I'm not talking about sarcasm, which even if it is termed a refuge of the weak was and continues to be a high art in my family. The thing about sarcasm is that you can rarely fit it into that precept called right speech. Because of its biting quality, I'm hard pressed to see how it builds anything up. At best it can be used as a signal of commiseration, affirming that yes indeed it is cold and dark here in the cruel world, and us without coats.
Our family is also great with the gallows humor; we are really something at funerals. Full spectrum from the macabre to the double entendre. It passes the time, and insulates from tears and earnestness, but it is not in any sense healing.
The sense of humor I mean is something that buoys us up, which is why its so curious that we don't pay more attention to it as an important coping tool. What could be a practice to help us recognize in the moment that while our situation may not be funny haha humorous, our sense of humor can help us keep some honest perspective?
So in that sense, the quality of of humor I am trying to zero in on feels related to equanimity.
When things get ugly, right away we get entangled in the upset, the storyline, and if we're really on top of our game, problem solving. Some of us actually skip directly to the problem solving in order to avoid being present with the source of suffering. I'll be the first to raise my hand on that one. Here it is -- suffering hits: BAM! -- and I have no idea where to find my sense of humor at that moment. I know, let's work it like a business problem!
Lama Anagarika Govinda is said to have passed away laughing, so I pay attention when he says something about the Buddha and humor, from his Way of the White Clouds:
The Buddha's sense of humor -- which is so evident in many of his discourses -- is closely bound up with his sense of compassion: both are born from an understanding of greater connections, from an insight into the interrelatedness of all things and all living beings and the chain reactions of cause and effect. His smile is the expression of one who can see the 'wondrous play of ignorance and knowledge' against its universal background and its deeper meaning.
Only thus is it possible not to be overpowered by the misery of the world or by our own sense of righteousness that judges and condemns what is not in accordance with our own understanding and divides the world into good and bad. A man with a sense of humor cannot but be compassionate in his heart, because his sense of proportion allows him to see things in their proper perspective.Breaking this down, we have elements of compassion, understanding of interdependence, non-judging, emptiness and then he winds us up right back at compassion and perspective.
Bernie Glassman for several years was working with his Order of Disorder, walking around with a red nose. Their precepts certainly seem like they're on to something, including an admonition to drop your fears and be one with Disorder. Their vision statement is literally illegible, which is, you know, really funny. I get the rationale, but I'm not quite ready to go over to the absurdist camp.
How about you, any strategies help you keep your sense of humor when things get rough?