My mother told me about Ram Dass when I was a teenager. I was into computers back then in the 80s, so I thought she had said, “RAM DOS,” meaning random access memory, disk operating system. I turned out that his name was spelled differently and meant something entirely different. Ram Dass was a spiritual leader who wore long robes and spoke calmly and quietly about how to live a better, more mindful, and less stressful life.
Later, I learned more about the history of Ram Dass and his associate, Timothy Leary. Ram Dass used to be Harvard psychology professor, Richard Alpert and Leary was his colleague. The two of them became infamous for promoting the recreational use of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and psilocybin, in the 60s. Decades later, Dr. Leary moved on to encourage technology and cyberspace as the new path to enlightenment. Meanwhile, Dr. Alpert went to India and came back as the spiritual leader Baba Ram Dass, in flowing robes, and with a full beard.
Because of their irresponsible promotion of non-medical use of these drugs, medical research on the usefulness of psychedelics came to a standstill. Only now is research slowly moving forward on the potential of these drugs in treating mental illness. Decades later, Colorado is decriminalizing psilocybin. In some countries, Ibogaine is being used to treat addiction. A form of ketamine is now FDA-approved to treat depression. While these drugs are hazardous if misused, in the hands of responsible doctors, they have the power to help change the perspective of a patient with mental illness and help them to overcome debilitating issues with the guidance of trained psychiatrists and psychologists.
Medical science is finally moving forward in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Mental illness is now becoming accepted as deserving better treatment with the collaboration of medical doctors and psychologists. Scientists are revisiting tools that showed promise in the past. These tools include not only pharmacological advances but technology as well.
For example, I recently interviewed psychologist, Dr. Bill Hudenko, on his incredible artificial intelligence tool, Voi, which can help to evaluate a person’s risk for suicide. Two other podcast guests, Karen Newell, and neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander, spoke about the power of sound therapy with binaural beats and brain wave entrainment. While technology can be dangerous and lead to a variety of addictions itself, it may also hold many of the solutions to existing mental health issues.
Much of what Ram Dass taught during his decades as a spiritual leader was in line with the teachings of other current leaders. This includes mindfulness and awareness of thought and acceptance that we are more than just the collection of thoughts that run through our minds. For example, my podcast guest, Harold Derbitsky, is a teacher of the 3-principles, a movement started by Sydney Banks. He also teaches that it is essential to be aware of negative thoughts and not allow these thoughts to lead us to negative actions. He also explains that we should consider the possibility that there is nothing wrong with us, regardless of the opinions of others.
I am currently reading a fascinating book, The Sober Truth, by Dr. Lance Dodes. One reoccurring theme that stands out is the importance of treating people who struggle with addiction with respect. Addiction is not a moral failing. It is a psychological condition that psychologists can treat with appropriate therapy. This view of addiction seems to be in line with the teachings of the 3-principles.
There are a lot of interesting connections to Ram Dass in my life. Michael Singer, author of “The Untethered Soul,” tells a story in one of his books about picking Ram Dass up at the airport and driving with him, having a long conversation on a variety of topics. Michael Singer is a spiritual leader who also teaches about quieting the mind and being aware of thought as well as the concept that we are not our thoughts. Mr. Singer is also the creator of Medical Manager, a program used for decades in the billing departments of small medical practices. My father used Medical Manager in his practice.
I find Michael Singer to be one of the most intriguing spiritual leaders in that he became an expert computer programmer and software developer during his years of practicing meditation and sharing his teachings with disciples out in the woods of central Florida. I had the opportunity to visit his meditation temple a few years ago. I sat on a pillow on the floor in a group and listened to him lecture for an hour after a brief prayer ceremony. Mr. Singer has a fascinating perspective, considering his years of work in the areas of both spiritual training and computer science.
The exciting thing is the common themes and threads that have run through these encounters. While Ram Dass, is no longer with us, having passed away this week, we still have his many hours of recordings and writings. And, we have other spiritual leaders who are still with us and available to share their teachings with us.