Monday, May 13, 2013

out of the improvement zone

I don't have enough education to answer the question, but, higglety-pigglety-fashion, I do have enough to ask it:

Jesus, Mohammed, Gautama, ... Where's the laughter?

As far as I can figure out, Hinduism -- the grown-up in the spiritual-format arena -- is the only one to weave in the laughter, and even Hinduism cannot be accused of being a giggle factory.

For the purposes of writing this morning, what I mean by laughter is the utterly personal, makes-you-laugh-out-loud stuff ... not the smug or well-tailored laughter that climbs on someone else's shoulders ... just the personally, can't-help-yourself laughing out loud. The stuff anyone knows all about without a backward glance and cannot contain despite any possible efforts.

So where is the laughter? Where is the laughter -- personal, no-bullshit laughter -- in spiritual life?

I have the feeling that the main sticking point rests here: Formatted spiritual endeavor is devoted to improving something. Lifestyle, habits, activities, sorrows ... some kind of improvement. There is nothing wrong and probably a good deal right about such improvements. Buddhism, for example, suggests "the middle way" -- the way between extremes -- and as a practical matter, the middle way really seems to pan out, assuming it's not just used for cowardly purposes. The middle way is an improvement over the wildly-swinging pendulum (joy/sorrow, courage/cowardice, love/anger, etc.) of anyone's life.

An improvement. Good reasons, bad reasons, right reasons, wrong reasons ... improvement is the name of the game and spiritual endeavor is no different.

But, I would maintain, no matter how hard anyone might try, no matter how devoted or serious they might be, still there is a small uncertainty that whispers. And anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that it is the whispers in life that can upend the house of cards, no matter how much improved that house may be. Improved habit heaped on improved habit heaped on improved habit and yes indeed, things really do work better and the improvements are really worth the effort. A basis is shaped and nourished and worth the price of admission. The middle way -- to pick on one descriptor -- really does make sense.

But ... but ... but...

Whisper ... whisper ... whisper...

Where is the laughter -- the stuff that is so assured that the notion of assurance goes begging; the stuff that, personally and without any counseling whatsoever, has no truck with "the middle way;" the stuff that just plain knows there is no "middle way" and is too busy laughing to say so; the stuff that leaves "improvement" gasping for air?

Anyone who has laughed knows about laughter from muzzle to butt plate, but knowing is just another improvement. Anyone who has laughed knows that waiting around to drop dead in order to get into heaven is child's play for children. Anyone who has laughed knows that "enlightenment" and "compassion" may refer to very good improvements, but in the midst of laughter -- very personal, right-now, no-sissified improvement-required laughter ... no one asks, no one answers, no one improves, no one disapproves ... everyone laughs.

And this down-home, bedrock, easy-peasy understanding that has nothing to do with 'understanding' whispers in widening circles, like a pebble dropped in a smooth lake. Yes, the improvements are good and the middle way is good and, well, whatever improved format may be very good indeed. But laughter trumps it all ... and if laughter can do it, why not other unimproved clarities?

Laughter. Love. Diarrhea. Sleep. Sorrow. Even the nitwits running around saying "it is what it is?"

Can such things be contained or improved? Is there really some way to out-think or outwit what is right in front of your nose? There is a middle way, perhaps, but is there really a middle way? And if so, what extremes does it posit when used in the much-improved spiritual realm?

I suppose spiritual formats stick to improvements because A. It's good for the home improvement franchise they run and B. because laughter is too simple ... bad news sells better than good and there is a tendency to think that laughter is nothing but good news, when all the time "good" and "bad" have nothing to do with it. If improvement were sold on the basis of good news, there would probably be more confusions, more smarmy fortune cookies: No one but an idiot tries to improve on what was OK in the first place. Bad news is personal and pressing and spiritual formats attempt to improve such serious realms. Laughter only laughs.

Whisper, whisper, whisper ....


Who could ever improve on that?


  1. tea?

    If not for me, than you

    to see

    a cup


    made of hands two to be

    if not



    than to be over with

    as under



    but not now

    butt sit

    if not for good

    than ceremony

    not money

    is it

    just free

    sip and see

    as naturally

    as birds and eggs be

    nest filled

    aww... gee

    s w a l l o w ooooommm.....

  2. Once, when offering my fancy-dancy, philosophically-astute and deliciously-obscured answers to a Zen teacher who had assigned me a koan, he looked at me and observed mildly, "You know, you don't have to be crazy in order to do this."

    Cute won't work.