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Focusing on ‘Becoming Nobody’: Why Jamie Catto’s documentary on Ram Dass is a must-watch!

When we want to think of ourselves as successful, we often envision what makes us "somebody". But, it turns out, that very need, the ego that entails, is probably making us miserable. The true secret lies in the teachings of Ram Dass, a spiritual guide and guru who never aspired to be more than he was -- quite the opposite in fact! The documentary 'Becoming Nobody' is an ode to the greatness that lies at the very heart of this man and his gutsy philosophy. Give up yourself and everything will be possible.

Ram Dass in a still from the upcoming documentary 'Becoming Nobody' by Jamie Catto
Ram Dass in a still from the upcoming documentary 'Becoming Nobody' by Jamie Catto

A little while ago, the Thrive community was asked to write a blurb about their favorite documentary — one they could not forget. I replied to Editorial Director Marina Khidekel’s with ‘Human’, a haunting work of art by French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand which highlights the plight of our human race in a nearly six hour-long series of episodes that travel continents and span social status, religion and race. The resulting piece can be found here and features eleven documentaries that promise to teach us something new.

But I hadn’t yet watched Jamie Catto’s ‘Becoming Nobody’ or I would have definitely highlighted this wondrous documentary about Ram Dass, the American spiritual teacher. Not only is Catto’s film a personal, intimate first person look into the life and work of Ram Dass but it turns into an insightful lesson of a journey on being human for all of us watching. Born into a Jewish family, the then named Richard Alpert became a clinical psychologist before meeting his guru Maharaj-ji in India in 1967 and being renamed Ram Dass, which means “servant of God”.

There are several reasons ‘Becoming Nobody’ hit really close to home for me. First, at 73 Ram Dass suffered a debilitating stroke and self-help author Wayne Dyer wrote about meeting him soon after the emergency which left him paralyzed on the right side of his body:

“I speak with him frequently and I am often humbled by the tears in his beautiful 73-year-old eyes as he apologizes for not having prepared for his own elderly health care—for what he now perceives as burdensome to others.” As the daughter of a mother who has gone through the same kind of debilitation and often expresses that very anxiety, seeing the vulnerability of Ram Dass, coupled with the utter devotion of Catto, really touched me deeply.

There is also this wonderful idea, talked about often in the film through perfectly handpicked archival footage and during the personal interview between Catto and his mentor, that what we strive for in life — becoming somebody — is actually the source of our collective unhappiness. Our ego holds us prisoner and it’s only when we release that need and simply follow our life’s purpose that we achieve true happiness. Hence the beautiful title of the film ‘Becoming Nobody’.

I urge you to watch this film and share it with a mother, a sister, a brother, a father, a life partner. It is a gift of a documentary and what you’ll receive in return for your ninety minutes and $10 (give or take a couple of bucks, the price of admission these days) will be infinite understanding and peace of mind.

And isn’t that priceless?

‘Becoming Nobody’ opens in NYC, Los Angeles and San Francisco on September 6th. Find all venues and info on the movie’s website.

How did you personally become involved with Ram Dass?

Jamie Catto: I first heard an audio cassette in my early 20s after a yoga class and fell instantly in love with his unpretentious humor and humility and no-drama attitude.

Filmmaker Jamie Catto

How have his teachings helped in your life?

Catto: He has a very funny and efficient way of returning to loving kindness when one “falls asleep” and a beautiful lack of judgement or busy-ness.

Your own background is quite interesting as you’re both a filmmaker and a renowned musician. Does spirituality make you a better artist, or are you spiritual because you are an artist?

Catto: Both I think — my work is all rooted in wanting to express simple, beautiful, inclusive ‘truths’ — and also when I become too attached to the role of artist or role of “successful person” and get my juice from there, the more spiritual side of my nature reminds me not to make the thrills and ups and downs too meaningful.

I really loved watching your film, there is so much to take away in Ram Dass’ teachings, his philosophy. He is both teacher/mentor and fellow learner and you make that apparent in your conversation. How challenging was it to film those intimate moments between you two?

Catto: It wasn’t challenging at all as we’ve always enjoyed laughing together — hanging out with Ram Dass is the opposite of hard work.

What is one of the most important concepts we can each incorporate into our lives — from the teachings of Ram Dass?

Catto: Be vigilant about where each word or actions is moving from. Are we awake and loving and kind or are we asleep and struggling and controlling and buying into transient roles? 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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