The most important and by far the most radical of my personal set of core teachings that I carry around with me from my study with Rama took me the longest to hear. He talked about it from Day One, but somehow the words just went in one chakra and out another, without pausing to make a lasting impression. Given the simplicity of the words and their possible importance to anyone who follows a spiritual path, the fact that it took me so long to hear them takes on a significance all its own.
I finally logged on to this particular teaching during the last years I spent studying with Rama. Things had gotten weird around the edges, for many reasons, and from my perspective attending Rama's seminars had ceased to be a pleasant experience. Many of the students, including myself, had grown angry and frustrated. We were pressed for time and worried about money and trying our best to maintain full-time consulting jobs while working another 50-60 hours per week attempting to start software businesses of our own and make them succeed.
It had gotten to the point where my ritual for preparing to walk into a seminar included a stop at the water fountain to down four aspirin, three Advil, and a Motrin tablet. If I didn't do this before each seminar, the level of pain in the room would literally become unbearable to me, and I would have to leave. Laugh it off if you will, consider me crazy and overly sensitive if you will, but that was my honest perception. Something had happened, something I didn't quite understand, something that had made many of these sincere students of self discovery - again including myself - painful to be around. But I loved Rama and loved what I learned from him, so I downed my painkillers and went anyway. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
Anyway, it was during one of these seminars, in the middle of a talk on another subject entirely, that I finally heard the words that have since never left my working memory, and have enabled me to turn my life completely around. It was, from my perspective, a particularly painful evening; my over-the-counter meds were definitely not working. And the longer Rama talked - about our businesses, about how to make them succeed, about the value that success in the world of business can bring to your spiritual life - the more painful it got in the room. Can you say resistance? I think you can.
So at one point Rama stopped talking altogether, and just sat there on the stage scanning the room from his left to his right, pausing at every face, checking out every aura. Then he sighed. I remember the sigh well, because it sounded so tired and world-weary, and thus so unlike him. Then he spoke the words that have since become my credo in life.
He said, "You guys are all missing something important. You're angry and you're frustrated and your lives don't work and your relationship with me sucks, and it's all because you don't get something. You don't get fun. If you are not having fun, my energy - the energy of enlightenment - cannot flow through you. It is blocked. You should pay more attention to the things in your lives that enable you to have fun."
Then he went back to talking about business. I don't know how many other students picked up on this moment, and actually heard what he said, but I did. As he had done so many times over the years, Rama had just nailed the problem, reduced it to its root cause, and given us a way to turn our lives completely around.
I sat there in the seminar room, my physical pain forgotten, my attention far from the business topics he was discussing. I was trying to remember the last time I really had fun. It took me a while. And when I finally remembered the last time that I had experienced a sense of fun in my life, and realized how long ago it was in the past, that realization shocked me so much that I stood up and left the seminar room and drove back to my little house in Pound Ridge to think about it.
I changed out of my suit into some jeans and a sweatshirt and went down to the lake. I took the canoe down off its rack and paddled out to the middle of the lake and just sat there, meditating and pondering the serious subject of fun.
Fun. It's a concept that doesn't get talked about much in spiritual circles. And for good reasons. So much of the emphasis in so many spiritual trips is on the goal of enlightenment, and on the path one takes to get there, that not a lot of time is left to remind folks that the path is supposed to be fun.
Many of us come to the spiritual path damaged, bruised and worn down by the world, carrying with us a less than positive self image. That already poor self image is often made worse by teachings that remind us how far we are from the goal of enlightenment. So it is natural for folks on a spiritual path, which by definition should be a path of light and joy, to lose touch with that joy and become oh so serious about our sadhana.
All of you who have spent some time in spiritual groups know what I'm talking about. The very language of spirituality reflects this imbalance. We talk about 'serious seekers,' 'serious students,' 'taking the study seriously.' Sitting there in my canoe, kneeling in the classic paddling position that just happens to be the classic posture of zazen, it struck me that if what Rama said tonight was true, then serious was not quite the admirable quality it has been made out to be. I found myself remembering the words of that wonderful Christian philosopher, G. K. Chesterton, who said, "Seriousness is not a virtue."
I tried to think back to the last times I had really had fun with my life, and found to my surprise that the majority of them were not associated with my study with Rama. Most of them occurred when I was away on vacation with Sophie, visiting power places in the Southwest, exploring medieval castles in the South of France, sitting at sidewalk cafés along the Seine, watching the Parisians walk by and trying to figure out how they looked so comfortable in their bodies, while the Americans looked so uncomfortable in theirs. The answer we came up with in that café was the same that Rama had talked about tonight. The French had somehow retained a sense of perspective in their lives, a balance of work and fun that had somehow escaped us as Americans in pursuit of success and spiritual seekers in pursuit of an even greater and rarer success.
Kneeling there in my canoe, meditating under the stars on this latest revelation from my spiritual teacher, I resolved to - for once - pay attention to what he said and actually do it. And as with so many of the other suggestions he made over the years that I had ignored, this one was not exactly tough to follow. All he had suggested was for me to start having more fun in my life. The spiritual path is a bitch sometimes, eh?
Well, I am here to tell you that this decision was the most powerful and the most transformative that I have made in close to forty years of pursuing the pathway to enlightenment. But it wasn't as easy as it sounds. When you have spent decades buying into the idea of the serious seeker, it takes some time to transform into one who is serious about having fun.
But I think I've managed quite admirably. When I look back at the last few months, I cannot remember even one day when I didn't have a shitload of fun with my life. I can remember days that were fun from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning through the moment I closed them again at night. And then the dreams were fun, too. Yeah, I know…it's a tough life, but somebody's gotta live it.
And it is not without its drawbacks. On rare occasions I actually get to sit down with a group of folks who studied with Rama and rap. And at these impromptu, often margarita-fueled rap sessions, I find the subject turning, sooner or later, to a discussion of our respective cool moments, those epiphanies that each of us carry within us and cherish because they were times when we metaphorically walked through a doorway and found ourselves on the other side, in a shining world of timelessness. It is always inspiring and uplifting to hear these experiences, because when the person telling the story does a good job with it, the folks who are listening cannot help but be transported along with them into that moment out of time. It's a trés cool experience, the modern-day equivalent of sitting around a fire under a starry sky, listening to the shaman tell tales of power.
But I have noticed a trend at these gatherings. Many of the students who relate these tales of power tend to tell stories from the past, from the times they spent with Rama. I'm not knocking this - those times out of time were among the highest of the incarnation, and in my opinion it is valuable to remember them, because on some level they are still going on, and by recollecting them, we can access that eternal moment and relive it.
My stories tend to be more recent. When the subject turns to cool moments, I rarely have to search my memory any further back than a week to find one. This sometimes creates a kind of weird discomfort in the other students. I get the feeling sometimes that they think I am making these experiences up or embellishing the truth to make them sound more exciting than they really were.
I'm not. I live these days, for the most part, what Rama used to refer to as an uncommonly fine life. And I honestly believe that the primary reason for this is that the primary emphasis in my spiritual path is to have fun. I take advantage of as many opportunities to have fun as I possibly can, and as a result I find that the energies that flow through me are primarily high, clean and happy, and those energies open for me moments of timelessness, in the strangest and most unlikely places and situations.
Who woulda thunk it? Having high, timeless spiritual experiences as a result of just paying attention to the things in my life that are fun? It's a real kick in the ass, lemme tell you, that something so simple could result in something so profound.
When I read tales of the great saints, and the tremendous austerities they performed to achieve these moments of epiphany that we all treasure, I sometimes feel a little guilty. But not for long. Austerities and self denial may have their place in many people's sadhana, but it just doesn't seem to work for me. I find that I no longer even seek spiritual experiences. I just concentrate on having fun, and the spiritual experiences seem to take care of themselves.
It may not make any sense, but what does along the pathway to enlightenment?