Many years ago, I met a friend of mine, Vishy, in a Mexican restaurant in Chennai. That day, I was a bundle of nerves, having had to coordinate a chamber orchestra from Germany that was being sponsored by the company I worked for. It was also the first time I was meeting this friend after a few years of exchanging conversations on books. As we spoke, my mind flitted from the talk to the arrangements for the evening. Yet, during that one conversation, we came back with one line:
Today, I think I would add to that. I am curious about leading my life in happiness, harmony, and humor. The 3 H’s. And, I think without that humor, we have precious little chance at happiness.
I found this humor in a strange way. A few months ago, I got back in touch with a friend who had a history of blocking me. As we reconnected over a shared love for books, I shared a book on the Kindle with this friend called “All My Friends Are Dead,” by Avery Monsen. A graphic novel, the little book made us laugh over the sad poignancy of friendship and inspired that friend to laugh at herself and her previous actions by doodling a series called “All My Friends Are Blocked.”
There was a sequel to that book called “All My Friends Are Still Dead,” which we had then wanted to read, but I couldn’t find on the Kindle. We never did end up reading that sequel because things changed rapidly after that.
Fast forward to the present. That friend blocked me again after her boyfriend disapproved of the friendship (or at least that’s what I can presume), and a great connection collapsed in a dirty laundry of soiled, angry words. For a while, anger simmered with me over this bizarre treatment. Then, last week, while I was looking for new books to add to my TBR, I came across “All My Friends Are Still Dead.” I gasped in delight and chuckled over that book’s marvelous illustrations. And suddenly, I found that gentle humor, that precious nugget of laughter from the soul.
Smiling to myself, I opened up my Kindle software on my laptop and sent that book to that blocking friend’s Kindle address.
I giggled suddenly at the incongruity, imagining the reaction on that friend’s face when you receive a book like this after months of acrimony and silence.
When I told Birdy this, she laughed. “After all that bitterness, you are sending this funny-sounding book. This is hilarious.”
I laughed too. “I know. In the end, life is only that, isn’t it? After all that bitterness, we can only send some humor.”
And just like that, I found something in me take wing and fly. It was a butterfly, which was still then a clingy caterpillar, feeding on the larvae of anger. Its wings beat a little patter and I have been walking around with a smile since then.
Here then, are what I think we need to find that 3 H’s.
Don’t make a big deal
I think too often we exaggerate the pain we are dealt with in life. This is not to demean serious abuse or grief. No.
But many times, we spend a lot of time agonizing over some slights in office or what the milkman said. I think there are few things we need for happiness: health and some wealth. By health, as long as we are healthy and the ones we love are healthy, we are on the way to creating that big H. By wealth, I don’t mean mere money, although that is important as well. I mean the wealth that comes with rich thought and rich actions.
Of all the things that happen to us in life, there are just a few really that we will remember in the end. Ask yourself if what is happening right now is a big deal.
I have found it useful to ask, “What is the worst that can happen?” And also, “What is the best that can happen?” Answering those two questions honestly can make you recognize the difference between a big deal and minor annoyances.
Laugh often. Laugh silly.
As in my case, I found it amusing to send a funny book to a friend who had signed off the last rites on me with some venom. I laughed because it was silly and it was a good silliness, the kind that makes your heart go goeey.
Here are my suggestions:
Try and find something every now and then that seems silly. And then, go ahead and do it. What could be silly? Anything that makes you laugh. I am still the most melancholic person you can hope to meet, but I grin at that description too.
Of especial importance is the ability to laugh at yourself. Next time you are angry, look at yourself in the mirror. Trust me, you will laugh.
Exercise: I am a fitness fanatic, true. But jumping around sets something right in your laughter muscles as well. It’s not just the endorphins boost that comes from exercise, but the feeling that you are looking after yourself. You, silly ridiculous you! You are looking after yourself!
Reimagine. Someone upset you a lot? Reimagine that situation in a different light. Cast yourself and those people as if you are in a play. A very funny comedy at that. Poke fun, gently. Imagine that person you are upset with in a ridiculous way.
For me, I try to imagine someone I am angry with as dancing on a purple cow and waving a yellow bandanna to the tunes of Macarena. Now, how can you be angry with such a person? (Once again, this does not mean people who abused you or have harmed you physically or mentally).
Ah! All those Zen masters walking around talking of self-love. It has been abused, this expression.
Self-forgiveness does NOT mean doing what you want, treating others miserably, and then glibly claiming to forgive yourself. No.
There is no teaching that says harm everyone, it’s ok, because you can always forgive yourself.
By self-forgiveness, I mean, the art of self for giving.
- Give of yourself.
- Give into yourself.
- Give to others.
Be gentle with your mistakes, but never ever fail to acknowledge those mistakes. Know that forgiveness is not about just forgiving yourself, but having the humility to seek forgiveness from others.
Be open to the possibilities of change. Do you wake up every day curious about the you who is coming with you? It doesn’t matter who you wake up with – spouse, sister, brother, lover, friend or animal.
You are waking up with just one person – your self. I have found that I am sometimes at a loss which me is waking up with me. Is it the angry SM? Or the calm SM? The lazy SM? Or the lost SM? There are so many aspects to our beautiful selves – stay alive to those and explore the possibilities of them all. And that’s just your self! How many more opportunities are there to be curious about?
- Be curious about your job – So what if you hate it?99% of us would readily throw away our jobs and lounge on a hammock. But be curious about your hatred too. What makes you hate it? Where would you be without that hatred?
- Feel the textures of the day. Make time for the little observances.
- Stop a while to watch the sun rest his wearied shoulders.
- Giggle at the ants scurrying down and wonder where they go.
- Instead of honking at the traffic light, observe how many people are wearing the color green.
- Try and find vehicles that match the color yellow.
- Look for license plates that end with 9 or your favorite number.
Ah! Now the possibilities for being curious are endless, isn’t it?
Stay with the feeling
We grow up being told that it is wrong to feel sad, to cry, or generally to be anything but happy. So, we turn into miserable adults, repressing our feelings just so that we can find out what this happy state is that we are ordered into.
Here’s the thing. There is no happiness. There is no sadness.
Our life is just the way it is – beautiful. Our pain comes from resisting what is and wanting it to be what we want.
I feel it is important to stay with the feeling that we are going through – not to act on it or repress it, but to be curious about it. (Wisdom from Pema Chodron). Move with it as a child would with a toy, with wonder. And if you are feeling dark and gloomy, then stay in that dank cave.
Make friends with those there. When you feel you are done doing time there, step out into the light, laughing at the light, waving to the flowers, and thanking the stars that you wore your worse cargo pants in that cave.
I wrote this not to preach, but because these words made their way out to the page. We are all babes in the woods, stumbling in the dark. Only by shining our thoughts can we light our own ways. I hope that the dear Blocking Friend would have laughed at receiving that funny book. I hope that YOU have smiled while reading this. I hope that you will go out tomorrow seeking that busy ant, watching that little flower, and looking for people wearing crazy green shirts. When you do, think of me, and smile.