Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dance Like You're in a Dark Room; Laugh Like You Mean It

"If you are not dealing with life properly, honestly, directly, someone is just about to hit you. This is the self-consciousness of watching yourself, observing yourself unnecessarily. Whatever we do is constantly being watched and censored. Actually it is not Big Brother who is watching; it is Big Me! Another aspect of me is watching me, behind me, just about to strike, just about to pinpoint my failure. There is no joy in this approach, no sense of humor at all."--Chogyam Trungpa

Two of the things that attracted me to Buddhism were its call to accept yourself as you are, right now, and to live life with a healthy sense of humor. I take life very seriously, as is life were an important exam that will determine if I get a good job or am sent to work in the mines. I struggle with self-acceptance, always looking to be a better version of me, the ideal me. As for so many people I know, lack of self-acceptance does a lot of harm. Instead of being a catalyst for self-improvement, lack of self-acceptance has brought me (and others) a lot of unnecessary pain. The constant reel of my inadequacies plays throughout the day, and if I stumble I feel like the world is pointing and laughing. It's hard to be light-hearted when your inner critics are zooming in on you like your Britney Spears' cellulite.

And taking life too seriously...I blame my Swedish roots for that one...has also taken the joy out of everyday experiences and interactions with other people. I don't laugh enough at the absurdity of life because I'm too busy taking it seriously (I say this, of course, with kindness and self-acceptance!)

I think of the people I really like to be around, like my cousin Mikki. She treats life with a sense of humor and because of this she laughs a lot, and her mood is contagious. I'm not saying she's immune from anxiety or pain--just that she has a healthy sense of humor which makes people of all ages like her and want to be around her.

I'm not talking about being a pollyanna type or refusing to take anything seriously at all. M. and I were just talking the other day about how we'd like to cultivate a more optimistic outlook in our daily lives. We both worry and fret about ourselves, about our families, the world--you name it, we fret about it. Also, we come from a generation where snarkiness and cynicism are king and queen, a culture where someone else's trip and fall is a cause for hilarity (it's no wonder we're so paranoid.) Yes, we should sniff out the hypocrites and roast them on The Daily Show, but we should also take note of our own hypocrisy. Laughing at the failures of others is a way to tear the world down, not build it up. It's anti-creativity. Humor that comes at the expense of others makes us no more than a generation of bullies in a schoolyard. And what did those bullies ever do with their lives, besides bullying? Not a whole heck of a lot.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure Buddhists would object to New Year's Resolutions, but here are mine, and they have some relevance to what I've been reading and thinking about these last few months:

1. Notice and appreciate the little things. My mother does this, beautifully. It just took me 35 years to notice and value this ability.

2. Practice self-acceptance everyday. Recognize that everyone has negative thoughts about themselves but they are nothing more than that--thoughts, not necessarily reality.

3. Find something funny and share it. I'm not naturally funny, but I'm definitely silly, so that's a start. And I don't know anyone who doesn't want to laugh.

4. Help others. Repeatedly. It's a win-win when you give your time and attention to others. It's a chance to take the attention away from yourself, and giving just feels good.

5. Write, write, write! OK, this one doesn't really come from Buddhist thought, but several times writing has snatched me from the depths of my depression. It also helps me to understand the world better. Writing is yet another way to silence the inner critic, to let go and lose track of time, and to create something from nothing. I have to remind myself why I like writing so much so I'll do it daily.

Happy New Year!

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