Rewire Me is a community committed to helping everyone along their own individual path by combining the most useful ancient practices with the latest scientific discoveries. When it comes to navigating those paths, Ram Dass is a trailblazer. He holds a doctorate in psychology from Stanford University, taught at Harvard, where he met and worked with Timothy Leary, and is the author of the spiritual classic Be Here Now.
Ram Dass has explored the depths of consciousness for over five decades and was instrumental in founding the Seva Foundation, the Prison Ashram Project, and the Love Serve Remember Project to preserve the teachings of his guru Neem Karoli Baba. In this excerpt from his most recent book, Polishing the Mirror (Sounds True, 2013), he shares his realization that there are many paths to true understanding and spiritual awakening.
In the West we get rewarded for rational knowledge and learning. But only when you see that the assumptions you’ve been working under are not valid, when you despair of getting there through your rational mind, does the possibility of truly changing your mind arise.
Albert Einstein said, “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” He also said, “The mind can proceed only so far upon what it knows and can prove. There comes a point where the mind takes a leap—call it intuition or what you will—and comes out upon a higher plane of knowledge, but can never prove how it got there. All great discoveries have involved such a leap.”
People first awaken to a spiritual dimension in their lives in an incredible variety of ways. Some people seem to open up to it through traumatic experiences, as people describe when they’ve come near death or at another moment when they touch something much deeper than the usual way they thought about things. Other people awaken through meditation or through religious experiences. Others arrive at it through sex or through drugs.
I remember lecturing in a hall once, back in the early ’70s. Most of my audience at that time was young, and they tended to wear white and smile a lot and wear flowers. I wore my māla [prayer beads] and had a long beard. In the front row there was a woman of about seventy, who had on a hat with little fake cherries and strawberries and things like that on it. She was wearing black oxfords and a print dress, and she had a black patent leather bag. I looked at her, and I couldn’t figure out what she was doing in the audience. She looked so dissimilar to all the rest.
These talks were like a gathering of an explorers club, where we would come together and just share our experiences. I started to describe some of my experiences, some of which were pretty far out. I looked at her, and she was nodding with understanding. I couldn’t believe that she could understand what I was talking about. I was describing experiences that I had using psychedelic chemicals, experiences that involved other planes of consciousness. I’d look over at her, and there she was, nodding away. I began to think maybe she had a problem with her neck and maybe it had nothing whatsoever to do with what I was saying. I kept watching and getting more and more fascinated and getting more and more outrageous, and she kept nodding and nodding.
At the end of the lecture, I just kind of smiled at her so intensely that she just had to come up and speak to me. She came up and said, “Thank you so much. That makes perfect sense. That’s just the way I understand the universe to be.”
And I said, “How do you know? I mean, what have you done in your life that brought you into those kinds of experiences?”
She leaned forward very conspiratorially, and she said, “I crochet.”
And at that moment, I realized that people arrive at spiritual understanding through a much wider spectrum of experience than I ever anticipated.
Part of the process of awakening is recognizing that the realities we thought were absolute are only relative. All you have to do is shift from one reality to another once, and your attachment to what you thought was real starts to collapse. Once the seed of awakening sprouts in you, there’s no choice—there’s no turning back.
Excerpted from Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart, by Ram Dass, copyright © 2013 by the Love Serve Remember Foundation. Published by Sounds True.