Ram Dass was and still is a legendary figure of my generation of Baby Boomers.
For those of us who love him, his story is a testament for one who has gone before
and brings us with him.
Ram Dass wrote most of this book before he had the massive stroke that almost took his life.
The idea of aging and ill health took on a new meaning for him, and whereas before, he had
trouble completing the book, the experience of near death allowed the book to effortlessly
find a meaningful ending.
First, his experience as Harvard Professor, experimenting with consciousness with Timothy
Leary; then his trip to India to find himself without the use of mind-altering drugs, and finding
his guru, Neem Karoli Baba; his many years lecturing on enlightenment and the search for
God; and now, his stroke and search for meaning in aging, death, dying and rebirth: this book
encapsulates all of this, and more.
The passages in “Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying” which describes our
relationship with aging as it relates to American Culture and how it defines aging, is profound
and sobering. Ram Dass describes American Culture as nontraditional, the Western Society of
people who are separate from each other and nuclear in the definition of family.
Traditional cultures revere the old, the young and all live together in a common thread of
Ram Dass outlines six fears he identifies within himself when he thought about himself growing old:
Senility, loneliness, embarrassment, powerlessness, loss of role identity and depression.
The practice he recommends to work with these fears is mindfulness, the art of living in the present moment.
Here is a stanza from Tibetan Buddhism that describes mindfulness in a person who is aware of these
“Prolong not the past,
Invite not the future,
Alter not your innate wakefulness,
Don’t fear appearances–
There is nothing more than that.”
Or in the words of Wordsworth:
“Age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The sky is filled with stars invisible by day.”
Or in the words of T.S. Elliot:
“Getting older, you refuse to fritter away your time with nonsense. You drop your masks, your little
vanities and fake ambitions.”
Ram Dass defines self-healing in this way: The more quickly we become aware of a mindset such as
senility, loneliness, embarrassment, powerlessness, loss of role identity or depression, the more effective
our mindfulness practice will be to alleviate it.
For instance, feeling lonely is an opportunity to give way to the great aloneness we feel at times of peace,
quiet and contemplation.
The one thing that is never diminished over time is our ability to see with wise perception. Wisdom grows
and grows up to the moment of our death. Ram Dass says our predicament is to envision a curriculum for
aging with wisdom as its highest calling and to use it as a means of enlightenment-our own and of the
people around us.
This is why the Collective Wisdom is at the heart of our radio show, Moon, Moo and You, with all three being
an integral part of the whole.
As we age, we refuse to be discarded or seen as irrelevant. We bravely speak our wisdom and share all
others to join with us, if they are called to do so.
Our radio show opened on my 58th birthday, and emphasized for me the need to claim my own aging as
a gift, as a celebration, as a dance I will keep on dancing and embracing and growing my wisdom as a means to help my generation in their quest to age consciously.
Kate Loving Shenk