"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Once Again -- Lighten UP!


Stephen at Monday Night Class, San Francisco circa 1969
In my humble opinion, Spiritual Practice isn't about the bright lights and fancy magical stuff.  Yet, sometimes the Universe really does lay One on you.  You experience an event that defies any rational explanation.

This happened nine years ago on a steamy July morning as I struggled to write a fitting memorial to Hippie Spiritual Teacher Stephen Gaskin. I major force in my life as a young man, Stephen had recently made the Grand Transition at that point. I was sitting there with my old MacBook at a picnic table at Atlas Farm, when...
Ooops. I almost let the cat out of the bag.

With another deep bow to Stephen Gaskin -- and to a Most Amazing Universe -- I want to share, once again, the post from that day.   Beyond the Mysterious Magic Manifested, it's encouragement to "lighten up" bears repeating.  With my own conditioning, prone to caffeinated perfectionism, and well aware of all that needs to be done to help change this world, I need hear that every day.

Lighten Up!   
Originally Posted July 12, 2014

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.   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.  I wasn't quite sure what to do this week about my commitment to the MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call.  

I still was struggling with an attempt to put into words my thoughts and feelings about the passing of Stephen, a man whose Presence and Teachings had such a profound impact on my life.

Then, (probably with a furrowed brow), I decided to reach for my cell phone to check my email, perhaps just fall back and, perhaps, just select an old post to republish this time.

At that very moment the phone "dinged"with an incoming email. Peering down I read the notification:
"Monday Morning Mindfulness:
Lighten Up! Posted 18 January 2014"


I have no idea what strange permutation of the Google space time cyber continuum could have possibly generated and delivered to me the email version of a post I'd written  almost six months before.  That it dinged 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 and inexplicably"cosmic" MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call would have been enough to make my decision (just read, introduce and re-post this one for sure) -- and make my day.  

Then, I began reading the post.

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.  

The quote was from Stephen Gaskin!

Try as I may, I have no rational explanation for any of this.  The spontaneous generation of the email version of the blog had never happened before! (or since, nine years later...) 

All I can do is grin, offer a deep bow to Stephen, and to the Primordial Comedian of the Cosmic Mystery Medicine Show -- and renew my commitment to lighten up! 

Here's the post from that day!

Lighten Up!
Originally posted 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 seekers can get a bit too stodgy and uptight about our Spiritual Practice.

It's not surprising, I suppose.

Although some of us may have experienced lives of relative comfort and success, I think many of us who were drawn to the Practice were like me.  We were having a hard time of it.  
I was struggling with a life that included unexplored childhood trauma in my past,  a lot of emotional distress and confusion in my day to day existence and deep confusion, discontent, fear, and despair about the future.  

So, when I stumbled across Buddha's First Noble Truth, all conditioned life contains suffering, it rang true.  I certainly knew suffering to be real in my life.  It was relief to discover it wasn't my fault! It was embedded in the nature of the human condition!

As I read on and saw that there was a reason for this suffering and a set of understandings and practices that presented a freakin' way out?  

Seriously?  Damn.  Sign me up!

Even if you were drawn to other spiritual traditions as you entered the Practice, I think there was often a similar dynamic.  Whether seeking nirvana or heaven, sat chit ananda salvation, liberation 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.  Having spent some time of The Farm, I was committed to being a  "truth yogi."  I tried to be totally honest and help  sort out the vibes in any situation.   I could quickly squeeze the life out of any party.  

At that point, 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 to consider 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 like the Nag Hammardi texts).  As revolutionary as The Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Mary, they would contain 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. It is a form of release that can 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.  He believed that this "laugh therapy" extended his life for years.

As the Practice develops,  we also come to see that being of "good cheer" doesn't just makeLife flow more easily.  It it a quality of consciousness also contains 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. Maybe, once again, I've got it all wrong.  
If so, when we meet at the pearly gates, maybe you'll have 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.

(PS.  I finally did get it together to write a memorial to Stephen Gaskin -- a year later:
 This Season's People: In Memory of Stephen Gaskin.  Better late then never, right? LOL  One Love, Lance)

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