Tag Archives: psychosis

“Be Here Now” by Ram Dass

Several months ago, I went to see the film “Dying to Know” which was about Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who changed his name to Ram Dass.  The film reminded me that Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, was one I have been meaning to read but had not gotten around to. So I decided to bump it up on the list and recently finished reading it.

The book is essentially the hippie’s guide to meditation and mindfulness. It’s lavishly illustrated with surreal psychedelic spiritual images that aid the reader in tuning in to the proper state of consciousness when reading this text.

The book is divided into four sections:

  • Journey – The Transformation: Dr. Richard Alpert, Ph.D into Baba Ram Dass—This first section details Ram Dass’ explorations in consciousness expansion through the use of psychedelic drugs with Timothy Leary, which ultimately led him on a journey to the east where he met a guru and discovered his spiritual path.
  • From Bindu to Ojas—This heavily illustrated section, which comprises the bulk of the book, contains Dass’ spiritual musings and thoughts.
  • Cook Book for a Sacred Life—This section offers suggestions and practical advice for individuals starting on the spiritual path.
  • Painted Cakes Do Not Satisfy Hunger—This final section is a long list of suggested reading. As I perused this list, my own reading list swelled exponentially.

While the language of the text is very hippie dippy, and feels a little dated now, the spiritual insights are still profound and relevant. There is way too much to share in a single blog post, but I will share a few that resonated deeply with me, and I encourage you to take the time to read the book closely and ponder what Ram Dass offers.

Georges I. Gurdjieff, a westerner who went on this higher trip or at least on a large part of the trip, said: you don’t seem to understand you are in prison. If you are to get out of prison the first thing you must realize is: you are in prison. If you think you’re free, you can’t escape.

(p. 42)

Reading this made me think of the average American. Americans love to believe they are free: free to seek happiness, pursue the careers they want, travel, elect who they like, etc. But American freedom is just an illusion. We are constantly being manipulated by media, advertising, peer pressure, and so forth. Americans have allowed themselves to be enslaved by a consumer society that profits from their exploitation. But don’t ever try to tell an American that he or she is not free. Americans are quick to fight in the defense of their belief in freedom.

That psychosis business is an interesting business. If you go through the doorway too fast and you’re not ready for it you’re bound hand and foot and thrown into outer darkness. You may land anywhere and lots of people end up in mental hospitals. The reason they do is: they went through the door with their ego on.

(p. 98)

We hear this warning over and over again: it is important to stay grounded when doing spiritual work. I have witnessed people close to me slip into mental illness because they explored consciousness without remaining properly grounded. It is sad, because you are powerless to do anything for that person. They become trapped within their own subconscious and can no longer function in this plane of reality.

When your center is firm, when your faith is strong and unwavering, then it will not matter what company you keep. Then you will see that all beings are on the evolutionary journey of consciousness. They differ only in the degree that the veil of illusion clouds their vision. But for you . . . you will see behind the veil to the place where we are all ONE.

(p. 53)

This is something I need to remind myself about on a regular basis. With all the craziness, intolerance, and fear that I see on a daily basis, I need to remember that all of us are spiritual beings on the path, and we all progress at our own pace. I have to resist the temptation to judge others based on where I am on my journey. All I can do is follow my own course and maybe I might inspire another person on his or her path. What a blessing that would be!

Thanks so much for stopping by. And remember, don’t cling to the past or obsess about the future, just be here now, because this moment is all we really have. Everything else is a mental construct and an illusion.

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“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

TellTaleHeartThis is probably the quintessential short story by Edgar Allan Poe and the perfect conclusion to my macabre month of blog posts (I will be indulging in Halloween festivities tomorrow and hence will not post). Although this is a very, very short story, it packs a hell of a wallop and it never gets stale. The story pulls you in from the very first word—in fact; I am going to be as bold as to assert that this is arguably the best opening paragraph in all of literature.

True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease that sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

There is a lot going on in this paragraph and it sets the tone for entire story. First, there is a frenzied rhythm to the text. When you read this aloud, paying attention to the punctuation, it is psychosis perfectly expressed. Reading this, one actually feels the tension and anxiety expressed by the protagonist. The paragraph also establishes the tension of opposites that permeates the story and builds to a climax at the end. The speaker describes himself as both nervous and calm in the same paragraph. This type of juxtaposition continues throughout the tale; for example, when he claims to have thrust his head into the old man’s room, and then immediately states how he slowly put his head through and that it took him nearly an hour to do so.

There are a couple other things worth noting about the opening paragraph. This tale for me symbolizes a struggle between the senses, a struggle between the auditory and the visual—the auditory represented by the speaker and the visual by the old man. When your senses battle each other and one triumphs, the result can be insanity. The second thing to point out is that the speaker claims he hears all things “in the earth,” not on the earth. This is a key distinction, because the things in the earth are dead. Our narrator is already haunted by a psychosis that causes him to believe he is hearing the dead as they lie beneath the ground.

Something that stood out for me on this reading was the concept of time. Time seems to morph in this tale, either speeding up or slowing down in conjunction with the beating of the heart, which is described in clock-like terms. I thought about how our emotional state affects our perception of time. The old adages of “Time flies when you’re having fun” and “Time seems to drag on while you are waiting” certainly come into play here. When the protagonist is excited, time seems to speed up, but when he is waiting, time seems to slow. Here’s an example of how time shifts, increasing with the narrator’s emotional state.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized methe sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come!

I never tire of this story. It is truly a masterpiece and no matter how many times I read it—and I have lost count over the years—it never ceases to thrill me.

I hope you enjoyed this month of creepy tales and poems, and may your Halloween be filled with chills and fright!!

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