Barbara Ruth Weiss, Bela Ruchel bat Rifka, Rama Seltzer, our lion and mother, has left us.
Diagnosed with a large, inoperable stage four glioblastoma on March 26, she never once complained. She learned of her condition after she was brought to Cottage Hospital’s ER and initially told she may have had a stroke. Informed of her true condition, she said, “It is what it is; we deal with the hand we are dealt.” After hearing her treatment options and bleak prognosis, she reassured us, saying it was “no time to freak out.”
Over the last four months at Valle Verde, in a room decorated and made so comfortable by family and friends that it resembled a temple, she shared her acceptance, love, and joy with all. She gave without asking anything in return. But she got so much back from the many who cared for her and came to sit, meditate, massage, chant, and sing with her. On many an evening, friends shared medical margaritas with her. Not one Sunday passed without recitation of the “Sri Guru Gita” with friends. She said it was always good to have another one in the basket.
Rama’s ultimate mission was to be a river of bliss in which people could experience the ecstasy of divine consciousness-seeing the One in many through compassion. How did she become this? Her life story gives hope. Indeed, that we can discover (rediscover?) universal love and goodness within our Self during life’s journey is itself hope.
Born in Jersey City and raised in that old country with her parents, Charles and Vera, and sister, Elaine, it was clear from the beginning that Barbara Ruth Weiss was endowed with great beauty and greater depth. When she was 12, a fencing coach saw her playing handball, admired her left-handed ability, and approached her father to see if he could teach her to become a fencer. Charles agreed, and for the next 10 years, Barbara trained with discipline and dedication-qualities that she would refine over a lifetime. Voted Class Athlete in her 1944 high school yearbook, she won the national intercollegiate fencing championship at the age of 20 while at NYU.
There was no time to celebrate that triumph because her grandmother Hattie-a wise and powerful woman who spoke eight languages and had a great influence on her-passed away on that day. When, soon thereafter, her college fencing coach told her that she could go to the Olympics if she aborted her pregnancy, she gave life to her first child instead.
Barbara married Bernard Seltzer upon his return from four years of service in WWII. Married in the shadow of the Depression, her generation lived in silent trauma from the horrors of that great war against Nazism and fascism. Their story is many of ours. Barbara and Bernard raised two sons in the fabulous ‘50s, a seemingly content but actually very conflicted era framed by the rapid development of economic wealth and a materialistic culture. Its repressed political, social, and sexual elements, reflected by McCarthyism, racism, Doris Day, and Rock Hudson, erupted in the ‘60s after a moment of hope in Camelot, and then became unrecognizable in the ‘70s.
Our mother’s early family years were happy, full enough of her love and caring to last her lifetime and bring home two devoted sons at its end. Barbara was a Cub Scout mom with an active social life, and she was incredibly beautiful. Looking for more in life than motherhood, she turned her ferocious athletic talents to golf, where she won many amateur championships.
But the waves of societal change that came in the late 1960s were also felt in our family. Bernie and Barbara moved back to New York City, where Barbara joined the artist’s scene, rented a studio, and began sculpting. By the mid ‘70s, she was looking for something more and began investigation of the Human Potential movements.
She met Baba Muktananda, and began her journey into Siddha Yoga. It was not easy for a woman approaching her fifties to give up a lifetime of security and support to follow a spiritual path. To her family, her choices seemed kooky, cultish, and inexplicable. But for Barbara, on her way to becoming Rama, the receipt of shaktipat from her Guru was such an ecstatic experience of universal energy and bliss that it could not be ignored. For much of the next 15 years, she worked or lived in ashrams in New York City; Ganeshpuri, India; and South Fallsburg, New York.
Rama pulled a quintessential role reversal. Her sons were on their way to careers in law and business; she was on her way to India. It could not have been easy for her, wanting her family’s understanding and support, if not companionship on her path, but feeling their skepticism and rejection of her choices. Nonetheless, she stayed true to herself, and she went from studying spiritual practices and teachings to talking about them to living and finally embodying them.
Rama arrived in Santa Barbara in 1995. Before long, she was a whirling dervish of volunteer service to the community. She was a Reiki Master and meditation teacher, dedicating many healing hours to the Breast Cancer Resource Center and Jodi House and coordinating weekly meditation groups. She was a program coordinator for Santa Barbara’s SYDA Foundation Center, sat as a medium in Ojai, taught Tai Chi and Qi Gong, and was always available to help and be with others. She reached out and incorporated many spiritual traditions in her search.
Rama was driven to experience divine grace as her experience of this life in a manner that many of us can barely conceive. “Feel the pulsation, feel the energy,” she would tell visitors. “Philosophers talk about philosophy, but we meditators live it.” In the final four months of her life, she walked that talk in a manner that no one who knew her could have envisioned.
As her tumor grew and deprived her of motion and then speech, her beauty, wisdom, shakti, inspiration, her pure and young heart remained. Rama died on July 22 in the early morning hours. She was true grace, pure love, divine energy.
A memorial celebration will be held on August 9 at 2 p.m. at the Unity Church, 227 East Arrellaga Street, in Santa Barbara. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Breast Cancer Resource Center’s Integrative Therapies Program or to Jodi House.