Polishing the Mirror by Ram Dass

Over the last seven or eight months, the man I’m seeing and I made a pact to incorporate some spiritual growth activities into our couples life. We started meditating in the mornings, which we have been very diligent about, and have tried to read spiritual literature aloud to each other in the evenings, which we have been less diligent about. Somehow in the evenings, especially after many months of Covid-19 situational stress, we end up zoning out with an episode of Sons of Anarchy instead.

We finally made it through Sai Baba, Man of Miracles, which I am still trying to decide if I can believe. Did this Indian guru really cough up huge lingams (in other words, basically, and very unspiritually, stone dildos) and manifest jewels and things out of thin air? As a person brought up in a metaphysical American religion, Christian Science, I wasn’t too attracted to Sai Baba–I like rocks better than jewels, but we slogged through the multi-syllabic Indian names and strange syntax and unique vocabulary of the author. We got a mental workout from the book and a fun new safe word: Prasanti Nilayam.

I got to choose the next book, the silver-jacketed Polishing the Mirror by Ram Dass. Ram Dass is theoretically a favorite of mine because he was involved in popularizing LSD with Timothy Leary before giving it up to explore meditation as a better, more lasting way to mind expansion. But I really didn’t know much about him and haven’t read his most famous book, Be Here Now.

What I love about Polishing the Mirror is its humility and simplicity. It’s sort of a “Buddhism for Beginners” book, and for most of us that consider ourselves seekers and have been exposed to a good amount of spiritual literature, is almost a little too simple. Still, I still got a lot out of it and it was especially nice to read such a straightforward, conversational book after the more difficult Sai Baba: Man of Miracles. Ram Dass had just died before we began reading, so it seemed an especially good “better late than never” time to get acquainted with him.

The basic gist of the book is Be Here Now (nothing like repetition to hammer some essential spiritual truths home), and don’t take yourself too seriously. Ram Dass has a great sense of humor and has a beautiful self-awareness which comes through in his stories about his Buddhist path and all the pitfalls his ego led him into. He talks about aging and letting go of control and some of the beautiful experiences to be had when you are no longer in control–like watching the scenery go by when you are the passenger in a car and not the driver.

It’s simple stuff, but, like our childhood prayers, simple spirituality is what can be easily used during a crisis–possibly more important and effective in bad times than in good. We really enjoyed the gentleness of Ram Dass and I am definitely going to pick up a copy of Be Here Now and see what the younger version of the great sage had to say.

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