Looking for wisdom

A good account of the difference between the first part of the road of life and what follows is given by the account of the journey of transformation of Dr Richard Alpert, PhD into Baba Ram Dass.

In his account he sees his life as a three part journey – the first as the social scientist stage; the second as the psychedelic stage; and the third, the yogi stage. As Carl Jung wrote and as was mentioned in last week’s post each stage contributes to the next stage – nothing is lost, Ram Dass sees the process as the unfolding of a lotus flower and what goes on inside a human being as they begin to search.

For him the first stage begins with a time of what he describes as success. This is 1961 when Dick Alpert was at the highest point of his academic career. He had many publications and had just returned from a time as visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley; he was assured of a permanent post at Harvard and held appointments in four departments in social relations, psychology, graduate school of education and was also a therapist in the health service there and had research contracts at two other very prestigious universities at Yale and Stanford. He describes his equally ‘successful’ lifestyle, his collection of antiques and the charming dinner parties that he gave. He had cars and an aeroplane, a sailing boat and a bike and was living the way a successful single man was supposed to live in America. He says that he was writing books and so on but never felt a genuine scholar. He had begun therapy six years earlier and was seeing patients:

‘I became a “hip” therapist for the hip community at Stanford. When I’d go to parties, they’d all say “Here comes the shrink” and I would sit in the corner looking superior”. In addition I had spent five years in psychoanalysis at a cool investment of something like $26,000’.

Despite all this Alpert felt like something was wrong in his life but he didn’t know what and couldn’t get hold of it.

‘I felt that the theories I was teaching in psychology didn’t make it, that the psychologists didn’t really have a grasp of the human condition, and that the theories I was teaching, which were theories of achievement and anxiety and defense mechanisms and so on, weren’t getting to the crux of the matter.’

The theories he taught weren’t stopping him feeling neurotic and he felt that the nature of life still remained a mystery to him, it all felt far from wisdom.