At a time of crisis to be able to laugh at something we are afraid of – or just to laugh at a time when we are afraid – can be a great release. Being English this is, of course, very much part of my culture, it is also very common in North East Thailand, the great ‘Land of the Arahants’. My mother does well at this. She lost a breast to cancer a few years ago, blind and in her eighties. The day after the operation one of the other patients on the ward asked her how she was doing, she replied,
“Well, I am half the woman I was.”
My sense of humour has, however, been the most difficult aspect of writing these short articles – knowing when it could be alright to add a little humour and when not in such a grave situation. For also, of course, humour at the wrong moment or to someone who does not understand your sense of humour, or when you are joking, can be a disaster. The meditation group I teach in Oslo asked me in the beginning of the pandemic whether I could give a talk for them once a week on camera. I had to say I would rather do a video conference where I could see who I was talking to, and also chose to write these short articles as my response at this time of crisis.
So often in life we learn how to relate to ourselves by relating to others. So often we will know how to respond to our own minds if we see what is happening as if from the outside. If we cannot really see where we are at or do not want to be honest about it to ourselves, we can joke ourselves along through a crisis and then lack compassion for ourselves at the crucial moment, creating a bit of an inner disaster. We can joke in a way that accepts a situation or in a way that does not. We have to be aware of our underlying intention, as always. The result we get will always depend on this. So often I am asked how to get rid of unpleasant emotions. If someone comes to see us experiencing an unpleasant emotion, if we try to get rid of them how do they respond?
I also know how difficult it can be to listen and retain at such a time. In this respect we are often reliant on the perceptions, the wisdom we have or do not have, the calm we have or do not have, and have to ride with that; we can very rarely take in a lot of new information. Also, from my own perspective, this approach gives me a chance to take time and choose my words carefully. All this could be good advice for communicating with others at such a time. We have to realise that people may not be very ‘with it’ and could forget or misunderstand. These can be very emotional times. We can need to respond to these emotions both within ourselves and in others, to give them time. Whether we like them or not, whether we think we should have them or not, emotions are not wrong on the spiritual path.
I offer this for your reflection