Monthly Archives: August 2021

Making peace with ourselves and with God

Perhaps it takes a life-time to make peace with all the different parts of ourselves – especially the parts one is embarrassed by or ashamed about – or the way that one is held back by fear. Certainly, adolescence is full of these sorts of conflicts. Sometimes it can turn into neurosis where one part of the mind is in conflict with another part. There’s a desperate need growing up – to be like everyone else – to fit in and look or sound or speak the same.

Reading the book ‘Undivided’ by Vicky Beeching she writes: ‘Diversity can be tricky; the very things that make us stunningly unique can also be the things we hide in the closet because they cause us to feel different from the crowd.’ Her story is about moving from ‘fitting in’ to the Christian conservative evangelical world to being shunned and treated as an outsider because ‘my orientation did not match theirs’. Beeching finally came out as gay in her late 20s and the churches that sang her faith songs turned against her. Her book recounts the horror and cruelty (dressed up as theological conviction) of much evangelical teaching and is dedicated to the memory of a 14-year-old UK girl Lizzie Lowe who committed suicide as she felt that her attraction to other girls and women would not be acceptable in her church.

Vicky Beeching was brought up to believe that the bible was literally true – word for word. Picture book versions of the stories of Noah and the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Egyptian plagues and the sacrifice of Isaac all contributed to the idea of being good and placating a punishing deity. Many worship songs were about battles and fights alongside those of love and forgiveness – how confusing … and the whole set-up male with the leadership entirely men – the dynamic of headship (men) and submission (women). Knowing that she was gay since childhood, Vicky Beeching learnt to shut down her thoughts and feelings as she had been told and indeed then believed that they were ‘off-limits and wrong.’ At 16 she went to ‘be prayed for’ and ‘be set free’ – most people reading the horrific account of this experience would see this as a form of spiritual and emotional abuse – it left her shattered ‘I came away feeling more ashamed and broken’ and panicking that her feelings for women ‘was the sinister work of demons’.

Despite studying theology at Oxford (including secretly reading about the possibility of being gay and a Christian) and then a highly successful career as a worship song leader on the largely US evangelical circuit of mega churches, Vicky Beeching dared not admit to anyone that she was lesbian – and so what was repressed inevitably returned leaving her seriously ill and emotionally terribly damaged. The accounts of her listening to the poisonous attacks on LGBTQ+ people by evangelicals and then performing for these same audiences knowing that if her secret came out, she would be instantly rejected and worse, was of course unsustainable and she had a nervous breakdown. Returning to the UK for medical treatment and therapy it became clear that she had to be true to herself and live authentically.

Coming out as gay and becoming for a while equality spokesperson for LGBTQ+ in the church elicited violent and deeply unpleasant responses in the evangelical world, which led to further debilitating illnesses. And according to her website the damage from the past continues …

Teachings from Being Ram Dass 4

The greatest and the most subtle teaching Ram Dass writes, is what helps us move from ‘the thinking mind to the spiritual heart, from discursive thought to simple awareness, from the multiplicity of experience to the ground of being, from the ego to the soul’.

He combines his spiritual work with what he learnt in his training to become a psychotherapist.

‘Psychology shows me the layers of emotions and motives, self-imaging, and relationships. I look intuitively at how the mind has fastened on the person’s situation, where they are clinging. Of course, I know the limits of psychology. Psychedelics first showed me that. My yoga training also shows me planes of consciousness… I use my bag of therapist tricks to help people work with their mind stuff. I look at the attachment, the place where they are holding on or wanting to be a certain way. That can be like Vipassana [body/mind concentration or mindfulness to see what insight can be gained] or going back to Freudian fixations. I see where a person is in their inner journey.

I go into my soul to mirror their soul, to help them free up their attachments and come into the heart … I look behind the eyes, behind the thoughts flickering between us. I tune into Maharaj-ji and say what comes into my mind. As both of us become aware of the karma of the situation or how they are holding onto a particular point of view, a moment of letting go can happen.’

Ram Dass uses the phrase ‘in-seeing’ from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke – when your awareness merges into Awareness. Ram Dass: ‘Then you are inside everything as well as outside, because it’s all One. That’s why it’s called the Universe. This is the mystical root.’

His teaching centres on being in the present moment – where there is nothing else.

‘If I am fully in the moment, my own death or someone else’s is just another moment. The spiritual journey is less about our timeline from birth to death than from separation to oneness. Rather than a small being soon to be extinguished, I am simply a spark of infinite awareness.’

Ram Dass sees Maharaj-ji as his internal guide and his external guru – one foot in this relative reality, the other in the formless One. A being who intersects ‘our time-bound, linear reality at a kind of metaphysical perpendicular. His eternal present is another dimension coinciding with our past, present and future. Ram Dass imagines that each of us will commune with our guides after death

‘in intimate delight… no real separation. We are together in the ground of being, the unthought “I” in the spiritual heart, the loving awareness of the soul. In that place between death and birth, we are no-bodies, but souls intuiting directly … we simply are … barely any difference between lover and beloved … pure presence’

Those of us who have Christ as our inner guide might see that as being in Christ consciousness – hid with Christ in God. Maharaj-ji spoke also of Christ: ‘Christ died for the truth … He never died, he never died. He lives in the hearts of everyone as the Atman’ – God within me.


Teachings from Being Ram Dass 3

Ram Dass’ experience with his guru was of unconditional love – and acceptance – Maharaj-ji broadcast love. Another person who followed his teachings said: ‘It’s appropriate he loves everyone – he’s a saint. The real miracle is that I love everyone when I am around him.”. Ram Dass said that the realization that he was loved unconditionally with all his imperfections changed him.

‘I actually began to love myself too. Not in the self-aggrandizing ego-inflating way, but by seeing myself as a loving being, as a soul. Once I could forgive my imperfections, the same guilt and shame for which he had forgiven me, I could begin to love and forgive others as well.’

In the last decades of his life Ram Dass was living with the after effects of a serious stroke which led to much struggle, suffering and increasing disability. It was also a time of slowing down and deep reflection. Writing about karma, Ram Dass says:

‘We think of karma as a kind of action and reaction, cause and effect, but karma is organic and very subtle. I don’t know how well we can understand it from within our incarnation. Even the view that everything happens for a reason treads the slippery slope of fate or predestination versus free will. Both are true!

As I turn toward Maharaj-ji within, my understanding of family changes. I see the work each soul has to do when it takes birth. When I think of my years as a therapist, I would work very differently now. From Maharaj-ji’s long view, a person is not just a bundle of adult needs and childhood traumas, the building block of personality. It is a much subtler picture of karma working out across incarnations.

We may have regrets about our family, or, as I did for many years avoid or resent them. But the soul demands that every moment-to-moment experience of living be meaningful, fulfilling and real. The soul’s game is not about reorganizing external life. It’s not about getting a new job, friends, lifestyle, making more money or getting a new car, finding a new partner or a new therapist – or ignoring the family history.

It’s about inner reorganization, reorienting toward your soul. The battle of the Bhagavad Gita is not about dropping out or leaving the family. Where can you drop out to that your soul is not present? No, this life is about finding a way to be in the world that connects you to your soul.’

Teachings from Being Ram Dass 2

Maharaj-ji’s teaching is ‘to love everyone and tell the truth’. Ram Dass describes an occasion when he was angry and frustrated at the demands being made of him by other westerners for counselling and spiritual guidance when he was on retreat with Maharaj-ji.

‘I felt like none of the westerners had any understanding of dharma. I was made and feeling very righteous about it … For two weeks I refused to see anyone. The others told Maharaj-ji. When I saw him, he said, ‘Won’t you help them?’ Ram Dass writes that he knew he was supposed to be loving and serving everyone. One day when he missed the bus and had to walk miles to the retreat house, he arrived tired, angry and feeling rejected. He was offered food by another retreatant: ‘a wave of anger broke over me. I took the food and shoved it in his face.’

‘“Ram Dass!” Maharaj-ji yelled across the courtyard. Throwing prasad [the food seen as sacred] was definitely a sacrilege. “What’s the matter?”

I ran over to him. The other westerners sat on the opposite side of the courtyard looking stunned. I said, “I’m angry at those people. They’re all adharmic, bad people.” I looked over and saw them all in their badness. They were whiny, selfish, needy.

I also knew I was responsible for most of them being there. I hated myself for that too. By then I was crying. “I hate everybody, including myself, “I blurted out. “I hate everybody but you.”

Maharaj-ji sounded sympathetic. “Oh, Ram Dass is angry,” he said. Then he looked at me. “Ram Dass, love everyone. Love everyone and tell the truth.”

I said, “Maharaj-ji, the truth is: I am angry.”

He leaned over and looked me in the eye, practically nose to nose. He said, “Tell the truth. And love everyone.”

I knew in that moment I had to choose whether to hold on to my righteous anger or

surrender to Maharaj-ji. It’s a rare moment when your guru gives you a direct command. Not to be taken lightly.

I knew what Maharaj-ji really meant. If, from my soul, I saw someone as a soul, I could love him or her as a soul, as part of God. On the other hand, if I remained mired in my personality and my anger, I could be stuck on the karmic wheel of birth and death for many more lifetimes.

Maharaj-ji called for someone to bring a cup of milk, which in India is always warm milk, usually with a little sugar, almost like mother’s milk. He handed me the earthen cup. I drank some of it.

He said, “Give up anger. If you try to give up your anger, I’ll help you with it.”

For me to give up the anger, I had to give up my whole position, all my reasons for being angry. My pride. But it’s hard to be angry drinking mother’s milk from the guru. I looked over again at the western satsang. Now they weren’t whiners. They were luminous beings with light coming out of them and I loved them all. What was in that milk?

Maharaj-ji had done it to me again, confronting me with my negative emotions, anger and jealousy and self-righteousness, which were keeping me separate from him and everyone else and from God. I’d been wallowing in self-pity – not to mention self-hatred and unworthiness, which of course I was projecting onto everyone else. Maharaj-ji just sat there twinkling, an unflinching mirror.

I knew I had to make amends to my satsang brothers and sisters. Maharaj-ji’s essential teaching is to feed everyone and love everyone. I took an apple and cut it up. Then I went from one member of the satsang to another. Maharaj-ji said you should feed others with love, if you feed someone in anger, it’s like giving them poison. I looked each person in the eyes, until I could see the place in them where we are love together, and then I fed them each a piece of apple. It took a while.’