"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call! Musings on Life and Practice by a Long-time Student of Meditation.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lighten Up!

(A couple of night's ago, unable to get back to sleep after a nocturnal "nature call", I had tried to write a memorial to Hippie Spiritual Teacher Stephen Gaskin, whose Life -- and recent Death -- touched me deeply.   I got nowhere.  I gave it up and read a bit of a Tenzing Norbu Mystery before finally stretching out to meditate into sleep once again.

Still on the mend from the events of the past month, I've been mostly laying low, staying away from the computer and cell phone as much as possible, allowing myself to Heal after a couple of false starts had showed me quite clearly how energy depleting my addiction to these "devices" can be. 

This morning, I was quaffing my first cup of coffee in a couple of days (another addiction under modification) watching bubbles of confusion and angst float through my awareness, not quite sure what to do about my commitment to the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call this week. 

Then (probably with furrowed brow), I decided to reach for the cell phone to at least check my email, maybe begin to select a reprint again for this week.  At that very moment I received, inexplicably,  an email from Monday Morning Mindfulness.  Peering down I read:
"Monday Morning Mindfulness
Lighten Up! Posted 18 January 2014"

WTF!!!???

I have no idea what strange permutation of the space time cyber continuum could have possibly delivered the email version of a post I'd done almost six months ago to me -- especially at that very moment!  How could I not lighten up?  I broke into a bemused grin as I clicked it open.  Just receiving this unsolicited "cosmic" MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call  would have been enough to make my decision (read, introduce and repost this one for sure) -- and make my day.  

It got even more mind blowing. 

As I often do, I had begun the post with two quotes.  The first was from my current Dharma mainstay, Pema Chodron.  The second was from the teacher who was probably the major influence on my spiritual practice for decades, though I've rarely quoted him here.  It was from Stephen Gaskin.

Try as I may, I have no rational explanation for any of this. All I can do is grin, offer a deep gassho to the Primordial Comedian of the Cosmic Mystery Medicine Show -- and renew my commitment to lighten up!  -- Lance )

Reprinted from January 18, 2014

  "The key to feeling at home with your body, mind and emotions, to feeling worthy to live on this planet, comes from being able to lighten up. When your aspiration is to lighten up, you begin to have a sense of humor. Things just keep popping your serious state of mind."
---Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

"Get your mind unbound and free; and then from the loosest, highest, best place you have, with the fastest and most humorous mind you can get together, you can reach out and make a try at  understanding Spirit."
---Stephen Gaskin, This Season's People

All too often, it seems like those of us who are sincere spiritual seekers can get a bit too stodgy.  It's not surprising, I suppose.

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
(CONTINUED)
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.


But, maybe you don't agree.  Maybe I'm just trying too hard to be a wise guy and I've got it all wrong.  If so, when we meet at the pearly gates, you may get the last laugh!

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.

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