Author Lisa Lucke, a self-avowed atheist writes about her own spiritual awakening in the context of Ram Dass Fierce Grace, the poignant film that meditates on spirituality, aging, being conscious and living in the now.
Four years ago, I happened upon a documentary on the life of Ram Dass, a.k.a. Richard Alpert, the Harvard professor turned Timothy Leary and Wavy Gravy pal, turned spiritual teacher and, well, all around wide-awake human being, if you ask me. Why did I add Fierce Grace to my queue?
At that moment, it had a ring to it. Looking back, I now believe, it was my time.
Just two months before that moment when the title caught my eye as I scanned the documentaries category in Netflix, I had told a colleague, a fellow high-school English teacher: “I’ve got about as much spirituality in my body as that leaf up there,” I said, pointing to a maple leaf on a branch hanging over us in the quad of our small, rural Northern California school. The colleague, my former Master Teacher and literature-and-life-questions go-to guy, just nodded his head, tight-lipped, as if to say, “Ok, that’s your story and you’re sticking to it, I know.”
He was right. I was sticking to it, like I’d stuck to it for 41 years. Another common refrain I’ve uttered on many occasions: “I don’t have a religious bone in my body.” Now, that’s one I’ll still defend. However, what I’ve since discovered, thanks in part to that movie, which I stayed up alone to watch, after kids and hubby went to bed, is that I not only have a spiritual “side,” but that I’m a spiritual being; we all are, whether we’re aware of it or not.
I’m sort of glad I was alone that night. My mouth kept falling open and staying there. It would have been hard to explain.
Viewing Fierce Grace opened the door, and by door, I mean my eyes. A sliver of light entered. Since then, I’ve been navigating through my life noticing, reading, thinking, being, filling up a void that on some level I knew I had, but on another had come to believe would remain forever empty. I just didn’t get it and accepted the fact I probably never would.
Spirituality was for other people. I didn’t get the gene. Or so I thought, probably due to a couple of nasty encounters with organized religion (okay, I’ll say it: Young Life) as a child. I had grown content growing up and accepting science as my dogma. My brother is an evolutionary biologist. I respect him. I’ll take the same thing he’s having. The gnawing issue for me was, and still is, that evolution primarily explains things—things behind us, how we got here, where we are likely headed in evolutionary terms. After watching the Dass documentary, I realized there is a place called Now.
In fact, it’s the only place.
So, I set out to find out more about it. So many things clicked for me after watching that movie, not least of which was the concept of one. I left separateness by the time the credits rolled. I got it. Now, I had to move forward. Staying in that same place, that sense of joyous surprise when you really see something clearly, was not an option.
Turns out, going in a forward direction, spiritually, presents a few problems. The first is that there are so many hitchhikers: Dass stayed with me for the first part of my journey (Grist for the Mill…finished it, opened it back up, read it again). Since then, it’s been long list of riders: Joko Beck; Thich Nhat Hahn; Krishnamurti; Pema Chodron; Dan Siegel; Tolle….the list is long. Some stay with me for quite some time, maybe two or three different books and some get the boot after only a few miles—it’s like I’m already beyond their interpretation and don’t want to waste the time idling—I want to keep moving forward.
Another issue on the spirituality highway: traffic. Unexpected slowdowns that seem to hold back the pace I’m trying to keep. It’s hard to be here now when now contains two 11-years old step-sisters who can’t seem to figure out how to be in the same room together for five minutes without feeling personally offended and possibly tragically and irrevocably wounded by something the other has done or said. Who wants to be there? How can I relate to Hahn when I mingle with born-agains at soccer games? (For starters, by keeping my mouth shut.) Nevertheless, I’ve got to be in all of my moments, including the ones containing pot roasts and mothers-in-law. That’s who I am, what I do, my purpose right now. So, I dig in and teach and write and edit and parent and love and walk the dog and go to therapy and mind my parents even though I don’t want to. I want to keep moving forward. It’s hard to be in the moment, but it is getting easier.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about waking up is that I can’t take everyone with me. In fact, I can’t take anyone with me. This is something they’ve all said, my passengers, one by one, in their own way: we’re all on our own path—and going at our own pace. Trying to make someone understand is like drawing a picture of air. It just can’t be done.
Almost like a new, bittersweet circle of hell that Dante forgot about: Nobody gets me here.
And so it goes.
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