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Excerpt from Still Here by Ram Dass, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Still Here

Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying

by Ram Dass

Still Here by Ram Dass X
Still Here by Ram Dass
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  • First Published:
    May 2000, 208 pages

    Jun 2001, 208 pages


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Print Excerpt

The Predicament

Issues of sexuality, gender, and spirituality have come out of the closet since the Sixties. Because of midwives and hospices, even birth and death are out as well. Aging remains one of our culture's last taboos. Judging from how the old are represented (or rather, not represented) by the media, it's fair to say we live in a society that would like to pretend that old people don't exist. Since people typically spend less as they age, advertisers focus their attention on the young, unless they're selling denture adhesives or incontinence pads. A recent study showed that only three percent of the images seen in a day of television contains images of older people, and when you notice how these elders are depicted-as silly, stubborn, vindictive, or worst of all, cute-you begin to appreciate the not-so-subtle antipathy of a market-driven culture toward the elderly.

We cannot underestimate the media's influence on how we view ourselves as aging individuals. Men get trouble enough from the current obsession with staying young and beautiful, but women suffer even more from this craze. This is because men have traditionally had access to something almost as good as youth: power. Women have been deprived of this access until very recently. A man could be wrinkled and gray, but if he held high social or financial status, his physical losses were offset. Not so for women. Where an older man can be euphemized as "distinguished," a woman is more often called "faded" or "over the hill," and suffers enormous pressure to hide her age, often with painful results. Women now live a full third of their lives after menopause, and yet if you believe our popular culture, a woman who isn't young, shapely, and still capable of bearing children is all but invisible. I have women friends who've gone to great lengths to keep up a youthful front with the help of plastic surgery, and while the results may be superficially satisfying, the impulse to re-carve what nature has created often masks a profound despair. It is as if we are urged to fight, over and over again, a losing battle against time, pitting ourselves against natural law. How ghastly this is, and how inhumane, toward both ourselves and the cycle of life. It reminds me of someone rushing around the fields in the autumn painting the marvelous gold and red leaves with green paint. It's a lot of wasted time and energy.

Take the spots I have on my hands. Though I haven't been harmed by them at all, I am harmed by the message I see on TV. "They call these aging spots," an older woman says in a Porcelana ad, "but I call them ugly!" When I see that ad, I become uneasy about a natural process my body is going through. But when I flip that message around in my mind - "They call these ugly, I call them aging spots!" - the illusion is dispelled, and suddenly it's just autumn leaves.

I experienced this first-hand a few years back when I was invited to give a couple of talks for a company called La Prairie. It's a Swiss firm that makes a very fancy line of "age management" cosmetics. They heard that I'd been lecturing about aging, and thought that my presence might lend a transcendental touch to their products. Now ordinarily, I wouldn't be inclined to take on an assignment like that, since some might say that it compromised my role as a spiritual teacher to be concerned with such material things as keeping your body young and beautiful. But La Prairie had offered to pay me $6,000, which, in the service work our foundation supported doing cataract operations for the blind, represented a lot of eyeballs. So I said, "Why not?"

The plan was for me to speak at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills to two hundred of the store's wealthiest clients. I was seated with the other speakers at a little table, where a skin nutritionist was going to tell us how to keep our skin lovely and supple. "We're going to do this little test," she said. "Let's all put our hands on the table in front of us, take a little pinch of skin and hold it for five seconds. Then we'll see how quickly it goes back into place. If it goes back down, you're in good shape. Otherwise, we have a problem!" With some trepidation, I put my hand out and pinched, but when I released, the skin just stayed there; in fact, if I hadn't pulled it back myself, it would be like that to this day. They all looked at me, appalled. How could I possibly be living that way? Afterward, they sent me huge jars of ointments and creams to help me recover my suppleness.

Reprinted from Still Here by Ram Dass by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Ram Dass. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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