The Only Dance There Is is the story of Dr. Richard Alpert, the man who had it all. He had attained the pinnacle of success as a tenured professor of psychology at Harvard University. He had the cars, the girls, the motorcycles, and the friends. He was regarded as a genius by colleagues and students. He was the cool professor all the kids wanted to study with.
It was the 1960s, baby, and Dr. Alpert was riding the wave of social evolution. He wanted to change the world and yearned to break free of the post-1950s zipped-up norms that continued into the early ‘60s.
At the time, the words “mind expansion” were becoming a byword for freedom. And one of the ways people achieved this freedom was by dropping acid (e.g.LSD).So, Alpert decided to join his colleague Timothy Leary, the guru of “Tune in, turn on, and drop out,” and do some LSD experiments with students to see the effects of the drug on the human mind.
Fine, no problem. That is, until the powers that be found out, and Alpert was summarily fired from his job. In an instant, all his accomplishments went up in smoke. He became a joke.
At the end of his tether, Alpert decided to go to India and mellow out. And with that move came a seismic change that turned him away from academia and materialism and toward
God-consciousness. Fortuitously, he met in India the sage Neem Karoli Baba, a simple man of faith, who taught love and compassion and nothing else. Alpert became his devotee, threw away his former identity and became a spiritualist who exchanged his old name for the new Ram Dass (which means “servant of God).
Dass, who died in December 2019, wrote for years about his experiences and The Only Dance There Is is perhaps his greatest achievement. In this wonderful story, Dass speaks of his journey from wealthy academic to spiritual ascetic. He exchanged LSD for yoga and wealth for enlightenment.
A profound and beautiful story, The Only Dance There Is encourages us all to look within to find the peace and freedom we seek. And, right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this book has the effect of a calm, cool breeze on a hot summer’s day. It soothes the spirit. It’s medicine for the soul.
The Only Dance There Is by Ram Dass. Anchor, 1974.
Reviewer bio: MG Noles is a freelance writer and history buff.
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