. He was charismatic from a block away—even then. It looked as if they were talking about something deeply esoteric.

But as I got closer, I realized that Ram Dass was talking about how many cookies he should get for the retreat because there were no sweets being served. I immediately liked him. I immediately got his ‘regular’ guy-ness.”

Mirabai and Ram Dass, known as Richard Alpert at the time, spent several months in India, mostly in silence. After the retreat, they remained in India for two years, discovering their guru, Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharaj-ji, who transmitted to Mirabai and Ram Dass a simple philosophy: love everyone, tell the truth and give up attachment to material things.

Upon returning to North America in 1972, Mirabai and Ram Dass did just that. Mirabai settled onto a farm in Quebec, Canada, with others from her Indian retreat. Years later, she and her family moved to Cambridge, Mass., where she lived with a group of people in the home of David McClelland, a Harvard University Social Relations professor and expert in human motivation.

“Ram Dass would be in and out; he was always traveling,” Mirabai says. “He never had a home. He stayed with friends and with me at different times when I had a big house. Baba told him not to have an ashram or a center and I think he took that as to not settle in—until he had a stroke. He was on Maui about to give a retreat at that time. And when he got out of the hospital, he just stayed on Maui—that was in 1997.”

In 1978, Mirabai, Ram Dass, Dr. Larry Brilliant and others founded Seva, a global nonprofit eye care organization that transforms lives and strengthens communities. In addition to Seva, Mirabai says among Ram Dass’s greatest contributions was the introduction of Eastern contemplative practices to the West and his understanding of how those practices complemented and went beyond Western psychology, including their use as a way to integrate insights that come through psychedelics.

Is there anything about Ram Dass people might not know?

“He used everything in his life as a teaching story,” Mirabai notes, “but people may not know that he loved cats and ginger cookies. He also read and thought about national and international news until he died. And he discovered that he had a son a few years ago by a woman he knew at Stanford University in the 1960s.

“We were always very tuned to each other,” she adds. “Ram Dass gave his full attention to each experience and his resilient energy kept him radiant until he died at 88.”



“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Ram Dass and the Courage to Face Our Fears
Category:
Spirit

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