The writings of Ram Dass have been instrumental in my formation as a human being: Pat Mata and I perused Be Here Now while eating our bag lunches in High School... and a seemingly phenominal number of years later, I keep returning to that same book, and an even better one, also by Ram Dass, called Be Love Now... In pondering the insights of my dear brother Ram Dass, I suppose that I would boil his example and teachings down to relax and have a good laugh...
This, of course, is not to say don't meditate, don't serve others, and don't work for justice. But rather, it is very much to say how you pray, how you serve, and how you work matters a whole deal... and further, are you, in your core, living your life as an accomplice to your own unhappiness and to the destruction of this precious blue Planet? Very sadly, that pretty much sums it up for most of us, and certainly for the systems under which we live, move, and have our being... we are a deeply unhappy people, divided and conquered by irrational desires, irrational politics, irrational economics, and irrational religions...
Now don't get me wrong! Being "rational" is not the goal: perhaps, though, being freaky is!
I mean: who in their right mind would like to hang out with us? Look at the anger on our faces and the judgments in our words: as often as not, hate is the look in our eyes: who wants to party with a hater? Another way of putting it is simply this: it seems to me that we are all planning on dying early!
On the other hand, here is a little poem / prayer from the prayer book which helps me (Celtic Daily Prayer, Book Two, Farther Up and Farther In):
Where is joy?
As the hand is made for holding,
and the eye for seeing,
You have fashioned us for joy.
Share with us the vision that
shall find it everywhere.
And, when our song of joy dies down to silence,
come, hold our powerlessness with love!
Then shall our fear be gone,
and our feet set on a radiant path.
Are you planning on dying early?
The teachings of Ram Dass all suggest that we might consider dying young -- as late as possible! In other words, what we think, do, and say matters! Back in our old Soup Kitchen, I would sometimes ask our guest-volunteers who they would most like to see walking through our doors to eat with us? Mia would say her brother. Johnny would say a certain famous and gorgeous singer. Pam or Eleanor would say Jesus (no doubt hoping for a few extra brownie points). Ram Dass (through the Spirit realm) would say "treat everyone as if they are God in drag"... Which was, of course, the whole point of the exercise...
Relax and have a good laugh is simply a way of suggesting that we, very intentionally, cultivate the attitudes and actions of a lifestyle geared to both happiness and a long-life... Why does that seem so weird and challenging? I love reading the Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker... but lately, I find the book The Blue Zone Solution way ahead of nearly everyone else. The author and National Geographic fellow, Dan Buettner, has identified five places around the world with the longest-lived people and the common denominators
that basically united them all: 1) Move naturally; 2) Have a sense of purpose; 3) Have dedicated time for relaxing; 4) Follow the '80%' Rule (stop eating when 80% full); 5) Eat more plants; 6) Enjoy a glass of wine '@ 5' (I prefer an Oatmeal Stout); 7) Get your ass into the right tribe (my words, not his), develop close friendships; 8) Cultivate a spirituality that includes a sense of community; 9) Especially build and practice love in your family. Simple, right?
This is where the Blue Zones Solution circles back to the Catholic Worker: Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day always used to say that the goal of the Catholic Worker was to create a society where it was easier for people to be good. Why should living be so fucking hard for so many people? Poverty sucks. Loneliness sucks. Fear sucks. Hopelessness sucks. And the feelings of being trapped in these endless battles with pain and grief sucks. We don't really need another Soup Kitchen: we need the intentional cultivation of those things which easily translate into possibilities of happiness.
Why not reshape our cities and our rural communities both, into working zones of happy possibilities? It's obvious that everyone needs a home, safety, health, work, community, and a playful, relaxing, rest: so why not set about the business of taking care of this business? Oh I know, there in the back of the room, are the libertarian and the socialist already arguing and lifting their fists: but both are missing this essential point: we are all responsible for creating the cultures and environments in which we live. The libertarian is right in saying the individual has a responsibility to work his butt off: and the socialist is also right in saying the government has a responsibility to help remove the barriers to a free, responsible, and happy life for everyone...
And Ram Dass is right in saying that we are all here to help each other in our walk home... and in our walk, we need the cultivated ability to stop... relax... and have a good laugh...