When I was in my early 20’s I received a copy of Ram Dass’ Be Here Now from a friend, along with a copy of the movie Harold & Maude.
I watched the movie many, many times, but when it came to reading Be Here Now, it was so over my head. I loved the artistic presentation and illustrations, but every time I tried to read it, I had no idea what it was talking about. So it sat on a shelf alongside all my other books, and every once in a while I’d catch the title out of the corner of my eye and feel guilty for never reading it.
In case you haven’t read it, Be Here Now is a pretty ‘far out’ book. Written in the early 70’s, it begins with some background about Dass himself: how he was a professor at Harvard, and his work at the forefront of the 60’s LSD research and experimentation movement. Dass says things that might alienate or scare off a person who didn’t live through the Sixties, or who is anti-drug, or if your upbringing was far from ‘hippie.’ Take this for example:
I remember looking at this page and thinking it was cool to look at, but I had no idea what he meant by any of it…I mean, how can the potter become his pot?!
Also around this time in my life, I had deferred my college acceptance for one year because I had developed a panic disorder and was on a cocktail of medications and quite agoraphobic. In order to feel more comfortable in my childhood room which no longer felt “safe,” I redecorated and painted it in a soothing pale green with a ‘zen’ theme, not really knowing what ‘zen’ meant, and equating it with Chinese characters for ‘peace,’ which I stenciled on my walls. My mom and I also started going to yoga classes together, and as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, we mostly fooled around and giggled at each other.
Though I was familiar with the terms and concepts, I wasn’t ready for the real meaning of Be Here Now, zen, or yoga. All these things were just words I had heard, along with other such as: meditation, mantra, and Buddhism.
Be Here Now sat on a bookshelf for around ten years until a year ago when my boyfriend and I were in my childhood bedroom looking through all my books. He pulled out the book and said he wanted to read it. When we were getting ready for this trip, Be Here Now was one of the books he packed in his carry-on.
Somehow, a book that I had owned for a decade and that had collected dust on a shelf made its way to India, of all places. (This is a book mainly about how Ram Dass found himself in India, following a guru and learning yoga, meditation, Buddhism, etc.) we carried that book around India for four months, and still I didn’t feel like I wanted to read it. We completed a 200hr yoga teacher training, stayed at an ashram, spent ten days meditating in silence, and still I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t have the heart to leave it behind, though. I had owned it for so long and still hadn’t read it, so I wasn’t just going to leave it on a shelf somewhere.
It wasn’t until I had finished my third book in five days during the Introduction To Buddhism course at the Tushita Meditation Center in Dharamkot that I remembered my copy of Be Here Now. Suddenly, for the first time in over ten years, I felt like I wanted to read it!
As I read the same words I had tried to read many times before, I realized that it all made sense. Everything I had learned in India and in life up until that point was all coming together. When he mentioned a guru, a yoga pose, a pranayam, or a Buddhist theory, I knew what he was talking about. I didn’t have to have a psychedelic experience or become a full-blown hippie to understand the message, either. Here I was in a Tibetan Buddhist retreat and I read this page:
“Om Mani Padme Hum” being a mantra I had heard and seen all over Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives. “Wow,” I thought, “I actually know what he’s talking about– it all makes sense!”
I wrote in my journal recently that I wished I had done these kinds of meditation retreats much earlier in my life, how I was jealous of the twenty-somethings who were traveling in India and experiencing these things at such a young age.
Then it hit me: you can’t receive what you aren’t ready to receive. I could never read the book before because I wasn’t able to receive the information inside it. If I had read it, it would’ve gone right over my head. Somehow, having this book around me for such a long time was some kind of foreshadowing. It was always staring at me from my bookshelf, waiting for me.
It’s like the book says: “You’ve got to go at the rate you can go. You wake up at the rate you wake up.”
All the events that have shaped me in my life up to now have created the conditions for me to be here on this trip, in India, doing the things I’m doing. If I hadn’t struggled with anxiety, for example, I might not have sought out different forms of healing, and I wouldn’t have found yoga, which means I wouldn’t have met influential teachers who had inspired me to keep seeking out more yoga and meditation. I wouldn’t have been drawn to India, the birthplace of yoga, nor would I have been open to a yoga teacher training and meditation retreats during the course of my travels.
Everything has to happen in its own time. Sometimes you have to learn hard lessons in order to be ready for other events in your life. Nothing is inherently positive or negative, it’s just another learning experience. When you’re ready to receive something, it will find its way to you, even if it’s a forgotten book sitting on a shelf. I can’t say I’d recommend this book to everyone, however. I think it’s the kind of book that you’ll find only when you’re ready.
By the way, I have since donated my copy of Be Here Now to the Tushita Meditation Center’s library, where it will sit on a shelf until it happens to catch someone’s eye…