I just completed a memoir of a 20th century explorer of human consciousness, Richard Alpert, also known as Ram Dass.
He was a Harvard psychologist in the 1960s who collaborated with Timothy Leary. They pioneered research on LSD and other hallucinogens at Harvard University. Leary went on to infamy, while Alpert went to India and studied meditation and yoga and wrote numerous books about spirituality. “Be Here Now” was one of his most well-known books, and his work was an early precursor to the current “mindfulness” movement.
Back in the ‘70s I was deeply influenced by his writing and also attended several of his lectures. He was a cultural icon of the 1960s for many of us baby boomers.
His life took many twists and turns, including a major stroke in his 60s that changed his life dramatically, but not his message. From his wheelchair, he said, “Love is everything.” He was a champion of personal transformation. He dedicated his later life to service, helping others with their own life journeys.
So much of adult life centers around our “to-do” list — establishing a career, making a living, finding a partner, raising a family, pursuing success. These are all worthwhile endeavors. But do we consider our “to-be” list? Who do we want to be? How do we want to be?
So how can we pursue personal transformation and growth?
Push against your comfort zone. Growth requires new experiences which challenge your coping skills and comfort. Don’t let fear stop you from pursuing new opportunities. When I was in my 20s, I started practicing aikido, a mind-body martial art, despite being completely out of my element. I stuck with it for 20 years because I continually felt challenged.
Look within. Personal growth requires reflection and contemplation, two activities that are in short supply in our crazy busy lives. For some, keeping a diary is a helpful approach for learning from your everyday life.
Cultivate inner peace. During the upheaval of the pandemic, a measure of inner peace is helpful to weather this storm. Ekneth Easwaran, a 20th century meditation teacher, noted, “Steadiness of mind is one of the most practical of skills. Nothing is more vital than learning to face turmoil with courage, confidence, and compassion. To do this, we need a calm mind …” For me, meditation has been most helpful in nurturing calm. Today there are many meditation apps, like Headspace, Calm, Buddhify or The Mindfulness App that provide guidance, help and encouragement for developing and sustaining a meditation practice. Mind-body practices such as yoga, tai chi or martial arts are also useful tools for nurturing inner peace. For some, prayer can bring about a deep calm. Listening to music or playing an instrument can also evoke a peaceful feeling.
Start every day with an affirmation. It’s hard to remember how we want to be in our everyday life. What do you wish to nurture in yourself? Write your affirmation on a 3×5 index card and put it on your bathroom mirror. That way, you will see it in the morning and at night. It will help you remember what’s on your “to be” list.
Perform good deeds. Helping others facilitates our connection to the greater good. Volunteering in your community, donating to good causes and simply showing up for friends and family can help you feel part of something larger than yourself.
I believe that a goal of adult life is to become the person you hope to be. It’s a long journey that requires courage, perseverance and self-awareness.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/health-wellness-library.html.