Playfulness, Self-Referentiality, and Wisdom’s Happy Hijinx

Two People Dressed Up in Playful Costumes
June 29, 2022

Approach life and practice with curiosity and laugh at yourself whenever possible. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Do you think you could talk a little bit about the playful aspect or the exploratory aspect of doing spiritual practice?

I think that playfulness starts to sort of leak through when alongside in tangent with having glimpses of the natural state and recognizing the playfulness in that, the inherent playfulness in reality.

And more than that, that recognition, those glimpses that we get at some point starting in our practice, are kind of lightening our whole way of being in the world at some point.

So over time, as we get more glimpses of how things actually are, our earnestness begins to seem kind of funny, and things seem to be more funny as we go along.

There's a kind of sense of the absurdity, of how we approach things in our ordinary way that starts to become humorous.

And this is why Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said one of my favorite things: that when you see how things actually are, there's a little smile behind your lips all the time. Because you just find everything to be a little bit funny.

So the playfulness is embedded in or as an aspect of all of reality. And that means that as we begin to embody that reality more fully, with more awareness, we just naturally become more playful. We naturally find humor in more things, and most often in ourselves.

The curiosity also is built into reality. These are aspects of what I call wisdom virtues. And the self is endlessly curious about itself.

This is kind of the origin of our self obsession and selfishness and self focus. That is the curiosity of God constrained, constricted, expressing itself in a more limited way.

Just like you could say, a fast food hamburger is a more limited form of some other much more wonderful food. They're both food, and they're somehow related to each other on the continuum of food.

So our self concern, self obsession with ourselves, is that curiosity about the self, constrained.

Of course, we're having dualistic karmic realm vision. So when we are self absorbed, we're really absorbed in this tiny little thing. This fleck of a fleck, this microscopic thing in all of reality, this one tiny little experience.

That's what we become obsessed about. We might as well sit and stare at a grain of rice for the rest of our lives. That's how small our self concern is. If not smaller.

But the curiosity about the self that is in all of reality, in its fuller, more free expression, is just this kind of delighted curiosity about everything. Without exception. No constraints, no conditions on what this alive, aware reality likes to contemplate as expressions of itself.

It likes to contemplate its own artwork, which is all manifest life. So it doesn't have the same limitations on what it is contemplating.

But that state of self contemplation is what is realized beyond meditation. When we talk about meditation, we're talking about something that has more technique to it.

And of course, when we become more awake, all technique goes by the wayside. We're just relaxing in the natural state. There is no technique.

Maybe there's some slight effort to remain in that condition because we're a human body, so we can be wayward. Even when we're very realized, we can still be somewhat wayward.

So there might be still slight effort, but it's really very, very subtle.

And at that point, what is said in Dzogchen, we're in a state of natural contemplation rather than meditation. In other words, we're more like in the condition of all of reality, a state of natural contemplation.

And in that state, our minds, which we normally use in a very defensive way to collect and capture and control things. Our mind becomes one of the organs of curiosity, one of the organs by which we reach out into things and experience things and contemplate them and enjoy them.

Rather than as an organ where we're trying to capture things or control things or explain things or make narrative packages that tie everything up with a neat little bow.

So, instead of that, the mind becomes more of an open ended exploratory function that goes along with the rest of our senses. It's not given primacy particularly. It's just part of the whole sensory apparatus that we are receiving impressions with and contemplating those impressions.

As we do practice, and as we have more aware of contact with the natural state, then that sense of curiosity and playfulness just blooms naturally.

The first sign of that happening is that we have a little distance on our normal way of being in the world. We don't take ourselves so seriously, or we have questions about how we are.

We're no longer naturalizing all of the limited ways that we have been. We begin to think, well, maybe it could be different, and maybe I could actually step out of this way that I've been.

And then we just start to get more of a sense of humor and also more interest in things outside of small self, more curiosity about other people and circumstances not being so self referential.

I had an interesting little moment on Facebook today. Somebody posted a video. I think it was meant to be a satire, but then it was sort of half satire and half serious.

So it was this very Valley white lady talking about manifesting things and how she's over manifesting. Manifesting was not what we should be focusing on, but what we should be focusing on is gratitude.

So at the point when she switched from manifesting to gratitude, that's when she became more serious, less satirical. And it was interesting because she was talking about, like, grateful for what I have.

And I was thinking that gratitude is really just the pretty face of greed. It's still completely self referential.

And she even did this with her hands. She said we should just be grateful. And she was moving everything in toward herself with her hands.

Really, what happens when we start to have more contact with the natural state, more aware contact, because we are that already. We're having total contact with it, we're just not aware. Is that the tension and the energy starts to flow outward more.

It's not all about like, okay, now I'm going to be grateful for what I have, what you gave me. This is all just suffocating, very suffocating in the small stuff.

So we begin to just be more interested in other people and circumstances and more generous and more playful.

And the energy starts to change directions and move more outward. Until eventually, eventually, eventually it's just all flowing outward.

Just like Lord Shiva, who's a fountain.

Maybe you can tell us about being embarrassed and tips on being embarrassed.

You mean how to be better at it? [laughs]

Well, of course. It's very self focused. So you do something that you cause embarrassment to yourself, and then you're embarrassed for hours or days or weeks.

And when that's happening, all the energy is all very close to you, right? You're thinking about how you are embarrassed or you're feeling embarrassed.

So just to recognize that it's not really solving the problem of how you feel about yourself, right? And a fear of being thought ill of.

So the best thing to do when we do something we regret is to just regret it.

We can't do anything about it. You can't rewrite time. Well, not yet anyway. Maybe you could go back at some point, but not now.

Having a more practical attitude towards it is good because you can always do better in the future. You do have control somewhat over what you do in the future.

So recognize that as your secret superpower, you can't do anything about the past, you can change things in the future. And you just tell them, I'm sorry such and such happened. I'll do better next time I'll do my best.

That's all you need to do. And that's all anybody can really expect of you.

Sometimes people don't want to let go of when they think someone did something wrong, then they really want to hold onto it.

Those aren't the kinds of people you want in your life. Everybody always should be given more chances, maybe not always by you, but by somebody.

And we should always hope that they can do better in the future rather than holding people to their mistakes.

So you're talking about being self referential, and it seems really easy to fall into that in so many different ways. If I notice myself there, is it helpful to consciously try to think bigger or something?

Don't think bigger, do bigger. You could do assimilating breath. You could do that connection with spiritual preceptors that we do breathing and spiritual nourishment in the morning as part of dinacharya.

You could do anything like that that would immediately connect you. Don't think about it. Just connect.

That's where the larger View comes from. We can't think our way into a bigger View. As much as we would like that to be the case, we can't. We actually do something.

I had a friend who died a few months ago, and the other day I was driving in her old neighborhood. And she was pretty young, she was in her mid-forties.

And I was just thinking about that feeling of somebody's life being cut short. But then I felt like I was cheating her kind of by thinking about it that way, that her life was complete. I almost felt like I was judging her life in a way because she died so young.

But when you think of human lifespans, is forty different than eighty? I mean, it's all really short. And to say that every life is complete, there is no completion, there's no beginning and no end of every life.

Our experience in this form is short, but even in relativistic terms, there's no real beginning or no real end.

When you say even in relativistic terms, what do you mean?

Well, I mean, if we're talking at all in the realm of individualized experience, we're talking in a relative way.

Even if we're saying that individual experience has no beginning and no end, we come from somewhere and go somewhere. And even if we're talking in larger time frames, we're still talking about linear time and individualized forms of experience.

Because actually none of this is happening that way. This is just the experience we're having.

So, your friend is fine. Whatever happens, there's nothing wrong with anything that happens. There's nothing short and there's nothing long.

This is an expression that happened. It's like a beautiful smile. It doesn't have to be long to be beautiful. In fact, if it were held too long, it would seem false. [laughs]

We have this silly story that we tell that causes us suffering, 'so and so shouldn't have died.' Really? Is there such a thing as something that happens shouldn't have happened?

In a sense, when we're more relaxed, things are just happening and we're responding to them, and that's all that can be said about it. Everything is arising.

When I was a very, very soft punk rocker in the 80s, there was a kind of music that I really loved called wall of sound. And it was mostly all instrumental without singing and a lot of instruments on stage.

It was almost like punk big band. There would be this just literally a dense wall of complex sounds that would just kind of come at you really, really loud. And I just love this kind of music.

All of life is like a wall of sound. All of life is like this uninterrupted sensory experience that is just continually arising and subsiding.

And that's all we can really say about it. We relate to it.

It's full of wisdom, full of hijinks, full of surprises. And we're here part of it. Part of that wall of sound, wall of wisdom, and all of its happy hijinks.

And we're just relating to it. That's it. That's all that can be said. It's neither good nor bad. It's not too soon or too late. It's not too short or too long. It's not too early. It's just what's happening.

Really, there literally is nothing else to say about it. It's just there to enjoy and explore and feel.

Every emotion that we feel is one of the colors on God's palate. Everything is an energetic experience of some sort or another that's full of wisdom, is made by wisdom.

We would look at a painting of something horrific and we would like, 'wow, look at that detail and that leg that's being chopped off, cool!' We wouldn't be like 'they should take this painting down. It's just horrible that they're showing that in the Museum. I mean there's little kids here!'

Everything is like that. And the pain that we feel is also like that.

It's one of the flavors, or one of the components of this massive drama, which actually even the sense of massiveness is an aspect of it too. Whether it's massive or tiny, who knows?

Because our sense of space is completely conditioned by our relationship to the physical space that is manifesting here. So actually it could have no dimensions.

I don't know that. I'm just saying it could be that there are no dimensions here. Does mind have dimensions when we're having a dream and we dream we're in a vast landscape?

There's no vastness. It's the vastness of mind, not the vastness of physical space. There might actually be no such thing as dimension.

When Ma talks about the supreme moment of time, or you find in a lot of Hindu teaching texts that the universe, not the universe in astronomical terms, but everything that is infinite and at the same time it's as small as a sesame seed.

I never actually understood that stuff for a long time. And then eventually, oh yes, okay, I get it. So it does take a while. What I've come to understand is that our experience of physical space is a symbol of the space of consciousness which isn't really dimensional.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.