Earlier in my life, Ram Dass was a very important teacher for me. I was only with him in person (along with several hundred other people!) a handful of times, yet I read all of his books and was deeply touched by his presence. I was also lucky to have a few short personal conversations with him. I remember his presence being so gentle, warm, clear, and pure. I often refer to him in workshops, especially when we are talking about healing within the context of our work as people committed to making a difference in the world.
The verb “to heal” comes from the old English word hælen meaning “wholeness.” Healing is not about being sick and getting well. That’s called “curing.” To heal is to come to wholeness – as an individual, as a family, as a company, as a society, as a country, or even as the world. It was Ram Dass who first helped me understand this true meaning of healing and its distinction from curing.
Transformational work often involves healing at some level. It’s about helping people and/or societal systems become whole again. Or, perhaps better said in today’s rapidly changing world, helping them become whole in a new way. Or helping them discover and experience a kind of wholeness that they have never known before.
When the subject of healing comes up, I often share two particular teachings that have been with me for many years. The first came from Stephen Levine, a wonderful poet, author, and teacher who we just lost in January. Years ago at an Omega Institute Conference in New York City, Stephen defined healing as “entering with intention and awareness that which you have avoided and run away from.”
Powerful words – a very direct statement – no messing around. It’s as if he was daring us to just go there – to step into whatever it is within ourselves that we have avoided so that we might come into our own wholeness.
The second teaching is from Ram Dass, who, in his book Still Here, defined healing as letting “what is” take you closer to God. (If the name “God” doesn’t work for you, just substitute whatever name does. It’s the concept that’s important, not the name.)
For a long time after reading that book, I thought that the “what is” he was talking about was something that you couldn’t change. Ram Dass had suffered a near-fatal stroke in 1997, leaving him paralyzed on the right side of his body. There were certain things he would never do again – ways in which his life would never be the same.
And then one day, I realized that there could also be times when the “what is” was something that, in fact, you could change. For example, leaving an unhealthy relationship, or walking away from a lucrative career or job because your soul is dying, or finding your way through the aftermath of a huge loss. It might be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done, but you could do it. And it is the act of doing it that takes you closer to God.
A few weeks ago, I came across some other words of Ram Dass. It’s a quote that I had long ago forgotten, yet now won’t leave me alone:
We’re all just walking each other home.
On the surface, these words bring me face-to-face with the fact that I’m away from home a lot. For the rest of this year, I’ll be on the road more than a third of the time.
Yet deep inside, I know these words are about more than traveling and coming home. Ram Dass was talking about coming home inside of ourselves. He was talking about finding our wholeness – knowing who we are at the deepest and most profound levels of our being and building our lives upon that foundation.
We’re all just walking each other home.
We need each other. Certainly, we need time alone to know who we are, yet there are some things about ourselves that we can only learn in interaction with others. We need to be with other people and to experience life out in the world in order to know ourselves fully – to become “whole” persons. We provide the fodder for one another’s journeys. We take on various roles in one another’s plays on the great stage of life. And we create some amazing theater!
It’s been my experience that the more committed I am to learning and growing and being the best that I can be, the more opportunities keep showing up to enter with intention and awareness that which I have avoided and run away from. I don’t have to go looking for these opportunities – they find me. Sometimes more frequently than I’d like! And in those moments, when I’m lucky, I remember Ram Dass’ teachings: Let “what is” take you closer to God. We’re all just walking each other home.
And so lately I’m asking myself: What if the people I encounter in daily life are all, in their own way, walking me home? Probably very few of them have any conscious awareness of the roles they are playing in my life script. Yet what if they are just playing their part in helping me come home to who I really am? What if they are helping me find out what it means to be whole?
In the same way, what if I’m also walking them home? What if I’m playing a role in their homeward journey? What role might I choose to play for them?
And how might I choose to be with them if I consider that, at least for the moment, we are walking our homeward journeys side by side?
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