How can we be more gentle with ourselves on the spiritual path?

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Question: “A lot of us are putting a lot of effort into being more fully present and to being ‘here now’ and we head towards the fire, and in the process, I know for myself, I lose my sense of humor, and I wonder if you could talk about ways of taking care of ourselves in the process?”

Ram Dass: See, if I were in a more Zen state, I’d say, “Take care of whom?” or, “Which self do you want to take care of?” I’d just take it obliquely right out of that question, because that is psychological, it’s like, here is this little self trying to do good and get enlightened, poor thing, it should take a vacation, it should go to Hawaii and maybe surf a little, you know?

Don’t do it too heavy, because that fire is hot. Like, I should say nice things and make you feel comfortable, but another part of me just says, “Go deeper into the fire if you really want to take care of yourself – burn baby, burn.”

I’m showing you the different levels of the way this whole discourse could be going. I’ll tell you, from where I’m at in this place, I’ll say that in Buddhist tradition it is thought that because a human birth is so precious and so rare that you should not waste a moment, and you should work just as hard as you can and make real effort, and not let a moment go by.

I do not experience that as true, I mean, it’s probably true, I’m just not ready to experience it, I don’t have the sense of urgency about spiritual practice, I have a feeling of rightness of the unfolding, and I really have a deep sense of patience about it all and relaxed, so I time out the whole process.

I feel a rhythm in the work, and I’ll make really intense effort, and then I will pull back, and then I’ll do other things for awhile, and play and be in the world. Now as my spiritual awareness grows, I can feel that the pulling back is as much work as what I thought was doing the heavy work.

It all becomes the same stuff so that after a while there really isn’t any way to pull back, you can’t take a vacation from a spiritual journey.

So, when you ask, “How can I be kind and gentle to myself,” certainly you should examine things like guilt because you’re not working hard enough, all the ‘oughtas’ and ‘shoulds’ you drive yourself on ruthlessly with, all the feelings of not being good enough, or that you oughta be more spiritual or conscious or something more than you are, examine these.

I think just an appreciation for the perfection of the universe, which includes you, that you have a right to exist just the way you are, and that you’re at the absolutely optimum place at this moment, and that if you are fully enlightened you wouldn’t have taken birth in the first place, that this isn’t error, you are not an aberration, you’re not an error or mistake, nobody blew it, realizing that no matter how bizarre you feel from the inside, and appreciating that it is an unfolding process, and your curriculum, this is the best you can do for yourself.

-Ram Dass

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