Life isn’t serious.
I’m riffing a bit off what Alan Watts has said in one of his many lectures, but we keep trying to pretend life is oh so very serious, when being very serious is part of the game too. And part of the silliness of it as well. Because, you see, if someone didn’t play the part of the “straight man”, it would be harder to see the humor of it all. And life, really is one big game and never meant to be taken so seriously.
I’ve met too many serious people in my life. Hell, I’m too serious most of the time. I got better, said a particular former newt. At least I am aware of it and chide myself for being so. But it is this oppressive seriousness that probably has kept me from sticking with a sangha for more than a session or two, although I’d probably benefit from hanging out with mostly like-minded people. But those people who are in a Zen community often are still clinging to the idea that the Buddha wouldn’t fart in church, they are the kinds that are appalled that someone calls the Buddha a shit-stick, or instruct you to kill the Buddha if you meet him on the road. One of my favorite koans out there is the koan of the value of the head of a dead cat:
Sozan, a Chinese Zen master, was asked by a student: “What is the most valuable thing in the world?”
The master replied: “The head of a dead cat.”
“Why is the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the world?” inquired the student.
Sozan replied: “Because no one can name its price.”
There are people, Zen buddhists, who try to pretend this koan doesn’t exist and, when you bring it up , they go off on lectures about cruelty to animals, and violence and whatnot and what for. They are so serious about their Zen that they fail to see it is a) metaphor and, b) funnier than shit due to the irony. Not to mention that it quite plainly disabuses you of one of your biases that you cling to… unless you take the koan too seriously.
Even Zen monks have a sense of humor, something that conveniently gets forgotten. I’ll probably really upset people (eh, fuck em) and say that Jesus probably laughed his ass off at least once. Likely, while he was pissed on that water he turned to wine. If I was a Zen or Taoist monk, I’d probably be more like Ikkyu or Chuang Tzu than I would be like Dogan or Lieh Tzu.
There are people out there who are so serious, they don’t find much funny at all. And if they do find it funny, they have built a wall around it thus that there is only a certain type of humor they find acceptable. Because: to be rich/famous/successful/mature/enlightened/intelligent to them is to also be humorless outside a certain constrained framework of what they find funny.
Typically, these are the folks that correct minor spelling errors (because they are walking dictionaries) or tell you there are six minutes left until an event, not five (my eldest is really guilty of this one). And whatever you did or say is just not funny. Ever. Because they are serious and you are an idiot and, likely, a fool.
Take, for instance, my story about my aborted world adventure. In retrospect, the events (not necessarily the telling of those events), is a real knee-slapper. But there are people out there who will hold onto this grudge about it for the full thirty-plus years since it occurred. Hell, I was laughing within weeks. I mean, just because I looked the hippie I must have had drugs up my asshole? Seriously? If I was a mule, why would I have a one-way ticket? Even the whole standing behind me while I tried to pee is a riot these days when I recall it.
Or I could be humorless and be upset that I was unfairly treated though I didn’t do some basic things that could have improved my situation both before and during the event. Instead, it has become a joke tale. “A hippie-freak walks into Gatwick Customs and…”
I’m an admitted fool.
Not all of it is meant to be funny to all people. Or to anyone but myself. But I find that I can’t stand being too serious and that self-deprecation is sometimes the best way to make myself laugh — mostly because fewer people get offended than if I make everyone else the butt of my jests. If I didn’t laugh at myself, I’d be crying all the time, and that would make me a real pain to deal with (in before comments: “Michael, you are a real pain to deal with, UNFOLLOW”).
But stoicism is just not my thing. I’ve tried it. It’s boooooorrrrrriiinnnnggg. And not very fun.
Don’t be a stoic. And don’t take shit so seriously.