This is as relevant now in 2023, as it was in 1971 when Ram Dass published Be Here Now. How do I stand firm in my beliefs and work for a cause I believe in and not contribute to more polarization? One way that I’ve felt caught in “Us Vs Them” is if someone says something I dont agree with politically. I have gotten better in realizing sometimes its better not to even engage, they have their belief, I have mine, and thats just what it is. Am I really going to convince them by engaging? Other times, I am reactive and angry and can lash out. My mind goes to Thich Nhat Hanh. He had some very strong beliefs, and lived them, embodied them. Even just looking at a picture of the guy, he’s equanimous, serene and calm. He gave off that energy just as Ram Dass radiated loving awareness. Thich also spent his life helping to make the world a better place. Thats who I want to emulate.
The idea of making sure when you work for a cause you arent creating more polarization is a very important point. That really resonates. If I am angrily going down the street, very mad, furrowed brow, clenched teeth, saying “Peace Now, End the war!”, I can absolutely see what sort of karma, vibes or energy that gives off, and its the polar opposite of peace. I absolutely have done that in the past. I havent been a protest guy in a long time, but the next time I did, I plan on being mindful and conscious of what Ram Dass said. Ram Dass in later years would go to protests carrying a sign saying “Love Everyone and Tell the Truth”. Making myself peaceful and calm and non reactive is the best way for me personally to cause outer peace and harmony. Krishna Das is often asked by parents or teachers how you can introduce kids to these ideas, or chanting or spirituality. He says, the best way to do so is to live a peaceful life, to model it, and your kids will then have a map. As Thich said, “peace in oneself, peace in the world”. He also has that beautiful poem Call Me By My True Names, and in typical Thich fashion, models being compassionate for all, even those we disagree with.
Seeing the other side, the other side of the aisle, as souls, seems a worthwhile activity to engage in for me. I have some beliefs that have remained for decades, other views have evolved, or completely flipped. I thought I knew my stance on some issues as a teen, now, years later, my stances on those same issues, has changed or flipped. Even the issues that have remained important for me throughout, I’m older, wiser, have more experience. I dont think of things the same way I did when I was 14 years old. That also makes it easier, at least at times, for me to understand people who I disagree with on issues, because I have been on both sides. Things are complex, multifaceted, and if you take a look at any of the Holy Books Ram Dass has mentioned in this course, the people in those books dealt with the same issues we all do currently, there was war, violence, disagreement, greed, hatred, all of it. Realizing I have alot to learn in general, and humans as a species have alot to learn, treating people with kindness and love and respect. This has also involved me taking a page from Ram Dass and putting figures on my puja table that get me caught in Us Vs Them polarity and trying to love them as best I can. Im not there yet.
Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein have both discussed similarly to what Ram Dass mentioned in the renunciation part of the course, that even if you were to move to a monastery, you may have a disagreement with a fellow monk. Joseph Goldstein mentioned trying to meditate at a monastery and hearing construction next door. We are so bound to one another, so interconnected and at the moment, I dont have the resources to move to a farm off the grid and grow my own food etc… So I have to be able to interact with, talk with, have as coworkers, friends and even family, folks who we dont see eye to eye on things. Thats the work. Can I donate, petition, call my representatives, and stand firm, while balancing not creating more polarization, while also balancing seeing those who disagree as souls etc… Its a balancing act, and its one I hope to try. That person saying that political thing I disagree with can I look at their picture on my puja table and love this person and create space for them to drop their role and become a soul along with me? Its the work of a lifetime, but I will try. I dont want to create more suffering or polarization in the world. Our world is as divided, polarized, as its ever been. The country cant agree on seemingly anything. This is why this aspect of Be Here Now has become my most favorite, because it doesnt feel dated in the slightest, he could be talking about now just as much as Vietnam War era politics. Important and essential stuff.