Few spiritual seekers of the post-hippy generation will have failed to come across the classic text of its era, ‘Be Here Now’ by the author and teacher Ram Dass.
The book itself began life in 1971 from very humble beginnings as a pamphlet published by the Lama Foundation but has since gone on to sell in excess of two million copies worldwide.
Ram Dass is to many the grandfather of the spiritual renaissance movements that emerged from the psychedelic morass of the late 1960s.
Now in his early 80s Ram Dass still teaches and spreads his vast knowledge of esoteric thought via the internet and his vast army of followers will be thrilled to read that another title by their guru, Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart, has been released.
The book itself is essentially comprised of the author’s reflections upon his life and, as an octogenarian, the efforts he is trying to make in order to acclimatize himself to the onset of his own inevitable demise.
This difficult and challenging process is, however, made easier for him through his close understanding of the laws of karma and reincarnation and so Dass has taken this opportunity to document some of his own personal philosophy on the nature of life and its meaning.
The book opens with Dass’ re-iteration that in his opinion the state of ‘being here now’ underpins his belief that remaining alive in the moment serves as the foundation stone to a lifetime spent in spiritual work—a journey which he recalls began in 1961 when once armed with a PhD from Stanford University he began his career a professor of social relations at Harvard University.
During his time there he met another important figure from the history of 1960s counter-culture; namely the early LSD advocate Timothy Leary who introduced Dass to psychedelics and through them a whole new way of thinking and living.
From his account of meeting Leary, Dass then continues his account with a juxtaposition of the authors’ spiritual experiences and exposure to Eastern philosophies which he enthusiastically ingested during his early journeys to India to meet the country’s spiritual gurus.
Through relating key elements of his life story the book becomes the author’s own personal reflective mirror, or sounding board, as Dass muses on how he understands the aging, or maturing, process to be unfolding in his later years.
As he so eloquently puts it, “Death is a reminder to live life fully’. He sees this as a constant reminder for us to focus even more intently upon the ‘now’ as well as how to learn to ‘de-clutter’ ones’ life and to arrange in order the more consequential and valuable elements to ones increasingly limited years.
Despite its charming nature and occasional literary successes some readers, like myself, may find that this is a book that does not quite hit the mark. What, to my mind, is missing from it is any real sense that the author has indeed a richer and more eventful life than is suggested in this book.
However, in its defense, it should be said that this is not meant to be an autobiography in any real sense of the word so if you are a follower of Ram Dass or wish to gain a greater insight into his life and philosophy then this will undoubtedly be an immensely satisfying read.
For me it was, at times, simply a comfortably-well educated Westerner trying to transpose Eastern mysticism into a non-contextual forum.
On the positive side it was somewhat refreshing to read the more matured and carefully considered observations on life than those more vociferous writers born several generations after him and with little hard spiritual graft to tone down their egos.
Indeed. this is a book which many in their declining years will obtain great comfort and personal strength from.
Despite its dark under-current of a man approaching what he perceives of as his own physical demise It is not a maudlin commentary by any means but it is instead a very grounded and introspective approach to life — no bad thing for any reader of any age to integrate and take as their defining philosophy.
Polishing the Mirror is a book very much borne of its time. The author’s story and personal reflections will resonate with those who have matured alongside him and who associate closely with his personal philosophy on life and death