An excerpt from Heartfullness: 52 Ways to Open to More Love, written to honor a beloved mentor, Ram Dass, who passed on December 22, 2019
We all have parts of ourselves that we prefer to remain hidden. We are all ashamed of certain things we have done or were done to us, or even feelings or thoughts we have had. We imagine that if people knew these things about us, they would not like us, that we would be rejected, abandoned, judged or criticized. We think we are safe by keeping this shame hidden, but we are far from safe. Shame kept hidden keeps us from our freedom and happiness. The parts of ourselves that we try to hide are the parts that have the most power over us, because they control us from our subconscious. Trying to bury our past is really rejecting, abandoning, judging and criticizing parts of ourselves.
On the contrary, when we vulnerably share our shame with another in a safe setting, and this is what Joyce and I strive to create in our workshops and counseling sessions, we actually become more lovable. Our vulnerability in a safe setting opens people’s hearts to us. This is a basic premise for much of our work. And going further, seeing and feeling other’s acceptance of us helps us to accept ourselves more deeply. This is a path toward freedom.
In 1977, Ram Dass, whose books and lectures had helped awaken us to the path of consciousness since 1970, came to live in our community of Santa Cruz while he worked on one of his books. For about two years, Joyce and I, along with a few others, had the wonderful opportunity to be individually counseled by this gifted teacher. He told us it was important for him to be in direct service to others instead of just locking himself away writing.
It is extremely humbling to admit our spiritual arrogance when we first visited Ram Dass after he moved to town. At that time, Joyce and I dressed all in white and wore sacred mala beads for our intensive meditation practice. We didn’t go to see Ram Dass for help. We didn’t feel we needed help. Instead, we went to see Ram Dass to help him.
We sat at a picnic table in his backyard while he sat opposite us loudly munching on a green apple and gazing at us with those piercing crystal blue eyes. After about a half-hour of putting up with our shenanigans, he interrupted our (well, mostly my) eloquent proselytizing, and announced, “You guys have just given me a headache. You really need help. I’ll agree to see you each individually while I’m working on this new book. Your energy together is too much for me to take. You’re both, mostly you Barry, ‘phony holy.’”
So much for our helping Ram Dass. We left that day humbled to our roots, and then began what became a two-year intensive training that pulled the proverbial rug out from under us, spilling all of our righteous beliefs about ourselves, and helping us integrate true spirituality.
One of my visits happened to coincide with Halloween, which triggered some old memories from my childhood. I told Ram Dass about my childhood obsession with monsters. I had watched every monster movie that came out, read monster stories and played monster games at night, delighting in scaring my friends with my various expert monster sounds. One night, while my parents were next door at the Cooper’s house, they heard a loud roar and scream coming from outside. Upset, the Coopers asked what had happened. My mom casually remarked, “Oh, that’s just Barry playing his monster games.”
Yes, part of all this was perhaps innocent, but there was another part that was shameful to me, that I hid and didn’t tell anyone but Joyce. It was my cruelty, the ways I took out my anger that hurt others, that was particularly shameful. Ram Dass listened compassionately as I bared my soul to him. Then he asked me to close my eyes and feel this shameful part of myself as deeply as I could. While I did so, he secretly reached down beside his chair into a bag and quietly pulled out a mask that he planned to wear that evening for Halloween. By “coincidence” it just happened to be a full-head, very realistic, hideous-looking monster mask. He slipped it on and then asked me to open my eyes.
I was in a very vulnerable state when I opened my eyes and, unlike a traditional therapist, Ram Dass was sitting with his face perhaps two feet from mine. The scene was surreal. There was this grotesque life-like face immediately in front of me, my complete projection of the cruel monster inside of me, scary beyond belief. In my vulnerable trance state, I was sitting in front of a real monster.
And then I noticed the eyes through the mask. There was no cruelty there, only compassion and love pouring out to me. The combination was so incongruous that I felt an acceptance of the monster part of me, and especially the pain and anger that was behind it. Then I started laughing. Ram Dass looked strangely cute with the mask but, more importantly, I felt the cuteness of my own inner monster persona. Not that my cruelty was cute, but that I was cute, and thus could more deeply forgive myself for the actions that hurt others.
This is the heart of self-acceptance. Behind our shame is our pain, and behind the pain is the precious, innocent child who deserves love. When we touch upon this precious child inside ourselves, we more easily accept the shameful parts. And this brings freedom — and peace.