Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.—Confucius
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong, because someday in life you will have been all of these.—George Washington Carver
A standing ovation by the audience of 150 in a yoga studio in Haiku, Maui welcomed the noted spiritual seeker/teacher. His nickname was formerly Rent A Mouth, for his professional skill in story- telling. This night the stories were intact, but his speech was hampered due to stroke induced aphasia… each word crossed over slowly from thought into speech. Although his concepts were lucid and clear, he labored articulating each word; each sentence unfolded ten times longer than normal speech.
We heard tales of the old days at Harvard with his running bud Tim Leary (who called him Dick), old chestnuts about Neem Karoli Baba, his guru, and new tidbits about his long and very public life. It all emerged from the winding road that is now his speech. He retold some of his greatest hits, such as the time while tripping on LSD he had made a spectacle of himself in front of his parents’ house shoveling snow in the middle of the night in the nude. He weaved a cogent thread on spiritual liberation, through tales of his life over a twenty-five year period. After 45 minutes he had only gotten to 1970, and the moderator stepped in with a comment to the stone silent, but restless audience.
Carefully with much compassion and sensitivity, he addressed the pin-drop silent room, “Noting that many of you are over forty-five or fifty, as I am, we are all going through a change in our physical bodies. We all have something that doesn’t work as it used to, be it sexuality, a sore back, or memory. We all experience decline of the body, and our speaker highlights this aspect of life. Known for decades as a witty, insightful, engaging speaker, he now gives us a different gift.”
Some of the audience glanced about, a couple of persons got up and left, then the message of the day was emblazoned for me; Compassion begins with the self. We were the first generation to seek spiritual enlightenment en masse’ and he played the role of spiritual way-shower then, and now. Over the decades Ram Dass had entertained and informed us with his recorded tapes and speaking engagements, but his latest message is not his anecdotes and wisdom, it is in his example
His ultimate teaching, and really what he always offered, was his example of pushing to the next frontier. Whether it was with mind-expanding drugs or India with its yoga and meditation teachers, he was and is the vanguard of the generation. That day from his tropical redoubt, he taught us about aging and death with his very public sharing of his challenges. Through it all he maintained his equanimity and humor, while revealing his ordinariness.
The natural order of life includes aging, with its inexorable physical decline, both he and Leary shared freely. We have been a generation that made a cult of youth and our ‘specialness.’ Now no longer young, many want to hold onto youthful spirit, appearance, and fitness. Some try to stop time, but many years ago George Harrison’s hit record declared, ‘all things must pass.’ When I saw this icon with his very apparent aging, it awakened in me a strong sense of compassion. Compassion not for him, for he is well in spirit but for myself and my new backache, my new 24/7 glasses, and the older face in the mirror.
Regard for the old teacher compelled me to pay attention to each carefully enunciated word which forced me to be more mindful of the moment. The message was not the words, nor the space between the words, but to my heart’s deep desire for compassion for all beings, beginning with myself. Thank you Ram Dass, once again you have pointed the way.
Remember and write about a time when you were impatient with someone with disability. How did you act?
How do you feel when you are sick or unable to do normal tasks?
Find someone who is disabled or aged and listen.
[Ed.s’ Note: The above essay can be found in RW Klarin’s memoir/ self-help book—Living the Dream Deferred (2015)
Please note – and DO – the Inner Journey and Action Steps. They are part of the format of the book as it has, in part, the purpose of moving folks forward on their own mission. We’re thinking RW knows what he’s talking about in that he has several degrees, traveled to more than 50 countries, and has a nationwide tour planned for this spring. Between Ram Dass and RW you should do alright.]