For a while, I was doing a lot of work that required me to trapped in my own thought loops. In the winter, I was working as a lift attendant at a not-so-busy ski resort; which meant that I spent many hours watching empty chairs swing past me while I stood outside in below freezing temperatures, or from the inside of a little shack that would most likely smell like stale urine, left over from people who couldn’t quite wait for someone to come give them a bathroom break. In the summer, I would travel further distances for wrestling and also do landscape. In short, I spent a lot of time uncomfortable and alone; a combo that’s not great for cultivating positive thought patterns.
So, I started to pass the time by listening to podcasts and got hooked. I can only take so much wrestletalk, though, as it tends to turn into “let me tell you what I don’t like”, which can be entertaining, to a point, but isn’t much better than my own grumpy-ass thought patterns that I was sick of. I began branching out by listening to The Joe Rogan Experience, because I had seen a few clips of very fired-up, motivational tangents taken from the comedian and UFC commentator’s casual conversation themed program being shared on social media.
The sh**y shifts of watching sh**y skiers eat sh** started to ski by as I listened to Rogan pick the brain’s of neuroscientists, astrophysicists, astronauts, drug kingpins, psychonauts, athletes, musicians, comedians, and many more interesting minds from enormously varied backgrounds. It was like eavesdropping on conversations I wished I could have, but when the f**k was a young man from down Cunard holler supposed to ask Neil Degrasse Tyson about quantifiable infinities and whether he thought that there was any chance the Moon Landing was fake, or pick Maynard James Keenan’s brain about work ethic? The perspective I gained (and continue to gain) from three hour glimpses into remarkable minds helped me develop a bigger picture of the vast, lush forest of Human Experience that I was just viewing from the obscured eyes of a pissed off patch of Charlie Brown Christmas trees.
With all the celebrity guests and highly decorated thinkers, I found none more entertaining and thought provoking than comedian Duncan Trussell, though. Duncan, with his raspy, high-pitched, excitedly-trying-to-keep-pace-with-his-mind voice has a bizarrely eclectic and deep knowledge base of psychology, philosophy, science, religion, and politics, and has the amazing ability to translate complex ideas into everyman language and build bridges between the seemingly uncrossable gaps to help you wrap your head around the brain-bending subjects that he goes off into rants about; and he’s funny, which really helps with dark-topic digestion issues.
While devouring many hours of Trussell’s own “Duncan Trussell Family Hour Podcast”, I was exposed to many new ways of thinking and seeing the World. I also noticed a pattern emerging: while he touched on a widely varied subject base, Duncan kept referencing one of his influences, some “spiritual teacher” named Ram Dass.
The first couple hundred times I heard that name I skipped over it, like any other word I don’t understand and am too lazy to look up. Eventually, I decided to see who the f**k this Ram Dass guy was.
As you might expect, he was an older, caucasian, former Harvard professor, that was born Richard Alpert.
Okay, that’s not exactly what I expected, either. So, after a quick Wiki search, I was satisfied with the dissatisfaction of that information and went back to listening to Trussell talk about how alien intelligence may be contacting us through living-technology in the form of psychoactive plants, and equating it to ancient mythology, while making a self-effacing joke, all in the same breath.
But, damn it, Duncan just can’t shut the f**k up about this Ram Dass motherf**ker and this book he wrote “Be Here Now”.
Okay, Duncan, I’ll read his god**** book, for f**ksake. I thought.
They don’t have it at the local library. F**k it, then. Nevermind. I thought better.
A short time of la-la-la-whatever-ing over the Ram Dass references later and I was hanging out with my cousin Adam and his future wife, Marissa. Marissa who I didn’t know all that well, at that point randomly said, “Hey! I bet you’d appreciate this.” She proceeds to hand me an old, oddly-rectangular, blue book. “You can borrow it, if you want.” She added.
The cover of this book had a drawing of the kind of chair that my granny might have ordered a guest-in-her-home to have a seat in, in the kitchen, before unloading some food and drink they hadn’t asked for on them. The chair was protected by an intricate force field of sacred geometry. I shrugged my shoulders. Circling the protective circle of the sacred-granny-kitchen-chair were the words: BE HERE NOW HERE BE NOW BE NOW HERE NOW BE HERE… Framing those words were the reminder: REMEMBER. I shrugged my shoulders, again, but, this time, with a knowing sigh.
Okay, Universe, I’ll read his god**** book, for f**ksake. I thought.
I started reading Be Here Now after work each night, before going to bed. The first section of the book reads like an autobiography and explains just how in the f**k an upper middle class white boy that grew up to be a Harvard professor would continue to grow into a bead carrying, what-we-would-call-a-dress wearing, scruffy beard rocking, professor of a Love Energy that he doesn’t shy away from calling God; drugs, of course.
Alpert doing magic mushrooms and getting kicked out of Harvard made sense and was interesting. His going to India to try to find an explanation for his drug-induced experiences made sense. His experiences in India that made him change his name to Ram Dass and become a preacher of Bhakti (Loving Devotion) Yoga (Working Towards Wholeness), made a fantastical sort of sense, and were fantastical sort of interesting. What preceded the autobiographical, introduction section was sort of interesting and made almost no sense to me.
The bulk of Be Here Now is a sort of bizarre comic book of complex philosophical/spiritual writings accompanied by beautifully drawn surrealustrations (surreal-illustrations).
Night after night, I drudged through it out of sheer stubbornness, despite the fact that I found it confusing and therefore boring.
After a month or two of reading a few perplexing pages a night, I finally finished it.
Okay, Universe, I read his god**** book, for f**ksake. Now, what? I asked the Universe, which answered my inquiry with what I perceived to be silence.
“What did you think of that book Marissa let you borrow?” My wife asked me.
“It was...um...interesting.” I replied. “It’s like reading someone go completely psychotic.” I added helpfully.
I returned the book and returned to my favorite podcast. Now, when Duncan referenced Ram Dass I knew that he was talking about that guy that helped spark the psychedelic and spiritual revolutions of 1960’s America, and wrote a book that you would have to use mind altering chemicals to understand more than 10 percent of.
Another name that Trussell brought up a lot was Krishna Das, who I learned was a singer of traditional Hindu kirtans (sung repetitions of sacred sounds) in an untraditional Western way. I was immediately captivated by his music and started listening to it on a regular basis. (Which lead to me listening to the song referenced in Becoming A Top Prospect Part V: How Amazingly Weird: “Mountain Hare Krishna”.)
I downloaded the Krishna Das album Pilgrim Of The Heart on Amazon Music without reading the description and was like, “What the f**k?” As it started like an autobiography and explained just how in the f**k a working class, jewish, former school bus driver born Jeffrey Kagel became a Sanskrit singing professor of a Love Energy that he doesn’t shy away from calling God; Ram Dass, of course.
Ram Dass, again, Universe? I complained, as I listened to Krishna Das recount the strange story of meeting the Western Yogi, and through him meeting their shared Guru: Neem Karoli Baba.
Trussell had mentioned Neem Karoli Baba quite a bit, too, but an ever weirder name made for even more resistant, lazy avoidance of looking into whatever the f**k Duncan was referencing.
In Pilgrim Of The Heart, Krishna Das tells stories even more fantastically interesting than those in the first part of Be Here Now. I mean “fantastically” in the sense of “sounds like complete fantasy (translation: bullsh**)”. In between stories, there are gorgeous-to-mine-ears music. Altogether it might be both my favorite audiobook and album, combined.
When people ask me what my favorite kind of music is, I usually reply something like, “Whatever is the best motivational tool for the mindset I’m trying to activate. If I’m studying: classical music to drown out my thoughtstream without distracting me. If I’m trying to stay awake on a road trip: sh**ty dance club music that is designed to keep people up and moving well passed their usual bedtimes. When I’m working out: viking metal, music that was written with the ink of pure-concentrated-f**king testosterone!”
I got so hooked on Pilgrim Of The Heart, though, that instead of Amon Amarth blasting melodic sounds of violent resistance out of my headphones, I had a comforting grandfatherly voice telling me things like, “On the path of devotion, surrender is the movement. Every time you surrender, you fall back into your Self. Learning to accept Life as your Guru, learning to accept everything that happens to us in life as our teachers: that’s surrender.” My supersets may have suffered, but my own self-tormenting suffering was beginning to lessen. Between exercises, love songs to a supernatural monkey god whom I have no religio-cultural attachment to, were making me feel like I might cry sweet tears of relief from the accumulating pain of fear and hate I had been collecting for a lifetime in front of my heavy-weight-slinging gorilla pals.
Alright, Universe, I’ll look back into this Ram Dass guy. I thought.
I found a podcast called Here And Now, which was a collection of Ram Dass’ lectures over many decades. A few episodes in, I realized that the confusing section of Be Here Now had been a bunch of sound bites from his lectures that had been transcribed and illustrated; the reason it was incoherent was because these new-to-me ideas had been cut from their full context within his lectures and pasted into a book. I had gotten lost in the translation.
The psychological, spiritual, philosophical ideology was just as foreign and seemingly complex, but with it been talked about in a comprehensible sequence, with humor, and with great repetition, I started to get it. The more I got it, the more I wanted it.
I slowly, yet surely, stopped listening to anything but the Here And Now podcast and kirtans. I stopped watching Netflix and reading comics. Instead I watched spiritually motivational videos on YouTube and read about Eastern and Western philosophy, psychology, and even, as much as I resisted it, religion. I started to meditate regularly and do my own quasi-religious version of prayer; just planting seeds of changes I wanted to make in my psyche using supernatural symbols.
So, just what in the f**k made a below the poverty line child, who grew up to be an angry, violent professional wrestler, continue to grow into a person who spends a little bit of every day trying to share the little realizations that have saved his little life with others who may need it to save theirs; Unconditional Love.
The kind of love that makes buddhist monks light themselves on fire with gasoline as they sit calmly a flame in mediation, in the hopes that the act will alleviate some suffering in the World by bringing attention to it.
The kind of love that makes a rabbi look at the soldier nailing him to a piece of wood with understanding, and pray for the soldier to receive the great gift of forgiveness.
The kind of love that doesn’t decrease when the object of that love changes, or dies, or hurts you, or leaves you alone in search of their own happiness.
The kind of love that makes you no longer feel alone.
That’s what Richard Alpert found when the chemical psilocybin shut down the personal-fear parts of his brain. That’s what he encountered, again, resting in the eyes of an odd, little Indian man whose only possession was a blanket; what transformed him to Ram Dass. It’s what Jeffrey Kagel felt in the presence of Ram Dass that sent him on a mission to find Neem Karoli Baba; what transformed him to Krishna Das. It’s what I heard in Krishna Das’ voice on Pilgrim Of The Heart; what set me on a conscious path to transformation.
In Under The Influences Part II, I talked about hearing the words “love everybody” repeated one too many times and deciding to try it. Ram Dass was the one repeating those words from his guru Neem Karoli Baba until, eventually, I listened and gave it a try. When I did, my heart shattered into endless pieces and I felt the warm at-homeness of being Whole for the first time in a long time.
So, if you notice me swerving in and out of my designated lane, down this road of life: please, forgive me, I’m just trying to get a grip while being driven under the influence of a very Love Drunk meatvehicle (as Duncan Trussell might say). *smiles*