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Lions Roar : September 2019
BECOMING NOBODY Directed by Jamie Catto Love Serve Remember Films 2019; 81 minutes (Documentary) Becoming Nobody tells the life story of Ram Dass, the Harvard professor turned psychedelic researcher turned spiritual teacher. Creatively weaving together archival footage with a present-day interview, it’s by turns funny and profound. Ram Dass, author of the spiritual classic Be Here Now, remembers his early days in India seeking clarity and love. “I would get so high, light was pouring out of my head,” he quips. “I was some combination of the pure mind of the Buddha and the heart of the Christ, which for a Jewish boy is not bad.” But the high didn’t last. “I’d come back to the States,” he continues, “and my father would say some simple thing like ‘You got a job?’ and I would crash.” Then Ram Dass learned that the only thing that could actually bring him down was his own mind. Today, at age eighty-eight, Ram Dass suffers from expressive aphasia, but he’s still full of joy. RADICAL RESPONSIBILITY How to Move Beyond Blame, Fearlessly Live Your Highest Purpose, and Become an Unstoppable Force for Good By Fleet Maull Sounds True 2019; 272 pp., $22.95 (cloth) In 1985, Fleet Maull was thirty-five years old, had a master’s degree in psychology, and a young son. Then, as he puts it, he “completely torched” his life. For smuggling cocaine into the U.S. he was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Desperate anxiety threatened to overtake him, but Maull had ten years of meditation practice under belt, so instead of giving in to hopelessness, he practiced for hours every night in his cell. This enabled Maull not to just survive but to discover a sense of wellness that transcended his situ- ation, enabling him to accomplish things of value in prison, including initiating numerous programs such as inside-prison hospice, one of the first programs of its kind. Maull was released after serving thirteen years and today he’s an execu- tive coach and meditation teacher in the Zen Peacemaker and Shambhala communities. In Radical Responsibility, he offers teachings and practices for letting go of the debilitating idea that our current situation determines our future. ♦ By Andrea Miller Right Activism continued from page 75 there is no separation between myself, my neighbor, the mom trying to escape poverty and violence in Central America, and the family in Pakistan whose village is being bombed by U.S. drones. My work for the ACLU is an extension of that view. We can- not possibly help everyone in our finite time here. But we sure try. In the nearly fifteen years I’ve been with the organization, we’ve fought against holding people with mental health disorders in solitary confinement—not once but twice. We won marriage equality for same-sex couples in Pennsylvania a year before it went nationwide. We undermined public trust in the death pen- alty, eventually convincing our current governor to implement a moratorium on executions. This has now led to a pending case before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in which the court will consider whether capital punishment is unconstitutional. And those are just some of the victories we’ve won in Pennsylva- nia; the ACLU has successfully defended people’s rights—often the most marginalized people—all over the country. The ACLU cannot take full credit for these victories for compassion, of course. There are many organizations and individuals who have struggled to get where we are. And we have a lot more work to do. Perhaps most importantly, this work has to include the people who are most impacted. It’s well and good for a privi- leged person like me to help with the work, but I’m not from a disadvantaged community. I haven’t lived that suffering. It’s the people who are most marginalized in a society that is historically dominated by people who look like me who have the real expertise in what it’s like to be disadvantaged and the knowledge of their most pressing needs. The practices of the Zen Peacemakers, the order of engaged Buddhists founded by Roshi Bernie Glassman, pro- vide me with the steps for opening my heart to people who have different life experiences than my own. In the Zen Peacemakers’ way, we first practice not know- ing—entering a space completely free of preconceived notions or judgments. We then bear witness—keeping our hearts and minds fully open to the person or the experience before us. Only after we do these two practices do we take the third step: compassionate action. In meditation, we have a practice that quiets the mind, even in the midst of a fight, and allows us to see situations with clarity, as they truly are. Meditation is more than a mere respite; it truly is practice for everyday life. We start on the cushion, observing our thoughts and sitting with them to understand how they are poisoned by our own delusions. We then carry those meditative techniques into daily living so that we can act with greater clarity and compassion. One of our senior priests said something years ago that I’ve come back to again and again. She said, “Our practice is about awakening to the oneness of all beings. And acting on it.” So don’t just sit there. Act. ♦ LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2019 81