How Can We Act Consciously and Compassionately Amidst Fear?

Ram Dass has been talking about Social Justice for many decades. In 1983, nuclear proliferation was the top of the news cycle, and he spoke directly to balancing social action while living in both the absolute and relative realities. Today, the global conversation has turned to address racial justice. While Ram Dass is no longer in his body to speak into today’s conversation, it’s easy to imagine him saying something similar to his talk below…

The [conversation on nuclear proliferation] makes me quiver inside with pain, with indignation, with shame, with a sense of fear and urgency, with strong commitment and with the realization that our lives are going to change very dramatically. There is still tremendous inertia in most people, little recognition that they cannot quite go about business as usual.

Fear as the primary motivator of our actions will not solve our problems. In fact, it may well exacerbate them. We are going to have to go deeper into our beings to find a more profound source for our actions.

Let’s start by acknowledging what these bombs represent is us, not them. I can’t make this into an “I/You” proposition. This whole process of healing must involve us purifying ourselves. And I realize that the ball stops here. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

If you cannot find that place in you that is free of fear, even though you acknowledge that there might also be a part of you that is frightened, you are not going to be able to contribute to a universe that is free of fear. So, as far as I am concerned, social action must have at its very foundation a spiritual focus.

But even though we find ourselves afraid, and not feeling peaceful, and less than fully loving and compassionate, we must act. There is no way you can be in an incarnation without acting. We cannot wait until we are enlightened to act. We all hear the way in which our silence is itself an act of acquiescence to a system. That is as much an action as walking. Since we must act, we do the best we can to act consciously and compassionately. But in addition, we can make every action an exercise designed to help us become free. Because the truth that comes from freedom, and the power that comes from freedom, and the love and compassion that come from freedom are the jewels we can cultivate to offer to our fellow sentient beings for the relief of their suffering.

A wise fellow named David Spangler said in an interview:

“…I may protest…because I am afraid… because I have a personal fear of what I might lose, my life, or my support systems in my world. I may protest because I have a larger altruistic sense of the well-being of the ecology, and so I say ‘Hey, this is really stupid. We have no right to do this to our world.’ I may protest because I have a sense of how it damages the economy and robs other social programs. There can be many motives. But there is some very deep level of myself that I can touch where I can simply say, ‘I don’t really need any of these motives. I just know it’s wrong.’

Well, it’s more than that. I say, ‘This shall not occur.’ It is a release of will. It is not a release of fear or violence. It’s a release of will that, in its own way, is not in conflict… If you were doing something and I say to you, ‘Stop doing that. I do not like it,’ then we can become polarized and you may be strengthened in your resistance to me.

So in a sense, my protest only makes you, my adversary, stronger. However, I can assert a will. I can just say ‘no’ to something that is not really directed to you at all, but is just a statement of presence, a statement of fact. It is not an issue of conflict … I feel that that kind of ‘no’ is beginning to really emerge from the collective consciousness of humanity. That particular ‘no’…comes from a place in us in which we are attuned and identified with a deeper source than our own separateness. That ‘no’ has power. As Gandhi says, “That soul force is indestructible and it goes on gaining power until it transforms everyone it touches.”

Gandhi did not recommend we wait until we are enlightened, either. Gandhi spoke out of two sides of his mouth, not in a negative sense, but in a positive sense. On the one hand, he said, for example, “I could not be leading a true spiritual life unless I identified with all of humanity.” You can hear the word “identify” from the networking point of view, meaning “feel a relationship with,” or “Identity” (in the formal sense), meaning “I am one with.” He had this transcendent awareness. Yet, for perfectly understandable political and practical reasons, he created a social action form not based on people having awakened spiritually, in the true sense of the mystical awakening. He said, “I am a practical man. I cannot wait for India to recognize the practicality of spiritual life in the political world.” He worked with what he had, and at the same time, he knew what the true source of the force was and encouraged others to recognize the source in themselves as well.

There was a moment when the Congress Party wanted to get rid of the British. They went to Gandhi and said, “We’ve really got to get rid of them now.” And he said, “I’ll meditate on it.” They came back in a week and he said, “I’m meditating.” They came back in two weeks and he said, “I’m meditating.”

“Well,” they said, “Gandhi-ji, you know, this is urgent.”

And he said, “I’m still meditating.” For three and one-half months he meditated until he saw the optimum act: The Salt March. He was tuning until he could hear that act which would gather power through its resonance with people’s intuitive sense of rightness.

When I saw the Vermont town meetings on TV, I saw so many actions that came out of that deep intuitive place inside people. I saw a movement that is building, rooted in truth. And I have enough faith in the universe to feel that these forces build at a rate necessary to bring about a timely transformation.

It seems to me that it behooves us to demand of ourselves a way of communicating with another human being at the place that is common to all of us, even as we oppose them or love them or join them or whatever we do. It’s an interesting challenge for us, isn’t it? I mean understanding that that’s a goal.

I see that the earth is a plane at which we have a lot of work to do. A lot of it involves very abrasive stuff. It involves egos, and it involves the way things are. I have seen visions of heaven in which everything is united. I look at earth and I see divisiveness and struggle and growth. Deep inside I feel its perfection just as it is. That’s a scary one to say aloud. And that’s one you don’t say at a weekend like this very much, you see? You don’t say it. But part of what we have to do is expand to be able to embrace the two planes of reality, one where you see the perfection of God’s manifestation, including all of it, and the other in which your human heart says this is scary and terrible and we must do everything we can to change it. Both of these realities are real.

A conscious being has to embrace both of them. You can’t rest in one, and you can’t rest in the other. If you rest in just your human concerns, fear, and pain, you have lost the appreciation of the grand design of the game or form. If, on the other hand, you rest just in the grand design, you’ve lost your humanity. To me, the mature being, the “Mensch” (another Sanskrit word), is one who can expand to embrace both. Out of this comes a toughness where we can work to stop nuclear proliferation and at the same moment appreciate the perfection of just how it all is.

– Ram Dass

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