OK. Let us, in the spirit of Zen Paradox- (if you think that a paradox is where you put your two boats, please move on to another blog; this one is going to address abstruse spiritual matters that are going to have you looking at your watch and hoping it will end, though strangely enough, we’re coming to the end now)- so let us, as I was saying, in the spirit of Zen Paradox begin with the ending: Bodai, the belly-laughing Buddha, did indeed get it right. Humour is the flesh on the bones of meditation. There. It’s over. Conclusion reached. If you are now saying to yourself, Wait a minute. I am an incredible meditator. I was with Osho from the beginning and have done sixteen Goenka groups and I find very little to laugh about in myself or in the world, then stop reading; close your eyes; watch your breath or whatever it is you do. There’s more work to be done.
Yeah. Meditation is work. If you’ve tried it, really tried it, you know it is. Oh sure, there can be those special times where you sit, go inside, feel the oneness in all things, the dazzling joy arising out of every molecule in existence and blah, blah, blah. For my part, meditation generally confronts me with my thoughts: my sneering, snivelling, resentful disaster-laden imaginings or guilt-riddled regrets. And if I manage, through years of practice and intense effort to stay present, then I get to go into my feelings: the constrictions, the holdings, the neuroses, the tensions, the anger, the rage, the existential alienation and angst that are the sine qua non of my ego’s existence. That’s Latin! (I warned you this was going to get abstruse: you can google it or check out Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica for the sin qua non of sin qua non).
So where does humour enter into all this suffering, you ask? I will tell you, but first let me illustrate (in a sly bit of promotion) how the ego-mind can avoid the real work of meditation with a brief excerpt from my novel, Waking Up Gilligan. The protagonist, Swami Satyam Gilligan, has found himself in the political nerve centre of the Divine Bhagwan’s commune with some time on his hands. He decides to meditate:
“Fine. Deela's not here. I'm expected to wait. I'll wait. I'm surrendered, I'm in the flow. But what to do? No TV. No reading material… I’ll meditate! Here in the very heart— the political heart anyway— of the Buddhafield. What a day I'm having! Seeing the Master for the very first time, the assassination attempt, acceptance as a worker in the commune, now summoned to head office. Here, I will sit and hone my awareness, plumb the profound depths and scale the heightened vibes of this very special place.
He chooses a spot on the far side of the dining area, beside the vertically-blinded patio door. He peeks between the blinds. No deck, just a drop of six feet to the sun-drenched soil. The door to Chloe's office swings shut. She must be taking another meeting. The muffled sounds of hammering and the roar of one of the old school buses that are the primary means of transportation at the Ranch pulling away in the front of the restaurant reach him through the glass panes. It is pleasantly cool, despite the intense sunshine. From overhead comes the drowsy hum of air conditioners.
Should I settle into the lotus position, show how adept I am? No. Too painful. Besides, I've never been able to hold even the half lotus for more than a few seconds. Buddhafield or no Buddhafield, I doubt I can do it now.
He eases his butt to the floor, uses the paneled wall, cool and faintly redolent of lemon scented cleaner, to support his back. He breathes deeply.
It's good to be accepted as a summer worker in the greatest socio-spiritual experiment the world has ever seen. Here we will create the New Man, a man who is not ruled by the petty, grasping ego-mind. A man who lives authentically and in the moment. After my nauseatingly comfortable bourgeois upbringing, this is more like it. Meaning. Importance. And chicks. So many chicks.
He closes his eyes, turns his attention inwards, lets out a self-satisfied sigh. Now which method to use? Vipassana? Humming? The Secret of the Golden Flower? Or should we just do the Lounging meditation, where you hang out with as much awareness as possible? The Master has taught so many. He is still trying to decide, choosing one method and then another, as he drifts off to sleep."
Any number of obstacles to meditation are illustrated by this, especially a core one of sleepiness—our perhaps innate desire to become or remain unconscious. We may laugh at this because we see and have experienced the same foibles in ourselves. But in laughing at our hindrances there is the possibility of gaining new perspective on them. New perspective means awareness which is the opportunity to let go of said hindrances. We see we choose to sleep instead of to wake up. What a joke! Enter the laughter. Enter the role of humour in meditation.
Humour breaks down the firewall to Truth. Meditation is like a computer virus which wants to undermine all those logical and not-so-logical beliefs and psychological/emotional constructs which form the ego-mind and so reach the ‘core processor’ ie. the silent realm of pure being. Humour, especially the type that combines a measure of insight along with a teensy bit of release from suffering, is unquestionably a sign that the meditator is getting just a little bit closer. Keep those grinning pac man meditative efforts chomping away at your Cylon firewalls and it stands to reason that you’ll get there in no-time, with plenty of pain and belly laughs along the way.