Having been in the presence of Maharaj-ji, I have come to trust the way a being like that is in the universe. It’s like knowing somebody who lives a little farther up the mountain and can see farther than you can. The view from there is perfection — not perfection as something to be achieved, but perfection in what is. Maharaj-ji kept saying to me in various ways, “Ram Dass, don’t you see it’s all perfect?” And yet Maharaj-ji spent all his life being there for people, helping them with their lives, feeding them, and just loving them.
The art of life is to stay wide open and be vulnerable, yet at the same time to sit with the mystery and the awe and with the unbearable pain — to just be with it all. I’ve been growing into that wonderful catchphrase, “be here now,” for the last forty years. Here and now has within it a great richness that is just enough.
If somebody asks me, “Ram Dass, are you happy?” I stop and look inside. “Yes, I’m happy.” “Ram Dass, are you sad?” “Yes, I’m sad.” Answering those questions, I realize that all of those feelings are present. Imagine the richness of a moment in which everything is present: the pain of a broken heart, the joy of a new mother holding her baby, the exquisiteness of a rose in bloom, the grief of losing a loved one. This moment has all of that. It is just living truth.
The saving grace is being able to witness suffering from the perspective of the soul. Another way to say it is that the saving grace is having faith. Living in the fullness of the moment with joy and suffering, witnessing it in all its perfection, our hearts still go out to those who are suffering.
If we live in the moment, we are not in time. If you think, “I’m a retired person. I’ve retired from my role,” you are looking back at your life. It’s retrospective; it’s life in the rearview mirror. If you’re young, you might be thinking, “I have my whole life ahead of me. This is what I’ll do later.” That kind of thinking is called time binding. It causes us to focus on the past or the future and to worry about what comes next.
Getting caught up in memories of the past or worrying about the future is a form of self-imposed suffering. Either retirement or youth can be seen as moving on, a time for something different, something new. Start fresh. It’s a new moment. Aging is not a culmination. Youth isn’t preparation for later. This isn’t the end of the line or the beginning. Now isn’t a time to look back or plan ahead. It’s time to just be present. The present is timeless. Being in the moment, just being here with what is, is ageless, eternal.
It is extraordinary how near we are to our deeper being. It’s just a thought away. And the thoughts that take us away from it create so much suffering. The thought “I am this body” causes suffering. I might think, “Well, my body used to be able to do this. My hair didn’t used to be gray. I used to be stronger. I used to be thinner. I used to be . . .” Those thoughts cause suffering because the body is what it is. We do everything we can to stay safe and healthy, but illness, age, and accidents still affect us. Maharaj-ji said, “No one has the power even to keep their own body safe.” The Buddha is right: this body is in time. But we are just here, in this moment.
– Excerpt from Ram Dass’ newly released book Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from your Spiritual Heart.