In Ram Dass’s room this past Sunday, amidst quiet chanting and harmonium, with his devoted companion Dassima and caregivers nearby, Ram Dass took two deep breaths and was gone from his body. In the days that have followed in his household, there is nowhere he is not. Maybe you, too, can find him as you open your heart.
I’m grateful for the silent retreats I took in the little cottage next to Ram Dass’s house. He would be wheeled over in his chair every couple days and I would make tea for him. Sometimes, we’d sit together for hours. Years ago, I poured out my distress about a rough patch we were going through at InsightLA and Ram Dass listened intently. He smiled sagely, said one word, “attachment” – and my upset faded. His capacity for detachment was one of his superpowers. When detachment is enfolded in attentive presence and unconditional love, this is wisdom.
His house on Maui was a temple, an ashram. This summer I spent many happy days there. Like many beings, I just loved being around him. In his presence, everyone felt loved and accepted. After his big stroke in 1997, Ram Dass learned how to transmute his pain into quiet presence, yours and mine, and radiate love – a blanket of love he would wrap around the whole cosmos as he meditated.
He said, “We have to get out of our minds, our thinking minds – I’ll tell you how I do it: by using a mantra, a phrase: ‘I am loving awareness.’ Loving awareness is a name for what you really are. Doing this leads you to love everything you are aware of – the sky, the room, your body, other people. I ride the mantra into my heart. And in my heart I see a doorway to the next plane so that I am loving awareness everywhere. I am loving awareness. I am loving awareness….”
During this past year, it often seemed that Ram Dass both was and wasn’t with us as he sat in his wheelchair or his big armchair. He was with his guru Maharaji whose love always sustained and inspired him. We hung out where all there is to do is sit in silence, tasting pure love. Nothing to do but look at the Hawaiian sky, admire the clouds, enjoy the soaring birds and ocean in the distance over the papaya trees, watch time pass in full consciousness of oneness. Nowhere else to be.
After he died, I felt his spirit soar and was in complete joy with and for him, imagining him unencumbered by his body, free. I heard the words he would call out during his community swims in the ocean, “Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy.” His spirit seems to dance, walk on water, make love with the cosmos, “Oh Joy Oh Joy Oh Joy.”
Today sadness spills into my being like last night’s rainwater flooding the sidewalk where we live. Ram Dass passed away on the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, the first night of Hanukkah. Although he famously said he was “only Jewish on his parents’ side,” I will always think of his radiant love when we light that first candle celebrating light coming into the world as miracle.
Just as we trust that sunlit days will lengthen after the winter solstice, in his books and podcasts, Ram Dass reminds each one of us to trust that we can dissolve the illusion of separation and fall into love. He is still teaching.
Touch your heart gently and whisper to yourself with each intimate breath, “I am loving awareness.”