Self first

I’m reading a book by Ram Dass, The Only Dance There Is.

He’s a former psychotherapist who — after an initial LSD-fueled spiritual awakening in 1961, became a hard-core spiritual practioner in India — and began to give talks about what he’d learned. The book is mostly transcriptions of his talks, and it reads like a rambling dinner conversation with an old friend who has just discovered something he considers miraculous.

I’m also re-working a play that mentions my time as a public school teacher. And I just went to a conference of super-geniuses and ultra-achievers who are designing income-boosting well pumps for small farms in the third world, creating ground-breaking modular homes to avert a redux of Katrina, drafting laws to stop the rampant poisoning of our rivers and oceans.

There’s a lot I want to do before the curtains close and I’m turned into ashes and dust, so this all converged into an interesting paradox. Ram Dass writes that one must first work on oneself, in order to effect change:

When I was in India in the temple… I was meditating and I felt this great feeling of well-being and calmness and I thought, ‘What am I doing here? Why aren’t I back on the front lines? … Why aren’t I back doing what I believe, you know, protesting against injustice and so on? Am I copping out? Is this like a rear battle rest station?…’ Then I began to see that staying alone in that room at that moment was confronting me with an internal battle which was much fiercer than any external battle I had ever fought before. And until I had found some way to get through that internal battle, all I could do was get sucked into external manifestations of it in such a way as to perpetuate them. Right? I began to see that it was absolutely imperative in terms of socially responsible, effective behavior that I work on myself sufficiently so that I could look at any human being and see that place in them behind whatever their melodrama is, be it Nixon or a hippie or Mao or Hitler or Schweitzer or Mahatma Gandhi or whatever the person’s trip is… Until I was centered enough, till I was in that place myself, i couldn’t really know that place in other beings. I saw that, finally, my responsibility was to work on myself.

And after much consideration, I agree with him. I think I was too scattered and stressed out to be effective as a teacher. I’ve worked at organizations where the leadership was so entrenched in their own psychological issues, the entire staff structure had to devise elaborate interpersonal work-arounds instead of fulfilling the organization’s stated mission. I think the people I saw at the conference were so successful because they lacked great self-doubt or the laziness that comes from self-doubt — they jumped at opportunities without internal strings attached. And I’ve got strings. Oh, do I. So it’s time to work on those.

One thought on “Self first

  1. This is so true it’s scary. I’ve been thinking about this kind of stuff a lot lately. I’m reading Thich Naht Hahn Collection. You should read it….

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