On Friday morning I was taking a bus down to New York for an AcroYoga event, and I started reading Ram Dass’ most recent book Be Love Now: The Path of the Heart. Through his books, Ram Dass has been a really important teacher to me in so many ways, someone who can translate some of the more foreign and often esoteric bits of the yoga that has come to the west in a wise and witty way.
Be Love Now focuses, as much of his work does, on Ram Dass’ relationship with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba (often called Mahara-ji), who by Dass’ account completely transformed his life, and put him on a lifelong path of bhakti (devotional) yoga. The way he describes it is that the love that the love he found in working with this man was so vast and so pure that it saw through everything he (Dass) hid from the world, everything he was afraid of. And it caused Ram Dass to commit his life to pursuing, embodying and sharing this love. (By his own admission, to varying degrees of success.)
Of course, when my attention turned from the book to the news on my phone, I saw the first reports of the Newtown tragedy, which only got worse. The terrible gravity of the news was driven home further when I found out that one of the victims was the daughter of Jimmy Greene, a saxophonist who I don’t know personally, but whose work I admire and who I share many friends with. I can only imagine his families, and everyone in Newtown’s, pain and anguish and horror and anger. I’ve sat with this for a few days now, following the news a little, thinking and praying a lot.
IF what we’re reading about the shooter and his mother is true (and that’s in caps because so much early reporting often is wrong), the two of them were people who were pretty frightened. Nancy Lanza was apparently (again, I worry about assuming anything based on early reporting) a “prepper”, someone who stockpiled supplies and money and, yes, weapons because she anticipated a impending economic/societal collapse, I imagine something like the plot of that NBC series “Revolution”. And every description of the shooter describes him as living like a turtle inside a shell, at least until last week.
Whether these portraits are true or not, they are familiar to most of us. We are living in a time where great uncertainty has created great fear. The causes are there- tremendous economic inequality and insecurity, acrimonious political gridlock, seemingly endless American war, and huge climate and health concerns. The evidence is there too- gun ownership has skyrocketed in this country, as has use of psychotropic medication. Poll after poll shows scant trust in public institutions, be they churches or banks or Congress. And people get scared, and adapt beliefs and structures that attempt to allay those fears. In the past two years I’ve heard plans and theories come out of otherwise reasonable people’s mouths, about dollar rigging or jackbooted thugs or global conspiracies, that left my jaw agape.
So here’s my question- what good does living in fear do, even if your fears may be justified? I have plenty of fears too, though the ones that tend to mess me up are a little closer to home. I’m sometimes (often) scared of losing work; one of the perils of self-employment. And guess what? Sometimes I lose work, and sometimes I get new work. Both happened recently, have happened since I started teaching, and will happen again. This is the nature of the beast. But can imagine a class or a lessons that I would teach from a place of “please don’t fire me!” And it would suck. But if I teach (and play and cook and live) focusing on how much I love what I do, and that I get to share it, everything goes better.
The juxtaposition in my head this weekend, of Ram Dass being transformed by an ocean of love, and the scenes on the news of real time fear and terror, was pretty jarring. (Made more so by jumping right from there into a heavy-duty acrobatic workshop, which requires a level of complete trust in others in real time like nothing else I do.) I wonder what would have happened to Adam Lanza if he’d been exposed to the same love Ram Dass met in Neem Karoli Baba, or Thich Naht Hahn. Maybe that’s silly or bizarre, but I’d like to think it could make a difference.
If there is a takeaway for me in all of this, it reinforces my own work to live from a place of love rather than fear, and do the daily work to reinforce that choice. And hopefully by example encourage others to do the same. I don’t think you can do something as horrific as what happened, even if you are very ill, unless you are deeply, irrationally, even pathologically afraid. And while many can encourage fear in us, ultimately we’re the ones who choose to live in it or look past it.
Choosing not to live from fear doesn’t mean one doesn’t get scared, but it does mean that you don’t let the fear dictate your choices; you don’t play small. That may (and perhaps should) translate into specific social or political action, it may just mean not having that extra drink or waiting an extra second before you snap at someone.
Today is the darkest day of the year, literally, and it’s no coincidence that all of the religious feasts of this time focus on lights shining in the darkness. In this very dark moment, let’s choose to be the light.
I’ll leave it with how Ram Dass describes the truth we can choose to embrace:
“You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic status- none of that matters… This love is actually a part of you, it is always flowing through you. It’s a subatomic texture of the universe, the dark matter that connects you to everything. When you tune into that flow, you will feel it in your own heart… If I go to the place in myself that is love and you go to the place in yourself that is love, we are together in love… the state of being love.”