One cannot be happy when always trying to be serious, because seriousness is just sadness…life is a song to be sung, a dance to be spun, a love to be loved—but with divine playfulness.
The fact that crazy playfulness—a kind of divine wisdom intended to lighten the load of man’s existential burden and applaud what Joseph Campbell enlightened us as “the rapture of being alive”—rests at the core of Zen and Taoist teachings and is lost on most of us Americans: blue and white collar alike. Even those intellectuals who concede to the playful undertones in lieu of discipline, still treat it with vainglory and disrespect, never mind that it’s a worldview that has made the grade after centuries of exhaustive study, deep contemplation, unhindered observation, and heated debate.
On a side note, if you are not aware of who Joseph Campbell is, allow me to fill you in. Campbell was a man so in touch with the metaphysical wonders of the world that he easily awakened the potential of mythical wonder within each and every soul he managed to touch. He unbuttoned the blouse of the truth and allowed its inexhaustible inspiration of being to let loose. Though, just like many well-hidden heroes before him, he has made the climb up that giant beanstalk to the great beyond. But he left the door ajar, allowing us all a little peek to witness the lit up heritage of the rapture he so reverently resurrected and vividly described.
For now though, back to the playful task at hand. Tell someone that Thic Nhat Han himself would squirt his disciples with a water gun when they became explicitly earnest in their contemplative state, or that the living quarters of the far east’s most decorated warrior is filled with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe memorabilia, and you’re likely to bear witness to an eye-roll of “Charlie Chaplin” proportions. Like the fusty old patriarch in the Bible, when one becomes a man or woman, they must “put away childish things,” which is to better say—they seal off with the hardened wax of haughtiness and worry, the one avenue of our being that was once attuned to everything full of wonder.
As a result of those having abandoned the one part of their nature that is most transcendent, it is of no surprise that modern thought dismisses playfulness—especially if it affronts itself in literature, philosophy, or any kind of art—as frivolous and whimsical. Men who wear ties to work daily (minus the exception of a few maitre d’s), these men whose dreams have been seized by either the shallow aspirations of Wall Street or by the pedestrian clichés of politics, such men are not inclined to comprehend between that which is lighthearted from that which is simply lightweight. God knows what confused altitudes might depressurize the cabins of their soaring minds were they to cross paths with the concept of “crazy wisdom”.
Crazy wisdom is, of course, on the opposite end of conventional wisdom. It is wisdom that wades upstream on purpose. It swims against the current in order to elude—at any cost possible—being swept downstream by bourgeois give-and-take. It’s wisdom that taunts taboo in order to undermine its power. It’s wisdom that evolves when one, while refusing to stave off one’s gaze from the sorrow of the world, insists on finding joy in spite of every damned thing gone wrong. It’s wisdom that embraces risk and escapes security, wisdom that turns the table on insanity by lampooning it. It’s the wisdom of those who neither seek authority nor willingly bow down to it.
While conventional wisdom might be an effective means of domesticating fear and pain, it’s never been about laughing past the grave. No, the divine and wise individual laughs straight through the graveyard’s fated gate, laughing into his or her very own grave.
For instance, take Oscar Wilde, the man who allegedly beckoned at the wallpaper in his dilapidated Parisian motel room and let it be known with his dying breath, “either it goes or I go.” The man passed on to the great gig in the sky brandishing something beyond an irreproachable and brilliant wit. Freud, just as well you see, wasn’t whistling “Edelweiss” when he wrote that gallows humor is often indicated by the “greatness of the soul.”
Yes indeed, the one who laughs in the face of the grim reaper may be destroyed but never defeated.
When a sacred Zen master, upon hearing the abrupt outburst of an owl’s hoot just outside his window, sat up and announced, “that’s what it was all about!”, his last piece of sound advice managed to go hand in hand with Wilde’s as far as divine wisdom is concerned, constituting as it did, a kind of koan, it was more or less an enigmatic invitation to reevaluate the purpose of existence.
Anecdotes such as these remind the nimble-minded that there’s an invisible, yet wavy line between the comic and the cosmic, and somewhere high on that metaphysical frontier can be found the path that leads to mental and spiritual rebirth.
Ancient Egyptians believed that when a person passed, the gods would take their heart and place it upon a set of scales, on one scale was a feather. If there was an imbalance, if the heart of the deceased weighed more than the feather, he or she was not allowed access into Heaven. Only the lighthearted were deemed spiritually advanced enough to merit metaphysical immortality.
Nowadays, in a capitalist culture such as ours, where the pomposity of ignorance often places itself atop a pedestal, we can go ahead and expect our intellect to write off hieroglyphic heart-weighing as polite superstition, to dismiss owl-hooting illumination as flaky far-eastern hoopla. That is fine and dandy. But what about the the Anglo-Saxon trickster tradition, what about Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention, what about Picasso and the alchemy of Allen Ginsburg, what about Pippi Longstocking, the aforementioned Joseph Campbell, orphan Annie, or Mark Twain—a distant relative of mine—and what the the electric kool-aid acid merry pranksters. What about the tongue-in-cheek sneakiness of Nietzsche (yes, even Nietzsche!), and for God’s sake, what about the spear shaker Shakespeare himself, the uber-bard in whose plays, tragedies included, possessed thousands of puns, some of them real snoozers, that have been certifiably documented and catalogued?
And being rather obvious, while crazy wisdom may be more appreciated in other realms, other lifetimes, or just far east Asia, morsels of meaningful crazy wisdom have long twinkled here and there within the heavy heart of western beliefs. It was a poet I know who measured, “if they give you ruled paper, write the other way.”
The question is, will we become enlightened enough to understand that these sporadic sparkles aren’t mere rhinestones? When will our heart’s weightiness evolve to the degree that it is able to accord buoyancy and mirth a damn dime’s worth of the respect it provides so lavishly for the gravity of pain and misfortune?
A question akin to this is asked by philosophers of old, concluding that comedy is often downplayed as inferior to tragedy primarily because of society’s prevalence of narcissistic pathology. To put it in layman’s terms, people who are to self-obsessed to laugh at their own consistently cockamamie behavior have an invested interest in the weight of gravity because it allows support to their illusions of grandiosity. According to a nuthouse professor, most of us cannot function properly in life without the possession of such illusion.
“Capitalism,” one went so far to write, encourages the pathological and grandiose self because it encourages the conspicuous consumption of material possessions which symbolizes one’s grandiosity. I, myself, would like to add that such rigid, unquestioning allegiance to particular religious and/or political affiliations (which seem one in the same nowadays) is in much the same way as being asymptomatic to that of a very well hidden and toxic disease.
Ironically, it’s this exact malignant narcissistic behavior that reveals itself through whining, arrogance, greed, outrage, anxiety, fanaticism, defensive cynicism, and overly aggressive ambition, that is keeping the smug egoist out of their paradise. Because within our egocentric baggage, despair is a narcotic as addictive as opium and more popular than pornography, for the simple reason that when one is unhappy one gets to pay a ton of attention to oneself. Misery becomes this sort of emotional masturbation, and when taken out on others, hidden depression transforms into a deadly fucking weapon.
But for those willing to put the pain away and to permeate their ego, to laugh—or hoot—it into submission, Heaven on earth is a rather distinct and spiritually divine psychological possibility.
Til the next time;)