Ram Dass on the second half of life

I’d heard of Ram Dass, a contemporary spiritual teacher, mainly for his seminal book ‘Be Here Now’ published in 1971 (when it was still weird to meditate).  I hadn’t really taken much notice of him until ‘Still Here’ came along nearly thirty years later.  He’s worked with the dying and also – more unusually – helped create Circles of Elders in local communities.  He didn’t know how to finish his book ‘Still Here’ – and then he had a stroke.  It’s a great read on ’embracing aging, changing, and dying’ – it’s sub-title.

Here’s some quotes from ‘Still Here’ and ‘Ram Dass One Liners’, quotes that resonate with me in second half of life work.

“Aging is a stage in life that’s especially ripe for us to get free.”

“We have to do two things while investigating our own attitudes towards aging.  First, look at the underlying question of whether we believe ourselves to be bodies with brain-centered minds and nothing more; and second, ask ourselves, “Can there ever be enough?””

“Aging represents failure in our society, so each of us looks ahead and sees inevitable failure.”

“Many of us spend our lives worrying about losing what we have.  Old age offers the opportunity to shift our cares away from the physical toward what cannot be taken away: our wisdom and the love we offer to those around us.  But a culture without spiritual underpinnings deprives us of this opportunity. What Indians experience as a time of liberation is experienced by many Americans as a time of loss.”

“Grief is an integral part of elder wisdom, a force that humbles and deepens our hearts, connects us to the grief of the world, and enables us to be of help.”

“As long as we identify only with things that change, like our bodies, we don’t have a perspective that can free us from our anxiety about aging.”

“There seems to be sequence to the aging process: at first one goes through a feeling of loss, then, if we can be open to that, of new opportunities.”

“One of the best parts of aging is entering the ‘don’t know’, learning to be someone who can rest comfortably in uncertainty.”

…”to age in a conscious way, fearlessness is an essential ingredient. This fearlessness involves the willingness to tell the truth, to ourselves and to others, and to confront the contents of our minds. We must be willing to look at everything – our own suffering as well as the suffering of others – without averting our gaze, and allow it to be in the present moment. Rather than closing ourselves to fear, we learn to open to it, to sit with it, allowing it to arise and pass in its own time.  By simply looking, with no push or pull, mindfulness is strengthened.  You will find that the moment you enter this witness state, the boundaries of the Ego are loosened, and fear begins to change.”

“One source of our ‘elder wisdom’ is that our desires don’t drive us so much anymore. Desire patterns change, and then new things emerge.”

“The wisdom of aging is nurtured by quietness.  We slow down to savour experiences, ‘turning them round in the light'”.