An old saying tells us that "Laughter is the best medicine," and it's absolutely true. Our feelings have a tremendous effect on our health and wellness, and genuine laughter is the expression of one of the best possible feelings we can have- joy!
Since embarrassment is basically the antithesis to joy, the feeling of lone shame and fear of public scrutiny, the ability to laugh at our own selves is absolutely vital towards feeling well and inwardly balanced.
Laughter cures humiliation. By this, I don't mean that when we slip up or make mistakes we should scoff at ourselves, or have an outburst of sardonic cynicism; I mean, we should genuinely enjoy the joke played in life, even when the joke's on us. By doing this, we can go beyond ego; we can go beyond the typical feeling of separationwe ordinarily experience, the 'dvaita' duality of 'self versus others,' and instead rise into a feeling of inclusivity with everyone else, the 'advaita' non-duality of realizing we are all in this together. With the mirth of the laughing Buddha, and the selfless surrender likened to the saints who know that we are not our own selves, but expressions of the Divine Self, we must laugh merrily in those situations that would ordinarily make us want to crawl into a corner and hide. The witness can laugh at life; the struggler cannot. When even your own life is something about which you have awareness, when you witness your own thoughts, actions and experiences, you will be able to enjoy it so much more fully. Laughter is the technique and the result. To utilize this technique and realize this as a result all you have to do is be aware of yourself. The next time you find yourself in an "embarrassing" moment, look deeply, and find the humour in the situation. Laugh at yourself! When I say "laugh at yourself," I don't mean to imply that you should all be self deprecating, no. I mean, be grateful for the humour in those little jokes life makes of which you are the butt.
The title of this blog is something I "Tweeted" last week after scrolling through my past YouTube videos, and finding that one particular Q&A from last year had a rather... um... unfortunate thumbnail:
For a split second, I felt that lightheaded sensation of pure embarrassment I'm sure we've all had from time to time, as I realized that this video still (which awkwardly mixes the cliched facial expression of a sleazy used car salesman with the elegant Hindu finery I had worn in celebration of Deepavali, for a final result that looks pretentious and preposterous,) had represented "me" in the world of YouTube for over a year. But after a very short moment of cringing, the enlightened realization that there is no separate "me" returned, and the true hilarity of this ridiculous picture took effect. As a witness to the absurdity of the fact that this comical expression had somehow slipped past my information editing and made it into search engines everywhere played out like a comedy, and I simply erupted in laughter. (The YouTube fates hath made me to laugh so that all who see this can laugh with me!) No embarrassment, just enjoyment. It was then that I composed the Tweet, and very nearly shared this screen shot there, but decided to save it for a blog, so as to allow for a bit of expansion on the topic.
Two years ago, while I was in India, I made a short guided meditation video in the garden of the Rajarajeshwari temple called "Let Go of Embarrassment to Overcome Ego." In that video, embarrassment is overcome by flooding embarrassing memories and ideas with awareness to the point that the realization of self beyond public scrutiny is realized:
About a week after this video was published, I received an email from one of my dear viewers, Jenn, (the lovely organizer of my Vancouver events, who has a wonderful blog of her own that I highly encourage you to read here!) shared an experience: after watching the video, she was confident within herself that she had completely overcome any tendencies towards the ego of embarrassment. However, as life often tests us on those very things about which we have newfound confidence, the very next day, she found herself in an embarrassing situation: she got herself a hot cocoa during a break in a large work related seminar, then realized everyone else in attendance had returned to their seats and the program was starting up again. Hurrying to get back to her place, her pant leg caught in her heel, and she tripped and fell, spilling the hot chocolate all over herself! Meditation or not, she felt intense embarrassment. (Imagine, a conference hall full of business professionals all watched this happen.) In time, though, she remembered the meditation, and came out of the humiliation, recovered her true self, and now, I'm sure, two years later, she's able to laugh at this and more!
Like this, I invite you to think back on your own life, and recall any moments in which you felt truly, deeply mortified. As you reexamine these experiences, look deeply until the humour becomes obvious, and when it does, laugh! Innocently, lovingly, and free of self-consciousness, laugh! And, if you're feeling bold and eager to welcome others to laugh with you (not at you!) share your embarrassing story as a comment here! I may read it in an upcoming video.
To get the ball rolling and to (hopefully) give you a couple laughs, allow me to share two stories of embarrassment:
First, something I witnessed in a cafe in Vancouver in 2007:
One morning, on my way to work, I stopped in a busy cafe in front of a street that was being expanded through road work. About five spots ahead of me in the queue was a lady in uniform who was clearly a member of the roadwork team- she wore the reflective orange uniform and hard hat. After placing her order, she went outside, most likely to tell her coworkers that their coffee would be right out. Her order was up before she returned, and since it was a lot of coffee, there wasn't room on the waiting counter to hold all of it. Now, it just so happened that the barista was an exchange student from Japan, and though her English was very good, she had not yet mastered all the idiosyncrasies and nuances of the language. After glancing around the cafe, she called, "Street lady! Street lady! Your order is ready!" Everyone in line started to chuckle, and quickly, the manager of the shop rushed to her. I heard him say, "Dear, in Canada, the phrase 'street lady' means 'homeless lady.' Our customer is a lady who works on the street, but she's not a street lady." The humble employee reddened with embarrassment, and meekly said, "Oh, I hope I did not offend her." Her boss reassured her that the customer hadn't heard, and walked away. Still eager to fulfill the order, the coffee shop girl tried again, this time calling, "Five coffees for the lady who works the streets! Hey- lady who works the street- come get your coffee!" That time, not only the customers in line, but also the manager himself, burst out laughing! Through his wails, he explained to the girl, "'Works the streets' is even worse than 'street lady.' It implies that our customer is a prostitute..."
And now, my own story of embarrassment; this is possibly the funniest scene ever to have played out in my life. (In 2008, about a year before my true spiritual quest intensified and led to my higher realizations... in other words, before I learned to 'Unclutch' and humiliation was still humiliating!)
Once, about a week after I had started work at a shop on Granville Island called Dragonspace, my boss and I were behind the counter enjoying a little mid afternoon break. She was sitting on a little shelf, and I was standing casually, leaning forward with my elbows on the front desk and my back turned to her, relaxed, but ready to greet anyone who might enter the empty store. Birgit was telling me about her dog, Louie, who had recently gone to the vet with swollen anal glands. In detail, she explained to me how the vet had treated the poor dog, but that his symptoms weren't going away. Finally, she said that on her last visit to the animal clinic, she was told that she would have to wear a special glove, and reach in to give Louie rectal massages to reduce the swelling. She was really into her story, and completely hidden from the sight of the windows and the front door behind the tall opaque counter, so she didn't notice a quiet young family walk in, and she didn't see me smile to greet them. Instead, just as I was about to stand upright again and ask how they were doing, she blurted out emphatically, from the hidden spot directly behind me, "No! No way! No matter how much I love you, I am NOT sticking my fingers in your butt!" Of course, she said that in response to the vet in her story who had instructed her to do this for her four legged friend, but to the shocked and appalled parents and the three confused little children whom they were quickly ushering out the door whilst giving me very dirty and disapproving looks of scorn, it seemed as though I had tried to pressure my coworker to do something abominable... Only when the door slammed behind them and the little bell rang, she went quiet, and asked, "Um... when did they walk in?" I was so desperate to try to repair my tarnished reputation in the minds of these five complete strangers that I tried, in vain, to chase them down the boardwalk and explain what they had heard, but as soon as they turned to see me calling, "wait," they rushed around the corner and ran. (Yes, that's how deplorable I seemed in their eyes...) Rather than make a further mockery of myself, I slunk back into the shop, where my boss was verily rolling on the floor in laughter... finally, after a few minutes of cheek-burning, my reluctance to see the humour in the situation overtook me, and I laughed, too. (But still, for the next few months, any time a memory of the incident creeped up, I would blush and recoil, wondering whether these people ever told their friends or relatives about the perversions going on behind the Dragonspace counter...)