Thursday, May 31, 2012

get serious!

The front page of the local newspaper reports today that the Independence Day parade in Amherst, a well-heeled nearby community, has been canceled. July 4 celebrations, including parades and fireworks, are a national tradition that mark America's breaking away from its previous sovereign, Great Britain.

The Revolutionary War, like all wars, was a serious business and remembering its efforts and successes is also -- from a variety of perspectives -- serious. But the exigencies of uncertain economic times has redefined this bit of seriousness. Money to support the parade is not currently available and even if it were, organizing the parade in a month would be difficult if not impossible, according to the front-page story.

A lengthy and somewhat childish Internet definition of the word "serious" suggests that it is not always easy to define:

-- bad or dangerous enough to make you worried
-- important and deserving attention
-- meaning what you say or do, and not making a joke
-- careful and detailed
-- someone who is serious thinks carefully about things and does not laugh much
-- appearing worried or upset
-- dealing with important, complicated, or difficult ideas or subjects
-- if you are in a serious romantic relationship with someone, you intend to stay together for a long time
-- involved in an activity in a way that shows you like it a lot and think it is important
-- extreme, or large in amount
This morning I got one of those out-of-the-blue emails saying that the writer's Type 1 diabetes was now relatively under control but he needed "to get my mind in better health." Mike wrote that he was interested in Buddhism but was uncertain about where to start.

I took the note seriously, though not, I suspect, as seriously as Mike. I wrote back suggesting he do some reading, listen to a few lectures, visit a few temples. Later, if there seemed to be some affinity, he might try a little meditation as a means of putting some experience on the bone of credulity.

It was not a very difficult response to write, but I meant it, however often I have said the same thing to others in the past. If nothing else, Type 1 diabetes forces a reconsideration of what has been taken seriously in the past. The body and its functions may have been taken for granted, but now that assumption is being challenged. It's serious.

War is serious, love is serious, birth is serious, death is serious, eating is serious, shitting is serious, and, depending on circumstances, finding a pink Crayon is desperately serious. I may intone my seriousness as you may intone yours, but I think it might be a good idea to examine the seriousness that rises up with Revolutionary Wars and falls away with Independence Day parades.

I could adduce endless examples of seriousness, but I think one of the central points of interest -- one worth taking seriously -- is the fly in the seriousness ointment: When a person takes something seriously, one of the first (and perhaps endless) things they do is to look around for someone who agrees with them: If you take seriously what I take seriously, the seriousness of what I take seriously seems to be enhanced and I, like the item I take seriously, am given a stamp of approval in my mind. This longing to hitch my wagon to another's horse (or vice versa) doesn't work very well. It may feel good for a while, but over the long haul, it simply doesn't work.

It is good to be serious about whatever anyone might take seriously ... good to open the mind and heart and give attention and effort to the situation at hand. Half-hearted efforts produce half-hearted results. But just because I am hip-deep in the Big Muddy of one seriousness or another does not mean you are or should be.

Seriousness comes and seriousness goes, much as the breath comes and goes. It's serious -- as it damned well should be -- but it's not that serious. To be open-handed and pedal-to-the-metal about this inescapable moment ... it makes some sense. But to try to enshrine or bolster that seriousness with the apparent seriousness of others is asking for trouble. Yes, we both go to the same meditation hall and sit still and silent with focused minds. Yes, we imply a certain seriousness simply by showing up. Yes, we support and encourage each other.

This ... is ... serious.

But I'm not convinced it is that serious.

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