I listened a few days ago to yet another fantastic golden oldie Ram Dass talk. It was from 1976 when he was at the height of his spiritual influence. I sensed the masterful force of his being permeating what I presume was a huge audience at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
By the way, if you’re somebody with even a scintilla of interest in Ram Dass and/or all this spiritual stuff, you’re nuts if you don’t go to Ramdass.org and check out these talks. They are a free treasure trove of wisdom. (Ditto Mickey Singer’s talks at tou.org.)
So, on to the Ram Dass nugget that I found so compelling. He said:
“You can’t escape from prison until you acknowledge you’re in prison.”
How’s that for dramatic imagery?
The prison of the mind
First up is tackling the characteristics of that ‘prison’ so many of us are trapped in, without even realizing it. There are a zillion ways we could describe it, but I’m going with this: It’s the prison of the mind.
How do our minds serve as prisons? They produce tornadoes of involuntary thoughts that swirl around our heads.
What do I mean by involuntary thoughts? They’re thoughts that we don’t ask to think.
When you’re driving home from work and you find yourself ruminating about whether you think your spouse is having an affair, in all likelihood you didn’t say to yourself,
“Hmm. I have a half hour to kill on this drive. What should I think about? Ooh, I have it. Let’s think about whether Paul is boinking his assistant!”
No way. It just happens. Involuntarily.
These thoughts drive most of us crazy. In fact, Ram Dass could just as well have called it a torture chamber instead of a prison!
Our thoughts aren’t us
Fine, so our minds drive us crazy. The point is that most people don’t realize that their minds confine them in a prison. They believe that all those crazy, swirling thoughts are just who they are.
But our thoughts aren’t who we are. We are the consciousness that is aware of all these thoughts. Those last two sentences form the basis of Hinduism, Buddhism, the teachings of Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, Mickey Singer and a slew of other teachers and traditions.
The best thing for our world
It’s my belief that nothing would change the trajectory of humanity more than people simply realizing that their minds incarcerate them in a psychic prison. Why is that so important? Because, as Ram Dass says, only when we realize that we’re in prison can we escape.
What did Ram Dass say we do once we know we’re imprisoned? This:
“Once you’re aware you’re in prison, you bend all your efforts toward figuring out how to escape.”
This awareness involves realizing you not only constructed this prison, but you’re also the warden. You can let yourself out any time.
It’s hard to escape mind prison
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as turning a few keys and walking out into the bright sunshine of freedom. It takes significant work once we realize we’re in prison to actually spring ourselves from it.
Any of you who’ve read my stuff know what that work comprises. It’s the daily sadhana of meditating, practicing mindfulness and letting go of the emotional baggage we’ve accumulated over our lifetimes.
The whole path in two simple steps
Leave it to the great Ram Dass to so eloquently sum up the entirety of the spiritual path in one short metaphor. It’s just two steps:
– Realize that we’re in prison.
– Do the work that frees us from prison.
Step one is the easy part. But, as Ram Dass notes, it’s indispensable. Because without it, we don’t even know there is a step two.
How do we achieve step one, knowing we’re all imprisoned by our minds? By reading articles like this.
Better yet, by reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now or Mickey Singer’s The Untethered Soul. They explain all this clearly and beautifully.
So if you still aren’t clear on this concept that you’re stuck in your own mind jail, get those books and read them. Then move on to step two…the escape.
If you’re done with step one, get to work on the Great Escape. Get quiet inside. Let go of your ego.