Lighten Up!

In Chapter 13 of Augustus Finds Serenity, the sage Takygulpa Rinpoche has been asked to give advice to a religious community. Among other things he tells the assembled throng:

“Do not take life too seriously. The glue that holds our communities together best is made from shared joy and good humour. Just as we are mindful of their hurts, be happy for the success of others as well. Above all, laugh often!”

G K Chesterton, the British, Christian writer is reputed to have said, “Because they take themselves lightly, angels can fly!”

Most of us wear such gravitas around our necks that we are condemned to trudge under its awful weight. Such seriousness does not make sense to me.

There are two basic platforms from which we may view a life.

If we believe that the physical universe is all there is and that man’s lot is confined to a temporary physical existence, then surely we would want to make the most of it. Under these circumstances we should be seeking to milk as much joy out of this ephemeral existence as we can.

However, for many, our spiritual beliefs lead us to understand that we are more than this physical being fated to live and die in a relatively short period of time. If those are our beliefs, then what happens to us in this physical manifestation is not of great import. Surely then we can take life lightly knowing that it is either a precursor to something else or alternatively largely an illusion!

But no, we can not, it seems, but help to take life seriously. Richard Bach, in that lovely little book Illusions wrote, “The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”

However, it seems to me that the principal architect of the aforesaid gravitas, is ego. When we are so tied up with our appearances, our achievements, our possessions and our status we are always under threat from the world at large. All the threats, real and perceived, that the world throws at us must be repelled – and this is a pretty serious business!

Well-adjusted people, on the other hand, are secure in their sense of self and can be disarmingly self-deprecating and not having to take life too seriously find no discomfiture in laughing at themselves.

Some studies have even shown a correlation between the level of good humour in a workplace and productivity and innovation.

Let us end with an apt quote from Alan Watts, the British philosopher and populariser of Eastern spiritual traditions.

“For the world of form and illusion which the majority take to be the real world is none other than the play of the Spirit, or as the Hindus have called it, the Dance of Shiva. He is enlightened who joins in this play knowing it as play, for man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”

6 Replies to “Lighten Up!”

  1. Not taking life too seriously I find is a great way to approach living. Life should be fun and you can’t have fun if you take things too seriously. Bad periods in life never seem to look nearly so bad when we look back at them.

    One thing I have observed though is many people do not want to look at things in a good way. We seem to like to lie in our misery and dwell on the problems rather than the good things that surround us. As a past manager of people I was surprised that the people I managed became frustrated with me when I maintained a positive attitude about things they saw as dreadful and in need of change. As a result I turned down my enthusiasm to sound grave and concerned at the right times (a mistake in hindsight). I now believe that this frustration that people made obvious to me was as a mechanism that they used in order to get me to act in some way to meet their personal concerns. In “assertiveness terminology”, manipulating me into doing things that I did not necessarily believe needed doing.

    My advice from this experience is; be positive, don’t take things too seriously, continue to strive to make things better if that is within your control but most importantly don’t let other people manipulate you into being miserable (they will try). Or in the Australian vernacular “Don’t let the bastards grind ya down” 🙂

  2. I recall a senior management colleague from the past who, at a particularly terse time during negotiations with Union Officials, quipped (in good humour) “well this is all just a bit of a game isn’t it?”. The thundersous response from the Union Official made it clear that he thought establishing salaries and conditions for his members was NOT A GAME. On reflection this was just another example of the difference in paradygm.

    Life is multi-dimensional, with multiple and often conflicting issues to consider. How long we can can simultaneously hold what is apparantly two conflicting views is a sign of maturity, though some may simply call it a sign of fence-sitting. Truth is often found in the grey, and not in the black or white.

    I find this issue of what is fun vs what is serious, to be in the same vane. My experience is that life is both. I don’t want to move into an expose of grief, sorrow, pain and evil – but for many people, life seems to be a constant effort to deal with some pretty bad things. To those people it is not a simple matter of suggesting that they ought not to take life too seriously. I believe the less than satisfactory aspects of life do need to be worked on – in a serious manner – but perhaps the balance lies in knowing that in the larger scale of things – in the bigger picture, these aspects of life can and do become less significant and indeed can get consumed in the joy of creation. Holding the black and white in balance.

    More simply put, I love to go camping, I love the outdoors, the smell of blossom, the sound of the wind in the trees, the views from the top of mountains. But when I’m in my tent at night, my overwhelming joy is not enough for me to still want to seriously search for and remove the rock under my sleeping bag.

    The “grey” perhaps lies in having the ability to seek, enjoy and not loose sight of the big picture – to “lighten up”, but at the same time to assist our fellow travellers and campers to deal with the rocks they might otherwise be required to sleep on – if for no other reason than this removes a distration and improves the possibility that they may be able, with you, to enjoy the bigger picture.

  3. Interesting comment Roy. You and I know that for your union colleague it was all indeed just a game. And when he was challenged, his response, feigned anger, was just another game.

    When you make your camp by all means remove the stone from under your air bed. The problem is that what pains most people are imaginary stones that can’t be removed except by changing our thinking.

  4. Ah yes, .. Roy I think I may have heard second hand about a similar event :). I suspect that calling a tense union negotiation “just a bit of a game” could well raise some blood pressures around the room. The reality is, that if you break it down, it is just a game.

    I very much take your point though, that we have to live in a world where these games are played with great seriousness and if we want to play we have to be equaly serious. The best approach then is perhaps to take on the grave and serious role while trying to subtly and gently raise the awareness of those involved about where this grave issue really fits into the grand scheme of things.

    The trap here I think is avoiding becoming what we are acting. Not easy to avoid.

  5. “The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”

    The dinosaurs no doubt would empathise with the caterpillar and maybe we should see ourselves as butterflies, or perhaps the Gods’ cardboard cutouts of butterflies.

    A philosophical justification of the cause of suffering does not make it morally correct to ignore it. Socrates maintained that humans do not knowingly act evil, and that improper conduct is the product of ignorance.

    The true tragedy of the Darfur refugees plight is then that it was created by ignorance on the one hand and allowed to continue through ignorance on the other.

    Regardless of what backdrops the Gods set the stage with, those of us still in this world are required to act.

    Maybe the next scene will be a comedy !

  6. Hey, Bruce – great to hear from you. Your comment was indeed a thoughtful one. No one can deny that much about the human condition is appalling. There is suffering in the world and I am not suggesting that we should not be compassionate towards those who suffer just as the Darfur refugees. Indeed as the Dalai Llama insightfully points out, our compassion not only acts to reduce the suffering of others but it serves to promote our own feeling of well-being.

    In fact it is the plight of such people that demonstrate the unreasonable demands many of us have for life. Those of us who are fortunate to live in our society are often suffering because of our unreasonable desires – that new car, that attractive partner, the best house in town and so on. We believe such attainments equate with happiness and the deprivation of them leads to suffering. When we contemplate those who have to endure real suffering, hopefully we can see how trite our own problems are.

    Anyhow, let us try to do better than Abd ar-Rahman III. He was a tenth century emir living in Spain. He was first Caliph of Cordoba. His efforts made Cordoba one of the greatest cities in the West.

    Despite this he is quoted as saying:
    “I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot. They amount to fourteen.”

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