A couple of years ago I stopped lecturing and I just hung out at my house in Boston, taking care of my father. I wasn't full-time doing that. I was just part-time. But I was sort of helping do that. And there were many days each week when I would wake him up, take him to the bathroom, bathe him, toilet him, dress him, feed him, hang out with him. These were extraordinary periods for me, because in my mind somewhere was the idea of, how is this an Upaya, or a spiritual method? I went through so many. I went through so many.
What I did was I kept a diary of what it felt like to do this each day.
To see if I could see through the veils that were created. First of all, the relationship between my father and I has changed so much over the years. We never touched each other when we were young. Now I hold him, I massage him, I dress him. When I'm putting on his socks, he pats me on the back and my heart just opens. It's so beautiful.
Before we were always busy doing stuff together. Let's do photography or let's go here or do that or do something. Now we just sit and hold hands. I say, "Dad, you want television?" "Nope." "You want music?" "Nope." "Are you comfortable?" "Yup." And we just sit there and every now and then he looks over and smiles at me. And it's so sweet, we're there together in the silence. When he's walking to the kitchen on his walker and he's shuffling along, I'm going behind him... Lift, push, place, push, like. And we're doing walking meditation together. It's incredible.
But I noticed in my diaries, I've look back over it. The variety of head trips that I laid on this simple act every day of getting him up to the bathroom, toileting him, showering him and stuff. Some days I noted that I came in and I was very much the devoted son, that's who I was busy being. And I was thinking how wonderful it is that I can serve my father. And we have an extended family. Isn't that wonderful? The next day I found that I had noted that I was suffering. "Boy, am I good to be doing this, Jesus."
Then the next day, I found that the dominant theme was impatience, because he was trying to zip up his fly, but he couldn't manage it. I said, "Come on, for God sakes, you can zip up your fly." And I wrote impatience. Then there was the day I was kind. Then there was a day I was humorous, just full of yuks. He, in the meantime, isn't doing anything, you understand? He's just being there. I mean, because then sometimes I come and I note that I think he's my guru in drag, you see? Because his equanimity is showing me my trips.
And I'm doing the same act every day, but from a different trip vantage point.
So I'm actually doing a whole variety of things each day, each time. Then one day it's very automatic, my mind's somewhere else. I'm planning, I'm writing something. Then one day I'm sharing the joy of a new day. One day on being a perceptual guide, I'm helping him see the higher wisdom. What he puts up with, I'll tell you, it's amazing. One day I'm drawing him out, one day I'm respecting him, one day I'm distracted, et cetera.
Now there's another exercise that I was doing:
If you recall, Mother Teresa saw when she serves the lepers in Calcutta, and the broken and the street people that are dying on the streets, she sees them all as Christ in his distressing disguises. You remember Matthew 25: For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a strange,r and you welcomed me. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me. Truly, I say to you as you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.
So part of the exercise with my father was who did I see him to be? I told you one day I saw him as my guru in drag, another time I see him as my father. Another time I see him as an old, smelly man. Another time I see him as a fellow male, when I'm showering him. I'm aware of the intimacy of our bodies.
Another time I see him as an incarnate. Having had a fascinating incarnation. Another time I see him as a part of God. Another time the scientist in me sees him as a set of ambulatory variables. I mean, because we keep charts of what goes in and what comes out of dad. And a lot of the discussion around the house is, was the bowel movement small, tiny, medium or large? And what should we do about it? And in that sense, my father is a chemical factory that is just processing stuff.
These are all real. They're all relatively real. And to make believe any of them isn't real is to turn your head from something. And if you think you can be free by turning your head from anything, you're mistaken. You've got to see, "And that too." Tat Tvam Asi. And that too. And that too. And that too.
Sometimes I wanted his love. Sometimes I wanted him to be humorous. Sometimes he'd be cranky and I'd be put off. All of this was this incredibly rich experience. A 54-year-old guy goes back to live at home to take care of his father. That isn't a success story in the world I grew up in. It's nice and he's a good kid, but it's not the power trip. It's something else.
All I can tell you is I have felt so incredibly graced taking care of my father.
It's like I am being let into the doors of the inner kingdom through this process, this simple process. Until the love I feel for him and for me, and I've milked it for myself as much as I could at one level. Aren't I good to be doing this...
Everybody says, "Isn't Richard good?" My brother says, "You're really wonderful to be doing this." How am I going to tell him that this is the most graceful thing I could be doing? That I'm getting off on it. I'm growing from it because it's my vehicle for getting liberated.
What the process is, is dying out of being caught or identified with your separateness, into recognizing that you are part of the totality. And then you are taking care of dad because you and dad are the same thing. That's that part of you that's Father, and you are that part of you that's Son. And you are not caught in identification only in yourself, so Dad isn't object or other. We are all in a subjective space.
Gandhi said, "God demands nothing less than complete self-surrender as the price for the only real freedom that is worth having. And when a person thus loses herself, she immediately finds herself in the service of all that lives. It becomes her delight and recreation. She is a new person, never wary of spending herself in the service of God's creation."
It's like the creation is creating itself through your actions, and you're just part of a process. You're not busy being a separate person doing it. In the back of my mind have always been the two injunctions that I remember so clearly from the Bhagavad Gita, from Krishna when he says to Arjuna, “Do what you must do, but don't be attached to being the actor.” Don't think you're doing it. It's all being done. And the other one is, "Do what you do as impeccably as you can, but what effect it has is what effect it has. And don't you get lost in being attached to the fruits of the action." Now, that's the interesting one.
To be wonderful to dad and then have him not thank me, right? Good. He didn't thank me. Good. It caught me. Why didn't he thank me? It hurts... Good. It shows me where my secret stash of attachment is. What did I want, to have fun or to get free? If I want to get free I want people to show me my stash all the time.
And what that leads me to do is to look at where my stashes are and move towards them rather than away, because I want to be free more than I want anything else. Because that's the attachment that I've got that's going to hold until I give up all attachments. The last attachment we give up is the attachment of being free. I'll use that one to get rid of all the others, and then that one will self-destruct. So what I do is I move towards those things that make you go, yuck! I don't think I want to handle that one.
- Ram Dass, SEVA Foundation Benefit - 1985
6 thoughts on “Caring for Family as a Spiritual Practice (with video)”
Ram Dass, I love you ❤️
This one definitely touched a sore spot as a caretaker to my 28 year old son with special needs. A journey of constant cleaning, caretaking, doctor appt, medications, bowel movements, tooth brushing, flossing, poor sleep patterns, behavioral challenges, anxiety , etc. Can you hear my story:)
Ram Dass sure gets it:)
Yes…. My stash is certainly showing up a lot lately…
Thank you for sharing your experience, Michelle. I’m glad you were able to resonate with this teaching, although it touched a sore spot… Sending you and your son love and peace. – Rachael
I’m looking after my long ex husband (37 years) who is very ill. He’s always been demanding but we’ve remained friends.
I’m incredibly grateful for this and the timing is perfect as for the past week I have been feeling increasingly resentful at his verbal commands and demands but lack of acknowledgement of my support.
Thank you so much for helping me to understand this opportunity.
my wife and I are aging.
she has some difficult health problems….on a pump for diabetes, she can’t digest her food properly-gastroparesis.
I’ve dealt with thyroid cancer for 20 years.
I’ve struggled with employment; I’m a teacher’s assistant, and I work hard and morally; it leads to conflicts with “bosses” who don’t appreciate my devotion.
I’m tired. There’s always chores that need to be done.
I’ve been seeking to follow dharma for over 40 years.
I’m just tired.
I’m grateful I can read Ram Dass, but there’s no sangha locally.
Harmoni, there may be a local satsang near you, have you looked on ramdass.org/fellowship? On that page you can find a map of local satsangs and virtual gatherings, I hope you’ll consider joining! I’m sorry you’re tired and seem to be struggling a bit, I’m sending you love and support from afar… <3