Saturday morning, I was on my way home from the grocery store. I was on this stretch of one-lane highway that might strike you as a living American idyll. The sun was out, it was early, it was quiet; it was everything you’d want to open up your mind, let a few things out, and let a few different things in.
I was listening to the Ram Dass podcast put out by the Love Serve Remember Foundation, called Be Here Now. The episode was titled “Astral Fun and Games Pt. 2: Doorways to the Divine.” In these talks Ram Dass tells all kinds of mundane sounding stories, but makes them as interesting as possible because he’s as interested as possible. He’s engaged the experiences he’s relaying as much as he could and he’s been conscious through the whole trip, or at least in reflecting on it.
But there’s often more than that, too. A little after the 30 minute mark, Ram Dass was speaking to a point when he was wrestling with how he was devoted to Maharaj-ji, his own guru. He described a disconnect between watching others devoted to him and seeing himself separate from those people in that moment, as if he should serve in another way that better addressed where he was in his search for freedom, and he said this:
“Maharaj-ji used to say, ‘I am always in communion with you.’ Or, ‘I’ll be with you [in America], did you think I’d let you do something wrong?'”
I heard it at first and thought, “Huh, interesting.” But then the statement worked on me a little bit; wrapped itself around me just tight enough that I felt it and had to truly acknowledge it. I audibly gasped for air, alone in my car, cruising at about 50 mph. I wasn’t choking. It was more like that first breath you take after coming up from under water.
I thought of my grandfather, and then my grandmother, each now gone at least four years. I thought about the essence of each of them as individuals, and then as a couple, and how I must have just inhaled a purely distilled bit of that relationship, and how I think about them in regard to so many of the things I do. I got to know them enough as an adult that I also got to know that essence. Ram Dass relaying that matter-of-fact sentiment from Maharaj-ji filled me with a beautiful feeling that comes from exchange of ideas, centered on service, that regularly provides guidance.
Immediately following that statement, Ram Dass elaborated.
“[Maharaj-ji] would say these little things, which you could take as just sort of nice sayings, unless you understood the level of the game in which it meant something entirely different.”
Often what I find difficult about speaking truth is doing it in a way that resonates. You want to keep it simple and easy to digest but you also want to avoid it being written off like a piece of mass-produced art for your kitchen or landing like a hand through the wall after you tripped. It’s a thin line across a wide chasm. But that’s the game, right? The point is to work to always be in a head space that lets you feel what’s right in front of you, ready to be embraced. To traverse that line without treating it like a monkey on your back, to genuinely smile with each step and go with what comes. And no one else can do it for you.
I wondered what it would be like to meet Ram Dass. I’ve known he hosted retreats in Maui every year. I’ve known he’s an older guy who experienced a stroke that altered the way he worked. I knew time wasn’t necessarily in my favor in making this happen.
And then I felt another thorough feeling. This time, it reverberated warmly throughout from my center as I sat in the car. I smiled lightly and felt immense relief. It is not something I can quite remember having felt. I felt as though I had indeed met Ram Dass.
It’s a trippy statement, at least by the conventional sense of what it is to meet someone. There was no handshake. There was no picture. There was no seeing Ram Dass face-to-face at all. But the feeling was utterly true and knowing he was such a universal and far out being, I don’t doubt it at all. He came to me, and we met, and we knew each other.
This morning, I learned that Ram Dass as we know him passed away. He would not be with us anymore. Once more I felt absolutely present. I didn’t ask the usual questions. I wasn’t even terribly sad. What I felt was an overwhelming amount of love and is-ness.
I read through the #lovingramdass memories online as much as I could, intermittently exasperated by a cry. Then I did the things I needed to — sweeping, vacuuming, a trip to the dump, re-staining an end table, calling the dentist about a bill, holding a bone for the dog before he plopped into slumber. And the whole time I’ve been so thankful to have finally met my cosmic friend.
Feature photo by Robert Altman/Getty Images. I also definitely heard “cosmic friend” from Pete Holmes first, and find it a thoroughly true phrase.