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It’s All Grist for the Mill of Awakening

With Ram Dass having left his body a few weeks back, I’ve been going through several pieces of his work again, and it’s been speaking a lot to me as I transition from one phase of my life to another, particularly in the workplace. It’s still the same company, but with a new team, new building, new computer, it feels like a totally new job. Given that I’ve worked out of the same building in a relatively stable position for the last eight years, it’s been an oddly nostalgic time.

Anyway, one of my favorite of Ram Dass’s works is an audio lecture series called Experiments in Truth. It’s the piece of work I recommend to anybody interested in starting out learning what Ram Dass has to share. In that series, he tells a lot of stories from his own life and of those around him, and one of my favorites has to do with a businessman he once new. This business man once held a prominent position as a loan officer facilitating industrial loans for a large bank. Eventually, this businessman got tired of his life, so he dropped everything — his family, friends, job — and moved to India for some time to work on his “spiritual self.”

Almost a decade later, the man found himself back in San Francisco where he had once worked, and he happened to run into his old boss, the president of the bank. The bank president shares that it is good fortune that they should meet because this former businessman’s former position was open once again, and the bank president thought this man was the best person he had ever had in that position. Naturally, the bank president asked the former businessman if he would be interested in taking the job again, and this man accepted.

Ram Dass then asks this businessman how things were different than before his spiritual journey to India. The man replies with this:

“It was entirely different. Before, I was busy being a Vice President of industrial loans, and I was meeting potential borrowers. Now I go to this place, and I hang out all day with these beings and the business we do together is industrial loans. But what it is, is beings meeting beings.”

If I’m totally honest, I am not yet in this place today. I still have a tendency to get caught in this melodrama that is the story I call “David Hundley-ness.” But as each day passes, I begin to realize more and more how true the reality of this situation is. Everything — good or bad, happy or sad, light and dark — is only that way because we choose to look at it that way. Do the subatomic particles care that what they comprise is the “great and almighty” David?? I’m assuming not, especially given how many of them come in and out of my body all the time. (If science is correct, our entire physical body recirculates all its particles every seven or so years.)

I guess the big question on everybody’s mind is, what do we make of all this? Truthfully, nobody can say for sure. Pretty much every world religion has some sort of answer. Christians say it’s becoming children of God through forgiveness of sins. Nihilists say it’s nothing. The most honest answer I can give now is this: 🤷🏽‍♂️

But I do think it would be naive to say that this is all for naught. The data scientist in me says that there are too many coincidences that undergird the universe for this all to be random chance. Ironically, the scientific method as we know it today kind tells us that we can’t even accept random chance as a reasonable hypothesis because of how probabilistically low a theory like that is.

If I could sum up the theme of my 20’s in a single word, it would be this: searching. I began that decade studying to become the pastor of a Christian church, and I ended it in a place that would definitely have gotten me fired from a Christian church. I’ve gone in and out of hating the church, and my relationship with the church is still murky to say the least. But as I have explored my faith through people like Rob Bell, Ken Wilber, Michael Gungor, and of course Ram Dass, I think I have some semblance of an answer.

You see, I don’t know who I am. I thought I was one thing (David Hundley), but as I began to explore other theoretical planes of reality, I saw how easy it was to extricate my “awareness” (soul?) from what my body was perceiving. No, this doesn’t mean I was a floating ghost or astral projection or anything. More simply, it means that I could see that though my body was depressed, the awareness witnessing the body being depressed wasn’t depressed. It just… was. Is. After all, my body simply is a bunch of subatomic particles bouncing off one another, even as I type this.

So what is this thing behind the thing? This awareness? This soul? And how does it connect to other people? Other things? How real is it? Is this what Elon Musk refers to when he talks about simulation theory? Again, the most honest answer anybody can give is, “I don’t know.”

What I do know is that I got tired of reading about it. I got tired of the Bible telling me that God was this way because some people thousands of years ago directly experienced it that way, but we in the modern age aren’t as privileged to experience that God like they did then. No miracles for us. In the same way, I really didn’t want to jump into another religion that would basically tell me the same thing. If reality is what reality is, we should be able to interact with it and experience it regardless of time, space, gender, sexual orientation… anything, right?

Through what people like Ram Dass have had to share, I’ve started to scratch the surface on what this is. Again, if you think I’m talking about some major experience where I now have superpowers and you don’t, I’m afraid to say that that isn’t true at all. No X-Men powers for me!

It’s more this realization that there is this something undergirding and connecting it all. Holding it all in place. Holding it all in love. There is no doubt that it is a mystery; you might call this mystery… “God.”

So now, that is what I focus my awareness on. If the theme of my 20’s was searching, then I pray that the theme of my 30’s is opening. Opening in love and awareness to everybody and everything around me, because if this mystery is what I think it is, then I am only interacting with myself. The end of Matthew 25:40 states,

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

What if Jesus was talking more literally than metaphorically? What if he was referring to the Christ that resides in all of us? Comprises all of us? (And for my Christian friends out there, this starts to show that a view like this does NOT challenge the Bible but rather complements it.)

With a view like this, my hope is that I can now approach everything in life with this lens to see that it is all grist for the mill of awakening. How I am as a husband to my wife. How I am as a father to my daughters. How I am as an employee at work. Like the businessman in Ram Dass’s story, I am not a machine learning engineer. I am a being who gets to interact with other beings through this vehicle we call machine learning.

I know, this sounds like some real hippie stuff here, so let me back up and say, I’m probably not going to waltz into the office wearing a sherwani and have a bunch of prayer beads around my neck. In fact, I’m pretty sure most people aren’t aware of my hippieish ways! It’s far more subtle than that, partially because a) it’s giving into form more than what is helpful (Matthew 6:5–8) and b) I’d probably freak everybody out. So rest assured, I’ll appear to be the same hard worker that I typically am.

I write these posts partially as a journal for myself, but I also write it in case you also hold these questions. Like I’ve shared before, this journey has been a bit of a lonely road for me, and that’s okay. Thankfully with modern technology, I’ve learned from the wisdom of others that I’ve never met and probably never will meet. I definitely would not have had this opportunity if I were born in the 16th century! So I hope you find something here you can resonate with.

See you in the next post. Grace and peace be with you.

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