Losing Your Mind To Gain Your Soul

In the West we get rewarded for rational knowledge and learning. But only when you see that the assumptions you’ve been working under are not valid, when you despair of getting there through your rational mind, does the possibility of truly changing your mind arise.

Albert Einstein said, "A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels." He also said, "The mind can proceed only so far upon what it knows and can prove. There comes a point where the mind takes a leap—call it intuition or what you will—and comes out upon a higher plane of knowledge, but can never prove how it got there. All great discoveries have involved such a leap."

People first awaken to a spiritual dimension in their lives in an incredible variety of ways. Some people seem to open up to it through traumatic experiences, as people describe when they’ve come near death or at another moment when they touch something much deeper than the usual way they thought about things. Other people awaken through meditation or through religious experiences. Others arrive at it through sex or through drugs.

I remember lecturing in a hall once, back in the early ’70s. Most of my audience at that time was young, and they tended to wear white and smile a lot and wear flowers. I wore my māla and had a long beard. In the front row there was a woman of about seventy, who had on a hat with little fake cherries and strawberries and things like that on it. She was wearing black oxfords and a print dress, and she had a black patent leather bag. I looked at her, and I couldn’t figure out what she was doing in the audience. She looked so dissimilar to all the rest.

These talks were like a gathering of an explorers club, where we would come together and just share our experiences. I started to describe some of my experiences, some of which were pretty far out. I looked at her, and she was nodding with understanding. I couldn’t believe that she could understand what I was talking about. I was describing experiences that I had using psychedelic chemicals, experiences that involved other planes of consciousness. I’d look over at her, and there she was, nodding away. I began to think maybe she had a problem with her neck and maybe it had nothing whatsoever to do with what I was saying. I kept watching and getting more and more fascinated and getting more and more outrageous, and she kept nodding and nodding.

At the end of the lecture, I just kind of smiled at her so intensely that she just had to come up and speak to me. She came up and said, “Thank you so much. That makes perfect sense. That’s just the way I understand the universe to be.”

And I said, “How do you know? I mean, what have you done in your life that brought you into those kinds of experiences?”

She leaned forward very conspiratorially, and she said, “I crochet.”

And at that moment, I realized that people arrive at spiritual understanding through a much wider spectrum of experience than I ever anticipated.

Part of the process of awakening is recognizing that the realities we thought were absolute are only relative. All you have to do is shift from one reality to another once, and your attachment to what you thought was real starts to collapse. Once the seed of awakening sprouts in you, there’s no choice—there’s no turning back.

Actually, we all know that reality is relative; we have known it since childhood: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” Life is a dream.

Taming the mind is fraught with paradoxes. You have to give it all up to have it all. Turn off your mind. There is a place in you beyond thought that already knows—trust in that. Jesus tells us that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. That child mind, sometimes called beginner’s mind in Zen, is the innocence of pure being, of unconditional love.

If we are to live in that state of pure being, something within us must die. It’s like when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. The caterpillar does not become a flying caterpillar; it morphs into a butterfly.

This is the pathless path. Where the journey leads is to the deepest truth in you. It is really just returning to where you were initially before you got lost. Shedding the layers of the mind is like taking layers off of an onion. You peel them all away until you come to your essence. The spiritual journey is not about acquiring something outside yourself. Rather, you are penetrating the layers and veils to return to the deepest truth of your own being.

Excerpted from Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart by Ram Dass. Copyright © 2013 by the Love Serve Remember Foundation. Published by Sounds True.

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