I am incredibly lucky. I have had a close personal relationship with three of the highest octane, world class gurus -- spiritual teachers who still walk the planet: Ram Dass, Zen Master Bernie Glassman and Deepak Chopra.
It's not like I sought them out. I was quite comfortable in my atheist science bubble. It's just that, well, awareness happens.
I met Ram Dass at a conference in Boston in 1994. I was seated next to him for dinner. As Director of Standards for Green Seal, the environmental labeling organization, I was very full of myself. After spending the evening talking his ear off about all the wonderful and amazing things I'd done, Ram Dass said, "Oh, you're a salesman." I told him no, as I chuckled to myself that here's this big spiritual guru and he thinks I'm a salesman and not an important environmentalist. How unperceptive he is. And then as the days passed, I realized how right he was. How embarrassing.
Years later I ended up spending a lot of time with him drafting the Social Venture Network's first standards for Corporate Social Responsibility. We became friends, but almost every time I did something uncouth publicly, there was Ram Dass witnessing me. I don't know if you've been around a fully realized human being before, but it is quite an extraordinary experience. There is an aura around them, an aura of love that is palpable. Ram Dass is loved by so many people that he reflects a lot of it back. He's like a love fountain.
The last time I saw Ram Dass I was at a conference in Tucson. My wife, daughter and I were checked into an otherwise luxury room that had been painted just a few hours before. The volatile organic compounds released from the paint were noxious. I complained at the front desk demanding another room. They were not immediately compliant, so I amped up my complaints just a tad too high. And, standing right next to me, witnessing me devolving into my reptilian brain was Ram Dass. He was the keynote speaker at this conference. In his speech, he relayed the entire dynamic of my exchange at the front desk, omitting my name and identifying details, as an example of the opposite of how to be a loving, compassionate human being. How embarrassing and how that transformed me in a positive way in my future interrelationships with people.
And then I met Zen Master Bernie Glassman, a world-renowned pioneer in the American Zen movement and socially engaged Buddhism. He created the amazingly successful Greyston Foundation and Bakery project. There homeless people, people with AIDs, ex-cons and other disenfranchised people bake the brownies that go into Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. Taking up where Ram Dass left off, Bernie taught me core lessons in spirituality. One was, if you have a wound on your finger, you clean it and put a bandage on it. If the wound was on your wife or child's finger, you would clean it and put a bandage on it too. Spirituality is coming to accept that if someone you don't know has a wound on their finger or some other challenge, you would treat them the same way you would treat yourself or your family...because they are you (and you are them). Bernie leads retreats to Auschwitz and street retreats to inner cities to bear witness to homelessness, poverty, illness, violence and death. After bearing witness one can then take loving action.
My wife and I have lived and slept on the streets as homeless people with Bernie. This extraordinary and transformative process has empowered me to try to emulate Jesus and love everybody I meet and see. The operative word here for me is "try". Every time I do, though, I surprise myself with the fact that this homeless person I am speaking to is just like me. And every time I remove some space in the me-them gap, I get closer to God.
I met Deepak Chopra while driving my car down 64th St in NYC. I saw what looked like a terror-stricken woman crying as she stared at a spot on the sidewalk. I jumped out of my car to see if I could help. It turned out to be my friend Paulette Cole, owner of ABC Home. A newly hatched bird must have fallen from its nest onto the sidewalk. It was alive, manically chirping but otherwise appeared unharmed. She had called the police, fire department and the ASPCA but no one came. I scaled the wall of the adjacent Ethical Culture Center, found a nest about ten feet off the ground with other chirping nestlings in it and placed the bird back in the nest. As I was hovering overhead, Deepak Chopra walked out of the building.
Deepak works endlessly and tirelessly so that "Together we can help create a peaceful, just, sustainable and healthy world." Besides his many, many existing projects Deepak just launched the Chopra Center's 21-Day Meditation Challenge™ with Oprah Winfrey, the Consciousness Initiative to systematically uncover the science behind consciousness, and a socially responsible investment vehicle called Just Capital. Deepak is also involved with Bill Clinton in creating healthy and ecologically-sound housing.
I am involved in a few of Deepak's other initiatives. The more time I spend with him, the more I realize that he is a bonafide angel on earth. I hear from people every day whose lives he has touched in positive, powerful, transformative ways. Whether I'm spending time with him in producing media at events or evolving technologies to advance mind/body/spirit balance, I have never seen him lose his cool. He always has love, a smile, time and sage advice for everybody. He is generous of heart and gives everyone he meets opportunities to voice and pursue their passion and helps them by leveraging his brilliance, wisdom and social activism. While a select few others in the world may be on their last incarnation before they pop into Buddhahood and become fully-realized beings, Deepak's already been there and has graciously, generously taken the space-time machine back to earth to share his discoveries of the eternal, universal cosmic mind, which we are all a part of.
Am I a lucky guy, or what?