A standing ovation by the audience of 150 in a yoga studio in Maui welcomed the noted spiritual seeker/ teacher. His nickname was formerly Rent A Mouth for his professional skill in storytelling. Tonight the stories were intact but his speech was severely hampered. Due to stroke induced aphasia each word had to slowly cross over from thought into speech. Although, his concepts were lucid and clear his speaking was labored. Each sentence was ten times longer than normal speaking speed. We heard tales of the old days at Harvard with his running bud of the time, Tim Leary. And old chestnuts about Neem Karoli Baba, his guru. New tidbits about his long and very public life emerged from the winding country road that is now his speech. Stories about the time they were tripping and he made a spectacle of himself in front of his parents shoveling snow in the middle of the night. Miraculously, he weaved a cogent thread on the topic of spiritual liberation through tales of his life over a twenty-five year period. After 45 minutes he got as far as 1970 and the moderator stepped in with a comment to the stone silent audience.
Carefully with much compassion and sensitivity, he made an suggestion to the pin-dropping 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 doesn’t work as it used to, be it sexuality, or a sore back or memory. We all share in the 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. There was some glancing about by members of the audience, a couple persons got up and left, and the message of the day was emblazoned for me: Compassion begins with the self. Our generation’s leading spiritual way shower’s last message is no longer in his anecdotes and accrued wisdom, it is in his example. He is on stage doing what he always did, entertaining and informing us, the first generation to seek spiritual enlightenment en masse. 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 in the avant garde. Today from his tropical redoubt, he is teaching us about aging and death with his very public sharing of his challenges. Through it all he maintains his equanimity and displays his ordinariness.
The natural order of life includes aging, with its inexorable physical decline. We have been a generation that made a cult of youth and our ‘specialness.’ Now, no longer young but in a large measure seeking to hold onto a modicum of youthfulness in spirit, appearance, fitness etc. we have tried to stop time. Many years ago a hit record declared, ‘all things must pass.’ As we see an icon with his very apparent aging, it awakened in me a strong sense of compassion, not for him, he is well in spirit. But for myself and my new back ache, my new 24/ 7 glasses, and the old guy in the mirror. Regard for the old teacher compelled me to pay attention to each carefully enunciated word and that effort forced a mindfulness of the moment. The message was not the words or the space between the words but to my heart’s basic desire for compassion for all beings beginning with myself.
Thank you once again Ram Dass, you have pointed the way again.