Fierce Grace -- Illustrated Screenplay & Screencap Gallery
RUDE AWAKENING -- A REFLECTION ON RAM DASS' VIDEO TESTAMENT, "FIERCE GRACE"
by Charles Carreon
"You've got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, 'cause you might not get there." -- Yogi Berra
Better Living Though Yogic Chemistry
It was summer 1970 in Boston. I arrived at Logan airport, and had a layover in Boston for the night, so I stuck out my thumb outside the airport and quickly had a ride with a guy in a cool Porsche. I was fourteen years old, and I was sailing on the after-images of a day flying in a 727 on a hit of orange sunshine. The guy in the Porsche was really nice, had his professional trip and casual style. He said he’d take me to his place to crash and drive me back to the airport in the morning, but he needed to pick up a book downtown by this guy who had just given a talk in town. When we got back to his place, he said he had to crash because he’d been burning himself out. He gave me two hits of purple microdot, saying they weren’t really that strong, and left me to sit out the night. I dropped the two hits of purple microdot, which were tiny little pills, domed on each side, with a flat ridge around the edge, a dull purple color. They weren’t that strong, but they weren’t that weak, either. As the night wore on, sitting in the nice man’s living room, I had the company of the book he had just bought, that was also purple, and had a chair on the front of it, locked in a circle at the center of intersecting lines. Around the edge of the circle it said “BE HERE NOW.”
It was a long and beautiful night, a strange trip away from myself. I didn’t follow all of the logic and reasoning, not really, but the flow of images of saintly men and women, of dancing gods and goddesses, illustrating the world as a vast golden loop of infinity, drew me in like a net of seduction. By morning, when my very gracious host rose to ferry me back to the airport as promised, I had one more favor to ask of him – could I please buy this book from him? I still have the book, and it bears on the inside front cover a wacky fourteen-year-old-on-acid attempt to claim ownership of the book on behalf of a non-self. It’s hilarious, and warming to remember when I wrote those words, sailing aloft on wings of steel, peering out at the earth below, glorying in my mind and in the fact that I had found friends. For years I had been navigating the byways of psychedelic space with no vocabulary or context to guide my explorations. My prep school pals and I had no tools for confronting the inner landscape that yawned open before our youthful eyes. Seeing is believing, and we had seen a world we had never suspected existed within us. Now this guy, Ram Dass, Tim Leary’s pal that also got kicked out of Harvard, was teaching this Indian guru path and making it look cool.
Three years later I was seventeen, living in Tempe, Arizona, going to school, wearing sandals, flowered shirts and cutoffs, and I had a friend named Jane who was a waitress at Earthen Joy, the extremely wonderful natural food restaurant next door to Gentle Strength Coop and across the street from Changing Hands Books and the Buffalo Exchange. One day I met Jane on the ASU campus and she told me she was going to see this cool guy speak, so I went with Jane. It was Ram Dass, the guy who wrote the purple book, that frankly I hadn’t thought about in quite some time. It must’ve been hosted by the Yogi Bhajan crew, because they had the front-circle position, and seemed to know what they were doing. I was a young kid far more interested in girls than God, and yet, there was something about his voice that I really liked. After an hour or so, Ram Dass said it was time for some of us to go, and that’s when Jane and I parted company, she staying, me going.
Of Death & Compassion
I went off into the Arizona night, bicycling on the broad concrete arteries of the ASU campus, off into my life. I met a beautiful, slender blonde girl during the spring semester, and in one of those silly rebound things, I swapped my lukewarm relationship with a Catholic girl who acted Jewish for a wild head-over-heels obsession with the blonde. That summer we took a hitchhiking trip from Denver to Dallas to Florida, back up into Tennessee and Kentucky, north to Michigan and then back to Phoenix. We could cover some territory in those days. My girl had a yard of flashing gold streaming from her head, legs like a gazelle and a toothy smile. We made good time, but in the American South, that just means you hit trouble faster.
One night in Kentucky, we found ourselves on the wrong side of Green River, having a verbal dispute in a car with a man who was drunk, very big and strong. My girl said she had bad vibes from the guy when the car lurched to a stop next to us as we walked down the road. Our suspicions grew when he drove the car onto a one-car ferry that, he advised us, stopped running at nine, and took us to the other shore. As we drove on, the place he said he was taking us was just always a little farther, a little farther into the darkening Kentucky hills until the sunset turned to dusk turned to dark and at last in the pitch black night he declared that we were at the place, out in the middle of nowhere, and just needed to walk down to a lake. Nope, nope, nope. That wasn’t something my girl was going to do. And besides, she said, we had to trade places, because he’d been squeezing her leg during the whole ride. He was mad when we decided not to walk down to the “lake,” madder still when I insisted on sitting between him and my girl, and really mad after he pulled off the main road and I said “Whoa, whoa, whoa, where are we going?” He said he was taking a shortcut. I told him he was scaring us. He told me he got scared sometimes, too, which is why he kept a 357 under the seat.
Quick thinking was required, but what I remembered was that guy in Tempe, in the robe with the beads and the beard. I remembered the page in the Be Here Now book where Ram Dass is looking at his own image in the mirror. It suddenly occurred to me that the man behind the wheel, basically announcing that he was going to kill us, was a very unhappy man. It occurred to me that Ram Dass might say we should feel compassion toward this person. I remembered the page of Be Here Now where Ram Dass wrote that as his torturers were nailing him to the cross, Christ was probably feeling sorry for them. The driver got back on the main road, to my relief. Suddenly it occurred to me that I was not drinking or smoking, but the man was. I realized I must appear to be a strange person, a skinny guy with long, curly hair who doesn’t smoke or drink. I had quit smoking years before, and didn’t like beer much at all, but I asked the man if I could have a beer and a cigarette. He said yes, of course. I lit up and popped the beer can and drank and smoked, genuinely thankful to our host, who suddenly began expressing the earnest hope that we would not miss the last ferry and get stuck in the dark on the wrong side of Green River. He was driving about as fast as you should on the two-lane road, and when we saw that the last ferry was still there, we were all joyful. As we reached the other shore, the man apologized for the events of the night, explaining that sometimes he went kind of crazy. He would like to make it up to us, he said, but we were out of the car, hauling our huge backpacks as fast as we could, and literally tearing through the woods away from the terror car at top speed to get away.