Fierce Grace, produced and directed by Mickey Lemle, is a documentary about Ram Dass. The film was made after Ram Dass had a stroke. The film is about how the stroke changed Ram Dass’ life and how he makes meaning of what he calls, “being stroked.” The film moves between the present (2001-2002) and the 1960s-1970s when Ram Dass became Ram Dass.
As I watched the film I found myself trying to figure out what I find compelling about Ram Dass’ teachings and world view. While Ram Dass has offered many different teachings over the years, I think his central idea is captured in the title of the film: Fierce Grace. Ram Dass seems to believe in a purposeful universe where everything happens for a reason. Experiences and phenomena, both subtle and extreme, are given to us so that we might get closer to the essence of being, to truth. Embracing of God language, Ram Dass seems to believe that the good, the bad, the pleasant, the miserable, the easy, the difficult– all the stuff of life, comes to us from God. God gives so that we might receive and work with that which has been given. Fierce Grace seems to refer to the most intense of gifts. The loss of a child, acute illness, profound love. During the film we meet several people that are working through Fierce Grace and that seem to have found comfort and challenge in their relationship with Ram Dass and his ideas. Four moments really stand out in the film: 1) watching Ram Dass interact with his speech therapist who helps him understand why silence cannot be the only response to loss of speech and how to communicate through gesture; 2) when a bereaved couple reads a letter that Ram Dass wrote to them after the tragic death of their daughter; 3) watching Ram Dass participate in a Kirtan concert led by Krishna Das; 4) Ram Dass’ conversation with a young woman whose boyfriend was murdered while participating in an environmental demonstration in South America.
It seems to me that a good documentary is one that evokes the essence of its subject. Over the last couple of years I’ve listened to several lectures delivered by Ram Dass. He is a person whose essence is both incredibly simple and incredibly complex at the same time. Watching Fierce Grace helped me to distill some of that essence in a new way. And for that reason I recommend the film to anyone that might be interested.