Baba Ram Dass wrote Be Here Now, and was the Bible of the 1960’s or, if not the Bible, then at least the Bhagavad Gita. A book that bridged the gap between East and West for an entire generation of long-haired, counter culture, God-seeking souls. And I was one of them.
The author of the book, Baba Ram Dass — the ex-Harvard psychologist and popularizer of LSD — was fast becoming a new kind of spiritual rock star. He had just returned from his pilgrimage to India with a ton of love and something far better than the Holy Grail. The ability to communicate the essence of Eastern wisdom in ways even suburban hippies could understand.
I read his book five times the first month I owned it. I read it twice the second month. So when I heard that he was going to be speaking just a few miles from my abode in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I bought a ticket and went.
The evening was divided into three parts: Part One was a kind of introduction — Ram Dass holding forth in ways even your mother would enjoy. He was charming. He was inspiring. And he made a lot of sense. A hour into his discourse, Ram Dass announced that there was going to be an intermission and that if anyone REALLY needed to leave, now would be a good time. And so some did.
Part Two went deeper. Much deeper. If Part One was Spirituality 101, Part Two was graduate school, complete with astounding stories about his Guru, the blanket-wearing, Neem Karoli Baba. After an hour or so, he informed the audience there was going to be yet another break. The perfect time, he explained, for anyone to leave who had to get home for any reason. And so, another bunch of people left, leaving about half of the original audience in the hall — the hard core — people who weren’t going to leave until Ram Dass, himself, left or hell froze over, which ever came first.
Part Three went even deeper — a magical mystery tour into various nooks and crannies of the spiritual adventure that all of us were on, no matter what path we walked. And then, as the midnight hour approached, with a sly smile and a slow bow, Ram Dass walked to the front of stage, removed the garland of flowers that adorned his neck and, one by one, began tossing flowers into the audience — his gesture of recycling some of the love that had been directed at him all night. Immediately, most of the audience stood up and began reaching, Ram Dass continuing to toss.
When he turned in my direction, I had a decision to make. Do I stand and join the people standing all around me? Do I simply sit? Cross-legged, where I was, hands on my knees in classic mudra position. Thumb and index finger joined, my other three fingers extended, palms upward to the sky?
Just Like That
Content as I was, free of need, I did not move. I just sat there, watching Ram Dass toss another flower. It was yellow and I could see it coming towards me — in slow motion, it seemed, a kind of time lapse photography of my life. The closer it got, the more people reached for it, everyone wanting a memento of the evening. I continued sitting my ground. Looking up, it felt as if I was living in a giant pin ball machine, the many arms above me, all at different levels, flippers poised for action.
The tallest person near me was the first to touch it, but when they closed their hand, they missed and the flower continued its descent. A second person reached… and then a third — in a succession of seven — each failing to catch the object of their desire. I did nothing. I just sat there, watching, both of my hands open on my knees.
And then with absolutely no effort, not a millimeter of adjustment to the falling object from the sky, the flower landed perfectly in my right hand, bright yellow petals facing upward to the sky.
Just… like…. that.
This little story happened to me 44 years ago, but it feels like yesterday. And WHY it feels like yesterday is because the lesson I learned was a timeless one.
What kind of effort do I need to make in life? What does it take to accomplish what it is I want? For most of my life, I have made a ton of effort, standing tall, reaching for what I want. Effort, I have reasoned, is what it takes to accomplish my goals. Effort… and tenacity… and a whole lot of perseverance. Who can argue with that? Read about the lives of anyone who has ever made a difference in the world and you will discover they have made a tremendous amount of effort.
True. I get it. But there are times when the garden variety kind of effort human beings make will not suffice — when trying… and reaching… and grasping… actually get in the way. Ever try to catch a milkweed pod floating by you? More often than not, just the wind of your reaching will be enough to push it further away. Bold reaching doesn’t always work. Nor does grasping. Sometimes, we need to let things come to us. Sometimes, we need to simply strike the pose of RECEIVING and trust the process of our life.
That’s how the flower landed in my hand. And that’s how the flower will land in your hand. Knowing when to sit and when to stand, of course, is something only you can decide. There is no formula, no blueprint to follow. It’s a moment-by-moment act of discovery. If you are experiencing, these days, that all of your standing, reaching, and grasping is leaving you empty-handed. Consider another approach. Slow down. Sit still. Open your eyes and your heart and your hands and let whatever you want come to you in its own sweet time.