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I really worked for a number of years at getting high and not coming down. And I learned a lot of different techniques for getting high by changing the lenses through which I see the world.

If you put on lens 1 and look up here, you see a 55-year-old, balding, attractive-looking gentleman. That’s the physical plane – the plane where lust is, where you just see physical bodies. When you lust, you see everybody in terms of physical bodies – as a potential, a competitor, or irrelevant. As I’ve gotten older, it’s interesting – I’m sure there are streets in Worcester where that lens is worn. I can walk down that street and be totally irrelevant now, like a walking lamppost.

Lens 2 is the psychosocial lens. That’s the lens of personality and social role – of mothers, fathers, lawyers, doctors, social workers, students, seekers after the light, meditators, all the social roles. And all the psychological stuff of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory: happy, and sad, and depressed. You look up here and you see a warm, charming lecturer, a mild manic-depressive.

You put on lens 3 and you see our mythic identities. There are Jung’s archetypes; the kind of bigger-than-life roles we’re playing. There’s the Divine Mother, the Seeker After the Holy Grail. There’s the Pillar of Society. You see all the archetypal roles. You also see, when you look up here, that I’m an Aries, which explains everything to those of you who are wearing lens number three.

Now lenses 1, 2 and 3 all describe individual differences among us. They peg how you’re different from me, and how I’m different from her and from him. They’re all lesser and greater and different from each other.

But if you put on lens 4 and you look into the eyes of another being, you meet another awareness, another being looking back at you. It’s like looking through one of those glass windows: Are you in there? I’m in here. How did you get into that one? And what you see is another being in a space suit that involves lenses 1, 2 and 3 – that involves the physical body, the psychosocial identities, and the mythic or astral levels. You see what the Christians call a “fellow soul.” You see another awareness. You see a fellow witness of the scene.

If you put on another lens, lens 5, you look and you see yourself looking at yourself looking at yourself. There’s only one of us. Because if you get down into the smallest units of matter – the quarks and things like electrons and sub-neutrinos, all that stuff way down there behind the patterning of stuff – it’s all the same stuff. It’s all homogeneous and moves in and out of everything. There’s only one of it. You can call it the One in the spiritual unity that lies behind the diversity. You can call it God if you want to. There’s no name for it, and many names.

Put on yet one more lens and you disappear, and I disappear, and the lens disappears, and it all disappears. That’s the other side of the One. It’s the formless unmanifest, before it manifests into anything, into stuff. It’s the state between thoughts. It’s the one that keeps the Buddhists all happy.

Now it’s interesting. When I say that I touched something, it meant that I came up and I met my soul, and I met the way in which I was a part of the universe.

I was no longer needing to be special, because I was no longer so caught in my puny separateness that had to keep proving I was something. I was part of the universe, like a tree is, or like grass is, or like water is. Like storms, like roses. I was just part of it all. I had my unique function to play. I could see from there that everything had a unique form – it was all just lawfully playing with each other. All forms were related lawfully, I could see which “me” in form was part of the law. Nothing more, nothing less.

It was no big deal, and yet it was very precious.

– Ram Dass, excerpt from his new book ‘Changing Lenses: Essential Teaching Stories from Ram Dass

Order the book here.