Jordan Bates • • 4 min read
Ram Dass’ Simple Practice for Appreciating People Just as They Are
“We’re all just walking each other home.”
— Ram Dass
I love Ram Dass.
Born Richard Alpert in 1931, Ram Dass is well-known for being a friend and colleague of Timothy Leary’s in the 1960s. At Harvard, Leary and Alpert were pioneers in the early efforts to conduct research into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.
After being dismissed from Harvard in 1963, Leary and Alpert moved to an iconic estate called Millbrook, which became a spiritual retreat center and testing ground for accessing higher states of consciousness via psychedelics. In 1964, Leary and Alpert published The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, along with their former colleague Ralph Metzner.
In 1967, Alpert traveled to India, where he met Neem Karoli Baba, a Hindu mystic who would become his guru and give him the name “Ram Dass,” which means, “servant of God.”
Since then, Ram Dass has become a spiritual teacher, sharing wisdom on life, death, meditation, stress, love, and change with millions of people. He is perhaps best known for his seminal spiritual manual, Be Here Now, an illuminated manuscript that I experienced as a refreshing, awareness-raising breeze when I read it several years ago.
Ram Dass has spent decades teaching, writing, serving, and (co-)founding several world-improving foundations and projects. He was awarded the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award in 1991, and it’s estimated that he’s given away millions of dollars in charitable donations over the years, to the point where he has had difficulties affording healthcare in old age.
When asked if he could sum up his life’s message, Ram Dass replied, “I help people as a way to work on myself, and I work on myself to help people… to me, that’s what the emerging game is all about.”
Ram Dass is a beacon of light in an often dark world, and today I’d like to say thank you, Ram Dass, for all that you’ve given us. I love you and am truly grateful that you exist.
Ram Dass on the Wisdom of “Turning People into Trees”
Now I’d like to share one particularly memorable and striking passage from Ram Dass that I came upon recently. Soak in the wisdom of these words:
Here’s a slightly expanded version:
“… when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.
The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”
— Ram Dass, On Self Judgment
Reflecting on the Passage
Ram Dass’ wise words call to mind the words of the psychologist Carl Rogers, who urged us to appreciate life and people like we appreciate a sunset.
Ultimately, the only way to appreciate and love people is to appreciate and love them just as they are.
At any given moment, everyone around us is a completely unique specimen, never before seen in existence in their present incarnation and never to be seen again. Something completely inimitable.
When we step into this awareness, we can “snap out” of judging and fault-finding mode and instead simply accept and appreciate people just as they are. We can love them in their idiosyncratic humanity.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t gently encourage the people in our lives to grow, or that it’s never appropriate to talk with a loved one about changing dangerous behaviors. I think these things are important.
But we’ll find much more love and peace in our lives, and we’ll be more effective in our efforts to encourage change in those around us, if we remember first and foremost to view people like we view trees, appreciating and loving them for who they are in this moment, gnarled branches and all.
We’ve said for years on HighExistence that the secret to life is to resist nothing, to practice accepting reality just the way it is in any given moment, as resisting it will only create unnecessary suffering.
It’s still a good idea to take action within your sphere of control to try to create a more beautiful future, but in any given moment—the Ever-Present Now—acceptance and non-resistance are always the best, wisest options.
So go with the flow, doing your best to accept and appreciate everything just the way it is (including your own imperfect efforts to resist nothing ;).
In doing so, you’ll find that the world becomes more chill, people become more beautiful, and your heart becomes increasingly filled with sweet, sweet gratitude.
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