Enlighten up!

Laughter is the Sun - Victor Hugo Quote

Image by Chiot's Run via Flickr

Enlightenment. This is serious business. No room for jokes. Or is it? I had the privilege of seeing the Dalai Lama speak, twice, once in Calgary and once in Vancouver. Both times I was delighted by his sense of humor. I found it surprising how effortlessly he wove lighthearted humor in with some very serious discussions. It was the perfect example of taking your work seriously, but not taking yourself seriously.

One of my favourite books that helped me out of a deep state of depression many years ago is “Lighten Up: Survival Skills for People Under Pressure” by C.W. Metcalf and Roma Felible. One of the best things I have read was their chapter ‘Escape from the Centre of the Universe”. In it the authors drew a rectangle, representing the known universe; then drew a dot in the centre, representing the centre of the universe; and then mark an X waaaay in the corner, and marked the X with the words “You are here”.

It cracked me up. In that laughter I broke through months of self-imposed loneliness and isolation and started truly living. I was no longer content to wait until I sorted out my problems before I could be happy. I decided to be happy. It was a completely radical thought that I could just choose my thoughts. It worked.

The more I study Buddhism, Taoism and many other wisdom traditions, the more I am convinced that enlightenment can be chosen, just like happiness. The key to both is the continual choice to remain in that state in each moment. The true challenge is not getting happy or having a moment of blissful union with the Divine oneness, but staying there. It takes consistent training and practice to live from a place of altered awareness, like happiness.

When we are new to this happiness thing, it can seem forced and silly. Just the same when we are new to any other spiritual discipline, like compassion or forgiveness, it feels odd and unnatural. But all these mental and emotional states can be trained by changing our behaviours. A small subtle shift in perception can be the first step.


Make it good

Sunrise First Light, Last Lights

Image by cobalt123 via Flickr

“Macht gut” is something my Grandma used to say. It roughly translates to “make it good” or “makes good”. The true meaning of this phrase, though, is profound advice for life. Basically you only have one shot at this life, so you might as well make it a good one. The concept of ‘makes good’ is also there too; you take your life, the world around you, and you make it better. You make it nice for people. You help when you can (even if butting out is the best thing you can do).

This phrase also teaches without telling. She rarely told me what to do to “Macht gut”. It was implied that I already knew what ‘good’ was and all I had to do was do it. How true is that. Most people could easily sit down and write out a long list of things that would help them live better, happier lives, but how often do we follow through? Things like ‘drink more water’, ‘eat more vegetables’, ‘exercise’, ‘forgive’, ‘spend more time with my children’, ‘use less throw away containers’, the list goes on.

Where to start? If you start, how do you keep it going past the first week? When you apply the “Macht gut” principle, then it all gets pretty easy.

You can filter the list of things that would improve your life by asking yourself: “Does this new behaviour, make it good, for me, for others, for the world?”. You get a quick sense that some items are better than others and will make a bigger impact. The ‘goodness’ part of you knows that small little changes, done every day add up to a big, great, wonderful life.

It really is the small things that make  the difference. Taking time to listen. Taking time to play. Taking time to share a few laughs and a few tears. Saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’; they are so basic. These small things add up. People hold these little things in their heart for years. Ultimately, these little kindnesses are very big, important things. Those little things are the foundation of friendship, of marriage, of love; without them we wither just like untended house plants.

There is another aspect to this phrase that a bit of Googling taught me, but what my understanding always knew. “Macht’s gut” means ‘Take care’ or ‘So long’. It means travel well, get home safe, call me when you get there. It is also a request to care for yourself as much as you are cared for by the person. Take care of yourself because you mean the world to me. Be good to yourself.
I miss her.
But her words and wisdom live on; and now I get to share them with you.

So, macht gut!

The best medicine


Image via Wikipedia

Ever laugh so hard you snort? I was rewatching “My Name is Earl” on Netflix tonight and I snorted with laughter, and not just once either. What a great feeling, laughing with total abandon, without trying to make it pretty. Our society has an odd relationship with laughter. There is a right volume, right pitch, right duration and right timing. Defy any one of these rules of merriment and you face odd looks or even ridicule. So many rules just to have fun. No wonder adults don’t laugh as much as kids. Indeed to grow up is all too often linked with getting serious and stopping all the laughing.

So silly really. Laughter releases wave after wave of endorphins, the body’s own opium, and in turn boosts the immune system. That endorphin hit is probably the reason behind getting a fit of the giggles. We all have felt the tension releasing lightness following a good laugh. Our interaction with each other is smoother after we share a communal laugh. Laughter is the lubricant.

My hope is that one day everyone feels free to laugh as long and as hard as they like. Without being shushed or admonished. A few months ago I went to the Garden Variety Show in Calgary. There was a lady in the audience who had a delightful snorty kind of laugh. Her laugh was natural and sincere. She bravely made no effort to cover up her unusual laugh. On a subtle level she gave us all permission to laugh as we liked, natural and unguarded. It made the fantastic show all the more enjoyable. It was probably the best comedy I have seen live in my life. But maybe it wasn’t the jokes that made it so good, maybe it was just the permission to laugh with abandon.

When we have the courage to be ourselves, we give everyone around us permission to do the same. So practice your snorty laugh and make it a habit. 😀

Let’s Pretend

Funny Chinese Child Playing Boy

Image by epSos.de via Flickr

Think back to when you were five years old. Remember the giant cardboard box that could be a house or car or spaceship or boat? Today, I was reminded of the endless creativity that used to be as natural as breathing. I was playing trains with my son and when we got the track together and I pushed the train around the track a few times, I thought, “Now what?”. My son, however, had no problem finding fun and creative ways to play. I often say that play is important, and I think of myself as a fairly playful person, but it is clear that I have a lot to learn.

Play is important to our health and wellbeing. Play helps us find creative solutions to grown-up problems. Spend anytime around a young child and you will notice how much more they laugh, and play and wiggle than adults.

There is an interesting thing that happens to us when we age. We laugh less, we play less and our thymus gland shrinks. The thymus gland is the master gland of our immune system. In children it is fairly large and identifiable, in adults it shrinks to the point where it cannot even be seen. The full function of the thymus is still being investigated, but it does appear to shrink during episodes of stress.

To me, it is clear, laughing and playing are crucial to our health. You can even feel it after a funny movie or a day at the amusement park. There is a lightness and pleasant feeling in our body. So, test it out in your life. The next time you are feeling under the weather, trying watching a funny movie, jumping in a pile of leaves, or laughter yoga. 🙂

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