Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart by Ram Dass

These are some of my favorite passages from Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart by Ram Dass 

“Over and over, he conveyed, with humor and stories and quotes, a shift from the Western achievement model of  “making it happen” and “just doing it” to quieting the mind and being in the moment, being present and attentive and loving—just being. Going radically beyond his previous experiences, he described and manifested in himself a different state of being, transmitted from his guru in India. Some spiritual seeds sprouted. Thousands of people got the message and changed their lives in response.” 

“A true guru reflects our innermost being, our true Self, because he or she lives in that place. The guru’s loving awareness of our journey, at every level, is an ever-present homing beacon on the path.” 

“To be fully present in each moment of existence is to live in total contentment, in peace and love. To enter into this presence is to reside in a different state of being, in a timeless moment, in the eternal present.” 

“Home is where the heart is. For most of us, it is helpful to set aside some time in each day to devote to spiritual practice, which means scheduling time in our already busy lives.” 

“Motivations and desires affect our perceptions. We don’t necessarily see things as they are. We see them as we are.” 

“And I said, “How do you know? I mean, what have you done in your life that brought you into those kinds of  experiences?” She leaned forward very conspiratorially, and she said, “I crochet.”

“Your whole life becomes a meditative act. It’s not just sitting on your meditation pillow, your zafu. All of life is a big zafu, no matter whether you’re driving or making love or whatever you’re doing. It’s all meditation. It is the practice of being here now.” 

“Many of us are afraid to let go of our judging minds to fall into love, to be absorbed into the liquid flow of the universe. In the case of divine love, faith makes it easier to let go. In romantic relationships it’s a tricky balance because relationships bring up our personal fears and vulnerabilities. Understanding the difference between emotional or romantic love and divine love is helpful in allaying those fears. Loving God is totally safe because the object of love is ultimately your true Self.” 

“The third kind of love is conscious love, spiritual love. It is important to understand that there is a difference between romantic love and spiritual love. To change romantic love into an expanding, conscious love, we have to take it up another level. Conscious or spiritual love is unconditional; it’s soul love. To enter into the space of conscious love you become love—not loving someone or something, but just being love.”

“As each person opens and loves, the grace comes through—it just pours into you. Let me always feel you present, in every atom of my life. Let me keep surrendering my self until I am utterly transparent. Let my words be rooted in honesty and my thoughts be lost in your light, Unnamable God, my essence, my origin, my life blood, my home. FROM PSALM 19, TRANSLATED BY STEPHEN MITCHELL 

“I realized that Rosie, as one of my teachers, was taking me out of my mind into the fullness of the moment that is part of the mystery of enlightenment.” 

“You don’t have to rush off to India, because the guru and the teaching are always right where you are, right here, right now.” 

“I began to experience it in myself instead of in relation to him as an external being. The whole dynamic of the relationship was changing as I was deepening and my heart was opening and my surrender was increasing.”

“Your attachment, your clinging to how the child is going to turn out, affects every aspect of how you parent. A  lot of our anxiety comes because we are attached to how a child is supposed to come out—smart, successful,  creative, whatever it is we want for our child. Of course, you parent your child as impeccably as you can.  “Parent” is your role to play because that is your dharma, and naturally you become immersed in your role in life. But it is also important to remember you’re a soul playing a role. Who your child is and who you are are not roles.” 

“As a conscious being, you do all you can to live in your soul and to create a space for others to be in their soul too. But you do so without trying to change the existing karma. You don’t need to change your karma, only your attachment to it. Attachment is what keeps you stuck in your limited reality. Your attachment, wishing your loved ones to be different than they are, keeps them the same. Just allow them to be the way they are and love them.” 

“Just keep working on yourself until you are radiating love for each of the beings in your life. When you are radiating love, then everybody else is free to give up their stuff when they’re ready to give it up.” 

‘One way to get free of attachment is to cultivate the witness consciousness, to become a neutral observer of your own life. The witness place inside you is simple awareness, the part of you that is aware of everything—just noticing, watching, not judging, just being present, being here now. The witness is actually another level of consciousness.” 

“The witness is your awareness of your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Witnessing is like waking up in the morning and then looking in the mirror and noticing yourself—not judging or criticizing, just neutrally observing the quality of being awake. That process of stepping back takes you out of being submerged in your experiences and thoughts and sensory input and into self-awareness.” 

“The quickest way to get through your stuff is to learn to listen to that place inside. The inner guru is always there for you once you recognize it. You have to honor your own path and be able to trust that there is a place in you that knows what is best. There is a tendency to look to others for guidance, but really only you know what is suitable for you. Trust your intuitive heart. The Quakers call it the still, small voice within. When it speaks,  listen. If, as you listen to your heart’s intuition, it feels right to do something, do it.”

“Ego is neither good nor bad. The ego has a function. It is the vehicle through which you relate to the external world. But the ego is a collection of thoughts, and to the extent you identify with your thoughts, they keep you from being here now. Once you let go of the identification with your thoughts the melodrama goes on, but it’s no longer your melodrama. Appreciate the experiences but don’t get caught in them.” 

“One way of getting to this place of compassionate action is by honoring others and being patient. Look at the people you don’t like and see them as an exercise for you to open your spiritual heart and to develop your compassion. The quieter you are, the more you hear the true nature of compassion. The intuitive compassionate heart is the doorway to our unity.” 

“If you try to dominate people, you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.” 

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” the old man said, “absolutely wonderful. You see I love sake too. Every night me and my wife, she’s seventy-six you know, we warm up a little bottle of sake and we take it out in the garden and we sit on our old wooden bench and we watch the sun go down and we look to see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great-grandfather planted that tree and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree has done better than I expected though, especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. It is gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the evening even when it  rains.” He looked up at the laborer, his eyes twinkling. As he struggled to follow the old man’s conversation, the drunk’s face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. “Yeah,” he said, “I love persimmons too.” His voice trailed off. “Yes,” said the old man, smiling, “and I am sure you have a wonderful wife.” “Nah. My wife died.”  Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to sob. “I don’t got no wife. I don’t got no home. I don’t got no job. I’m so ashamed of myself.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. A spasm of despair rippled through his body.” 

“There I was standing in my well-scrubbed youthful innocence, my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness. I suddenly felt dirtier than he was. The train arrived at my stop. As the door opened, I heard the old man cluck sympathetically. “My, my,” he said, “that is a difficult predicament. Sit down here and tell me  about it.” I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap.  The old man was softly stroking the filthy matted hair. As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I  had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen aikido tried in combat,  and the essence of it was love.”

“If somebody at work is a problem for you, they’re not the one who needs to change. If someone is a problem for you, it’s you who needs to change. If you feel they’re causing you trouble, that’s your problem. It’s on you.  Your job is to clear yourself.” 

“Using relationships as a vehicle to freedom means we have to learn to listen—listen to each person at each level of their being. The art of listening comes from a quiet mind and an open heart. Listening uses all of your senses,  and it is a subtle skill. Listen, just listen—not only with the ear, but also with your being. Your being becomes the instrument of listening. Your sensing mechanisms in life are not just your ears, eyes, skin, and analytic mind.  It’s something deeper, some intuitive quality of knowing. With all of your being, you become an antenna to the nature of another person. Then for the relationship to remain as living spirit, one of the best ingredients to put into the stew is truth.” 

“You judge other people because you’re not comfortable in your own being. By judging, you find out where you stand in relation to other people. The judging mind is very divisive. It separates. Separation closes your heart. If you close your heart to someone, you are perpetuating your suffering and theirs. Shifting out of judgment means learning to appreciate your predicament and their predicament with an open heart instead of judging. Then you can allow yourself and others to just be, without separation.” 

“When somebody provokes your anger, the only reason you get angry is because you’re holding on to how you think something is supposed to be. You’re denying how it is. Then you see it’s the expectations of your own mind that are creating your own hell. When you get frustrated because something isn’t the way you thought it would be, examine the way you thought, not just the thing that frustrates you. You’ll see that a lot of your emotional suffering is created by your models of how you think the universe should be and your inability to allow it to be as it is.” 

“Have you ever noticed how many angry people there are at peace rallies? Social action arouses righteousness.  Righteousness ultimately starves you to death. If you want to be free more than you want to be right, you have to let go of righteousness, of being right. That reminds me of a story. There’s this Chinese boatman, and he hits another boat in the fog. He starts swearing at the other boatman. “You SOB! Why didn’t you look where you  were going?” Then the fog lifts for a moment, and he sees there is nobody in the other boat. And he feels like a fool.”

“When I’m locked in a situation in a relationship with someone, it isn’t that they have done something to me.  They’re just doing what they’re doing. If I get caught up in judging, the responsibility lies with me, not with them. It becomes my work on myself.” 

“Fear is a protective mechanism in the sense that you experience free-floating anxiety about that which threatens you. Fear makes you want to hold on to familiar structure in your life.” 

“When you experience fear, you are caught in your separateness, feeling cut off and vulnerable. When you’re experiencing love, you’re part of the unity of all things.” 

“Love is the antidote for fear because it goes to the place behind separateness. As you cultivate that unitive quality, the fear dissipates. As fear dissipates, you feel at home in the universe. If you stay in the soul, you will stay in love. It’s not a concept or a belief. When you have faith, there’s no fear—only love. True “faith” arises when you know that you are the soul, and that the soul is love.” 

“Much of the suffering of aging comes from holding onto those memories of who we used to be. When I was sixty-three and writing a book on aging, I saw that I needed to be able to dance through this part of my life’s curriculum without denial, without closing down to the suffering, but just watching the way my energies become less reliable, the way my patterns of life change. For instance, I now have to live more economically. I watch how society takes away my power as it makes me into a senior citizen. But instead of struggling with every  change of circumstance, it’s just, “Ah, another new moment!” 

He was saying it with great respect and affection. I had become a respected elder in that society. He was saying,  “You’ve earned the respect due an elder. You’re someone whose wisdom we can rely on and to whom we will  listen.” 

“The Vedic philosophy of India has four principle stages of life, or ashramas: To age 20, you are a student. From  20 to 40, you’re a householder, raising children and earning money. From 40 to 60, when your children are grown, they take over your business, and you study philosophy, make pilgrimages, and do spiritual practice.  From 60 on, you give up your responsibilities. You are free. Society supports you because it needs the wisdom you have to offer.”

“Let’s at least recognize that we are living in a system that has gotten out of balance. You and I are paying the price for having grown up in a materially oriented society that values people in terms of their products, their achievements, and their ability to consume, instead of cultivating the quality of their being. The zeal for independence and individuality has alienated us not only from our deeper being, from family and community,  but also from nature.” 

“Wisdom is one thing in life that does not diminish with age.  Wisdom is learning how to live in harmony with the world as it is in any given moment. One aspect of that wisdom is the deep understanding that we are all in the same boat. Out of that comes compassion—compassion for yourself, compassion for others, compassion for the world. Can you allow the changes and delight in them and look for the wisdom inherent in each change rather than resisting them?” 

“On channel one, when you look at another human being, you see the physical body: old, young, dark, light, fat,  thin, and so on. Especially if you’re obsessed with your own physical body, that’s what you see when you look at the world: other people’s physical bodies. That’s the channel you’re seeing. Youth, sex, fitness, fashion,  beauty, sports—you know the programming.” 

“Flip to channel two, and you’re in the psychosocial realm. You see power, and you see happiness and sadness and neurosis. This is the therapy channel and the social role channel. Here, we are mothers and truck drivers and lawyers—all the different roles and identities, intricacies of character and interaction, all the social stuff. It’s As the World Turns, a fascinating, never-ending soap opera that just goes on and on, episode after episode. Most people are happy with channel two. Maybe 98 percent of the people you meet are busy with these two channels all the time.” 

“Recognize in yourself the conflicting forces; part of you wants to stay effective in the world, and part of you wants to be contemplative. Really give that contemplative part some space.” 

“One of the gifts of old age is no longer caring so much about what others think of us. Aging allows us to be more eccentric. When we were younger, we were expected to behave in a certain way. As we age, we can let it all fall apart a little more. We are free to be ourselves—to follow our hunches, to experiment, or to do nothing at all—as age liberates us from our old roles and offers a different kind of freedom and an authentic way of being.”

“I’d like to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones. You see,  I’m one of those people who live sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments,  and if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one  after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.” 

“If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.” 

“Relationships become so beautiful. Each person’s struggle, each person’s journey, is so exquisite. Let yourself stop for a moment and appreciate that beauty. It is so precious. Most people have no idea they are beautiful.  They’re busy being not beautiful, because they think, “If only I had this or that, then I’d be beautiful.” But who they are—their pain and their beauty—is all so beautiful.” 

“It is interesting to see how aging can work to one’s advantage spiritually. I used to go to Burma to sit in meditation. I’d go into a cell. I’d sit down—no books, no television, no computers, no one to talk to. I’d just sit and go inward. I’d go into as quiet a place as I could find. Just look at what happens when you get old. You lose your hearing, you lose your sight, you can’t move around so well, you slow down. What an ideal time to meditate. If any message is clear, that’s it. Yet we treat aging as an error or a failing. That distortion comes from defining ourselves in terms of doing instead of being. But behind all the doing, all the roles, you just are—pure awareness, pure consciousness, pure energy. When you reside fully in the present moment, you are outside of time and space.” 

“Earlier in their lives these people had focused on planning for the future. Now that the future was here, their consciousness was occupied with the past. I heard heavy doses of sentimental reverie. As I was thinking about  this, I wondered, “Whatever happened to the present moment? What happened to just making tea? What  happened to this consciousness of just being together in this beautiful place under the stars?” 

“Their minds were holding onto an identity that they were constantly reinforcing by reliving the past. Any memory of a high moment you’ve held on to keeps you from this present moment. And right here is the living spirit. If not here, then nowhere.”

“For some of us, the subject of death is easy to talk about, and for some of us, it’s a little threatening and frightening. I recognize all that. But part of the essential spiritual work for us at any age is to find a way to be with death. An old tombstone inscription reads:” 

“For many of us, the thought of death, thinking of when we or someone we love is going to die, keeps us from being here now. When will we die? How will we die? What will happen after we die? What will happen to our loved ones? What about all the things we hoped to accomplish? These deep fears and anxieties about our survival keep us from living fully in the present moment.” 

“Most of us are convinced that we are our egos, which is who we think we are. The ego is part of our incarnation.  It dies with the body, which is why we are so afraid of death. Death scares the hell out of who you think you are,  especially if you think you are this body. Being around death forces you to open to a deeper part of yourself. The shadow, especially the shadow of death, is the greatest teacher for how to come to the light. 

Poet and teacher Stephen Levine, in his book Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings, includes a  meditation for letting go of pain. He says: Consider the possibility that the resistance to the pain and the fear pain may evoke may be more painful than the pain itself. Notice how the resistance closes your heart and fills your body and mind with tension and dis-ease. Keep relaxing the resistance … the tightness … that has accumulated around the pain. “Soften” around the pain.”

“After a while, I suggested she incorporate the ticking sound of the clock in the room inside of her. She became very present. Coming fully into the moment and into her soul took her out of time and space. This is important in life and even more so when someone is dying. The soul is independent of time and space.” 

“The minute the fear of death has been faced, the meaning of life changes. Otherwise your fear distorts your perception all the time, and you panic when someone gets near death. That panic is because of your identification with those thoughts. The journey of consciousness is about arriving at a balance in life where you are open to the mystery of it all. You can’t be open when you’re loaded down with a lot of conceptual stuff. In my own consciousness, I watch how long it takes, when an expectation isn’t fulfilled, before I come back again to being in the present moment. How long before I can let go of not getting what I wanted, and just be with what is?”

“When the great South Indian saint Ramana Maharshi was dying of cancer, his doctors wanted to treat him, but  he refused, saying, “This body is all used up.” His devotees, who loved him dearly, cried, “Bhagawan [Blessed  One], don’t leave us, don’t leave us.” He replied, “Don’t be silly, where can I go?” 

“As you extricate yourself from a rigid identification with body, personality, and mind, you begin to be spacious enough to allow death to be part of the process of life rather than the end of existence. I feel this very deeply.” 

“Nobody could be straight with her because everybody was too frightened—all of them, everybody, even the rabbi. Mother and I talked about it. At one point, when nobody else was in the room, she turned to me and said,  “Rich?” I’d just been sitting there—no judgment, no nothing, just sitting—and we just met in that space. She  said, “Rich, I think I’m going to die.” I said, “Yeah, I think so too.” 

“We would talk about death and what we thought it might be like and all, but she was still being very strong.  The pain of the cancer was intense, and over time it finally wore away her will. A moment came, maybe four or five days before her death, when she gave up. In our culture giving up is seen as a failure. Everybody says to keep trying, keep trying. The result is we sometimes surround dying people with a kind of false hope that comes out of our own fear.”

“At the moment she surrendered, it was like watching an egg hatch. A new being emerged that was so radiantly beautiful and present and light and joyful. It was a being that at some deep intuitive level she knew herself to be but never had time for in her adult life.” 

“She opened to this being, and together we just basked in its radiance. At that moment she had gone into another plane of consciousness. We were together talking, but the pain and the dying process had just become phenomena. She was no longer busy dying; she was just being, and dying was happening.”

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Davidson Hang is currently in Sales at Cheetah Digital which is a Marketing technology company located in NYC.

Davidson is an avid networker, personal growth- life and business coach.

He loves spreading the love and regularly helps people create and design the life they want for themselves.


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