Ram Dass’s books and lectures have been an inspiration to many people. Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert, Harvard professor and longtime friend of Timothy Leary’s) is responsible for turning on many in the West to Eastern religious ideas and is the author of such spiritual classics as Be Here Now; The Only Dance There Is; and Journey of Awakening. He created the Hanuman Foundation to spread spiritually directed social action in the West and co-founded the Seva Foundation, an international service organization working on public health and social justice issues, which has made major progress in combating blindness in India and Nepal.
Ram Dass had a stroke in February of 1997. I interviewed him on April 7, 1999, to find out how the stroke had affected his outlook on life. During the interview he had trouble finding words, and there were a lot of long pauses, but I could tell that his mind and spirit were essentially unchanged. Despite the difficulty with communication it was the same old Ram Dass, and I found him more inspirational than ever. —David Jay Brown
What do you remember from your stroke? I was lying in bed fantasizing that I was an old man. I was trying to a find a way in myself to experience that fantasy because I was writing a book about conscious aging, and since I was only sixty-five, I thought that I was too young to write the book. A friend of mine called from New Mexico and said that I sounded sick. While I’d been fantasizing about being old, I hadn’t noticed that I was having a stroke. So he called my secretaries, who lived nearby, and told them that he thought something was wrong with me. My secretaries came right over.
By then I had gotten out of bed and was lying on the floor. I had this weak leg, which I figured I would have as an old man. My secretaries looked at me and then called 911. The next thing I knew, I was looking up into the faces of these young firemen. I just thought that they were looking at me as an old man—I still don’t remember anything more that happened except being wheeled on the gurney in the hospital. Friends, nurses, and doctors all came in with concerned looks on their faces, because they were told I was dying. But I just thought I was enjoying this fantasy of being an old man and wasn’t really sick at all.
How has your stroke changed your body physically and mentally? It damaged my brain in such a way that I’m unable to move my right arm and leg. The whole right side of my body is pretty much numb at the skin, but there is plenty of pain. The stroke also affected my ability to speak. I have difficulty expressing concepts. The dressing room for concepts—where I dress them in words—has been harmed by the stroke. I have the concepts but I don’t have the words to play with.
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