“In 1997, psychology professor and spiritual leader Ram Dass suffered a stroke that left him with expressive aphasia and partial paralysis. The Independent Lens feature ‘Ram Dass: Fierce Grace’ (Tuesday night on PBS; check local listings) begins with Ram Dass coping with the physical and emotional challenges of his stroke, but the film quickly expands into a wider examination of his life’s work. While you might think you’d be nothing but amused by a documentary in which interviewees stare directly into the camera and say things like ‘You can’t buy into someone else’s trip,’ and ‘He brought me to my guru. How can you ever repay that?’ in fact, this film is remarkably moving. From his pre-Maharaji days as Harvard professor Richard Alpert to his ‘Be Here Now’-era group meditations on his father’s farm, each step of Ram Dass’s journey is handled with such patience and compassion, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the emotional momentum of the film. And when Ram Dass meets with the girlfriend of a murdered activist, their conversation is at once so devastating and so inspiring, you won’t be able to get it out of your mind for days.
Most of all, though, the film bears witness to the ego’s struggle with aging. ‘This isn’t who I expected to be,’ Ram Dass explains. ‘This is all new because my expectations of me didn’t have this stroke in it.’ By humbly presenting us with his own challenges, Ram Dass does a great service in helping us prepare for those times when our plans get derailed and our lives suddenly don’t live up to our expectations.” — Salon Arts [via walker]