Happy Birthday, Ram Dass!
Update on the Man with the Indomitable Spirit
by Cat Saunders
I don't know about you, but I'm always curious about what Ram Dass is doing, since he's been exploring the frontiers of inner and outer awareness for about as long as I've been alive. To mark the occasion of my favorite spiritual teacher's 68th birthday on April 6, I'd like to give you a little update on his current adventures, and let you know how you can bless Ram Dass and yourself in a number of delightful ways.
No doubt you remember that Ram Dass had a massive stroke in February of 1997, which paralyzed the right side of his body and severely affected his ability to speak. In the last two years, he has made slow but steady progress in physical and speech therapy, and he continues to spend a good deal of time each week continuing that work.
Ram Dass still uses a wheelchair, but he can take a few steps at a time without it. In addition, his speaking ability has shown dramatic improvement, as evidenced by his first full lecture (since his stroke) last October in Santa Cruz. In the lecture, which was captured on tape and appropriately entitled "Silence is the Doorway," Ram Dass spoke about his personal experience of going deeper into the quiet depths of being via the doorway of external silence.
One thing I love about Ram Dass is that he doesn't just face the obstacles in his path; he turns them into jewels. He says that if he had a choice to be the person he was before the stroke, he wouldn't go back. That's quite a powerful statement, and I believe him. Ram Dass holds the door open for those of us who are challenged by chronic pain and debilitation. He inspires me with his ability to turn every aspect of the human "curriculum" into an opportunity for gratitude and growth.
Ram Dass calls his current life a "new incarnation," and true to form, he is milking the experience for all it's worth. Best of all, he's leaving a trail of breadcrumbs on his path through trauma and transformation. To this end, Ram Dass has resumed work on his long-awaited book on aging, and Putnam hopes to release the book late in 1999 (contact information follows, if you'd like to be notified of publication).
You might already be impressed by all these forays back into the world of activity, but wait, there's more! The continuing strengthening of Ram Dass' health has allowed him to do some traveling again, even as he's learning about the joys of staying in one place: "(It) gives me a kind of continuity of consciousness that I appreciate."
He took a vacation to Hawaii last fall, traveled to Taos, New Mexico, and went to Kalamazoo, Michigan to participate in a "Gathering of Elders," where he and several other pioneers of psychedelic research reflected on four decades of explorations. A pre-symposium interview with Ram Dass has been made available on a new cassette called "Psychedelic Frontiers."
Behind the scenes, Ram Dass' friends and colleagues at the Hanuman Foundation Tape Library are busy at work on the Archiving Project, which is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of his extraordinary legacy of recorded teachings. Many of Ram Dass' early lectures were recorded on older, less stable forms of audiotape that require transfer to a more stable digital format in order to preserve them for future generations. In addition, the Archiving Project is cataloguing the contents of Ram Dass' prodigious array of cassette recordings so that his work will be more accessible to all.
The Archiving Project has been blessed with grants from key individuals and foundations, but more funds are needed. There's a special bonus for anyone who contributes $25 or more to the Archiving Project: a complimentary copy of Ram Dass' new videotape, entitled "Suffering as Grace." I have a copy of the video, and it was deeply moving for me to watch him speak. It was as if the rushing waters of his pre-stroke days have rounded a bend and become a deep, slow-moving river of unimaginable beauty. He's the same river, and he's different, too. I can see why he wouldn't go back.
Happy birthday, Ram Dass! Your unfolding is a gift to us all.
For more information about Ram Dass' books and recordings, or to donate to the Archiving Project, please call the Hanuman Foundation Tape Library at (800) 248-1008. You can also access the Tape Library (and download a lot of great photos of Ram Dass!) at <www.ramdasstapes.org>.
Special thanks and love to Marlene Roeder and Jo Anne Baughan, Ram Dass' longtime assistants, for their help with this article.