Posts Tagged ‘Ram Dass’

“We’re fascinated by the words–but where we meet is in the silence behind them.”

Ram Dass

Silence can be such a precious commodity.  There seems to be so little of it in today’s world.  Even going to a nearby state park, thinking I can run away and forget the world, and I hear the sounds of the traffic from the highway rushing by the park.

Maybe it’s because I am so introverted that I love silence and am comfortable with it?  Maybe it’s the years of meditation?  Or training as a therapist.  Coming from a small family?  Who knows, but I really do like it.

Silence can take on so many flavors and nuances if one can stand it long enough to touch it.  Right now, I work at a job where silence could be fostered much more than it is.  There are many situations with the clients that we work with where silence would be soothing and deflate situations that become volatile.  But silence is the last thing that is thought about, let alone practiced, when we have our agenda of where we need to be and how things should happen rather than letting things unfold before us.

There is such beauty in being able to sit with someone and being so comfortable in your self that you don’t need to fill the space with words.  Sometimes it’s just that that you can be present to the experience of the anxiety that accompanies the long pauses but I think that is an acquired gift.

Silence can be such a precious gem that we can bestow upon someone. . . a client, an aging relative, someone whose heart has been shredded by grief, or someone is who dying.  There’s no distraction in silence, no busy-ness, no nonsense.  Silence is intimate as two people sit in a starkness and nakedness that can be some uncomfortable and yet might be just the thing that two people are craving — the acceptance that comes with that being-with in silence.

My role is to often be silent with the person I am with. . . to hold a hand, to sit attentively, to bear withness to a person’s story or experience.  Meditation is an ideal practice for slowing down and opening the heart.  One learns, through practice, acceptancce of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  One practices having a gentle touch with that which comes into consciousness.

We learn not to get swept away, but to allow an idea or a feeling to come up and release it after labeling it.  We learn to have compassion  for the unending streams that our are brains create.  And it is in fostering this acceptance that we can cultivate this openness for another person.

So much can be created in silence, just think about the phrase a pregnant pause.  Things gestate and grow and become when they have light and space.

As we practice silence with others, we allow them the room to grow before us and in doing so, the roots of that experience grow to unimaginable depths.


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“Just sitting means just that. That ‘just’ endlessly goes against the grain of our need to fix, transform, and improve ourselves. The paradox of our practice is that the most effective way of transformation is to leave ourselves alone. The more we let everything be just what it is, the more we relax into an open, attentive awareness of one moment after another.”

~~ Barry Magid, Leave Yourself Alone

I remember listening to an audiobook… I can’t remember if it was Pema Chodron or not as it was years ago, but I remember it was a female dharma teacher.  Anyway, I remember her saying that all this self-help that we do, the exercise programs, the 10 ways to be a better…, etc it all has at its root the seeds of aggression.

What???  you might ask.  What are you talking about?  Isn’t it self-love or lovingkindness that I want to better my life?  Don’t I get credit for wanting to fix things?

That inherent aggression comes from us wanting to take apart what is, in us, in our lives. . . our plans at self-help keep us from seeing that what is here, now, and softening to it with our presence.

And I believe it is when we soften to who we are in the moment, what our life circumstances are here and now, that we really do the best thing we can for ourselves.

I think this is one reason why so much grief theory frustrates me.  Go through these stages (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross).  Perform these tasks (Bill Worden, Teresa Rando).  Reconcile these needs (Alan Wolfelt).  Buy my recovery workbook. . . this one I can’t even remember because I really dislike the idea that anyone would even frame grief as something we have to recover from.

And this is also why the work of people like Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Ram Dass, and Joan Halifax has been so appealing.  They start with the basic premise that we will have pain in our lives and that isn’t wrong or bad.  We aren’t incomplete or needing fixing when our hearts are broken open with grief and mourning.

If you know someone who is grieving, the kindness thing you can do for them is to be present to them. . . listen. . . be with them. . . allow them to be exactly how they are. . .

And that might be angry, uptight, frightened, relieved, numb, sad. . . we do them the greatest gift when we can just allow what is going on and baring witness to their experience.

Maybe you can’t be the one to do that.  That’s okay.  It’s good to know that about yourself.  So help them find someone who can.

Maybe you can help run some errands for them so they can find a support group or a meditation group.

Maybe you could find a podcast on mindfulness for them and tape it.

Or you could share a resource with them like Grieving Mindfully by Sameet Kumar or The Grief Process by Stephen and Ondrea Levine.

Let them know that you don’t want to change them and that you do want to support them.

Remember that grief is an outward expression of love for the person who has died.

Why on earth would we want to take that from them?

Why on earth would we want them to recover from that?  Model love for them by accepting them just where they are, here and now.

Related articles

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Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness techniques can help alleviate anxiety , stress , and depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a simple to read article by Rick Hanson.


Here is a small excerpt:

When your thought processes are tired, it doesn’t feel good. You’re not relaxed, and probably stressed, which will gradually wear down your body and mood. You’re more likely to make a mistake or a bad decision: studies show that experts have less brain activity than novices when performing tasks; their thoughts are not darting about in unproductive directions. When the mind is ruminating away like the proverbial hamster on a treadmill, the emotional content is usually negative – hassles, threats, issues, problems, and conflicts – and that’s not good for you. Nor is it good for others for you to be preoccupied, tense, or simply fried.”

I really liked this article and would totally use it with caregivers, professional or otherwise.  It’s a skill we can all benefit from in one or or another, in our career and private lives, whether we are young or old.

I sometimes don’t like certain “techniques” because they feel so artificial.  They can seem a bit contrived but what Rick shares here, like much of the mindfulness practice work that is out there from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Goleman, Tara Brach, Chade-Meng Tan, Susan Bauer-Wu, Daniel Seigel, Jeffrey Brantley, Ronald D. Seigel, and so many more.

Take a second right now and do what Hanson suggests in this article from windmind.org. . . look up from your computer screen and breathe in and as you are breathing out, allow your exhale to be deep and long-lasting, really use the abdominal muscles and allow your whole body to benefit.

I did it as I was reading the article and I noticed a definite shift.  As I exhaled, I realized that my shoulders were sliding down and moving to the place that they were designed to be in, not clear up to my ears.

I noticed a bit of an electrical current and any fleeting bit of anxiety dissipated effortlessly.  And I had a shift in thinking.

Now, it’s easy to do this on a good day — little in the way of demands, pain, stress, etc. . . but the whole point is to do it on this kind of day so that when everything gets fired up — when the anxiety, discomfort, and frustration kick into high gear, that exhale just comes. . .

When we start a “practice”, things feel like a technique.

But they probably felt that way when we were learning to sit with a client or use proper body mechanics by the bedside but as we used the technique, to the point of it being burned into our muscle memory, it shifts from being a technique to a way of being.

And mindfulness is no different.

We practice on good and bad days, despite the weather or what else happens so that no matter what is going on, we can bring about calming the mind/body with the breath and with our mindful attention.

Check out some of the resources that I have linked with the author’s names above in this blog.  They are some extraordinary people bringing mindfulness to different populations and in slightly different ways.

Embrace mindfulness and give your brain (and the rest of your system and being) a much-needed break in this worrisome world.

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Your life span is decreasing continuously.

You know, the Nine Contemplations are such an interesting phenomenon.

They are nothing that we don’t already know… but I don’t think we have a lived-sense or an embody-sense of their depth or truth.

I’ve sat with this contemplation for a while now… and so much has come up for me.

I think I wrote about this in a post not too long ago… about being at the age that I’m at and acutely aware of how much life I have lived in terms of days and years and how many decades are projected for me, given my age, where I live, my health, etc.

Our culture is really good at helping us hide from these thoughts.  But it is in our hiding that dis-ease can take place.  We cannot avoid these realizations because when we try, they go underground, unconscious and come out in ways that are often unhealthy.

Your life span is decreasing continuously.

Tick, tick, tick. . . do you hear it?  Once less inhalation.  One less exhalation.

For some, that might be fine.  They may be rooted in the belief that “this” is not all there is, that there is some greater reward or something more real out there.  And that’s great for someone to believe.

On the other hand, this might fill others with terror, if one believes that one’s last exhalation, that long, deep exhalation is all that there is.    That belief can be the very thing that keeps us up at night, worrying and fretting.  It can be the thing that makes us cling to the things and to others in our lives.  It can be the thing that makes us push away everything in our lives.

I sat in a Thai restaurant this afternoon and half-listened to three high school girls who were waiting to take food back to their dress rehearsal of some play going on in the tiny micro-town that I live in.

I listened to this kind of high-pitched, “and then he said… and then she said.. and can you believe… ” which really cracked me up because when I got to the restaurant, the wait staff was involved in a similar drama about someone who no longer works there…

And as I began to mentally roll my eyes, I took a big deep breath.  My workplace and my actions have been no different over the years. . . or just this week…   They weren’t young teen-boppers or twenty-somethings who didn’t know better… in our office, most of us in our 40s and we do the same nonsense rather than focus on what’s really important.  Is that really how we want to spend out time?

Your life span is decreasing continuously.

Probably even more than on the cushion, it is on the yoga mat where I am so keenly aware of this contemplation.

Corpse pose is a lot more comfortable than proud warrior and I need to do downward facing dog during the day to perk up and get my brain right.

I’m so fair that I don’t have gray’s coming yet, but there are certainly those moments, when they call for all staff to show up, and the younger ones go flying to make it to restraints quickly that I realize, I am no longer the youngest or most able at work and I really don’t want to (for physical as well as ethical reasons) be down on the floor, holding someone for 30 minutes or until they calm down.  I don’t want to feel stiff and sore for the next day any more than I feel regret that part of our job is to restrain people.

Your life span is decreasing continuously.

Work is also a very humbling place for me in that I am constantly an observer to how people in institutions are cared for and cared about.  There isn’t a day that goes by, despite my age, that I don’t think about living in a nursing home some day or having to be in a hospital for an extended period of time.

Someone telling me I can’t nap and I’ve always been a champion napper.

Someone medicating me because I’m up all night (and have always been a night person).

Not having the abilities to tend to the things I have learned to do throughout my life like turn a tv on and off, brush my teeth (hopefully I will still have some), or walk outside to see the full moon.

And what about personal care?  I see people with bibs and disposal briefs every day.  Somehow, I doubt that, even if I had argyle and paisley ones, would I be terribly thrilled about the prospect of either of these things in my life.

There are few of us who escape that existence, even if we are at home, in the care of our loving family, our bodies are of the nature to start to shut down over time and not work in the same way.

We move toward these places,

these instances,

with every breath.

I don’t think it is morbid to think about.  I think it reminds me of my edge. . .  what is at stake.

One day, my parents will be gone and I will have no family.

One day the sweet, soft kiss of my lover will be gone, as he takes his final breath and leaves me for the last time.

One day, I will be cold all the time, possibly unaware of time and place, and lost in a world of memories.  My hope is that when that day comes, I will remember to breathe and I will have created an interior world and a world of memories in which I want to be lost in.

Your life span is constantly decreasing.

Don’t be fooled into believing that with the right serum, pot brownie, relationship, work project, etc., all this will not come.  It has come for all sentient beings that have come before us and it will come for all of those who take our breath here and now.

Hold on to your edge and remember it as you decide if you will cautious walk through this life,

if you will meet everything head on with fury,

if you will accept what is,

or if you will walk from one relationship or experience to another with an open or armoured heart.

Your life span, my life span, is constantly decreasing.

With deep abiding compassion and love kindness,


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“In that invulnerable inner place, we come to know

what it is in each of us that can never be lost,

and can never die….

We find the dwelling place of Love.”

~~John E. Welshons

Awakening from Grief:  Finding the way back to joy

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Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ram Dass

“In the earlier parts of your life, up through your mid-years, you switch identity from ego to soul by doing spiritual pratices.  In aging, life itself take over a bit more.  It becomes the practice that take you to the soul.”

~~Ram Dass in Journeying East by Victoria Jean Dimidjian

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What if?

While on retreat, Roshi Joan Halifax read us this poem.

It was on the first night of our retreat and I think it really set the tone. . .  the first small crack into the heart… a heart that was burst wide open and is still lovingly and achingly raw and exposed….  I truly love this and would hope that all caregivers would appreciate it…

We never know what will be one second into our future. . . do we want to miss it?  don’t we want to be present for it?


If You Knew by Ellen Bass

What if you knew you’d be the last

to touch someone?

If you were taking tickets, for example,

at the theater, tearing them,

giving back the ragged stubs,

you might take care to touch that palm,

brush your fingertips

along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase

too slowly through the airport, when

the car in front of me doesn’t signal,

when the clerk at the pharmacy

won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember

they’re going to die.

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.

They’d just had lunch and the waiter,

a young gay man with plum black eyes,

joked as he served the coffee, kissed

her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.

Then they walked half a block and her aunt

dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon’s spume

have to come? How wide does the crack

in heaven have to split?

What would people look like

if we could see them as they are,

soaked in honey, stung and swollen,

reckless, pinned against time?

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“You may tend to assume that you will always feel depressed, and that the causes of your distress are unchanging; you feel powerless.

If you have been depressed before, you may find that you tell yourself, “I knew I’d wind up back here.”

In short, when you are depressed, you assume permanence.”

~~ Sameet Kumar, Grieving Mindfully:  A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss.

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“Recognizing our intereconnectedness is the heart of giving no fear. . . Life connects us to one another, as do suffering, joy, death, and enlightment. . . Our unconditional goodness connects us. . .”

Roshi Joan Halifax, Being with Dying

Roshi Joan Halifax

Roshi Joan Halifax (Photo credit: Mari Smith)

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“No matter how busy we are, we can bring simple contemplative elements into our caregiving practice that will help us to follow the dying person’s lead and to give no fear.  Sharing practice or prayer, silence and presence, with a dying person also services the caregiver’s well-being.  When you find yourself caught up in the events around you or in your own hope and fear, slow down.  Even stop.  Cultivate the habit of attending to the breath continually; use the breath to stabilize and concentrate the mind.”

~~ Roshi Joan Halifax, Being with Dying

No matter how long you practice, there are times that your breath gets caught… sometimes we find ourselves gasping, sometimes holding our breath… we forget how stabilizing our breath is and how it is the “stuff” of life.

I find myself at work, shoulders scrunched up, after counting data and updating excel spreadsheets for hours.  I realize several things…

I’ve not seen another human for a while.

I’ve not seen anything green for some time.

I’m slumped over and my heart is contracted.

I’m barely breathing.

At that time, I don’t need a chime to go off.  It’s too late and just the right time. It time to let my shoulders drop.  Let my heart open up.

Close my eyes… walk away from the graphs and spreadsheets and do something in like child’s pose or downward facing dog to bring myself back to my center.

It’s time to pick up one of the two Dharma books on my desk and read a sentence or two and remind myself that this moment is a gift.  It is the only thing that matters and I can let it pass by mindlessly or I can attend to it.

Knowing that we only have so many moments in each of our lifetimes, do we really want to let one go by without savoring it with a deep, slow breath?

As caregivers, we often forget ourselves … we’re not always 100% present to the one before us but maybe we are caught up in all of the tasks that are required… caregiving is hard work… but if spirituality is about chopping wood, carrying water, and washing dishes, than what a great gift caregiving is to us… to attend to “the baby buddha” that is within the person who we are caring for…

And if the person before us is a buddha, how do we want to meet the Buddha?  Too busy to say hello as we walk in the door?  Too busy looking for the pail to empty?  Or do we want to meet heart to heart, breath after breath, at the deepest level that we will allow ourselves and they will allow us to meet at?

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