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lighten up! the role of humor in meditation

lighten up! the role of humor in meditation

by February 13, 2015 0 comments

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The first time I took part in a meditation group I was nervous. It was a new experience for me, and I didn’t know anyone else in the group. When I arrived I entered the building through the wrong door, only to find a silent retreat in progress. A wave of panic rushed over me as I scrambled to figure out where to go before anyone saw me and I wrecked the silence by asking for directions. I was certain that I was violating a long list of sacred rules and, if caught, I’d be thrown out on my unenlightened butt.

Is this starting to sound ridiculous? Believe me, I know it…

No sooner had my brain generated that doomsday scenario than a staff member from the facility approached me. I checked my first impulse, which was RUN!, and the staff member smiled and asked if I needed help. I told her I was looking for the meditation group and she pointed me in the right direction.

Once I found the group I was welcomed with smiles, introductions, and small talk. In other words, this was a typical group of, acting normally.

Why had I gotten myself into such a lather about the situation? Why was I so serious about the whole thing?

Sometimes the idea of meditation carries a lot of baggage with it. It may have a mystical quality, or seem overly-sacred to the point where you feel that any hint of levity—a smile, a small joke, a relaxed attitude—is a form of sacrilege. I learned quickly that nothing could be further from the truth; a sense of humor is essential to a successful meditation practice.

The Buddha figured this out over 2,000 years. When he began his search for enlightenment one of the first strategies he used was a near-total deprivation of anything joyous or pleasurable. All he got for his efforts was illness and misery, prompting him to seek a “middle path” between deprivation and all-out pleasure, which left room for joy and lightness.

When Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, finally realized that the enlightenment he had sought for years from outside sources was always present within him, he laughed at his own ridiculousness and is said to have continued laughing throughout his life. To him, it was essential to see the humor in searching for something that was never lost to begin with. Without that sense of humor, he might have cursed all the lost time and sabotaged his own enlightenment.

From a more recent perspective, Osho’s teachings are peppered with encouragement to approach your practice—and your life—with humor. Here’s a perfect example from one of his talks:

“Meditate playfully, don’t meditate seriously. When you go into the meditation hall, leave your serious faces where you leave your shoes. Let meditation be fun. ‘Fun’ is a very religious word; ‘seriousness’ is very irreligious. If you want to attain to the original mind, you will have to live a very non-serious, though sincere life; you will have to transform your work into play; you will have to transform all your duties into love.”

I wish I had read that passage before heading out to my first meditation group; it could have saved me a lot of anxiety. But at least I can look back on it and laugh at my own ridiculousness. Just like Bodhidharma!

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