Although some of us may have experienced lives of relative comfort and success, to then realize that there was still something lacking, I think many of us were drawn to the Practice because we'd had a hard go of it. We'd often led lives that included serious trauma and/or significant emotional distress. So, when we stumbled across Buddha's First Noble Truth, it rang true. We knew suffering to be real in our lives. When many of us, like me, then found out that he also
proclaimed that there was a reason for suffering-- and, even more -- a freakin' way out?
Seriously? Damn. Sign me up!
Even if we were drawn to other spiritual traditions as we entered the Practice, I think there was often a similar dynamic. Whether we were seeking nirvana or heaven, sat chit ananda or atonement, we were looking for Light at the end of the tunnel, some form of release from this "veil of tears". Then, whatever our path, at a certain point we knew that if we "wanted out" we had to get serious about it. Very, very, serious.
Unfortunately, some of us then got deadly serious about it. I, for one, know that at one point my friends used to hate to see me coming. I could quickly squeeze the life out of any party. I didn't realize that the Practice could involve having some serious fun. I didn't realize that in order to really see the Light, it is helpful, maybe even crucial, to Lighten Up.
Although some forms of humor can be mindless and cruel, I think humor, at its best, is High Magic. It's a Holy Balm, a Healing Art. If some future Worldwide Buddhist Conference was considering the addition of a ninth element to the Eightfold Path, Right Humor would get my vote. Although I don't think that the College of Cardinals would go for it at this point, I'd also recommend that any candidate for Pope
should be able to master appropriate "one liners" -- preferably off the cuff. (This Dude has to handle an enormous amount of energy, after all.) I'm hoping that at some point an archeologist will unearth ancient scrolls containing the Jokes of Jesus to educate future Popes -- and, of course, strengthen my case.
But I digress...
The 21st slogan of the Lojong Trainings* of Tibetan Buddhism is: Always Maintain Only a Joyful Mind. Pema Chodron, among others, points out that this primarily involves "lightening up". As part of our Practice, we can choose to approach the events our life with genuine curiosity and appreciation, with a sense of lightness, freeing ourselves from the judgmental mind that emerges from grasping onto a fixed model of how it "should be." Like any quality of heart/mind this is something that we can cultivate. If we actually aspire to this, our sense of humor deepens and emerges more freely. Thich Nhat Hanh even recommends that we meditate with a "half smile" on our lips to prime the pump.
I've read that the Latin root of the word humor actually meant "moisture, fluid." That makes sense to me. I think we've all seen how a bit of spontaneous wit, a laugh, or just a simple smile at the proper moment, can lubricate a situation, releasing us when we were apparently stuck between a rock and a hard place. Humor often serves to loosen things up. Examining it closely, we see there is a certain movement of energy that occurs with humor, a form of release that seems to have a healing effect. (Norman Cousins, longtime editor of the Saturday Review, famously claimed that ten minutes of belly laughs while watching a Marx brothers film could give him hours of relief from the pain of a fatal debilitating disease--and that this "laugh therapy" extended his life for years.)
As the Practice develops, we also come to see that being of "good cheer" isn't just a quality of consciousness that makes Life flow more easily, it also has great wisdom. As Practice develops, we are able to perceive even our own rather dysfunctional patterns emerge and meet them immediately with a grin rather than allow them to sweep us along into the same untenable position time and time again. Although a perception of the Truth of the Matter can sometimes come in tears as we open our heart, it can also readily appear with a smile, a chuckle -- or a belly laugh. We catch a glimpse the Real Deal --and It's a Hoot! I'll take it any way it appears.
I hope you don't mind if I join you.
*In the Tibetan tradition of mind training, Lojong Practice consists of working with a series of training slogans as a framework for understanding how Mind operates, and as an aid in actualizing our commitments to kindness, clarity and compassion -- both on and off the zafu. I wrote a bit more extensively about Lojong in "The (Heart) Beat Goes On" in the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call awhile back.