A memoir recommended for those who have had a close brush with death and may be partially disabled by a stroke or other disaster and who want to heal in order to be present, wise, and of service.
Ram Dass's 1971 book Be Here Now introduced millions of Americans to Eastern religions and philosophy. For nearly three decades this beloved teacher traveled the globe with his messages about living in the present, creating a life of service, and aging gracefully. Then in February 1997 he was rocked by a stroke that left him in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed and requiring round-the-clock care.
Early on in this great work of love, Ram Das notes: "What a gift the stroke has given me, to finally learn that I don't have to renounce my humanity in order to be spiritual — that I can be both witness and participant, both eternal spirit and aging body. . . . At nearly seventy, surrounded by people who care for and love me, I'm still learning to be here now." The author sees this book as a map into the country of aging, changing, and dying.
These are not new interests for Ram Dass. He has deliberately put himself near people who are dying and, at countless workshops, he has taught a curriculum for conscious aging as an antidote to American culture's uneasiness with the long-lived. "Wisdom is one of the few things in human life that does not diminish with age," he writes. Ram Dass shows how regular spiritual practice can help us deal with "the usual suspects that cause us trouble when we grow older," including the fear of losing our minds, loneliness, powerlessness, loss of purpose, and depression.
In the last stages of life we have plenty of opportunities to draw closer to God through being rather than doing, by gracefully accepting our dependency on others, and by quieting our egos as we grow in equanimity and peace. "One of the best parts of aging is entering the 'don't know,' learning to be someone who can rest comfortably in uncertainty." Ram Dass's brush with death enabled him to see how important it is to view it as a great mystery and an opportunity for transformation.
This inspiring and very wise book is, above all, a profound meditation upon healing. "Curing means bringing you back to what you were — but if 'what you were' wasn't closer to God, then you haven't been healed. I haven't been cured of my stroke, but I have definitely been healed by it. Healing moves us closer to the One, and if you're the One then you're whole." Savor the words of this spiritual scout who has done us an inestimable favor by sniffing out the territory that lies ahead for all of us.