Throwback Thursday: Practicing the Mantra, “Be Here Now”

The Grey Rabbit

In June 1971, I found myself stranded in the East without a ride West (East is least, West is best). I had visited my parents for my father’s sixtieth birthday and had to get back to Denver. I was uptight and strung out, fidgety and miserable, worried I would never see my beloved high mountains again. I didn’t want to be where I was and I didn’t have the dough for a plane or a train ticket. A local friend told me about The Grey Rabbit, a bus line catering to the counterculture. It was slated to come through the city where my parents lived. It was dirt cheap, so the next day I caught the beat up, secondhand coach at a seedy downtown hotel.

Be Here Now Ram Dass
Be Here Now Ram Dass

Its 1950s curved, grey body was streaked with blue and green lines from head to toe. I felt like I’d stepped back in time. A decal of an anthropomorphic white rabbit running upright was painted under the driver’s window. I would rather have been traveling with my friends in one of their cars, but hey, this was a ride, nothing else. I would keep to my insular self and read, make the best of a bad situation, look forward to my arrival in Denver. The hell with the journey. I was planning ahead. For all intents and purposes, I was already in Denver—not in body, but spirit. As the bus bounced along the highway, meandering its way West, I felt every pothole in the road. I couldn’t relax. I should have been enjoying the ride and the scenery instead of wishing I’d already reached my destination.

Be Here Now

Be Here Now. A simple, yet surprisingly difficult philosophy to live by—but well worth the practice. It could prolong your life. Be Here Now, a concept that, as we age, would bring back the moments that have been stolen from us and ultimately stretch time, instead of compressing it. Something a child naturally lives by. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

The Paradox

As one ages over the time scale of one’s life, time seems to fly by at a clip. It’s always hard to wait when you are young—you want to get right to it. A paradox you don’t understand until you’re older, but by then it’s too late. You’re on the slippery slope running toward the brink. Be Here Now, a mantra as worthy today as it was in the late sixties and early seventies when Ram Dass introduced Be Here Now: a way to live longer and be more in tune with the world and who you are. The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected. The poet Robert Frost wrote those words. You cannot worry about the afternoon when you have the morning to live. The afternoon knows this is true, but you have to Be Here Now in the morning. The afternoon will come. It always does. You don’t know whether you’ll be dead or alive. You can’t worry about it.

Ram Dass

Richard Alpert, who later took the name Ram Dass after he spent time in India in the 1970s, met Dr. Timothy Leary as a graduate student at Harvard in 1960. Here, both psychologists, along with the help of Ralph Metzner, Aldous Huxley and Allen Ginsberg, set out to investigate psychotropic substances and what effects they generated on the mind. Richard Alpert was born in Newton, Massachusetts, into a proper academic Jewish family. He excelled in college and went onto Harvard. Leary was almost his opposite, of Irish descent and a heavy drinker. Both were later expelled for their experiments with LSD in 1963 and became personae non gratae. Later that year, after travelling to Mexico where they took mushrooms, they moved to the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, NY, and set up a commune where they continued to experiment with LSD.

The White Horse

The Grey Rabbit made numerous stops along the way to Denver. The driver was in his thirties, long hair down his back, a beard, wearing only jeans and sandals. He looked like Jesus with blue jeans. For all I knew, he was Jesus. I remember a woman sitting in the back on a bunk, playing a sitar. We were all assigned bunks. There were very few seats. The music was soothing. Incense burning, the smell of pot. That’s when I began my awakening. I came out of my stupor and commenced to enjoy the ride, the people. I put my book down and let myself drift. Then someone handed me a tab and a joint. After I swallowed the LSD and had a few tokes, the tightness in my muscles evaporated and I was soon rolling back and forth to the rhythm of the bus traveling down the potholed highway.

Be Here Now Ram Dass
The White Horse

I don’t know how many days later, but we stopped in Nebraska somewhere off I-80 next to a pristine lake. After we partook of a feast of beans and rice beside the road, we took our clothes off and went swimming. Standing waist-deep in the cool waters, I saw a white horse with no name looking at me from a pasture nearby. I was drawn to it. I climbed a fence, still naked, and went up to the horse. The horse was friendly and nudged me. I was seeing three suns behind its head, a rainbow connecting them. The horse unexpectedly bowed low and I climbed on its back. I’d never ridden a horse, let alone bareback. We took off through a field of high wheat that seemed to flow over the top of us. The moment was mine. I was inside eternity. It stretched on and on. I was riding a gentle wave toward a horizon inside myself. Neither in the past or future, riding that line in between morning and afternoon where the moment resides.

Be Here Now.

When I got back to the bus, I was abuzz with serenity. I went to my bunk and took part in conversations with my fellow riders. I was there, happy to be there, making the most of those moments. I knew I’d never see these folks again. I was glad to be there talking, smoking and eating with them. The ride across the plains stretched on, the scenery moved within me like a vivid dream. The burnished sunsets and fiery sunrises swept me up in their wake; I swallowed them like I was throwing down a delicious meal.

The bus reached Denver two days later. I got off, waved goodbye, watched the bus move away from me, crossing that line from the past into the future, but leaving the moment intact. I was here now. I understood the concept of staying in the moment and have practiced it ever since. It has kept me in good stead, especially when I’ve had to do jobs I didn’t like. I found if you don’t wish you were somewhere else, then you’ll be fine where you find yourself now—even in the harshest of times.

A Mantra to Live By

Be Here Now, a mantra to live by, not only in the sixties, but in this troubling new century some of us find ourselves stranded in. Be Here Now. Life is long, time is short. Love in the moment. Change in the moment. There is no future and there is no past. There is only the fine, invisible line of Now. Be Here Now in the morning of your life. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. The afternoon comes soon enough.

Be Here Now Ram Dass

 

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