On more than one occasion, I have heard the teacher and author Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert, describe certain elements of his journey. To paraphrase: "I was analyzed; I had a Ph.D. in psychology; I became the youngest tenured psychology professor in Harvard's history; I was thrown out of Harvard with Timothy Leary for conducting the LSD experiments; I went to India and studied with a great teacher" -- and the list goes on until he adds: "And I have every neurosis I started out with!" At this point the audience will usually chuckle along with him, before he concludes: "The difference is that they used to be monsters that had me pinned to the wall; now, they are little shmoos I can have tea with."
Ram Dass has been an excellent role model: He never pretends to be beyond vanity or lust or his humanness. For me, this is the key to spiritual and emotional work -- as an individual and as a professional. Since we are not here to become anything but ourselves, the goal is peaceful coexistence with all the parts of oneself. When we try to kill off an element of our personality, we have declared war on the ego, and it will fight back. The ego's job is the maintenance of the status quo. Its defense against even the perceived threat of annihilation is battle. However, change, like peace, can be negotiated. Converse with and soothe the demons and invite the nurturing parts to step forward. As with almost everything, it's a matter of constantly finding and returning to balance.
Ambition can pin me to the wall -- or when I am in a healthier relationship with it, it can fuel my work and my desire to be useful. Equally, I long for quiet and ease, another healthy pull, but if overindulged, it can lead me to stasis and paralysis. I need to be in constant dialogue with these parts of my psyche.
At this moment I am alone in a house above a gray winter seascape. I have enjoyed several days of loving companionship and relaxation -- cooking and eating and conversation the main activities. Yet, I am nagged by the sense that I must be working on the manuscript for my book, on this piece, on something other than an appreciation of this lovely now.
Every moment is potentially wondrous. As a survivor of illness, I know not to take this day for granted. However, the future beckons, and memories seduce me out of being here. Writing about it can be a form of mindfulness -- although thoughts about the reader take me away yet again. There's the clickety click of my fingers on the keyboard, my feet on the sisal rug, the softness of the linen couch, and then, if I look up, Connecticut across Long Island Sound, framed by stark sculpture, hibernating trees. The dog snores softly. I take a very deep breath. I'm back. Gratitude.
As a pacifist, I must make peace with all my inner selves in order to be at peace with the outside world. I will be busy for the rest of this day seeking that balance. I will be taming monsters and hopefully having tea with schmoos. Daily practice.
For more by Robert Levithan, click here.
For more about self-acceptance, click here.