How to practice being a sane person without a spiritual bone in your body.
Everybody slips into a funk from time to time. I’m talking about an “ignore every call-I don’t wanna meditate, I’m watchin’ Law & Order and eatin’ ice cream” kinda funk. These bad moods are to be expected. They’re the mental equivalent of the common cold.
Often times these funks are immune to the formalities of our spiritual practice. Not because our formal practice is impotent in the face of a rotten attitude, but because we lack the inspiration and/or motivation to stop eating Cheetos and get off the couch! Some pretentious ass “spiritual” friend of yours might suggest, “Why don’t you try meditating on the couch…you know, like mindful of every chip you eat.” So, let me rephrase my previous statement: We lack the required inspiration and/or motivation to do something we don’t want to do.
These bad moods are incredibly rigid, self-centered states of mind. When we are possessed by one of these shitty attitudes we have a very definite idea about how things should be, and at the present moment, things do not even remotely resemble our expectations. We get trapped in our heads, thinking about what we think, until we are so far removed from reality that we can no longer distinguish between actuality and figments of our imagination. Insanity begins to dominate, as the entire field of awareness is reduced to a bitter pattern of thought revolving around some form of disappointment, which emerged as the result of a disagreement between reality and an extremely narrow idea we held about ourselves. In short, when something doesn’t go “our way” we develop an obsessively resentful form of tunnel vision. This is what I mean by rigid.
These moods are self-centered in that the value and worth of everything in our environment is calculated by how it affects us, which means that everything is measured against the rigid expectations previously mentioned. From this point of view, life is transformed into an inconvenient chore; something that we have to get up and go do. We feel completely cut off from life or lifeless. So we don’t get up and go do it!
We expect to be comfortable. If something contributes to this comfort we consider it to be “good,” but if it is seen as an obstacle to our comfort it is labeled “bad.” We cling to those things that are good, and push away those things that are bad. If we are unable to successfully hold hostage the good things or fail to keep at bay the bad things, then we start to pitch a fit or wallow in self-pity. The fit and/or pity party is what I am calling the common funk.
Fits and pity parties are very logical. They are calculated insanity. These nasty attitudes are constructed or assembled by patterns of thought, which come together in a tightly regulated sequence. It maybe that neither the pre-conceived idea nor the fore-drawn conclusions are objectively rational, which suggests that the inbred process that facilitated this movement from point A to point B is also disproportionate, but all three—the original miscalculation, the obsessive system of elaboration, and the disastorous conclusions—are, from a subjective point of view, perfectly logical. So long as the basic assumption isn’t questioned—our true nature is comfort—everything adds up.
When this subjective experience reaches escape speed, the situation becomes too dense, and all perspective is lost. This loss of objectivity is the result of blindness or ignore-ance. With no other reference point at our disposal, other than the irrational point of reference that set the cycle in motion,our inconsistencies appear to be consistent. Crazy people do not know that they’re crazy.
Since, the subjective experience is the only experience we afford ourselves, that is the only point of view that matters. Our pissy attitude is all we have to work with, and we cannot wish it away with detached philosophical rhetoric or lofty spiritual slogans. It does no good to preach a gospel of sanity to someone trapped behind the walls of insanity. You have to deconstruct the wall, brick by brick. This is skillful means.
We all know how irritating it can be to have someone we love try to correct our crappy disposition by saying, “That doesn’t make sense.” And please, for God’s sake, never tell me, “It’s an illusion.” When your girlfriend breaks up with you or you lose your job it sure as hell doesn’t feel like an illusion. It feels like you have been hit by a truck. Do you hurry over to the scene of a car accident to remind everyone involved not to worry their pain is only an illusion? Mental and emotional pain is physical pain.
When examining the common funk, there maybe an element of confusion or a misunderstanding involved, but it ain’t an illusion—I feel it, you see it, we’re talking about it—it is there! The only illusion operable in this scenario is the belief that the situation is solid. The situation is workable; I am not stuck. This is true, but this workable space will not be discovered by repeating spiritual affirmations to yourself or by explaining the discomfort away with technical jargon. It is a methodical process, much like untying a knot, in that we have to start with the loose ends.
If you believe that a meditation on impermanence or tying yourself in a knot while you listen to kirtan is the best way to address the common funk, then by all means, be my guest. But if you are like me, and require a more practical, user-friendly, down-to-earth approach I offer you these three non-spiritual remedies for the common funk.
As I have already explained these funks are extremely logical. They are inbred states of mind where one crappy thought entertains another crappy thought, until our head is full of shit. We need something that can break through this pessimistic chain of conceptual events. Comedy is just the thing.
A comedian is funny for one of two reasons: either, they reveal an inconsistency in something believed to be consistent, or they say something completely unexpected and ridiculous. In both cases, the obsessive pattern of solid thinking is dismantled. When revealing an inconsistency, the pattern of thought is disrupted by an insight that reveals the space between thoughts, often referred to as “poking a hole in your argument.” As a result, the conceptual mind begins to open up and air out. In the second instance, something unexpected is said, which throws the rational faculties for a loop. Once again, the mind is opened up to space, as we begin to entertain a world of possibilities that, up until this point, we had been ignoring.
Furthermore, comedians are disarming; they are not trying to fix you. They are trying to make you laugh, which, if they are successful, has an amazing affect on your mood. A good laugh is enough to cheer anyone up. A good laugh is the acknowledgment of space, while a claustrophobic state if mind is nothing more than an ignore-ance of the gap between thoughts.
Don’t like stand-up? Watch a funny movie, or a light-hearted TV show. I am a sucker for Hugh Grant movies. But, whatever works for you. Pull a funny book of off the shelf. Invite a funny friend over. Anything that makes you laugh.
“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” ~Mark Twain
Some of my favorites are: Richard Pryor, Louis C.K., and Dave Chappelle. However, the past few years I have used the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report when I feel stuck in a rut. (click any of the links above to be magically transported to material by these hilarious comedians.)
Dave Chappelle on The Secret
“Everything is Amazing & Nobody is Happy” by Louis C.K.
Cleaning the house has two huge advantages. Having watched a some stand-up, we feel a little looser. We are by no means out of the woods, but we are ready to get off the couch. There is still a crappy residue in our mind—the occasional negative thought, or a demeaning reminder from our darker half that goes something like, “You’re a worthless idiot.” Had we not watched the comedy we would be prone to relapsing into this negative pattern. However, we feel lighter. We no longer feel sorry for ourselves. So, we get up and begin to clean the mess around us: empty bags of chips, pizza boxes, soda cans, etc. We straighten up the couch cushions, and put up the blankets we have been hiding behind.
Having straightened up the pigsty, we feel better. Cleaner. Our environment is a reflection of our state of mind. When we slip into one of these funks our living space also slips into a funk. Like our mind, our living room becomes cluttered and full of trash. So, we can begin to work with our mind by working with our environment. This is one of the loose ends we have to work with. We start with the pigsty we have been inhabiting for the last six hours. Then, we begin to expand our focus to include the whole house.
“Being tidy and meticulous is the Buddhist message—meticulous in cleaning your oryoki bowls, meticulous in how you walk, meticulous in how you treat your clothing and your household articles. We can’t get away with being sloppy; we have to introduce the principle of tidiness more and more into our lives. When economic chaos or family chaos takes place, apart from obvious issues of economic mismanagement, marital problems, or emotional problems, we find that domestic details have not been taken care of.” ~Chogyam Trungpa
Start with hand washing all the dirty dishes; no dishwasher. Feel the warm water running over your hands. Then, clean off all the counters. Next, get out the broom and start sweeping. When you have finished sweeping, mop the floors. To top it all off, light some candles or incense; something to invigorate your senses.
Not big on house work? Well, try it any way. No? OK.
Then, try a little yard work. Get out of the house and start to work in the garden, cut the grass, clean up the yard.
Whatever you do it should be manual work. It is good to break a sweat. The more involved your body is, the better. We are migrating from our head, back into our body. This migration is the expansion of consciousness. Manual labor cultivates the spaciousness discovered by laughing. If we light some incense or candles our awareness expands even more. We are moving beyond the restricted realm of consciousness between our ears, and embracing a much larger spectrum of awareness.
Having reconnected with a larger dimension of awareness it is essential to keep going. There are still some residual effects of the bad mood lurking, and we must be careful not to slip back into that funk. A hot bath is not only a great way to continue reawakening the senses and expanding awareness, but it is also the symbolic rite of the entire process.
Run the water. Pour in some bath salts and bubble bath. Relax. Take a deep breath. Splash your face with some water. Do not be in a rush. Spend a while just soaking it in the bath. Pour some water over your head. Feel the nasty attitude falling away. Literally, wash the funk off.
When you get out, brush your teeth. Clip your nails. Comb your hair. Begin to recognize that you are a part of the environment, and be as tidy and meticulous with yourself as you are with your home. When we realize that we are a dimension of the environment we also discover a deep, heart-felt gratitude for the human condition. Gratitude, much like faith, is dead unless it finds expression in our behavior. So cultivate your gratitude by taking care of yourself.
Most of the time this is enough to pull me out of any funk. However, there have been times when I needed to go the extra mile. In such cases, I have added a nice long walk followed by some journaling.
None of the before mentioned remedies are meant to solve a problem. These non-spiritual remedies are meant to bring us to a place where we can once again resume our formal practice. So, join these simple remedies with your regular meditation or yoga practice as soon as you feel up to it.
It is in our formal practice that we can begin to investigate the causes and conditions that give rise to our dissatisfaction. It is also an invitation to redefine our spiritual practice. Perhaps, we would find that our practice has far more depth and sophistication when we allow it to be a fully human practice—a practice that isn’t limited by some ridiculous idea that equates spirituality with comfort. Maybe, just maybe, if spirituality was bigger, more human, and therefore spacious enough to account for the range of human experience—the “good” and the “bad”—we would not need to divide our life up into the spiritual and the worldly.
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