The question is about the balance between inner work (work on yourself) and outer work. I’ll tell you, each person has got to intuitively trust themselves about where they are and what they can handle. If you look at a lot of social activism, you will find many people who are deeply entrapped in righteousness and anger.
And they will guilt trip you continually for not doing more. And if you say, “I’m going to go home and meditate,” they look at you like you’re killing little children. You’ve got to have incredible strength, and you feel like some kind of a viper for saying, “I’m going to take the afternoon off to go swimming.” I was in New York working with the homeless. And I’m so good. I am so good. Seva is good and I’m good. And we do good things. And it’s all wonderful.
And I realized that I have been busy being good for years.
This is an interesting little story. I have been busy for years absorbing suffering into my being. Because at first, you go, “Ooh, suffering! Oooh, oooh, oooh.” And then I worked with the dying, and I saw that I could be in the presence of dying and keep my heart open and there was even another part of me that was delighted in the Universe and the forces of change and the awakening that dying allowed.
Being in the presence of the dying is a very alive moment. Just as being in the presence of birth is a very alive moment, a very awakening moment. So I cherished that. And then I started working with other kinds of suffering in the world. And I found that slowly, slowly I could look directly into the eyes of suffering and I wasn’t afraid of my own emotional reactions.
I wasn’t afraid of my heart breaking, because it was balanced with this deeper place of equanimity in myself.
So I’ve been doing that for years, and that has been my Sadhana and it has worked beautifully. So I think to myself, “Gee isn’t this wonderfully Jewish of me? That I’ve been able to ease suffering and oh boy!” But what about joy and pleasure and fun? And sensuality? I’m not sure I have consumed my sensuality yet. I don’t think I’ve really dealt with all the pleasure of life. And it’s always something that’s a little bit better to deal with than suffering.
So I decided that when I was moving out to California, one of the things I needed, because I was an uptight New Englander, for my own psychological and spiritual and sensual growth, was to have a hot tub.
Because I was moving to Marin, and in Marin you have to have a hot tub. And not only was it because of Marin. I shouldn’t bad mouth Marin, it is a nice place. But I needed the hot tub. I needed to be naked, around naked people. I needed to have the sensuality. I needed to play with pleasure for a while. But here I was teaching a course on homelessness in New York City. The hot tub was going to cost me $3,000. I was dealing with the architect out in Marin in this house that I was renting, working out plans for the deck and the hot tub, and then I was going to this lecture about homelessness.
The question that arose in my mind was, “Am I going to tell these people that I am building a hot tub in Marin?” Do you hear the issue? Or is it going to be another compartment that one keeps on the side. Because the group had in it not only all the people who were required to be part of the class to volunteer in a shelter or do something in political action around homelessness, but there were also homeless people in the class. And finally I announced to everybody that I was building a hot tub.
And I could feel the righteous judgment that awakened.
And people – they sort of loved me but they couldn’t quite handle it – you know, “Why would he do that?” Because they have projections of me as somebody that was so good. He never went to the toilet, for example. And I began to see that if you aren’t free, you are perpetuating your entrapment in others. And that it is hard for me to explain that my hot tub was part of my service to the homeless people. And I feel like I am using the height of rationalization when I do that and at the same moment I understand that in my being it is my truth. And I am perfectly willing to live with that truth.
And I’ll tell you that hot tub has been a mitzvah. What I did was, it is an eight-sided tub – it’s a fancy one – it’s the “eightfold bath” for those of you in Buddhism. And I got those sticky letters that I put on each side – effort, mindfulness, understanding… It’s the “eightfold bath” of the upper-middle way.
– Ram Dass from The Listening Heart Lectures