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RAM DASS INTERVIEW:
TELL ME WHAT YOU MEAN - IT'S YOUR TERM CONSCIOUS AGING. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Conscious aging is referring to bringing mindfulness and bringing awareness to the processes and the experiences of aging. So much of aging is done unconsciously and unconsciously we buy into so many ah cultural myths and so much excess baggage around aging and I think that it's important to bring attention to that process.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THE WORKSHOPS?
Just about two years now.
TWO YEARS NOW. HAVE YOU - WHEN YOU'RE DOING ONE, IT SEEMS TO ME WATCHING ONE THAT THE AUDIENCE FEELS YOU'RE GIVING THEM SOMETHING VERY, VERY VALUABLE. THEY'RE REALLY WITH YOU. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT YOU'VE COTTONED ON TO SOMETHING THAT'S IMPORTANT IN THE CULTURE RIGHT NOW.
Well all it really is is a redefinition of what I've been teaching for 30 years into the area of aging because the issue that is coming into the society more and more is the issue of spiritual awakening or consciousness. And so I can make it fresh around business, I can make it fresh around service, I can make it fresh around aging. So in a way it's putting two fields together. That's part of my strong suit is putting two fields together and coming up with some amalgam of that.
BUT WHEN YOU'RE UP THERE TEACHING THIS, WHAT ARE YOU GETTING BACK? WHAT KIND OF FEEDBACK ARE YOU GETTIN BACK FROM THE PEOPLE?
What I'm getting back is a resonance and ah I'm getting back a sense - I'll tell you, the giving and getting back is one stage of it. Then it moves to another stage where you feel you are the voice of a collective consciousness. And you're not getting, it's not a reward, an instrumental reward to make you feel good, the thing is the reward itself. It's just a feeling of ah harmony, of being on the right - resonating you know. I get so rewarded for staying as close to my truth as I can get because there are people that are yearning just to have people talk to them truthfully. Because it's so easy when you get up to give a lecture to con, to be what people want you to be, to cut off the edges, to smooth the whole thing out you know.
WHEN YOU'RE WORKING WITH ZALMAN IT'S NOT A SENSE THAT THE TWO, AND I'M GOING TO TALK TO HIM ABOUT THIS TOO, IT'S NOT A SENSE THAT THE TWO OF YOU ARE DOING IT AS A TEAM AT ALL. THERE'S A SENSE THAT THERE'S TWO INDIVIDUALS WITH A SLIGHT - WITH A DIFFERENT APPROACH.
BUT THERE'S NOT THE SENSE OF A WELL OILED MACHINE. THERE'S A SENSE OF TWO GUYS WHO HAVE SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW AND YOU YOURSELF SAID IT IN YOUR LINE, TOMORROW I'LL GIVE YOU THE TRUTH. AND IT WASN'T THAT YOU WERE TOTALLY JOKING. YOU HAVE A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT APPROACH.
Zalman and I are friends and we respect one another. But Zalman is really reflective of the Jewish tradition and the Jewish tradition is tekun olem, is bringing the covenant manifest on earth. And I'm coming out of Eastern mystic traditions in which the ah getting comfortable with other planes of reality is the key issue to freedom. So there are a lot of ways we overlap in that because there are the many mansions and there's all the things together. But Zalman is much more family, earth, social oriented and I am much more awareness, emptiness, consciousness, freedom oriented.
And when it works it's a nice complemenarity. When it doesn't work it's hard on the audience because they don't know who to listen to, you know.
THEY SENSE THE TENSION. THEY SENSE POSSIBLY A LITTLE BIT OF TENSION BUT NOT - BUT I DID NOTICE THAT THERE WAS A DICHOTOMY IN THE AUDIENCE. THERE WERE PEOPLE THERE WHO HAD COME TO HEAR YOU AND THERE WERE PEOPLE THERE WHO HAD COME TO HEAR ZALMAN.
We had never done this this way before and I'm not sure we would do it again. But it was a useful experience to do it together.
I THINK IT WAS -
Because we're both interested in the field. I mean if we had Betty Friedan there who's done another book on aging, we would have another kind of irascible tough - I've done this work with her. And I find these are productive liaisons. They're not maybe long term collaborative games though.
WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE US TO MOVE AS A CULTURE IN THIS FIELD?
I would like there to be a more supportive climate through media, through education for people to understand that thee is an inner curriculum in their life, that there is inner work to do and that that inner work manifests in more effective social action. I'd like that understanding to be deep in the culture. It's getting in there but it's got a way to go yet. And ah in the old days, kings had elder councils who ah had perspective and reflectiveness and a quiet space. But when I speak to my friends in the White House and say, is there anybody holding the space? Is there anybody that doesn't have a line power capacity, that is just there to stand back, they say no, there's nobody there. See, everybody is trying to think they're - everybody is reactive and the art is to cultivate in a society in which stuff is moving faster and faster, to create a counter force of reflectiveness, of timeless perspective, to bring some wisdom into the scene. And I would really like the culture, I'd like to be an instrument and help that process happen. And because of the social economic structures and the experience, older people are key players in that. And but they have to start to respect themselves and they have to start to be that. Once they are that, then the society will adapt to it.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE SOCIETY WILL ADAPT THOUGH? HOW WILL IT MANIFEST INSTITUTIONALLY?
Well, at the preparatory level, it would manifest institutionally in ah in ah study groups, in ah gatherings of elders to explore and to awaken and to help each other do this work. Then I think it feeds out into the social system in a variety of ways. My friend Laura Huxley, Aldous's widow, started Project Caress in shopping centres. So ah women can leave their babies with a child care worker but old people come in and hold the babies and play with them. And there is one manifestation. You can create your surrogate systems because the extended family has broken down so much. You can create through surrogate systems ways for intergenerational interface. For a lot of the thing where older people go into schools and help with reading with children that was talked about yesterday. In ah I think in the - in the political arena I could imagine ah like whistle blowing groups of elders who are whistle blowing around the issues of sustainability, of moral issues without the kind of righteousness but out of a place of wisdom. I could imagine those kind of - those evolving. Ah - ah - I also could imagine ah values shifting to move away from the more is better mentality that we are so lost in in the west into more a voluntary simplicity, of people valuing a simple life. I could see social institutions in which people, like they do in Burma, on vacations they go into retreat rather than to go to collect more experiences. And I can see a shift in the - as the demography shifts I can see a shift in the - in the major values of the culture towards youth versus towards the whole life cycle which I think - I think when we start to appreciate the beauty of the cycle - I get a feeling when I look at the aging world now like being in autumn in New England when the leaves are all changing and you're there with a paintbrush painting them all green again. You know, that's what I feel we're doing and I just don't feel we're appreciating the beauty of that process.
023 - RAM DASS INTERVIEW AND THINKTANK, PT. 1:
My strategy has always been to create models of what's possible and if the model has a power to it and has a truth to it, then it will spread. I mean I watched what's happened with work with dying, that people like Elizabeth Kuhbler-Ross and Steven Levine and Andrea and I have been doing for 30 years and watched the changes in the culture and the hospice movement in Leslie Saunders work. I've just watched. That was an idea and a model and it just took off because there was a ripeness and a timing for it just because economically it's much cheaper to keep people in a hospice than keep them in a hospital. And so there was economic support for it. It would be some amalgam of economics and social need and a political responsiveness that would create the social institutions. The predicament that I'm facing in this work is that I'm really speaking to people that are 50 years old because there's a major generation gap in consciousness. And I'm talking to the people who have come through a certain - they've come through rock and roll. They've come through all the movements, the social movements. The older people in our society now were before that and I'm, because of my age, I was already old back in the '60s. I mean I was already an uncle rather than a, you know, I wasn't a 15-year old flower child. And so, most of the people my age don't understand what I'm talking about. So there is this generational issue. So what I'm really doing is creating an environmental support for considering the possibility that the meaning of our lives has to do with our inner growth, not just our external affluence or security or any of those things. And as those values shift, then the needs for certain kinds of institutions shift as well. Because people can make do with a lot less if they're seeing it as an inner work. Voluntary simplicity works much better for people that have inner work than for people that don't.
WHEN YOU LOOK AHEAD PERSONALLY -
I don't know whether I answered that question because you were -
YOU DID. I THINK YOU ANSWERED IT THE WAY ... I THINK YOU HAVE SOMETHING MORE TO SAY ON THIS OBVIOUSLY SURE BUT WHAT YOU SAID WAS ....
I feel that there is - there is - we have a lot of stereotype images about nursing homes, about senior housing, that really we have to examine much more carefully. I mean I think that ah that we are ah - we're not open at all to the possibilities of what those environments can be like. But that involves training programs of all the staff of those things. I mean to get a staff, like I work with hospice groups and to get them to understand how much work they have to do on themselves just to get doctors, nurses, social workers to understand they have work to do on themselves, not just getting a credential but working on their own consciousness as a life long work. That to me is a key component to the whole thing.
.... THINKING OF MY AUDIENCE, ..... AUDIENCE GENERALLY TENDS TO BE MOSTLY OVER 50. BUT I THINK THEY'RE GOING TO BE OPEN TO ...
You see, people - individuals have many, many experiences every day of altered states of consciousness, of -
People have many experiences, everybody does, of altered states of consciousness, of other ways of other ways of looking at themselves. But if a society doesn't support those, they get treated as irrelevant or error in the system. So that no matter what age a person is, it's just a figure ground reversal of the way they see their own experiences. That was for your audience. That was your link, your bridge. I just want you to know where it fits in. That was a little caveat.
YOU PERSONALLY HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF TRANSLATING INTO - HOW OLD ARE YOU AGAIN?
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AT 70?
I don't. I don't. Ah there are these lines from zochen training which said, prolong not the past, invite not the future, don't alter innate wakefulness, don't fear appearances, there's more than that. And I work with that. I don't really project forward. What I demand is that what I do now be very meaningful and very full and at some deeper, unconscious level I have a sense of continuity of generations of society and you know, perpetuation of civilization, if we had any. But basically ah I find now when I look back at my life, I realize that who I am now, there was no way that I could have predicted this then. So I don't see why I should be able to predict now what will be then. Because I could imagine pulling back from society and being - sitting in a monastic setting for 5, 10 years in order to come out with one 3-page book, you know, that I'd feed back into the world. Because I'm not under the idea that more is better and that I have to write more books and give more lectures. I don't feel compelled out of social obligation in that way.
ANYTHING YOU THINK WE MIGHT HAVE TOUCHED UPON THAT WE DIDN'T? ....
I'm just thinking of your audience.
A key shift of perception is to see the aging population as a resource and a potential joy and contribution and not as a social problem. And the entire political, economic, gerontological orientation of seeing aging as a problem is the problem. And so that perceptual shift itself makes the whole thing incredibly exciting. When you say, how do you take this resource of humanity, this collectivity of wisdom, this collectivity of energy, this collectivity of creative possibility. How do you make a place in society because if you're impoverishing the society by not having that, you are - you're just throwing away gold, you're just throwing away gold. You're throwing away the jewels of the whole system. And ah like and as society gets caught more in time, the people who because of the nature of their age are pulling back from time, have an important balancing contribution to make. You've got to be sensitive to the balances in a society to see the important part that is missing.
I'M JUST THINKING I SHOULD GET YOU TO MAKE SOME COMMENTS ON THE HINDU SYSTEM ... STAGES OF LIFE AND THE LAST STAGE OF LIFE AND ...
Well, there are many, many societies that articulate very precisely the rituals for entrance into a stage of life, the role in the stage, the way you exit. And in India where I've lived a great deal in Hinduism there is a clear articulation into four stages. And there's the stage of the student and the growing person. There's the stage of the householder who raises the family, runs the business, earns the money. Then there's the stage of the person after 40 or so. Turns the business over to children, starts to do studies, pilgrimages and so on. Then at 60 there is the senyas, the wanderer who's free of family, of everything. This is a theoretical model from the ancient text. In actuality it isn't followed.
In actuality, that particular set of strategies is talked about a lot in India but actually not lived out because as people get older, they look to their families to take care of them and they don't really have any jungle to go any more quite that way. And the other thing to keep in mind is that people at that time didn't live very long. So the number of people over 60 was extremely few that ever did that and the society could support that. If too many of those people are wandering around, it doesn't work. But the idea was that you - it's the same way as in the funeral services in India, they take the stretcher that has the body on it, they take it to the burning ... and halfway there, the first half, the head is facing, is towards the house the person came from and then halfway to the burning ... they turn the body around and it's faced now towards, it's aimed towards the buring and towards the next stage. So with life, you have the student coming into the world, the householder in the world, the third stage starting to disengage and the fourth stage really consciousness turned towards the next route on reincarnation, the next letting go. A lot of this makes sense within a reincarnational model. The idea of doing learning in the last stage of your life in a philosophical, materialist world doesn't make much sense. It makes deep sense if you have some sense of the continuity of something after death.
JUST AN IMAGE OF YOU ON THE GOLF COURSE LOOKING FOR GOLF PARTNERS. WHO DO YOU PLAY WITH?
Well if I go out during the week, I end up with usually three retired Republicans which is quite a challenge for me. ..... we don't have any career discussion. We just talk about golf balls and strokes and clubs we play. (laughter) I'll tell you, for me it is an absolutely mystical process, the whole game of golf. The consciousness of where my mind is in each part of the swing and to me that's what the game is about. I'm not interested in scores or competition or that at all.
... I RUSHED OUT TO HALIFAX TO FILM, THE FIRST THING I FILMED WAS THE SHAMBALAH .... AND THE GOLF PRO AT THE GOLF COURSE WAS A STUDENT OF TRIMPA AND HE HAD MOVED OUT ...
That's great. There's a book called Golf and the Kingdom that Mike Murphy wrote which is a mystical game of golf and there's a guy named Shivas Irons in it. And I read the book and I came to Mike and I said Mike that's a great book and Shivas is such a mystic. The next week I got invited to address the Shivas Iron Society. Turns out there's an organization of 1300 members of mystical golfers. Isn't that fascinating?
AND THERE WILL PROBABLY BE 10,000 OF THEM BY THE END OF ...
I suspect there will. I suspect there will. And I love the double take people take. Ram Dass, you're playing golf? Because you can see how even in the weekend workshop, golf was part of the caricature of getting old and I love that. I love using that, you know.
TURNING IT AROUND.