Monday, August 29, 2011

Practice report, a little meditation on humor

First, a little practice report. I wanted to do the "full schlep" (full primary and second to Karandavasana) this morning, as I felt that doing this would set a strong tone and really build up my stamina for the rest of the practice week. But there simply wasn't time: I had a meeting at work at 9 a.m. So I simply did second only up to Karandavasana.

Gosh, two days of not doing Karandavasana certainly has made this posture "rusty" for me. I did four attempts at the posture: The first three times, I got into Pincha Mayurasana, got my legs into Padmasana, and then crashed to the mat when I tried to lower the lotus onto my upper arms. It was only on the fourth attempt that I was barely able to land the duck. And even then, it was shaky, and my lotus was probably only a few millimeters from my elbows. Oh well... better luck next time, maybe?


At work this morning, somebody made a wisecrack about Hurricane Irene. He expressed disappointment that Irene did not turn out to be a larger disaster for the country, as a larger disaster might just destroy enough infrastructure to force the US government to finally rebuild and overhaul our antiquated infrastructure. Everybody chuckled or smirked. Hmm... I think it is only in an academic setting that people can find such jokes funny. I can easily think of many settings where I wouldn't even think of making such a joke.

But this whole thing really got me thinking about the role of humor in our lives. The different forms it can take (slapstick, dry, dark, deadpan, Woody-Allen-style, self-deprecatory, etc.) and the appropriateness of these various forms in different social or professional settings. Under what circumstances can humor be helpful as a mode of communication, or even in getting certain points across that would otherwise come across as awkward or forced in any other delivery mode? Humor often also has an important role in communicating spiritual insights as well. As Nathan over at Dangerous Harvests recently observed, spiritual humor, if done well, has the power to succinctly and clearly bring out profound insights, in a way that a long essay or blog post cannot accomplish. But humor is a double-edged sword: If executed poorly or in an inappropriate setting, it can backfire and make one look really, really bad, as the recent Elephant Journal yoga video fiasco amply demonstrates (I'm not going to link to it here, if you know what I'm talking about, you know what I'm talking about...).

Perhaps more insidiously, the kind of humor that is being exhibited in a particular place is a sort of gauge of the kind of socio-political environment one is in. For example, the person who made the wisecrack at work this morning obviously gauged (correctly) that the socio-political sensibilities of his audience were such that they would laugh (or at least not be unduly offended) at his joke. More generally, I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that when you are in unfamiliar company, one of the first things that can cue you in to the kind of crowd you are with is the flavor of the jokes they are making: Yes, you can tell what kind of person someone is by the jokes he/she tells and/or laughs at.

Which makes the whole Elephant Journal yoga video fiasco all the more interesting. I really wasn't intending to comment on this fiasco when I started writing this post, but the funny thing is, blog posts often have a life of their own; I started out intending to just write a short blurb about my practice and a little observation about my day, and look where I am! (Gosh, I can't even remember the last time I wrote a short post...)

Anyway, about the Elephant Journal fiasco: I think it is an interesting mirror of the self-conception (or lack thereof) of the publication as a whole. I mean, first, somebody who contributes to EJ obviously saw the video somewhere, and gauged the socio-political climate over at EJ to be such that it would be well-received. So he or she decided to post it on EJ. He or she was probably thinking that people would get a good laugh at it, and that would be that.

Boy, was he/she wrong. Well, some people (including, quite notably, the chief editor of EJ) did seem to have a good laugh at it. But others were not so amused. Yet others (including, I believe, many who were regular subscribers or readers of EJ up to that point) were upset. Which indicates that the person who originally posted it had a very different socio-political sensibility from many readers of EJ. If we compare EJ to a person, and you can tell the kind of person someone is by the jokes he or she tells and/or laughs at, then, well, given the kinds of jokes that a sizeable portion of the editorial team and writers at EJ do laugh at (and at least think would be funny to their readers), then maybe we can tell what kind of a publication EJ is by the jokes that get posted there? Or not... I don't know. I ask questions for a living, I don't pretend to have answers. Feel free to draw your own conclusions ;-)  

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