First, let me be perfectly clear: When something makes my head explode, that’s a good thing. It means it blew me away.
Every now and then I come across something that Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, Mickey Singer and a few others have said or written that goes beyond attracting my interest. Today’s quote by Ram Dass is one of those nuggets.
Without further ado, here’s what he said that made my head explode:
“Our journey is about being deeply involved in life and yet, less attached to it.”
What?! How do we become more deeplyinvolved in life by becoming less attached? Before diving in, it’s important to know that understanding this paradox is crucial for achieving spiritual growth.
Where most people trip up on this is how they perceive attachment and its opposite, non-attachment. People are attached to their blankets (as a kid), to their girlfriends, to their favorite soccer or football teams, etc.
Non-attachment isn’t not caring
They then extrapolate that out to mean that they “care” about these things. And people who don’t have any attachments must not care about anything. They’re just zombies, aimlessly plodding through life.
Not true. The truth is that attachments, or desires as they are called in Buddhism, spring from our egos. And as Buddhism’s central tenet states, all suffering emanates from these desires/attachments.
It’s also true that we can become “more deeply involved in life” the less attached we are to things. How so?
Ram Dass’s work with AIDS patients
As usual, it’s best to explain with an example, this one from Ram Dass himself. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, Ram Dass devoted considerable time and effort to counseling dying AIDS patients.
What that involved was spending countless hours alone, mostly in ugly, antiseptic hospital rooms with beeping monitors, watching men experience the worst kind of agony. Can you imagine anything more depressing?
But here’s the thing: Ram Dass did these men a great service. How? By connecting with them on a level far deeper than the physical.
Two equal souls having a talk
The way he saw it, there were two human bodies in those rooms, one healthy and one terminally ill. But there were also two souls. Two spirits. Both equal. And that is where he met these people.
While he didn’t say this, I will: The soul, spirit, life force…whatever you want to call it, is energy and energy can’t be destroyed. It lives on, even after our bodies fail.
So these sessions were merely two immortal souls having a conversation. Ram Dass said these were some of the most profound and, ironically, life-affirming experiences he ever had.
Freaking out helps no one
What did Ram Dass not do in these visits? He didn’t freak out and let the experience become a big downer.
This is an example of “being deeply involved in life.’ Can you imagine anything deeper than sitting in a room and connecting with a dying human being?
Yet Ram Dass was only able to do this because he wasn’t attached to these men’s pain. Had he walked into these rooms and collapsed in a puddle of tears, what good would that have done anybody?
Mother Teresa did the same thing
There are many examples in history of this. Mother Teresa was surrounded by poverty and suffering of the highest magnitude for decades in Calcutta. Talk about being deeply involved in life. Had she been attached to all of these suffering people, there is no chance that she could have helped so many over the years.
Ditto Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK was not an angry, bitter person. He was level-headed and poised. That equanimity served as the foundation for the strength required of him in battling for civil rights in a part of the world that desperately wanted to deny him. And it’s why he succeeded.
All that being said, how do we develop this non-attachment muscle such that we can become more deeply involved in life? No big surprise here. It’s about loosening our attachments, AKA, letting go of our egos.
We have all of these desires/attachments because our egos are so strong. And we weaken our egos by doing the basic practices. Things that quiet down our egoic minds and help us let go when our emotional (egoic) baggage is poked.
We practice meditation, mindfulness and letting go. Every day of every month of every year.
Commitment is a necessity
How can we ensure that we actually do these practices? We commit to trekking down this path. Without commitment, sustained practice is virtually impossible.
But these practices work. Gradually. Over time.
Eventually, we notice that we’re calmer. Lighter. Less prone to neediness.
We notice that we’re more deeply involved in life than we were before. That our life is richer.
Amen to that.