06/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Ram Dass, I've Got Your Number: Musings Of A New Age Neurotic

I've got Ram Dass' phone number. I was researching an article and a longtime student of his casually gave me his number and told me the best time to call.

So I'm having a lot of problems with this. To start, I get a little intimidated about calling up folks I don't know- especially one who everyone knows has dropped a lot of acid and spent a lot of time in ashrams. Mushrooms are nice- in salads- but someone who once willingly scrambled his brain for breakfast might also be a little, shall we say, unpredictable.

And then there is the name thing. It would have been a lot easier if he had just kept Richard Alpert as his moniker. What am I supposed to say when he answers the phone? "May I speak to Mr. Dass please? Or, is Ram there? R. D. ? Is he here now?"

And if I get past the opening foray, then what? Typically I would tell him who I am and what I want. But with Ram Dass I'm afraid I'll blurt out, "Can you explain who I am and why I am here?" A simple writing job and I've got to have answers to Life. And I don't think I can fake it. Surely, being the guru he is, he will note the trepidation and uncertainty in my voice. Won't he figure out instantly that I am really seeking truth and enlightenment just like all his other callers? Or worse, what if he just answers like a normal person and gives me a few appropriate quotes for the article, and doesn't even try to cut to the chase- doesn't even acknowledge my inner yearning and years of practice, my relentless pursuit of the path. What if I finally connect to a spiritual master and I just do the assignment and never get to the Real Assignment?

The problem is I am too enlightened not to be self-conscious and not enlightened enough to be unself-conscious. Ironic isn't it, that all that seeking and when I least expected it I get this phone number dropped in my lap. They say, "When you are ready, the teacher will appear." After years spent in meditation and reading books by Shirley MacLaine, I don't think I am ready and Ram Dass is about to appear.

Of course, having his number has a positive side - especially on the cocktail circuit. I like watching the reactions of my listeners - both the blank stares and quick recoveries of the ones who don't have a clue about Ram Dass and the ones with the instantaneous, "Oh, Wow" or "Pretty cool." With one comment, I can tell which of my acquaintances missed whole decades of spiritual and cultural upheaval. Nothing like relishing a real moment of spiritual superiority.

Okay, okay...back to Ram Dass. And the other thing that gets me going is - and I hate to be crass here- what if the guy dies before I get around to calling him? He hasn't been in the best of health, you know. Now that would be a real, life lesson, as we say. I spend nearly two months carrying around a guru's phone number, never make the call and read in the morning paper that one of the great cultural and spiritual icons of my generation has crossed over before I got up the nerve to call him. I'd have to resort to a seance, not to mention some serious self flagellation. But then I could spend my life writing about carpe diem, hit the New Age/Self Help lecture circuit, do workshops at the Omega Institute and maybe start a school for spiritual procrastinators like myself. Surely I'm not the only one who can only make it to the eleventh step.

Okay, okay, so I'll call him already. Hello, may I please speak to .....

Postscript: When I spoke to Ram Dass (Ram for short) his voice was like honey, generating instant warmth. I would start a sentence and he would finish it and we'd both laugh. I even told him that I had been afraid to call him and he was genuinely disappointed that his presence might produce fear in anyone. He touched my heart.

Ram Dass is the author of Be Here Now and Still Here. He lives in Maui.