LAUGHING AT YOURSELF

There was nothing pompously about the Master. Wild, hilarious laughter prevailed each time he spoke, to the dismay of those who were solemn about their spirituality, and themselves.

Said one disillusioned visitor, “The man’s a clown!”

“No, no,” said a disciple. “You’ve missed the point: a clown gets you to laugh at him, a Master gets you to laugh at yourself.”

Source | Anthony de Mello, One Minute Nonsense,
(Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1992Chapter 35

Published in the USA as Awakening: Conversations with the Masters,
(Image, 2003) Chapter 35

CONSIDER THIS

“If you can laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself and if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others.” |  Susan Sparks, an ex-lawyer turned comedian and Baptist minister

“We can never truly learn to laugh at ourselves until we learn to accept the things about ourselves that are either impossible or impractical to be changed.” | Jeanne Robertson, humorists

THAT’S A HELL OF A DIFFERENCE

Long ago there lived an old woman who had a wish. She wished more than anything to see for herself the difference between heaven and hell. The monks in the temple agreed to grant her request. They put a blindfold around her eyes, and said, “First you shall see hell.”

When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was standing at the entrance to a great dining hall. The hall was full of round tables, each piled high with the most delicious foods — meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, and desserts of all kinds! The smells that reached her nose were wonderful.

The old woman noticed that, in hell, there were people seated around those round tables. She saw that their bodies were thin, and their faces were gaunt, and creased with frustration. Each person held a spoon. The spoons must have been three feet long! They were so long that the people in hell could reach the food on those platters, but they could not get the food back to their mouths. As the old woman watched, she heard their hungry desperate cries. “I’ve seen enough,” she cried. “Please let me see heaven.”

And so again the blindfold was put around her eyes, and the old woman heard, “Now you shall see heaven.” When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was confused. For there she stood again, at the entrance to a great dining hall, filled with round tables piled high with the same lavish feast. And again, she saw that there were people sitting just out of arm’s reach of the food with those three-foot long spoons.

But as the old woman looked closer, she noticed that the people in heaven were plump and had rosy, happy faces. As she watched, a joyous sound of laughter filled the air.

And soon the old woman was laughing too, for now she understood the difference between heaven and hell for herself. The people in heaven were using those long spoons to feed each other.

Source | Adapted from a Japanese and Chinese folk tale by
Elisa Pearmain, in Doorways to the Soul

___________________________

Here’s another version of the same story

A rabbi was talking with God about Heaven and Hell.

“Come,” said God. “Walk with me, and I will show you Hell.”

And together they walked into a room of cold, rough stone. In the center of the room, atop a low fire, sat a huge pot of quietly simmering stew. The stew smelled delicious, and made the rabbi’s mouth water. A group of people sat in a circle around the pot, and each of them held a curiously long-handled spoon. The spoons were long enough to reach the pot; but the handles were so ungainly that every time someone dipped the bowl of their spoon into the pot and tried to maneuver the bowl to their mouth, the stew would spill. The rabbi could hear the grumblings of their bellies. They were cold, hungry, and miserable.

“And now,” God said, “I will show you Heaven.”

Together they walked into another room, almost identical to the first. A second pot of stew simmered in the center; another ring of people sat around it; each person was outfitted with one of the frustratingly long spoons. But this time, the people sat with the spoons across their laps or laid on the stone beside them. They talked, quietly and cheerfully with one another. They were warm, well-fed, and happy.

“Lord, I don’t understand,” said the rabbi. “How was the first room Hell; and this, Heaven?”

God smiled. “It’s simple,” he said. “You see, they have learned to feed each other.”

Source | Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto

CONSIDER THIS

Oftentimes all it takes to taste heaven is to stretch beyond our limited horizons and myopic visions, and offer a helping hand to the other. It is all about the art of “one anothering”: to love one another, to forgive one another, to listen to one another, to help one another, to be compassionate with one another etc …

THE TRIPLE-FILTER TEST

In ancient Greece, Socrates (the famous philosopher) was visited by an acquaintance of his. Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story he’d just heard about a friend of theirs. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass the “Triple-Filter” test.

The first filter, he explained, is Truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …”

Socrates cut him off. “You don’t know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “No! Actually, just the opposite. You see …”

Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind. One filter still remains, though, so you may yet still tell me. That is Usefulness or Necessity. Is this information useful or necessary to me?”  A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

“Well, then,” Socrates said, turning on his heel. “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”

Source | Jennifer Cook O’Toole, The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules
(Jessica Kingsley Publications, 2012) page 137

CONSIDER THIS

Before you answer a question or voice your opinion, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it good? Is it kind? Is it useful? Is it necessary? If it passes these filters, speak up. If not, either find a tactful way to make it pass or better still, keep it to yourself.

Most people leave it at that and assume that the story is just about the information we spread. What if the real truth behind it, however, is about the information we seek and create. Imagine how different the world would be if we only chose to seek or create information that was true, good, or useful.

Imagine how different the world would be if we only chose to seek or create information that was true, good, or useful.

 

BORROWING FROM GOD

A man was taking it easy, laying on the grass and looking up at the clouds. He was identifying shapes when he decided to talk to God.

“God”, he said, “how long is a million years?”

God answered, “In my frame of reference, it’s about a minute.”

The man asked, “God, how much is a million dollars?”

God answered, “To me, it’s a penny.”

The man then asked, “God, can I have a penny?”

God answered, “In a minute.”

Source | Roger Kuder, Jokes and Riddles
(lulu.com, 2012)  page 11

________________

Another rendition of the same story:

A man was talking to God one day, and he said, “God, I have always wanted to ask you this question.” He said, “God, from your perspective how long is a million years?”

God said, “In my perspective, a million years is a second.”

“Wow, a second!” He then said, “God, from your perspective, how much is a million dollars?”

God said, “From my perspective, a million dollars is a penny.”

“Man, that is unbelievable!” Then he said, “God, could I borrow a penny?”

And God said, “Sure, just a second.”

Source | David William Joutras, Spiritual Stories I Have Heard

CONSIDER THIS

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. | Psalm 90:4 (NRSV)

Patience! You’ve got all the time in the world—whether a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you. | Psalm 90:4 (The Message)

THE CYCLIST

On the day of the race, he waited with the others and felt that life was waiting in the hills. He couldn’t quite say why, but a blessing was about to happen. As the gun went off, he could hear the rush of all the racers breathing—like young horses in the morning.

He had trained for months, up and down the sloping hills, cutting off seconds by wearing less and leaning into curves. His legs were shanks of muscle. He often said, “It’s the closest thing to flying I know.”

On the second hill, the line thinned and he was near the front. They were slipping through the land like arcs of light riding through the veins of the world. By now, he was in the lead. As he swept toward the wetlands, he was gaining time, when a great blue heron took off right in front of him; its massive, timeless wings opening just in front of his handlebars.

Its shadow covered him and seemed to open something he’d been chasing. The others were pumping closer, but he just stopped and stood there, straddling his bike, staring at what the great blue had opened by cutting through the sky.

In years to come, others would ask, “What cost you the race?” Wherever he was, he’d always look south, and once in a while, he’d say, “I didn’t lose the race—I left it.”

Source | Mark Nepo, As Far As the Heart Can See: Stories to Illuminate the Soul
(Health Communications, Inc. 2011) pages 13-14

CONSIDER THIS

Tell the story of a time when your hard work had an unexpected outcome and what you learned from that experience.

Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and imagine something you are working hard to achieve. Notice without judgment which has more energy for you: the process or the goal.

Close your eyes again, breathe slowly, and imagine your hard work without the goal ahead of you or your reason why to do this behind you. Focus, if you can, only on the process you are in.

Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and picture a bird flying without knowing where it’s going. Or a cyclist riding with no destination.

Open your eyes and enter your day.

 

 

BECOME A LAKE

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter” spit the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside this serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things …. stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

Source | A Hindu parable as told by
Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening
(Conari Press, 2011) pages 17-18

CONSIDER THIS

“The more spacious and larger our fundamental nature, the more bearable the pains in living.” | Wayne Muller

 

TWO BAD BRICKS

After we purchased the land for our monastery in 1983 we were broke. We were in debt. There were no buildings on the land, not even a shed. Those first few weeks we slept not on beds but on old doors we had bought cheaply from the salvage yard; we raised them on bricks at each corner to lift them off the ground. (There were no mattresses, of course — we were forest monks.)

The abbot had the best door, the flat one. My door was ribbed with a sizeable hole in the center where the doorknob would have been. I joked that now I wouldn’t need to get out of bed to go to the toilet! The cold truth was, however, that the wind would come up through that hole. I didn’t sleep much those nights.

We were poor monks who needed buildings. We couldn’t afford to employ a builder — the materials were expensive enough. So I had to learn how to build: how to prepare the foundations, lay concrete and bricks, erect the roof, put in the plumbing — the whole lot. I had been a theoretical physicist and high-school teacher in lay life, not used to working with my hands. After a few years, I became quite skilled at building, even calling my crew the BBC (“Buddhist Building Company”). But when I started it was very difficult.

It may look easy to lay a brick: a dollop of mortar underneath, a little tap here, a little tap there. But when I began laying bricks, I’d tap one corner down to make it level and another corner would go up. So I’d tap that corner down then the brick would move out of line. After I’d nudged it back into line, the first corner would be too high again. Hey, you try it!

Being a monk, I had patience and as much time as I needed. I made sure every single brick was perfect, no matter how long it took. Eventually, I completed my first brick wall and stood back to admire it. It was only then that I noticed— oh no! — I’d missed two bricks. All the other bricks were nicely in line, but these two were inclined at an angle. They looked terrible. They spoiled the whole wall. They ruined it.

By then, the cement mortar was too hard for the bricks to be taken out, so I asked the abbot if I could knock the wall down and start over again — or, even better, perhaps blow it up. I’d made a mess of it and I was very embarrassed. The abbot said no, the wall had to stay.

When I showed our first visitors around our fledgling monastery, I always tried to avoid taking them past my brick wall. I hated anyone seeing it. Then one day, some three or four months after I finished it, I was walking with a visitor and he saw the wall.

“That’s a nice wall,” he casually remarked.

“Sir,” I replied in surprise, “have you left your glasses in your car? Are you visually impaired? Can’t you see those two bad bricks which spoil the whole wall?”

What he said next changed my whole view of that wall, of myself, and of many other aspects of life. He said, “Yes. I can see those two bad bricks. But I can see the 998 good bricks as well.”

I was stunned. For the first time in over three months, I could see other bricks in that wall apart from the two mistakes. Above, below, to the left and to the right of the bad bricks were good bricks, perfect bricks. Moreover, the perfect bricks were many, many more than the two bad bricks. Before, my eyes would focus exclusively on my two mistakes; I was blind to everything else. That was why I couldn’t bear looking at that wall, or having others see it. That was why I wanted to destroy it. Now that I could see the good bricks, the wall didn’t look so bad after all. It was, as the visitor had said, ‘a nice brick wall.’ It’s still there now, twenty years later, but I’ve forgotten exactly where those bad bricks are. I literally cannot see those mistakes any more.

Source | Ajahn Brahm,
Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?
(Wisdom Publications, 2005) pages 3-6

CONSIDER THIS

We’ve all got our two bad bricks, but the perfect bricks in each one of us are much, much more than the mistakes. How much life goes wasted, how much potential goes unexplored and how many relationships are damaged or broken because of an unhealthy focus on the “two bad bricks”?